The idea of Zionism is the rebuilding of the Jewish homeland in Palestine, which fell to the Roman Empire in A.D. When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews were driven out of their country, but they never gave up hope that their homeland would be restored to the descendants of those who were forced into the diaspora (scattering).After attending a historical conference, Theodor Herzl brought together and organized the first international Zionist congress. That conference was the origin of the World Zionist Organization, and it made major headway in the fight to get Palestine back for the Jews.Thousands of pioneers flocked to the area between 1904 and 1914.Diplomatic efforts to obtain Turkish backing for a Zionist presence in Palestine were unsuccessful before World War I. However, through the efforts of CHaim Weizmann, who succeeded to the leadership of international Zionism after the death of Herzl, the foreign secretary of the British government, Lord Balfour, issue a memorable declaration:
His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of the object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious' rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
Even after so many people had gone to Palestine, it wasn’t until after World War II that the majority arrived. More than one million Jews, many of whom had survived the Nazi murder campaign, made their way to Palestine, which eventually led to the establishment of a Jewish state, called Israel. Israel declared its existence on May 14, 1948.The American component of the World Zionist Organization was the Zionist Organization of America, known by its initials ZOA. Organized in 1897, it was originally entitled the Federation of American Zionists, changing to its present name in 1915.
From 1882 to 1903 25,000-35,000 Jews migrated to Ottoman Syria (which included Palestine).
By the end of the 19th century Zionism had arisen and the Zionist migration started. Zionism was defined as the creation of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The aim seemed reasonable but for the fact that Palestine was already inhabited. That fact was carefully ignored, though not by all Jewish leaders – Ahad Ha’am, when visiting, observed that it was hard to find land that was not cultivated. There was an indigenous people, predominantly Muslim, living in that area who had to be displaced if Israel was to be created. Their rights were not considered.
The population in 1800 was: Muslims 246,000, Christians 22,000, and Jews 7,000.
The population in 1890 was: Muslims 432,000, Christians 57,000, and Jews 43,000.
Israel Studies An Anthology : The History of Zionism
One of the most important aspects of modern Jewish life in Europe since the mid-nineteenth century was the development of a variety of Jewish national movements such as Zionists, Bundists and Autonomists that offered competing ideologies and solutions to the issues of Jewish nationhood and individual nationality as well as to problems posed by modernity. Among these problems was the breakdown of the parochial molds of Jewish life and the fragmentation of the traditional Jewish community. This article focuses on Zionism, the most radical of all modern Jewish national movements.
Zionism&rsquos revolutionary character stemmed from its emphasis on the need to construct a Jewish national life in response to modernity and to do so only in Eretz Israel &mdash the Land of Israel. Additionally, Zionists were the first to believe that policies on the major issues confronting Jewry should be subject to free and open debate. Furthermore, due to the catastrophic condition of East European Jewry, they were the first to assert that the solution to the &ldquoJewish Problem&rdquo hinged on migration to a homeland (Vital, 1998, p. 208-9).
Zionism provides a classic example of the role of nationalism in the reconstruction of nations. According to Smith (2004), nationalism relies on an historical, primordial identity connected with religion, history and territory. As will be demonstrated here, the meaning behind Jewish history, language, tradition and folklore is of central concern to Zionism and the construction of a Jewish identity. Zionism can also be seen in Anderson&rsquos (1983) argument that nationalism refers to a dynamic process of remembering and forgetting fundamental concepts of collective identities. A classic example in the case of Zionist thought is the development of concepts such as the negation of exile (shlilat hagalut), which are based on the denial of a collective memory.
The article begins by delineating the trigger and the cause for the emergence of Zionism in the nineteen-century, and then goes on to describe the ideology and solution proposed by each Zionist stream until the establishment of the State of Israel.
The Trigger and the Cause
The most common explanation for the emergence of Zionism is the spread of anti-Semitism. Interestingly, no Zionist movement emerged as a result of anti-Semitic events during the eighteenth century or at any earlier period. The rise of the Zionist Movement following the escalation of anti-Semitism at the end of the nineteenth century implies, therefore, that anti-Semitic events could have been a trigger to the emergence of Zionism but not a cause. Any analysis that makes a cause and effect argument regarding Zionism should look for a factor that operates continually on a given effect for a considerable period of time. In the case of Zionism, this factor was the breakdown of traditional Jewish life and the attempts by Jews to reconstruct their life within European nation states (Eisenstadt, 1992).
During the late eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century the number of Jews in the world numbered approximately two and a half million with almost 90% of them living in Europe (Laqueur, 1972). Underlying the Jewish value system and self-consciousness as a group throughout history was the bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. This was manifested in the dream of the &ldquoEnd of Days&rdquo in which a Jewish leader will emerge to gather Jews from all over the world, bring them to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Traditional Jews prayed three times a day for the deliverance that would transform the world and transport them to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, there remained only a small Jewish community in the Land of Israel and a trickling stream of Jews coming to be buried in the Holy Land (Avineri, 1981). However powerful this bond between Jews and the land may have been for eighteen centuries, it did not lead to any real collective action by Jews, despite the discrimination they faced at the hands of Christians and Muslims.
The Jewish population was routinely persecuted, massacred, expelled, forcibly converted, excluded from public service positions and threatened with physical, spiritual and cultural annihilation. The reasons for these persecutions were diverse and changed throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the past, they had been characterized and motivated by sheer hatred and religious zeal. Following the Enlightenment of the nineteenth century, the French Revolution and the Emancipation that granted full citizenship to Jews in Europe, the reasons for Jewish persecution began to revolve around complaints concerning the Jews&rsquo incomplete assimilation and the inability of modern societies to fully incorporate them. Whatever the reasons for Jewish hatred, most Jews remained in exile, some in more moderate countries, such as the United States, Australia, Canada, South Africa and South American countries while others remained in Europe. Until the nineteenth century, Jews who continued to live in Europe existed at the margins of the society and earned their living as small traders or middlemen between the cities and the villages.
In contrast, the nineteenth century was &ldquothe best century Jews have ever experienced, collectively and individually, since the destruction of the Temple&rdquo (Avineri, 1981, p. 5). Following the French Revolution, a new approach toward the Jews began to prevail with the spread of the ideas of the Enlightenment. Ghettos were opened, equal individual rights were granted and the occupational range was gradually widened with Jews acquiring a strong position in the professions of wholesale and retail trade (Halpern and Reinharz, 1998). Jewish life began shifting from the periphery to the main metropolises of Europe and a visible Jewish presence was recorded in universities as well as in science and culture. This new and more humane approach toward the Jews led to a process of social and cultural assimilation in European countries.
The assimilation process went beyond the Jews&rsquo speaking and writing in the language of the country in which they resided or the attempt to blend in with their neighbors. It touched at the heart of the prevailing traditional ways of life that had developed in the Middle Ages. Secularization became a cornerstone in the drive of Jews to be part of a society based on equality before the law, separation of church and state and the national loyalty of citizens. Many Jews drifted away from Judaism, some even accepting Christianity in its stead. The decline in religious beliefs had weakened the ties between the European Jewish communities and as more Jews became increasingly patriotic toward what they thought to be secure homelands, close links between individual Jewish communities became nearly impossible (Eisenstadt, 1992).
The derived tension between the personal life of a Jew and the public life amongst secular society was the main challenge facing European Jewry. Zionism was a reaction to the attempts of Jews to bridge this gap. The aforementioned tension was exacerbated by the rise of anti-Semitism as a strong political force following the major financial crisis of the late nineteenth century. Anti-Semitism was felt by those living in Europe who had to cope with pogroms in Russia (1881-82), riots in Kishinev (1903), the murder of Jews throughout western and southern Russia (1905), accusations of betrayal (the Dreyfus Affair in France), the emergence of racist approaches in France and Germany and official anti-Semitic policies in Russia and other Eastern European countries. As a result of the long-term process through which Jews attempted to resolve the tension between their personal and public lives in a secular society wrought with anti-Semitism, the Zionist Movement emerged on the world scene.
The Emergence of Zionist Ideology
The main premise of Zionist ideology was that the solution for a viable Jewish communal existence in modern times could be implemented only in Eretz Israel. Eretz Israel, the land in which the identity of the Jewish people had originally formed, constituted a continuous component within the Jewish collective consciousness. It was the only place in which a Jewish collective entity and environment could be reconstructed, and the only place in which the Jews could reenter history and become a productive, normal and unified community, responsible for its own destiny.
Rabbi Yehudah Shlomo Alkalay (1798-1878) and Rabbi Zevi Hirsch Kalischer (1795-1874) appeared in the mid-nineteenth century and were among the first proponents of Zionism to argue that Jewish settlement in Israel was a preparatory stage for the coming of the Messiah. A more modern utopian version of Zionism &mdash based on a socialist perspective and framed in terms of moral necessity &mdashwas developed by Moses Hess (1812-1875). In his Rome and Jerusalem (1862), Hess argued that Jews were not a religious group but rather a separate nation characterized by a unique religion whose universal significance should be recognized. The attempts of religious reformers to mold Jewish ceremonies into a version of Christianity left only the skeleton of a once magnificent phenomenon in world history. The response, according to Hess, should be a political organization of Jews as well as the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine that would act as a spiritual center and a base for political action, embodying socialist principles within its institutions.
The Coalescence of the Jewish National Movement
The Jewish national movement appeared on the stage of history in the 1870s with the emergence of associations for the promotion of immigration of Jews to Palestine &ndashHovevei Zion(Lovers of Zion) &ndash in a number of Russian cities and later spreading to Poland. The movement adopted three central goals that it saw necessary for a healthy nation and society: Auto-emancipation (i.e., self-action by an organized national body) productivity (i.e., the restructuring of the historical professions of Jews and the utilization of new sources of livelihood such as agriculture) and some measure of home-rule (Ettinger and Bartal, 1996). The attempt to achieve the first two objectives was only partially successful. The goals were undertaken by the most active of the aforementioned associations, Bilu (Beit Yaakov Lechu ve Nelcha &ndash &ldquoGo Forth the House of Jacob&rdquo), whose members had immigrated to Palestine and started the first wave of immigration known as the First Aliyah. As very few Jews were willing to translate their nationalistic consciousness into the concrete collective action of emigration, the movement soon receded to the margin of Jewish society in Eastern Europe. The settlement activity in Palestine, however, which was undertaken with the help of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, had created an economic and national infrastructure upon which further immigration waves could build. The third goal, to achieve home-rule, was achieved following the appearance of Theodor Herzl and the convening of the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, at which the World Zionist Organization (WZO) was established. This organization replaced Baron de Rothschild as the main funder of settlement activities in Palestine (Ettinger and Bartal, 1996).
Streams of Zionism
Within the new emerging Zionist movement there were many different streams competing for the attention of the Jewish public. Each stream contributed its own ideology regarding the future of the Zionist movement, how it should be built, appropriate goals it should set and the order it should attempt to accomplish these goals. A breakdown of these different ideological views and the main historical figures that played active roles in promoting them is described below.
The idea that Palestine was essential to Zionism was not shared by all Jews. At the time of the First Aliyah, only a few agricultural settlements had been established in Argentina by Baron de Hirsch and the Jewish Colonization Association. One of the founders of the Lovers of Zion, Leon Pinsker (1821-1891), articulated the view of practical Zionists in his book Auto-Emancipation (1882). Pinsker argued that the Jewish national goal need not be Eretz Israel but rather a land large enough to include Jews who are deprived of their political, economic and social rights. Only later did Practical Zionists shift their stance and begin stressing settlement in Palestine. They refused, however, to embark upon major political offensives aimed at gaining a political commitment from the leading world powers in support of the Jewish national home. In the end, the core idea of Practical Zionism was the creation of a gradual process through which Jews, via immigration and settlement, would gain a large enough foothold in Palestine that world powers would have no choice but to grant them approval to establish a Jewish national home (Berlin, 1996).
Politic a l Zionism
The Zionist movement developed into a politically dynamic force with the meteoric emergence of Theodor Herzl and the convening of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. In the beginning of his career, Herzl held the conventional view of the Europeanized Jewish intellectuals of the late nineteenth century that the process of assimilation would lead to the full integration of Jews within their home societies. This view, however, was soon revised once he encountered anti-Semitism following the publication of Eugen Dühring&rsquos book on the &ldquoJewish Problem&rdquo and the Dreyfus trial in 1894, in which a Jewish captain within the French General Staff was falsely accused of spying for Germany and sentenced to life in prison. Dreyfus was exonerated 12 years after he was first charged, but it was the anti-Semitic environment surrounding his original trial that provoked Herzl, who was covering the event as a journalist, to realize that assimilation had failed and that it was futile to combat anti-Semitism in Europe. At that moment, the &ldquoJewish Question&rdquo was transformed from a social and religious problem to a national one (Friedman, 2004). Herzl subsequently became the founder and leader of the Political Zionists.
Herzl&rsquos ideology, which he explicated in plays, such as The New Ghetto (1897), pamphlets and books (e.g., The Jewish State, 1896 Altneuland, 1902), was based on the revolutionary premise that Jews are a nation like all other nations which is why a sovereign state was a solution to their problem (Avineri, 1981). Herzl believed the &ldquoJewish Question&rdquo should be solved politically, by European nations granting sovereignty over a portion of land for the Jews. This solution, he argued, satisfied the interests of Zionists and anti-Semites alike for the Jews to live separately. A Jewish state was therefore perceived by Herzl as a worldwide necessity and responsibility. The great powers, he maintained, should act together to find a &ldquocorner&rdquo for Jewish masses to emigrate to and live in peace.
Herzl was a man of action and a great diplomat, shifting his focus from one capital to another in response to political opportunities. He first turned to several prominent Jewish figures, including Baron de Hirsch (the founder of Jewish settlements in Argentina), the Chief Rabbi of Vienna and the Rothschild family, in the hope that they would be receptive to his ideas. Following these failed attempts, he later founded Die Welt, the Zionist Movement's weekly newspaper, the financial arm of the movement known as the Jewish Colonial Trust, and, in August 1897, the Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. In the diplomatic arena, Herzl negotiated with Kaiser Wilhelm, the Sultan of Turkey, the King of Italy, Pope Pius X, the Russian Minister of the Interior and many other gentile leaders. It was the first time in history that a Jewish national program was placed on the international political agenda (Avineri, 2007). In these meetings, Herzl presented the fundamental ideas of Zionism and the necessity to apply a Realpolitic view to constructively solve the &ldquoJewish Problem.&rdquo
Perhaps Herzl&rsquos most controversial move was his support of the British proposal in 1903 for a Jewish settlement in Uganda under the British flag. Herzl justified his move on the grounds of political pragmatism by claiming it politically unwise to reject an offer made by a great power that recognized the Zionist movement. Furthermore, the acceptance of the British offer would bring about the realization of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine nearer as the great powers began to comprehend the futility of this idea.
Following the Kishinev pogroms of 1903, Herzl foresaw further persecutions. In fact, he predicted that a Jewish catastrophe was imminent &mdash a prediction that was tragically realized during the Second World War. Herzl sought, therefore, a &ldquotemporary haven&rdquo in Uganda as an emergency measure and not as a rejection of a territorial base in Eretz Israel. His wish, however, never came to fruition. Although he won support at the sixth Zionist Congress to dispatch an investigation commission to East Africa, Russian Zionists, led by Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), lined up against him. The blow to Herzl&rsquos prestige, as well as the attempted murder of Max Nordau (co-founder of the WZO along with Herzl), left Herzl profoundly depressed. A year later, the British government withdrew its offer. Herzl&rsquos health deteriorated considerably during 1903, and he died the following year.
After Herzl&rsquos death, there was no hope for a breakthrough for the Zionist movement until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which at that time included Palestine. The leadership of the Zionist movement, therefore, moved from the hands of those who sought a political solution to those who supported a more practical orientation in the form of the steady immigration of Jews to Palestine and the development of the infrastructure for a Jewish homeland.
Spiritual and Cultural Zionism
The history of Zionism before the First World War is reflected in the multitude of themes that ran across the Zionist Movement, such as the secular, political and social emphases on national reconstruction and renaissance, and the capacity of Jews to transform themselves into autonomous agents of history, as well as Jewish solidarity. These themes were interwoven into the principle of shlilat ha'galut and were intended to be molded, once a Jewish nation in Eretz Israel was established, into a new Jewish collective identity (Eisenstadt, 1992). This utopia is found in the literary masterpieces of Ahad Ha&rsquoAm, who was Herzl&rsquos ideological opponent.
Ahad Ha&rsquoAm was a prolific Zionist writer and a political actor. He contributed more than any writer to the creation of modern Hebrew prose and, at the same time, supported the Lovers of Zion, attended the first Zionist congress and was elected as a member of the Odessa central committee which was the center of the Lovers of Zion organization. Later, Ahad Ha&rsquoAm became Chaim Weizmann&rsquos confidant during the negotiations over the Balfour Declaration. He attempted to influence the course of Zionism by emphasizing that Zionism should be a cultural movement, not just a political force. It should attempt to solidify the spiritual content of Jewish existence and reconstitute Jewish national culture so that, upon the acquisition of a state, Jews would continue to be guided by their historic quest for spiritual greatness.
Ahad Ha&rsquoAm presciently realized the establishment of a Jewish state would cause only a small portion of the Jewish people to immigrate to Israel. This implied that the Diaspora would continue to house the majority of the Jewish population. Since a newly established Jewish state would not solve the economic problems of Jews who continued to reside abroad, its responsibility toward their vitality would exist through spiritual and cultural spheres.
Spiritual and Cultural Zionism was meant to offer spiritual Jewish values to both the individual Jew in Western Europe who was unable to integrate into the liberal culture of his home country and the East European Jew unable to identify with the nationalist culture of his home country. Not surprisingly, after the publication of Herzl&rsquos Altneuland, Ahad Ha&rsquoAm published a scathing critique of Herzl&rsquos vision of the Jewish state because it ignored the spiritual dimension. In addition, Ahad Ha&rsquoAm was among the first writers to emphasize the necessity of confronting the Arab problem in Palestine, first and foremost, by changing the attitudes of the first settlers toward the Arab population. He also warned of the potential emergence of an Arab Palestinian national movement that would eventually confront the Zionist movement.
The roots of Religious Zionism can be traced back to the establishment of the Lovers of Zion. Prominent rabbis recognized the need to take part in the national reawakening process and influence the reconstruction of a new Jewish identity. Most important, however, was their decision to remain members of the Lovers of Zion, side by side with secular leaders &ndash a move that resulted in a crucial turn in the history of Religious Zionism. Later, differences of opinions between Shmuel Mohilever (1824-1898), who established the Warsaw section of Lovers of Zion, and the largely secular main office of the movement, led to the establishment of the religious Zionist party known as the Mizrahi (an abbreviation of merkas ruhani meaning &ldquospiritual center&rdquo) between 1902 and 1905.
The establishment of the Mizrahi party early in the history of the Zionist Movement signified the entry of the religious and rabbinic world into the realm of institutionalized politics. In contrast to the Lovers of Zion, wherein secular and religious members worked side by side, the establishment of Mizrahi signaled the emergence of a religious-political body within a secular movement. The founder of Mizrahi, Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines (1839-1915), defined boundaries between the domains of legitimate Zionist activity performed by flesh and blood in the present and that of the messianic hope, which was ideal and distant. This separation enabled him to envisage complete Jewish national redemption as coming only after the reforming of humanity as a whole, and especially the elimination of human corruption (Ravitzky 1993, p. 33). Until redemption, the proper path to follow was Herzlian Zionism. This decision left two options for the Mizrahi movement to choose from: (1) To act as a watchdog within the larger Zionist movement or (2) to engage in activities related to the physical and cultural infrastructure in Eretz Israel namely Jewish settlement and the religious education of Zionist society (Laqueur, 1972, p. 482). Once the advocates of the latter option won, there was a need to formulate the ideological justification for this constructive attitude. This was done by translating national content and spirit into traditional religious terms.
Download our mobile app for on-the-go access to the Jewish Virtual Library
Zionism - History
- John Howard OM AC, Former Prime Minister of Australia
&ldquoA fast-paced and unflinching history from a master writer. Ryvchin brilliantly chronicles the unbreakable 3,000-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the land of Zion and tells the story powerfully and definitively. A wonderful contribution to Jewish history.&rdquo
&ldquoThe clarity of Ryvchin&rsquos storytelling captures the essence of Zionism and explains the Jewish desire to return home in a manner that will fascinate, educate and inspire.&rdquo
- Isaac Herzog, Chairman of the Jewish Agency
"This important book should be read by all Zionists who need intellectual and historical ammunition to fight against anti-Zionists and by all who question Zionism out of ignorance or misguided political correctness."
The story of Zionism, the Jewish movement of national liberation that led to the founding of modern Israel, is animated by leaders possessed with rare vision and political genius. It is also a story of tragedy, false dawns and suffering on an incomprehensible scale. Above all, it is a story without precedent, that saw an ancient, scattered, persecuted people who had limped from one disaster to the next, achieving a return to freedom in the lands of their ancestors nearly two millennia after their exile. In this extraordinary feat of narrative history, Alex Ryvchin tells the gripping story of Zionism, a movement that has become one of the most controversial and least understood political concepts of our time, one that remains central to modern Jewish identity and to war and peace in the Middle East.
Top review from the United States
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
This tightly reasoned book presents the major currents in the early years of Zionism, from 1896 to 1906. Almog presents the major and minor figures in early Zionist history those who made a lasting impact on the movement, and are considered founding fathers of the State of Israel, and many lesser known figures who are merely footnotes to Zionism's founding.
The book's great strength is that it shows how varied Zionism was in its early days. Although there were `factions' within the movement, there was a great deal of fluidity between groups, and what would later become mutually exclusive viewpoints could be held by the same person. Later, as different viewpoints coalesced, Zionism lost some of its diversity, and became a more unitary movement.
This book is brisk, and Almog moves from person to person in quick succession. To the non-specialist, this can make for confusing reading. The book would have benefited from a biographical glossary. But overall this does not detract from the book's importance. In outlining the birth of a new form of Jewish nationalism, it shows how typical historical categories do not hold up to close scrutiny.
Zionism As A Reflection of Jewish History Past and Present
Q: What do you see as the purpose of the book and who is it for?
A: The whole concept of Zionism has been politically and strategically trashed by her enemies. The danger is that future generations will only know Zionism as an evil to be fought and the young people, whom we count on as the next advocates to tell the story of Zionism and defend it, today are generally apathetic or ignorant of this story. We hear people saying Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism or being Jewish, but I think Zionism is inextricably linked to Jewish history.
The story of Zionism is the story of the Jewish people. And if Jews don’t know that story and don’t take part in it, we will see greater rates of intermarriage and loss of identity.
For this reason, I’d like to see my book taught in schools and universities.
Q: One of the patterns in Jewish history is making questionable alliances with apparent enemies. You mention Herzl in this regard. Can you give an example, and do you think this is an unavoidable element of Zionism?
Herzl dealt with a lot of ardent antisemites like the Kaiser and the Russian Foreign Minister. He felt a cold synergy between the interests of Zionism and these rabid antisemites. Herzl thought that for the Jews to achieve the return to their ancestral land, these antisemites who are so keen to purge their countries of Jews would be accommodating. And indeed, many of them saw a benefit in a movement that could absorb a large number of Jews.
In any political campaign such as Zionism, there has to be a dose of realpolitik–to think not only about the idealism, but also how to practically achieve your goal. That means creating alliances with those you find unsavory. The danger is when you look at an alignment of interests as temporary and mistake that for good faith or long term alliances. To Herzl’s credit, he quickly realized he was not going to achieve the goals of Zionism through alliances with those who were fundamentally hostile to Jewish rights. That is why he shifted the Zionist movement from the European continent to Great Britain, where he found men who more driven by Christian ideals and a general passion for the idea of the Jews returning to their ancestral land.
Today, Israel has formed alliances with some nations that might really see a short term alignment of interests, but don’t harbor any great feeling of warmth towards the Jewish people. That is dangerous, but it is also the world that we live in. And as long as the Netanyahu government and the successive governments go into this with their eyes open, I think it is something that can and needs to be done. But at the same time, I think that Israel should act morally in this regard and call out antisemitism of far-right leaders around the world with whom they may have diplomatic relations. If those relations are genuine, they will withstand those criticisms.
Q: We know the Balfour Declaration favors the establishment of “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine and that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” — but it also says nothing should be done to prejudice “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” What was that issue?
A: The concern was that Zionism was not the universal position of the Jewish World. There was still discussion in the Jewish World what was best way to alleviate the suffering of the Jews was through assimilation. Not everyone was on the side of Zionism, particularly those who lived in liberal Democratic countries like the UK, Australia and the US. They did not see the need for a national movement to return to Palestine. They favored assimilation.
In order to assuage those concerns, that wording was put in, to say that basically, those Jews who preferred to live outside of the Jewish State would continue to live in the Diaspora with nothing to impede their rights. There was a concern that once the Jewish State was formed, Jews living outside that state would be viewed as alien, foreigners. That language in the Balfour Declaration was to protect them.
I am keen that people should read this book and apply its lessons to contemporary times. I think that is very important.
Bernie Sanders is different from those Jews in the early 20th century who were driven mainly by self-preservation. They were men who, despite being Jewish, soared to the heights of public life in the UK and Australia. They looked at Zionism, dedicated to liberating the Jewish people and alleviating their antisemitism and thought: what do I need this for it will only have a detrimental effect on my standing!
Sanders is not motivated by that sort of calculus. He is an American Jew, deeply committed to perfecting American society, making it as just and equitable as possible the way he sees it. I think he views Zionism as a foreign project and doesn’t identify with it. Also, he is associated with the hard left who are rabidly anti-Zionist and has to placate them.
Q: Originally, Arab leaders like Hussein ibn Ali and his son Amir Faisal allied with Chaim Weizmann and favored the re-establishment of a Jewish state. Then along came Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti, who incited riots and tried to prevent it. Today, are we seeing a shift back in the other direction?
A: Today the Arab states see the peace treaties between Israel and Egypt and Jordan. They see if you don’t threaten Israel, it won’t harm you back, will be good friends and share technology. Israel can become a dependable strategic ally in the face of much bigger threats like Iran.
But at the same time, one thing that Zionism teaches us is that alliances come and go, they rise and fall, and cannot really be depended on. They need to be used at that point in time. As long as Israel is economically, militarily, and diplomatically strong, that is the most important thing. Let Israel choose alliances at that point in time, but it cannot depend on anyone.
Q: In the last chapter of your book, you discuss anti-Zionism, which started off as Jewish opposition to Zionism. How is that different from today’s anti-Zionism on college campuses and expressed by politicians?
A: Early anti-Zionism is virtually unrecognizable from anti-Zionism today. The anti-Zionist Jews at the time were overwhelming loyal, proud Jews who cared deeply for the future of the Jewish people, but they had a different view on how to solve the problem of antisemitism in the streets. Their solution was the full immersion into the societies in which they lived. It was a legitimate point of view, but ultimately disproven.
The anti-Zionist Jews of today do not care about Jewish rights. Instead, they use their Jewishness to attack their own people. Rather than stand up against their oppressors, they side with them.
But once the state of Israel exists, anti-Zionism becomes not merely a different political position or philosophy, it now becomes the opposition to the existence of the state of Israel–a state that has now existed for over 70 years. Anti-Zionism is no longer a morally tenable position. That is why you will not find in the ranks of anti-Zionist Jews someone who cares about the future of the Jewish people. Instead, overwhelmingly you find selfish people of low character.
Q: You trace Great Britain’s change into an enemy of Zionism to its being a declining imperial power, stretched thin and wearied by Palestine. Some might see that as a description of the US. Do you think there is a danger of Zionist history repeating itself here too?
A: I think so. That description of Great Britain in the 1940s could apply to the US today. There is a growing trend, particularly under the current president, of isolationism and rethinking US foreign policy solely in terms of US interests. It is no longer fashionable to think the US should bring the values of democracy to the darkest places in the world and be a force for good.
There especially a risk with the progressive Democrats who don’t have that instinctive warmth for the state of Israel as establishment Democrats have in the past.
Governments and allies come and go. Israel needs to remain strong and independent to preserve its interests. We have seen this already in the course of its existence.
Zionism - History
This essay is based on a lecture she delivered to FPRI’s Butcher History Institute on “Teaching about Israel and Palestine,” October 25-26, 2014. The Butcher History Institute is FPRI’s professional development program for high school teachers from all around the country.
One of the key forces in shaping the history of Palestine was the Zionist movement. This movement emerged from and is rooted in political developments in Europe, but it changed and developed as it evolved from a political movement in Europe to a settlement and nation-building project in Palestine. Thus, we need to step outside the physical context of the Middle East to understand a force that ultimately changed the Middle East.
This article focuses on Jewish history and Jewish politics and thought other texts in this collection complement and complicate the picture I give with perspectives from the Arab, Palestinian, and imperial perspectives. In what follows I will give an overview of the Jewish world at the time will zoom in on the conditions in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe that eventually gave rise to the Zionist movement will discuss the early evolution of the movement in Europe, before discussing how it evolved and changed as it focused on a settlement and nation-building project in Palestine. In addition, I’ll look briefly at how local late Ottoman and then British trends enabled the movement’s growth in Palestine despite local fear, concern, and growing opposition, and will finally turn to Zionist responses to increasingly evident local resistance.
Zionism is a form of Jewish nationalism that posits Jews are a nation and that Jews should receive national rights on the basis of this identity. What distinguishes Zionism from other forms of Jewish nationalism is that Zionists, after a brief period of uncertainty and alternative proposals, believed that the location for these rights or sovereignty should be the Land of Israel, which religious Jewish tradition regarded as Jews’ ancient and ultimate homeland.
Overview of the Jewish World at the Time
Jews had originated in Palestine (ancient Canaan) but had begun to migrate outwards in ancient times, both because of expulsions and for economic reasons under the Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. Under Roman rule, after the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD, they migrated farther, across North Africa and, particularly important for us, to Germany and France. In the late Middle Ages, in the wake of persecution and expulsions, many Ashkenazi Jews moved east from Germany to the lands of Poland and Russia.
Not all Jews migrated to Europe when the Middle East came under the rule of Islam, some migrated across the Muslim world, including a very important population who went to Spain and flourished there and retained their identity as Spanish Jews even after they were expelled after the Christian Reconquista in 1492. Many of those Spanish (or Sephardi) Jews lived in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and North Africa And still others, dating to the times of the Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, the Mizrahim, lived in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Iran, some of the longest lasting Jewish populations in the world.
A very small population of Jews remained in Palestine under Roman, Byzantine, and Muslim rule their numbers grew after the Spanish expulsion of 1492 and again with migration of Jews from Eastern Europe to the holy land, often for religious reasons, or to study. By the end of the 19th century, Jews—nearly all religious—with a core of Mizrahi Jews, an influx of Sephardi Jews, and a later immigration of religious Ashkenazim, were about 5% of Palestine’s population.
Back in Europe, with the expansion of the Russian Empire and the partition of Poland in the 1790s, much of Eastern Europe came under Russian rule. Catherine the Great established Russia’s Western borderlands as the Pale of Settlement which, by the 19th century had, the highest concentration of Jews in the world. Most were religious, but increasingly were being influenced by the idea of learning secular sciences, alongside the maintenance of Jewish cultural identity. Much smaller, but often highly educated and influential populations of Jews lived in Western and central Europe, especially France, Germany, England, and Austria.
19TH Century Trends in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe
To understand the emergence of Zionism we need to look at key trends taking place in Europe: enlightenment and emancipation in Western and central Europe and state centralization and enlightened absolutism in Eastern Europe. Both of these would lead some Jews toward Zionism, though not always for the same reasons.
In Eastern Europe, the debate was not about citizenship, but rather about state centralization and integration of Jews and other minorities into state languages and state educational institutions. But unlike in the West, where collective identities were dissolved in favor of individual rights, the Russian empire in particular was full of ethnic groups understanding themselves as distinct entities. The idea that Jews could be fully modern and maintain ethnic identities and institutions of their own was consistent with broader national trends in Russia. Within a large commitment to modernization, Jewish cultural movements, based on Yiddish and Hebrew, emerged.
But confidence in integration and modernization stalled in 1882, with the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, the rollback of his more inclusive laws, and the outbreak of pogroms. The 1880s then saw the emergence of a slew of Jewish political alternatives to liberalism, from socialism to nationalism to nationally organized forms of socialism. Zionism emerged in this mix as a particular form of nationalism: the idea that Jews could be fully realized culturally and politically only in a homeland of their own. This thinking took shape in particular in the work of Leon Pinsker in his 1882 text “Autoemancipation.”
In Western and Central Europe our story begins earlier than the Eastern European story, though Zionism emerged there slightly later. The enlightenment had introduced a belief in citizenship and individual rights. Jews were an important test case: if such a unique and traditionally insular group could be integrated, the very principle of enlightenment would be supported. Many, however, were unsure whether Jews could or should be integrated.
But rising ethnic nationalism and growing economic pressures compromised this trend. Debates raged throughout the late 1700s-1800s about whether Jews could be fully integrated. This came to be called the Jewish Question. And indeed the more Jews were integrated, the more grew the perception that they were a potential fifth column, that they would weaken the state.
Most Jews in Central and Western Europe continued at that time to believe that integration was possible and the best solution to rising anti-Semitism. But some secular Jews, initially committed to the principles of liberalism and integrated, came to feel that Jews could not be accepted as members of a host nation, but instead should cultivate their own identity as a nation of their own. Theodor Herzl, a Viennese Jewish journalist from Budapest, who, watching rising anti-Semitism (culminating in 1890 with the accusation of Alfred Dreyfus in France of treason), concluded that anti-Semitism would not end and that the solution was Jewish statehood.
This is the political mix that spawned Zionism: disenchantment with liberalism in Western Europe, combined with political upheaval and violence in Eastern Europe, a setting more generally conducive to thinking about identity in ethno-nationalist terms.
Opposition to Zionism
Though Zionism has a particular logic that emerged from the events surrounding it, not all Jews subscribed to that logic and in fact a majority of Jews initially did not. Their opposition stemmed from a number of directions. Jewish liberals, committed to the idea of Jewish integration, thought that Zionism, by conceding to the permanence of anti-Semitism, would in turn lead to more anti-Semitism. Orthodox Jews believed that Jews had been exiled in ancient times because of their sins and would return only with God’s will and in messianic times. They believed that taking action to return to Palestine en masse was nothing short of heresy. This religious opposition would change as religious streams of Zionism emerged, but it is important to recall that Orthodoxy was initially deeply opposed to Zionism. Another Jewish group, Autonomists, believed in the national and cultural specificity of Jews, but believed that the solution to Jewish problems would be found within the places they lived, by demanding cultural autonomy. Many of them promoted Yiddish (not Hebrew) as the Jewish national language. Meanwhile, some Jews thought that the division by nationality was highly inappropriate and joined socialist movements not organized in national terms.
To understand how this initially small movement evolved into a major political force, we need to look at it in stages, always understanding the tension between the national purpose Zionism would serve in Europe and the settlement project itself.
Evolution of the Zionist Movement
The earliest Zionist settlers, known as the first Aliyah (wave of immigration), emerge in Eastern Europe following the events of 1882. The “Lovers of Zion” sent tiny groups of Jews to purchase lands mostly in the Jaffa region and Galilee. But they were very disorganized. The major organization came from Central Europeans, and most importantly Theodor Herzl, who in 1897 convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. Still, though, they believed that the actual target population was those facing pogroms in Eastern Europe, most of them assumed they would not personally move.
If Central European Jews had provided the organizational impetus, and Eastern European Jews had provided the willing immigrants, the early Zionist settlements, places like Rehovot, Rishon LeZion, and Zikhron Yaakov, succeeded (after initial failures) only because of the investment of wealthy Western European Jews—most famously Baron Edmond de Rothschild of the noted banking family, who pumped capital into struggling wheat and grape plantations, which employed mainly native Arab labor.
With Central and Western European Jews providing much of the organizational backbone of the still tiny Jewish settlement movement, the ongoing tensions and violence in the Russian Empire—most notably the Kishinev Pogrom in 1903–drove further waves of Jews to Palestine. In the 10 years before World War I, this group, known as the second wave of Zionist immigration (Second Aliyah) arrived to find the plantation colonies of their predecessors. However, strongly influenced by the socialist trends and emphasis on labor of early 20th century Russia, they expressed concern at the tendency of Jewish colonists (so they called themselves at the time) to be uninvolved with physical labor, and to hire native Arab labor at a low cost.
They were convinced that this path was bad for Jews (who were not properly connected to the soil) and to Palestine in general (because plantation owners would be seen as exploitative). They pushed for the separation of Jewish and Arab agricultural economies, and founded all-Jewish farming cooperatives called Kibbutzim.
There are two different ways to look at this development, both of which have truth in them. On the one hand, the members of the Second Aliyah who, because of their socialist focus would be called Labor Zionists, were convinced that their path was enlightened, non-exploitative, and sensitive to the needs of local Palestinian Arab peasants, who they assumed were at a lower stage of development. They believed that their new economic structure would work better for Jews, for Palestinian Arabs, and for the land as a whole. On the other hand, the model of a separate economy eliminated Palestinian Arabs from the picture. With Arabs no longer essential as workers, the Zionist movement began to imagine a more fully Jewish project, which would build an all-Jewish model society from scratch. Some scholars have compared this mindset to that of American settler colonists, who imagined creating a “city on a hill” that would take shape without any direct engagement with the Native American population. This thinking, though rooted in progressive values, introduced new challenges and conflicts.
The Second and Third Aliyot, Zionists from the Russian empire, were strongly influenced by the idea that national identity was rooted in Hebrew. They were people who, a generation before, had been promoting Hebrew and Yiddish literature as tools of modernization within the Russian empire and they brought this focus on culture to Zionism. Herzl’s early Zionist Congresses did not emphasize culture, aiming instead for a political solution to a political problem of anti-semitism. They were conducted wholly in German. A group of Eastern European Zionists, however, were already working in Palestine to promote Hebrew as the national language. Why Hebrew? Hebrew was the language of the Hebrew bible and of the period of Jewish autonomy in the ancient Holy Land. It was mainly spoken and written in religious contexts but had become a language of modern literature. These Zionists saw it as the link tying Jews back to their an essential and robust national existence. Many of them rejected Yiddish, the Germanic, but Hebrew-influenced language of most Eastern European Jews, as backwards.
In the early decades of the 20th century, advocates of Hebrew set up institutions to coin new words, built a complete Hebrew language school system, convened Jewish cultural performances, translated classic works of European literature into Hebrew and, increasingly, put social pressure on new immigrants to leave their mother tongues and adopt Hebrew. Those who grew up in the Hebrew school system were immensely proud of their fluency and policed the language use of their parents and other new immigrants. It should be noted that the pre-Zionist population of Palestine, that 5-8% I mentioned earlier, tended to be strongly opposed to this secular Hebrew program. Eventually the immigrants of the Second and Third Aliyot, created a kind of political and cultural hegemony around the idea of Jewish labor and separate economic markets, and around Hebrew as a national symbol.
You may have noticed that it is possible to talk about early Zionism as a process of ideological and cultural development among European Jews in Europe and Palestine without mentioning native Palestinians even once. This was largely the mindset of most early Zionists, who were far more concerned about real challenges and threats in Europe and about Jews’ internal cultural development, than about any potential for conflict in Palestine.
But Zionism was not just about Jewish initiative a set of local and regional circumstances were arraying themselves in Palestine that would both enable the continuation and growth of Zionist immigration and land purchasing efforts, and lead locals to be highly resistant to and suspicious of these very efforts.
The period between the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a period of imperial contest, contest that would lead ultimately to the First World War. As empires tried to strengthen themselves, they took actions that would be fateful for Palestine.
The Ottoman Empire, seeing itself growing economically weaker, passed a series of reforms in the mid-19th century. Some of these gave rights to Europeans to migrate to and set up economic (and in some cases) religious institutions in Palestine, with the hope of spurring investment. This move was initially influential more for European Christians, but it allowed European Jews to immigrate as citizens or subjects of their European countries. The Ottoman Empire also tried to centralize and enacted land reforms aimed at collecting taxes more efficiently. These reforms led to many smaller landowners to sell to large, absentee landlords because they couldn’t afford to pay taxes. This led to a situation where the sellers of land to Jews did not live on the land they were selling.
The British Empire, in turn, seeing the Ottoman Empire’s demise and plotting its own plan to control parts of the Middle East, began making deals with seveal interested parties. In addition to promising Sharif Husayn of Mecca an Arab state in exchange for help in the Arab revolt against the Ottomans, and making tentative land arrangements with France, they issued the famous (and for some, infamous) Balfour Declaration, which expressed support for the establishment of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine.
When the British did indeed conquer Palestine in late 1917 and were awarded a mandate by the League of Nations, they incorporated the text of the Balfour Declaration into the terms of the mandate. Though this promise was vaguely worded, the Zionist movement took this as indication that they were justified in demanding British support for immigration and land purchase. Though the British quickly understood that such allowances would foment opposition of the local population they did not make significant efforts to curb Zionist immigration until 1939, by which point events in Europe put this policy under immense pressure.
But if conditions globally and regionally allowed for the continuation of Zionist immigration, other conditions ensured that this immigration would not be welcomed. Zionists, though leaving Europe, both thought of themselves as Europeans and were viewed as such. Growing nationalist sentiment in the Arab world, though initially anti-Ottoman, soon took the form of country-specific anticolonial advocacy. Zionist land purchase, though normally conducted legally, led to the dispossession of Palestinian peasants. This, combined with a broader trend of urbanization that already began under Ottoman Rule, led to a sense that the traditional moorings of Palestinian society were being upended.
Arab Question Becomes Jewish Question
The Zionist movement emerged as a proposed solution to “The Jewish Question,” the question of how and whether Jews could be integrated into their European host societies and, if not, what they should do. But with the shifting center of Zionism from Europe to Palestine, a new question, an Arab Question, loomed over the Zionist project: will Palestinian Arabs ever accept Zionist immigration and, if not, how should Zionists respond?
Internal disagreements about this question would define the political map of the Zionist movement, and later the Israeli government, until this day. The earliest Zionist stance on this issue was no stance at all: the First Aliyah colonists assumed that they would create jobs that natives would welcome. Second Aliyah colonists saw this employment as exploitation, and recommended separate economies, assuming that this change would eliminate any chance of conflict.
But with growing Palestinian Arab opposition and anti-British and anti-Zionist violence particularly in 1921, 1929, and 1936, Zionists split around how to respond to opposition. Labor Zionists for the most part believed the tension was based on a misunderstanding, that Palestinian peasants in particular did not understand the good that Zionism was bringing them, and were being influenced by bourgeois elites to oppose Zionism. The sincerely held belief that indeed Zionism was doing good (and that opposition was based either on misunderstanding or baseless hatred) would come to define a dominant strand of thinking.
A new group of Zionist right-wingers, who called themselves Revisionists, opposed the socialist stance of labor Zionists and emphasized national strength over socialist unity. Influenced by the early versions of Italian fascism, the Revisionists encouraged military training and a non-conciliatory stance toward the British. Their leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, held that conflict was an inevitable outgrowth of foreigners coming to Palestine and held that the only possible response was to fight back and win. This belief in the inevitability of conflict and the justness of using force to win when necessary has influenced the Zionist right, and at present the ruling Likud party.
These divides remained influential into the 1930s, but the nature of Jewish immigration to Palestine changed. While some Jews were still invested in the idea of Zionism as the best solution to anti-Semitism in Europe, or held to the economic and social principles of the founders, others came to Palestine because it was their best or only immigration option. This was true of many immigrants from Poland during the economic crisis of the 1920s and immigrants from Germany and Austria in the early 1930s, as Hitler and the Nazis rose to power. Some of these were denigrated as insufficiently committed to labor and excessively bourgeois.
If Zionism was one ideological response among many to questions about pathways to Jewish integration (or lack thereof in Europe), the events of World War II placed Zionism on a different course, as it drew more and more immigrants (with a variety of political backgrounds) many of whom were refugees. As the devastation of the Holocaust became clearer, Western opinion started coalescing around the idea of a Jewish state, even while the British were well aware of the opposition this would provoke locally. These political developments gave those who had been ideologically Zionist all along a seeming confirmation that indeed Zionism was the only acceptable Jewish ideology. Tragedy and crisis made an ideological choice seem like an ideological imperative, and this sense of Zionism as the only sort of Jewish response became dominant among world Jews well into the late 20th century and indeed, for many, to this day.
But fundamentally, the same question that Jews asked about Zionism at its inception remained present as a pre-state nation-building ideology merged with pro-Israel nationalism after 1948: Can Jews truly integrate into the places they live, or are they always in danger of rejection and in need of a safe haven? Are Jews fundamentally a national group, or are they are religious group whose members can (and should) be part of multiple nations? Does separating Jews out into a separate unit or group reduce anti-Semitism or increase anti-Semitism? These questions are complex ones with multiple answers. They are ones that we, with our students, can ask, discuss and debate in light of the facts and details of the Jewish historical experience.
 See Adam Garfinkle, “The Origins of the Palestine Mandate,” Footnotes, November 2014, and Bernard Wasserstein, “The Partition of Palestine,” Footnotes, December 2014. Both are write-ups of lectures presented at FPRI’s History Institute on Teaching about Israel and Palestine.
The Forgotten Roots of Modern Zionism
The Katowice Conference. In the center of the front row is Leon Pinsker. Public domain. National Library of Israel. Wikimedia Commons.
Not many Jews today recall a nineteenth-century European Jewish leader who wrote a booklet that inspired young Jews to move to the Land of Israel. The man first believed in assimilation as an answer for Jews, but later, due to what he saw as rising anti-Semitism, he advocated a new idea — what eventually became known as Zionism. He met with notables all over Europe to advance his plans, and his booklet led him to chair a movement that convened a groundbreaking convention of Jews discussing a mass Return to Zion.
If you are thinking the man was Theodor Herzl, the book was “The Jewish State” (1896), the convention was the First Zionist Congress and the movement was the World Zionist Organization, you are wrong.
This Jewish leader died five years before Herzl wrote “The Jewish State.” His name was Leon Pinsker, and this year is the bicentennial of his birth in 1821. Pinsker’s booklet was titled “Auto-Emancipation: A Warning of a Russian Jews to His Brothers” and was published in 1882. The 1881 pogroms that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II had caused Pinsker, a physician, to rethink his dedication to assimilation. He was recruited to the Hibbat Zion (Fondness For Zion) movement and chaired its 1884 conference in Katowice, which united various parts of the movement as Hovevei Zion (Lovers Of Zion).
The eminent historian, Walter Laqueur, in his 1972 opus, “A History of Zionism,” labeled Pinsker’s book “a milestone in the development of Zionist thought.” British Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits also stressed Pinsker’s importance in his 1984 book, “If Only My People Zionism In My Life”: “Political Zionism was born and sustained out of negative factors: the intolerable conditions of Jewish homelessness. Pinsker’s Auto-Emancipation (1882) was sparked by the Russian pogroms in 1881. The seeds of Herzl’s Judenstaat were planted at the Dreyfus trial in Paris, and even Jabotinsky was only converted to Zionism at the age twenty-three by the Kishinev pogrom in 1903.”
There was a time that when anyone who was an educated Zionist knew who Pinsker was, had familiarity with his ideas and understood the importance of Hovevei Zion to Zionist history. But over the years, the Zionist narrative became simplified and little room was left to recall those who came before Herzl.
Over the years, the Zionist narrative became simplified and little room was left to recall those who came before Herzl.
Beyond simply correcting the record and restoring Pinsker’s place in the story of Zionism, we can learn much from his work on what Zionism was, is and can be.
Jewish unity was a key idea of the Hovevei Zion. The Katowice conference brought together less than three dozen delegates, but they travelled from France, Britain, Germany, Russia and Romania to attend. What’s also important to note is that even though Pinsker was not observant, he was able to find common ground with the delegates, some of whom were Orthodox rabbis.
It is a misrepresentation of history to state that the Zionist movement was a secular movement and that Orthodox rabbis opposed early Zionism. It is simply impossible to understand the early development of modern Zionism without studying the ideas, activism and impact of rabbis such as Yehuda Leib Kalischer, Yehuda Alkalai and Shmuel Mohilever. Rabbi Mohilever attended the 1884 conference and was elected president Pinsker was elected chairman Rabbi Kalischer’s son was elected to the central committee.
Part of the organizing that Pinsker and his colleagues did was generating direct financial support for the Jewish communities being developed throughout the Land of Israel in the last several decades of the 1800s. For example, the first agricultural school in pre-state Israel, Mikveh Israel, was built in what is now the Tel Aviv area in 1870 (Tel Aviv itself would not be founded until 1909). The 1884 conference attendees voted to send much needed funds to two communities in Israel. In essence, Pinsker helped build Zionist towns decades before the Holocaust.
Through their work, Pinsker and his colleagues put the idea of the Return to Zion into the consciousness of European Jews so that when Herzl arrived on the scene, there was already something serious to work with.
Throughout the time in which Hovevei Zion was active, Jews had to contend with Ottoman laws that prohibited them from buying property. If it were not for these immoral laws, who is to say that millions of Jews would not have left Europe for Jerusalem, the Galilee, Hebron and the Tel Aviv area long before Hitler ever came to power?
Despite the challenges to obtain real estate and many other obstacles, the early Zionist pioneers blazed a solid path. And that perhaps is the single most important lesson to learn from Pinsker and his contemporaries: In addition to the vital need for Jewish unity, however serious the challenges may be, Zionist work must go on.
Let’s use the bicentennial of Pinsker’s birth to recommit to Zionist education and to ensure the Zionist movement remains the big tent that it was from the outset — a safe space for the Orthodox and non-Orthodox to combine their efforts on behalf of the Jewish People in our eternal homeland.
ZIONISM: A TIMELINE
The current situation of Palestine drew a lot of attention from people of all nations, religions and races. While the narrative of Palestine being the land of terrorists gained popularity, the other side of this story was also duly highlighted. This ‘other’ side of the story was mainly exposed by Muslims worldwide who stood in solidarity with Palestine, especially Gaza, where most of the destruction was carried out.
The Palestinian “conflict,” as the international media prefers to call it, is not a new issue and is almost 80 years old, at least since it has been officially recognized as a conflict. However, what led to all of this? Who are the oppressors, and who are the oppressed? What do the oppressors want? Moreover, why are there two sides to this story?
To answer all of these questions is a hectic and challenging task, but to leave them unattended is ignorance and naivety. The world needs to know what the reality is and how it has been misrepresented throughout the course of its existence.
To understand the cause of this conflict, we will have to go back into the history for as far as the times of Prophet Ya’qub (Islamic version)/ Prophet Jacob (Biblical/Jewish version). To understand the present scenario, we shall talk about the Prophet in Jewish terms to avoid confusion.
THE RELIGIOUS HISTORY OF THE LAND
Jacob was born in Canaan (present-day Lebanon) and was the son of Prophet Isaac, the son of Abraham, who had 12 sons through two wives and two slave women. According to the Genesis (32:23-29)-Old Testament, Jacob was given the name ‘Israel’ while fighting with a mysterious being (often referred to as God Himself). That proves that Israel was the name given to a person, a human being, and not to a piece of land. Hence, Bani Israel or the Children of Israel refers to the children and descendants of Prophet Jacob and not to the people born in the land which is presently named Israel. The terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Yehudi’ are derived from the name of the son of Jacob, Judah (Yehud in Hebrew). So, all children and grandchildren of Jacob were not called Yehudi or Jew. Only the ones born through Judah were identified as Jew/Yehudi. Since Jacob is the most prominent Prophet in Judaism, the land where he and his descendants lived automatically became of prominence to Jews. Nevertheless, it should be pointed that Israel has never been the name of a particular land throughout history. The name of the present state itself was chosen in opposition to the names like Zion, Judea, Ivriya. That is the Jewish account of why the land is important to Jews. Now, have a look at the Muslim account.
The land of Palestine has importance in the Muslim world because of multiple reasons, some of which are that it is the land of several Prophets of Islam, including Ibrahim, Ismael, Ishaq, Ya’qub, Dawood, Sulaiman, Zakariah, Yahya, Isa and others. It has been called the Holy Land by Allah SWT Himself. It is home to the 3rd holiest site of Islam, i.e., Masjid-al-Aqsa, often known as Bayt-Al-Maqdis. Masjid-al-Aqsa is the first Qibla (direction to face while offering salaat) of Islam, and the Prophet ﷺ encouraged visiting it. It is also amongst one of the stops during the Isra-ul-Meraj (the night of ascension). These are just some of the various reasons why Palestine is a land of paramount significance for Muslims.
Bayt Al-Maqdis (Picture is for representational purpose only)
It is to be noted that since Prophet Muhammed ﷺ was the last Prophet of Islam (therefore the last of the Abrahamic religions), he came to a people much after the times of Prophet Jacob. From this time in history onwards, almost all of the countries in the Middle East had become Muslim majority nations with Muslim rulers. Islam was the only religion being practised in the Middle East on the system level from around 623 AD onwards, along with few native Christians and Jews to the land, who exercised autonomy in their matters as guaranteed by Shariah. It was towards the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire that the other Abrahamic religions made a significant comeback in the Middle East, which happened over a long period of time starting from the Battle of Vienna, 1683. Much later, when the Greeks gained independence from the Ottomans in 1830, it was officially seen as the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire. This timeline is vital in the context of the Palestinian Conflict because it was around this very time when the emergence of Zionism happened. However, before we dig into Zionist history and its present, let us understand what Zionism is and how it is different from Judaism.
ZIONISM AND JUDAISM
Zionism originated as a movement that sought an independent Jewish state in response to the anti-Jewish sentiment prevalent in Europe. The general demand was the creation of state anywhere, for example, Ethiopia. However, a more particular demand was to create it around Jerusalem, to end the Jewish diaspora of 1900 years, and resettle on the promised land. On the other hand, as the term has come to be known, Judaism is an Abrahamic ethnic religion comprising the collective religious, cultural, and legal tradition and civilisation of the Jewish people. It is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God/Jehovah established with the Children of Israel.
Looking at the definitions, it must not be complicated to understand that Zionism is a political movement while Judaism is a complete and independent religion. Both are very different in their nature and existence, however, unequivocally believe in raising the third temple of Solomon in the place of Masjid Al Aqsa when the Messiah of Judaism arrives at the turn of final hour. Now that the difference has been established, it is time to trace the history of Zionism.
During the Ottoman Caliphate of Sultan Suleiman and Selim II, Joseph Nasi, a prominent Jew figure during the Ottoman Caliphate and Selim II, had started working upon the resettlement of the Jews in Ottoman Syria (present-day Tiberias, Israel), around 1561. Although he was not very successful in his mission yet, he significantly impacted it, perhaps marking the beginning of Zionism.
After almost 50 years, Modern Zionism gained pace. Many literary publications took place in which Zionist figurines supported the resettlement of the Jews in the holy land. These publications consisted of books and articles that talked about the ‘Promised Land’ and how it was high time for Jews to return to Jerusalem. Most of these publications were aggressive in tone. These publications kept increasing in number for about another 50 years. Nevertheless, it was in the year 1700 that action was taken upon Zionist ideologies.
Judah HeHasid, a Jewish preacher, did what is considered to be the first step towards the physical resettlement of Jews in Jerusalem. He, along with approximately 1500 Jews, came to Jerusalem on October 17, 1700. However, Judah died three days after the arrival of the group. Even though their arrival brought affliction to the preexisting Jews of Jerusalem, it was still the first and most crucial step towards the Israelisation of Palestine. After this, Zionism yet again returned to become a literary movement. Most Zionists were merely writing about it until 1777 when a group of Jewish people led by Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk tried to settle in Safed but were eventually forced out. However, since the ball was rolling, the next practical step in Zionism was forming the Palestine Association in 1804. Although this association was not primarily created to add to the Zionist movement, it established that amongst their various other goals, they were looking forward to ‘to establish relative to the history, the manners, and the country of the Jewish nation.’
The rolling ball kept on rolling, many organisations were formed, and many leaders came to prominence. The Jewish resettlement was now one of the most important things that took place in Judaism at that time. Articles and books were published, and the Zionists slowly kept settling in Jerusalem. The Zion Society was formed in Germany. Then, a group named Hovevei Zion set up 30 Jewish farming communities in the Land of Israel, the First Aliyah a major wave (estimated 25,000–35,000) of Jewish immigration to Ottoman Palestine took place. While all of this created chaos somehow, it was only after the emergence of Theodor Herzl as the most prominent Zionist leader that the Zionists could actually dream of a state on their promised land.
Theodor Herzl (Picture is for representational purpose only).
Theodor Herzl, a Jew born in Hungary, was the person who turned Zionism into a political movement of worldwide significance and is rightly called the ‘spiritual father of the Jewish State of Israel.’ Being a journalist, a political activist and a thinker of significant stature, he formed the World Zionist Organization in 1897 and thus, became the most prominent and influential Zionist figure of his time. His motive was primarily to establish a nation-state for the Jews, and for that, he wrote ‘Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State),’ which was to become the founding text of the movement. For the practical implication of the idea, he first approached Baron Edmond de Rothschild, to whom originally the book was addressed. However, Baron turned it down because of the charged anti-Jewish environment in Europe, specifically after the infamous Dreyfus Affair. Turned down by him, Herzl approached Baron Maurice de Hirsch of Argentina, who himself was a Jewish politician. However, he also refused the plan because of the disagreement with Herzl’s conditions. Turned down by compatriots, Herzl approached the Ottomans and tried to convince them to sell the Palestinian land, only to be turned down again by Caliph Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Caliphate.
After these attempts, Herzl came in contact with Great Britain, which was interested in establishing allegiance to the Jews. The British initially offered a Jewish settlement in Britain itself but later proposed land in Uganda, East Africa. However, this proposal was not favoured by the Zionist Congress, and Herzl died without being able to solve it.
This timeline of Zionism is essential to understand the current political situation in Palestine. It was after Herzl’s efforts that the Jews took Zionism more seriously. For Zionists, their resettlement in Jerusalem was now not primarily driven by religious motives instead, it became a political point for them to prove. In the words of Herzl himself, “for the house which will become the refuge of the Jewish nation. Zionism is the return to Judaism even before the return to the land of Israel” (while addressing people at the Zionist Congress at Basel). This statement represents how Zionism, in the eyes of Herzl, had now become the principle that was to guide the Jews.
COLONISATION AND THE VIOLENCE
Fast forward to the Balfour Declaration in which the British had extended their full support to the establishment of Jews in the land of Palestine, which caused a lot of tension, violence and destruction between the native and real Palestinians and the Zionists who were by now, taking up more and more land in Palestine. By the mid-1920s, Zionists had entered Palestine, Jerusalem specifically, and had started gaining power. Since they were backed by the British, all the violence they carried out on native Palestinians was defended and backed up. A perception was created that they were not being allowed in Palestine and represented themselves as the victims of violence however, the reality was entirely different. In their mission to create a Jewish State within Palestine, the Zionist forces forced some 750,000 Palestinians out of their homeland, remembered and called Naqba. For example, several villages were destroyed, for example, Deir Yassin. This unrest ended with Israel’s declaration of statehood, which the USA accepted on the very day of its declaration. However, the neighbouring Arab countries did not welcome this phenomenon, and the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 was fought between Israel and the five Arab nations Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq. Nevertheless, Israel came to defeat all the nations because of the support provided by the Britain and USA. Israel was now controlling around 78% of the historical Palestinian land, the rest being administered by Egypt and Jordan. After the 1948 war, several Palestinian refugees (who had escaped during the war) tried to cross the borders to meet their families and take their belongings back. The Israeli response was the killing of around 3000-5000 people who attempted to cross the border. With all the external chaos, internal colonisation went hand in hand. The state of Israel kept on displacing the Muslim Palestinians by practising settler colonialism and inserted the clause of ‘Right to return’ for the Jews all around the world so that they can settle in the societies and homes of the Palestinians, which according to the Zionists, is the promised land. Up until this point, Israel could only do destruction in the land in a limited area of Palestine. It was after 1967, when Israel had taken up the entire historical land of Palestine along with land from Egypt and Syria, that the Palestinians started ‘defending’ themselves and their land from Israeli occupation. By this time, Israel had expelled another 300,000 Palestinians from their homes, including 130,000 displaced in 1948. After the war, the Zionists stripped the Palestinians of their Palestinian identities and gave them new ‘Israeli’ identities. The Zionist way to legally end the nation called Palestine had arrived.
Initially, the Palestinians had the support of neighbouring Muslim states who sympathised with their oppressed and colonised brethren however, the urge of “progress,” where developing nations always feel the need to match up to the western standards of lifestyle, came in to force. Since many Gulf countries had just attained independence (around the 1960s-70s), the vulnerability to develop their nations led them towards taking help from the western countries, which eventually meant that they could not support the cause of Palestine anymore, not openly at least.
By this time, Israel had successfully colonised Palestine, bombed cities after cities and killed civilians in the process of ‘creating a homeland for Jews,’ which was always repudiated by the orthodox Jews, who deemed it the violation of their religion because of the Jewish belief in ‘expulsion from the holy land until the Messiah arrives.’ However, it could not have happened without the continuous support of powerful Western nations. For supporting the colonising mission of Israel, citing ‘religiosity of the land’ was a vital motivation for western countries to support Israel. That religiosity of land is Christian Zionism, which believes in escalating the events to set the stage for the second arrival of Jesus Christ. For this reason, several influential leaders worldwide, including Americans and British, publicly support Zionism and the colonial nature of Israel.
R ISE OF THE PALESTINIAN RESISTANCE
While the Zionists had gained military, monetary, diplomatic and political support from the strongest nations, the Palestinians were continuously driven away from their land and had to save their lives. That led to the rise of Palestinian resistance in response to the refugee crisis, which ensued in the aftermath of the 1948 war. They then set up refugee camps throughout the land. In these camps, the Palestinian resistance leapt, while the elite, Israeli favouring Palestinians, who were ready to negotiate with the colonizers, were kept out. There, the educated Palestinians sought ways to resolve issues with the Zionists and tried to build a resistant movement (which had different variants). They sought support for the formation of an independent Palestinian state with respect to the erstwhile British Mandate. Nevertheless, since the war was followed by the continuous evacuation of these people from the country, the movement halted. However, after a dull period, and hopelessness from the diplomatic channels gave way to the violent resistance movements, which in their new avatar re-surged in the 80s and the early 90s because of the Arab nations’ diminishing support. In this context, Palestinian Islamic Jihad was formed in 1981, and soon after the First Intifada broke in 1987, HAMAS was formed.
(Picture is for representational purpose only).
Now, how the Palestinian Movement was built up, how it functioned, where it went off direction and why it has not yet succeeded is a story for another time. Nevertheless, it is to remember that the Palestinians set up this movement to save themselves and take their land back from the people who colonised it.
Z IONISM AND PALESTINE , AT PRESENT
Zionism was a movement set up to establish a state for Jews. However, was it that, really? It was never a simple state project bound to protect the Jews instead, the movement was strongly influenced by the ideas of colonialism, xenophobia, and homogeneity, which were prevalent in Europe during the rise of Zionism, whose brunt the Jews had faced generally in the whole Europe, and particularly in the concentration camps. Thus, acts of violence were deemed necessary for the sake of a homogeneous Zionist nation-state. The recent attacks that took place in Gaza, killing hundreds of Palestinians, including children as young as six months of age, are examples of what a colonial xenophobic project might look like. However, there is a peculiarity with Zionism, although it was never a religious movement since it contradicted with Judaism, it always claimed that it represented Jews all around the world, and that is why they have inserted the ‘right to return’ clause in their constitution. The settlers living inside the houses of Palestinians may cry out loud to show that they are being attacked, but the question is, by whom? By the Palestinians in whose homes they are living? Or by the Palestinian children being killed in airstrikes, or by the adults who respond with stones in opposition to the world’s most advanced weaponry? Israel has one of the strongest armies in the world, the best Intelligence force, the best war equipment aided to them by America, the best war funding since they have considerable stakes in the commercial world. Yet, their representation in the media is of the victim at the hands of Palestinians who throw stones at them while they fire at them with machine guns.
It is hard to imagine what life is like for the Palestinians who stayed back to fight against the oppression instead of escaping to other countries, only to be treated like criminals even there. Jewish scholars like Hannah Arendt who faced the violence of Nazi Germany had felt the situation of Palestinians then and had continuously written against Zionism. Even then, the western media favours the ideology and presents the narrative that Palestinian people in Gaza are terrorists who are attacking the Zionists but does not tell the world that these people have been living in the biggest open-air prison of the world without electricity, health facilities and peace- all thanks to the Zionist Israeli forces. Organizations set up by Palestinians to fight back the violence and cruelty inflicted upon them are labelled as terrorist organizations, and the world watches quietly. The question is, Why are the oppressed not allowed to fight back? A rather interesting fact is that Palestine has been voted out as a non-member from the United Nations. A pun on the existence of a political body established to ensure peace is that it does not even recognize the state that is the biggest victim of injustice and terrorism.
History of Zionism and the State of Israel
Since Theodor Herzl convened the first international Jewish congress in 1897, the movement to establish a Jewish state has been called Zionism. In many respects, Zionism has proved one of the most effective political ideas in history. In a short time, this movement established a sovereign state, the State of Israel, created in 1948 and subsequently recognized by most nations of the world. It also built major cities—Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba, and Jerusalem—a social and economic infrastructure, national institutions of culture and education, and democratic systems of government and justice. Today, Israel is home to the world’s largest Jewish community. It maintains a vibrant, free press, a diverse and dynamic culture, and a powerful citizen army. After two thousand years of statelessness, the Jewish people have achieved a vital national home.
Yoram Hazony on Israel, Europe and the Place of Ideas in History
Yet the position of Israel remains precarious. The Middle Eastern context is today no less dangerous than at any point since Israel’s founding. And understanding for Zionism and sympathy for its cause has waned in Western countries as the memory of the Holocaust has receded. Disinformation about Israel’s founding has even undermined support for Zionism in Israel itself, where many academics and intellectuals have consistently argued that historically and philosophically the cause of the Jewish state is not just.
Since the 1990s, Herzl Institute scholars have been at the forefront of reviving Zionism as an intellectual force both in academia and in public life in Israel and abroad. Works of “New Zionist” history and political philosophy challenged prevailing trends and successfully re-established support for the founding vision of Israel as an alternative to “post-Zionist” thought. The Herzl Institute continues this work today, supporting academic scholarship in the fields of Zionist and Israeli history and in the history and philosophy of the idea of the Jewish state.
Works by Institute scholars in this area include:
David Hazony, Yoram Hazony and Michael Oren, eds., New Essays on Zionism (Shalem, 2005).