The origin of the word "Zionism" is the biblical word "Zion," often used
as a synonym for Jerusalem and the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael). Zionism
is an ideology which expresses the yearning of Jews the world over for
their historical homeland - Zion, the Land of Israel.
The hope of returning to their homeland was first held by Jews exiled to
Babylon some 2,500 years ago - a hope which subsequently became a reality.
("By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered
Zion." Psalms 137:1). Thus political Zionism, which coalesced in the 19th
century, invented neither the concept nor the practice of return. Rather,
it appropriated an ancient idea and an ongoing active movement, and
adapted them to meet the needs and spirit of the times.
The core of the Zionist idea appears in the Declaration of the
Establishment of the State of Israel (14 May 1948), which states, inter
The Foundations of Zionism
The idea of Zionism is based on the long connection between the Jewish
people and its land, a link which began almost 4,000 years ago when
Abraham settled in Canaan, later known as the Land of Israel.
Central to Zionist thought is the concept of the Land of Israel as the
historical birthplace of the Jewish people and the belief that Jewish life
elsewhere is a life of exile. Moses Hess, in his book Rome and Jerusalem
(1844), expresses this idea:
"Two periods of time shaped the development
of Jewish civilization: the first, after the liberation from Egypt, and
the second, the return from Babylon. The third shall come with the
redemption from the third exile."
Over centuries in the Diaspora, the Jews maintained a strong and unique
relationship with their historical homeland, and manifested their yearning
for Zion through rituals and literature.
While Zionism expresses the historical link binding the Jewish people to
the Land of Israel, modern Zionism might not have arisen as an active
national movement in the 19th century without contemporary antisemitism
preceded by of centuries of persecution.
Over the centuries, Jews were expelled from almost every European country
- Germany and France, Portugal and Spain, England and Wales - a cumulative
experience which had a profound impact, especially in the 19th century
when Jews had abandoned hope of fundamental change in their lives. Out of
this milieu came Jewish leaders who turned to Zionism as a result of the
virulent antisemitism in the societies surrounding them. Thus Moses Hess,
shaken by the blood libel of Damascus (1844), became the father of Zionist
socialism; Leon Pinsker, shocked by the pogroms (1881-1882) which followed
the assassination of Czar Alexander II, assumed leadership in the Hibbat Zion movement; and Theodor Herzl, who as a journalist in Paris experienced
the venomous antisemitic campaign of the Dreyfus case (1896), organized
Zionism into a political movement.
The Zionist movement aimed to solve the "Jewish problem," the problem of a
perennial minority, a people subjected to repeated pogroms and
persecution, a homeless community whose alienness was underscored by
discrimination wherever Jews settled. Zionism aspired to deal with this
situation by effecting a return to the historical homeland of the Jews -
the Land of Israel.
The history of aliya, much of which was in direct response to acts of
murder and discrimination against Jews, provides strong proof for the
Zionist argument that a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, with a Jewish
majority, is the only solution to the "Jewish problem."
Rise of Political Zionism
Political Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people,
emerged in the 19th century within the context of the liberal nationalism
then sweeping through Europe.
Zionism synthesized the two goals of liberal nationalism, liberation and
unity, by aiming to free the Jews from hostile and oppressive alien rule
and to reestablish Jewish unity by gathering Jewish exiles from the four
corners of the world to the Jewish homeland.
The rise of Zionism as a political movement was also a response to the
failure of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightment, to solve the "Jewish
problem." According to Zionist doctrine, the reason for this failure was
that personal emancipation and equality were impossible without national
emancipation and equality, since national problems require national
solutions. The Zionist national solution was the establishment of a Jewish
national state with a Jewish majority in the historical homeland, thus
realizing the Jewish people's right to self-determination. Zionism did not
consider the "normalization" of the Jewish condition contrary to universal
aims and values. It advocated the right of every people on earth to its
own home, and argued that only a sovereign people could become an equal
member of the family of nations.
Zionism: A Pluralistic Movement
Although Zionism was basically a political movement aspiring to a return
to the Jewish homeland with freedom, independence, statehood and security
for the Jewish people, it also promoted a reassertion of Jewish culture.
An important element in this reawakening was the revival of Hebrew, long
restricted to liturgy and literature, as a living national language, for
use in government and the military, education and science, the market and
Like any other nationalism, Zionism interrelated with other ideologies,
resulting in the formation of Zionist currents and subcurrents. The
combination of nationalism and liberalism gave birth to liberal Zionism;
the integration of socialism gave rise to socialist Zionism; the blending
of Zionism with deep religious faith resulted in religious Zionism; and
the influence of European nationalism inspired a rightist-nationalist
faction. In this respect, Zionism has been no different from other
nationalisms which also espouse various liberal, traditional, socialist
(leftist) and conservative (rightist) leanings.
Zionism and Arab Nationalism
Most of the founders of Zionism knew that Palestine (the Land of Israel)
had an Arab population (though some spoke naively of "a land without a
people for a people without a land"). Still, only few regarded the Arab
presence as a real obstacle to the fulfillment of Zionism. At that time in
the late 19th century, Arab nationalism did not yet exist in any form, and
the Arab population of Palestine was sparse and apolitical. Many Zionist
leaders believed that since the local community was relatively small,
friction between it and the returning Jews could be avoided; they were
also convinced that the subsequent development of the country would
benefit both peoples, thus earning Arab endorsement and cooperation.
However, these hopes were not fulfilled.
Contrary to the declared positions and expectations of the Zionist
ideologists who had aspired to achieve their aims by peaceful means and
cooperation, the renewed Jewish presence in the Land met with militant
Arab opposition. For some time many Zionists found it hard to understand
and accept the depth and intensity of the dispute, which became in fact a
clash between two peoples both regarding the country as their own - the
Jews by virtue of their historical and spiritual connection, and the Arabs
because of their centuries-long presence in the country.
During the years 1936-1947, the struggle over the Land of Israel grew more
intense. Arab opposition became more extreme with the increased growth and
development of the Jewish community. At the same time, the Zionist
movement felt it necessary to increase immigration and develop the
country's economic infrastructure, in order to save as many Jews as
possible from the Nazi inferno in Europe.
The unavoidable clash between the Jews and the Arabs brought the UN to
recommend, on 29 November 1947, the establishment of two states in the
area west of the Jordan River - one Jewish and one Arab. The Jews accepted
the resolution; the Arabs rejected it.
On 14 May 1948, in accordance with the UN resolution of November 1947, the
State of Israel was established.
The establishment of the State of Israel marked the realization of the
Zionist goal of attaining an internationally recognized, legally secured
home for the Jewish people in its historic homeland, where Jews would be
free from persecution and able to develop their own lives and identity.
Since 1948, Zionism has seen its task as continuing to encourage the
"ingathering of the exiles," which at times has called for extraordinary
efforts to rescue endangered (physically and spiritually) Jewish
communities. It also strives to preserve the unity and continuity of the
Jewish people as well as to focus on the centrality of Israel in Jewish
Down through the centuries, the desire for the restoration of the Jewish
people in the Land of Israel has been a thread binding the Jewish people
together. Jews everywhere accept Zionism as a fundamental tenet of
Judaism, support the State of Israel as the basic realization of Zionism
and are enriched culturally, socially and spiritually by the fact of
Israel - a member of the family of nations and a vibrant, creative
accomplishment of the Jewish spirit.