Zionism is a political movement among Jews (although supported by some non-Jews) which maintains that the Jewish people constitute a nation and are entitled to a national homeland. Formally founded in 1897, Zionism embraced a variety of opinions in its early years on where that homeland might be established. From 1917 it focused on the establishment of a Jewish national homeland or state in Palestine, the location of the ancient Kingdom of Israel. Since 1948, Zionism has been a movement to support the development and defence of the State of Israel, and to encourage Jews to settle there.
Since the Six Day War of 1967, when Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza, the objectives and methods of the Zionist movement and of Israel have come under criticism. The Arab world opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine from the outset, but during the course of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians since 1967, the legitimacy of Israel, and thus of Zionism, has been questioned in the wider world. Since the breakdown of the Oslo Accords in 2001, attacks on Zionism in media, intellectual and political circles, particularly in Europe, have reached new levels of intensity.
This article is intended to be a survey of the history and objectives of the Zionist movement, not a history of Israel or of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The history of the various forms of opposition to Zionism is discussed at the article Anti-Zionism.
The Jews and ZionThe word “Zionist” is derived from the word “Zion” (Hebrew: ציון, Tziyyon), being one of the names of Jerusalem, as mentioned in the Bible. It was coined by an Austrian Jewish publicist Nathan Birnbaum in his journal Self Emancipation in 1890.
Zionism has always had both religious and secular aspects, reflecting the dual nature of Jewish identity, as both a religion (Judaism) and as a national or ethnic identity (Jewishness). Many religious Jews opposed Zionism, while some of the founders of the State of Israel were atheists.
Religious Jews believe that since the land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) was given to the ancient Israelites by God, the right of the Jews to that land is permanent and inalienable. To generations of diaspora Jews, Zion has been a symbol of the Holy Land and of their return to it, as promised by God in Biblical prophecies. (See also Jerusalem, Jews and Judaism)
Despite this, many religious Jews were not enthusiastic about Zionism before the 1930s, and many religious organisations opposed it on the grounds that an attempt to re-establish Jewish rule in Israel by human agency is blasphemous, since only the Messiah can accomplish this. The secular, socialist language used by many pioneer Zionists was contrary to the outlook of most religious Jewish communities. There was, however, a small but vocal group of religious Jews, led by the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook, that supported Zionism and cooperation with the secular majority in Palestine. Only the desperate circumstances of the 1930s and 1940s converted most (though not all) of these communities to Zionism.
Secular Jewish opinion was also ambivalent in its attitudes to Zionism. Many argued that Jews should join with other progressive forces in bringing about changes which would eradicate anti-Semitism and make it possible for Jews to live in safety in the various countries where they lived. Before the 1930s, many Jews believed that socialism offered a better strategy for improving the lot of European Jews. In the United States, most Jews embraced the liberalism of their adopted country. By some estimates, before World War II only 20–25 percent of Jews worldwide supported Zionism, with most others either opposed or lukewarm to it.
The chain of events between 1881 and 1945, however, beginning with waves of anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia and the Russian controlled areas of Poland, and culminating in the Holocaust, converted the great majority of surviving Jews to the belief that a Jewish homeland was an urgent necessity, particularly given the large population of disenfranchised Jewish refugees after World War II. Most also became convinced that Palestine was the only location that was both acceptable to all strands of Jewish thought and within the realms of practical possibility. This led to the great majority of Jews supporting the struggle between 1945 and 1948 to establish the State of Israel, though many did not condone violent tactics used by some Zionist groups.
Since 1948 most Jews have continued to identify as Zionists, in the sense that they support the State of Israel even if they do not choose to live there. This worldwide support has been of vital importance to Israel, both politically and financially. This has been particularly true since 1967, as the rise of Palestinian nationalism and the resulting political and military struggles have eroded sympathy for Israel among non-Jews, at least outside the United States. In recent years, many Jews have criticised the morality and expediency of Israel’s continued control of the territories captured in 1967.
Establishment of the Zionist Movement
Theodor HerzlThe desire of Jews to return to their ancestral homeland became a universal Jewish theme after the defeat of the Great Jewish Revolt and destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in the year 70, the defeat of Bar Kochba’s revolt in 135, and the dispersal of the Jews to other parts of the Empire that followed. Due to the disasterous results of the revolt, what was once a human driven movement towards national sovereignty based on religious inspiratation, over centuries tradition and broken hopes of one “false messiah” after another took much of the human element out of messianic deliverance and put it all in the hands of God. Although Jewish nationalism in ancient times have always taken on religious connatations, from the Maccabean Revolt to the various Jewish revolts during Roman rule, and even Medieval Times when intermittently national hopes were incarnated in the “false messianism” of Shabbatai Zvi, among others less know messianists, it was not until the rise of ideological and political Zionism and its renewed belief in human based action toward Jewish national aspiration, did the notion of settling the homeland become widespread among the Jewish conscious.
The emancipation of Jews in European countries in the 18th and 19th centuries following the French Revolution, and the spread of western liberal ideas among a section of newly emancipated Jews, created for the first time a class of secular Jews, who absorbed the prevailing ideas of rationalism, romanticism and, most importantly, nationalism. Jews who had abandoned Judaism, at least in its traditional forms, began to develop a new Jewish identity, as a “nation” in the European sense. They were inspired by various national struggles, such as those for German and Italian unification, and for Polish and Hungarian independence. If Italians and Poles were entitled to a homeland, they asked, why were Jews not so entitled?
Before the 1890s there had already been attempts to settle Jews in Palestine, which was in the 19th century a part of the Ottoman Empire, inhabited by about 450,000 people, mostly Muslim and Christian Arabs (although there had never been a time when there were no Jews in Palestine). Pogroms in Russia led Jewish philanthropists such as the Montefiores and the Rothschilds to sponsor agricultural settlements for Russian Jews in Palestine in the late 1870s, culminating in a small group of immigrants from Russia arriving in the country in 1882. This has become known in Zionist history as the First Aliyah (aliyah is a Hebrew word meaning “ascent.”).
The first aliyah: Biluim used to wear the traditional Arab headdress, the kuffiyehProto-Zionist groups such as Hibbat Zion were active in the 1880s in Eastern Europe where emancipation had not occurred to the extent it did in Western Europe (or at all.)The massive anti-Jewish pogroms following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II made emancipation seem farther than ever and influenced Judah Leib Pinsker to publish the pamphlet Auto-Emancipation in January 1, 1882. The pamphlet became influential for the Political Zionism movement.
There had also been several Jewish thinkers such as Moses Hess whose 1862 work Rome and Jerusalem; The Last National Question argued for the Jews to settle in Palestine as a means of settling the national question. Hess proposed a socialist state in which the Jews would become agrarianised through a process of “redemption of the soil” which would transform the Jewish community into a true nation in that Jews would occupy the productive layers of society rather than being an intermediary non-productive merchant class which is how he perceived European Jews. Hess, along with later thinkers such as Nahum Syrkin and Ber Borochov, is considered a founder of Socialist Zionism and Labour Zionism and one of the intellectual forebears of the kibbutz movement.
A key event triggering the modern Zionist movement was the Dreyfus Affair, which erupted in France in 1894. Jews were profoundly shocked to see this outbreak of anti-Semitism in a country which they thought of as the home of enlightenment and liberty. Among those who witnessed the Affair was an Austrian-Jewish journalist, Theodor Herzl, who published his pamphlet Der Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”) in 1896. Prior to the Affair, Herzl had been anti-Zionist, afterwards he became ardently pro-Zionist. In 1897 Herzl organised the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, which founded the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) and elected Herzl as its first President.Zionist strategiesThe WZO’s initial strategy was to obtain the permission of the Ottoman Sultan to allow systematic Jewish settlement in Palestine. The good offices of the German Emperor, Wilhelm II, were sought, but nothing came of this. Instead the WZO pursued a strategy of building a homeland through persistent small-scale immigration, and the founding of such bodies as the Jewish National Fund in 1901 and the Anglo-Palestine Bank in 1903.
Before 1917 some Zionist leaders took seriously proposals for Jewish homelands in places other than Palestine. Herzl’s Der Judenstaat argued for a Jewish state in either Palestine, “our ever-memorable historic home”, or Argentina, “one of the most fertile countries in the world”. In 1903 British cabinet ministers suggested the British Uganda Program, land for a Jewish state in “Uganda” (actually in modern Kenya). Herzl initially rejected the idea, preferring Palestine, but after the April 1903 Kishinev pogroms Herzl introduced a controversial proposal to the 6th Zionist Congress to investigate the offer as a temporary measure for Russian Jews in danger. Notwithstanding its emergency and temporary nature, the proposal still proved very divisive, and sparked a walkout led by the Russian Jewish delegation to the Congress. Nevertheless, a majority voted to establish a committee for the investigation of the possibility, and it was not dismissed until the 7th Zionist Congress in 1905.
In response to this, the Jewish Territorialist Organization led by Israel Zangwill split off from the main Zionist movement. The territorialists attempted to establish a Jewish homeland wherever possible, but went into decline after 1917 and were dissolved in 1925. From that time Palestine was the sole focus of Zionist aspirations. Few Jews took seriously the establishment by the Soviet Union of a Jewish Autonomous Republic in the Russian Far East.
Chaim WeizmannOne of the major motivations for Zionism was the belief that the Jews needed a country of their own, not just as a refuge from anti-Semitism, but in order to become a “normal people.” Some Zionists, mainly socialist Zionists, believed that the Jews’ centuries of marginalised existence in anti-Semitic societies had distorted the Jewish character, reducing Jews to a parasitic existence which further fostered anti-Semitism. They argued that Jews should redeem themselves from their history by becoming farmers, workers, and soldiers in a country of their own. These Zionists generally rejected religion as perpetuating a “Diaspora mentality” among the Jewish people.
One such Zionist ideologue, Ber Borochov, continuing from the work of Moses Hess, proposed the creation of a socialist society that would correct the “inverted pyramid,” of Jewish society. Borochov believed that Jews were forced out of normal occupations by gentile hostility and competition, explaining why there was a relative predominance of Jewish professionals, rather than workers. Jewish society would not be healthy until the inverted pyramid was righted, and the majority of Jews became workers and peasants again. This could only be accomplished by Jews in their own country. Another, A. D. Gordon, was influenced by the volkisch ideas of European romantic nationalism, and proposed establishing a society of Jewish peasants. Gordon made a religion of work. These two thinkers, and others like them, motivated the establishment of the first Jewish collective settlement, or kibbutz, Deganiah, on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in 1909 (the same year that the city of Tel Aviv was established). Deganiah, and many other kibbutzim that were soon to follow, attempted to realise these thinkers’ vision by creating a communal villages, where newly arrived European Jews would be taught agriculture and other manual skills.
Another aspect of this strategy was the revival and fostering of an “indigenous” Jewish culture and the Hebrew language. One early Zionist thinker, Asher Ginsberg, better known by his penname Ahad Ha’am (“One of the People”) rejected what he regarded as the over-emphasis of political Zionism on statehood, at the expense of the revival of Hebrew culture. Ahad Ha’am recognised that the effort to achieve independence in Palestine would bring Jews into conflict with the native Palestinian Arab population, as well as with the Ottomans and European colonial powers then eying the country. Instead, he proposed that the emphasis of the Zionist movement shift to efforts to revive the Hebrew language and create a new culture, free from Diaspora influences, that would unite Jews and serve as a common denominator between diverse Jewish communities once independence was achieved.
The most prominent follower of this idea was Eliezer Ben Yehudah, a linguist intent on reviving Hebrew as a spoken language among Jews (see History of the Hebrew language). Most European Jews in the 19th century spoke Yiddish, a language based on mediaeval German, but as of the 1880s, Ben Yehudah and his supporters began promoting the use and teaching of a modernised form of biblical Hebrew, which had not been a living language for nearly 2,000 years. Despite Herzl’s efforts to have German proclaimed the official language of the Zionist movement, the use of Hebrew was adopted as official policy by Zionist organisations in Palestine, and served as an important unifying force among the Jewish settlers, many of whom also took new Hebrew names.
The development of the first Hebrew-speaking city (Tel Aviv), the kibbutz movement, and other Jewish economic institutions, plus the use of Hebrew, began by the 1920s to lay the foundations of a new nationality, which would come into formal existence in 1948. Meanwhile, other cultural Zionists attempted to create new Jewish artforms, including graphic arts. (Boris Schatz, a Bulgarian artist, founded the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem in 1906.) Others, such as dancer and artist Baruch Agadati, fostered popular festivals such as the Adloyada carnival on Purim.
The Zionist leaders always saw Britain as a key potential ally in the struggle for a Jewish homeland. Not only was Britain the world’s greatest imperial power; it was also a country where Jews lived in peace and security, among them influential political and cultural leaders, such as Benjamin Disraeli and Walter, Lord Rothschild. There was also a peculiar streak of philo-Semitism among the classically educated British elite to which the Zionist leaders hoped to appeal, just as the Greek independence movement had appealed to British phil-Hellenism during the Greek War of Independence. Chaim Weizmann, who became the leader of the Zionist movement after Herzl’s death in 1904, was a professor at a British university, and used his extensive contacts to lobby the British government for a statement in support of Zionist aspirations.
This hope was realised in 1917, when the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, made his famous Declaration in favour of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Balfour was motivated partly by philo-Semitic sentiment, partly by a desire to weaken the Ottoman Empire (an ally of Germany during the First World War), and partly by a desire to strengthen support for the Allied cause in the United States, home to the world’s most influental Jewish community. In the Declaration, however, Balfour was careful to use the word “homeland” rather than “state,” and also to specify that the establishment of a Jewish homeland must not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
Zionism and the ArabsThe early Zionists were well aware that Palestine was already occupied by Arabs, who had constituted the overwhelming majority (95% in 1880) of the population there for over a thousand years, but thought that they could only benefit from Jewish immigration. This attitude led to the opposition of the Arabs being ignored, or even to their presence being denied, as in Israel Zangwill’s famous slogan “A land without a people, for a people without a land”. Generally though, such myths were propaganda invented by leaders who didn’t think of the Arabs as an obstacle as serious as the big empires. It was hoped that the wishes of the local Arabs could be simply bypassed by forging agreements with the Ottoman authorities, or with Arab rulers outside Palestine.
One of the earlier Zionists to warn against these ideas was Ahad Ha’am, who warned in his 1891 essay “Truth from Eretz Israel” that in Palestine “it is hard to find tillable land that is not already tilled”, and moreover
From abroad we are accustomed to believing that the Arabs are all desert savages, like donkeys, who neither see nor understand what goes on around them. But this is a big mistake… The Arabs, and especially those in the cities, understand our deeds and our desires in Eretz Israel, but they keep quiet and pretend not to understand, since they do not see our present activities as a threat to their future… However, if the time comes when the life of our people in Eretz Israel develops to the point of encroaching upon the native population, they will not easily yield their place. Though there had already been Arab protests to the Ottoman authorities in the 1880s against land sales to foreign Jews, the most serious opposition began in the 1890s after the full scope of the Zionist enterprise became known. This opposition did not arise out of Palestinian nationalism, which was in its mere infancy at the time, but out of a sense of threat to the livelihood of the Arabs. This sense was heightened in the early years of the 20th century by the Zionist attempts to develop an economy in which Arabs were largely redundant, such as the “Hebrew labor” movement that campaigned against the employment of Arabs. The severing of Palestine from the rest of the Arab world in 1918 and the Balfour Declaration were seen by the Arabs as proof that their fears were coming to fruition.
Vladimir JabotinskyNevertheless, despite clear signs that a true Palestinian nationalism was rising, much the same range of opinion could be found among Zionist leaders after 1920. However, the division between these camps did not match the main threads in Zionist politics so cleanly as is often portrayed. To take an example, the leader of the Revisionist Zionists, Vladimir Jabotinsky, is often presented as having had an extreme pro-expulsion view but the proofs offered for this are rather thin. According to Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall (1923), an agreement with the Arabs was impossible, since they
look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. The solution, according to Jabotinsky, was not expulsion (which he was “prepared to swear, for us and our descendants, that we will never [do]”) but to impose the Jewish presence on the Arabs by force of arms until eventually they came to accept it. Only late in his life did Jabotinsky speak of the desirability of Arab emigration though still without unequivocally advocating an expulsion policy. After the World Zionist Organization rejected Jabotinsky’s proposals, he resigned from the organization and founded the New Zionist Organization in 1933 to promote his views and work independently for immigration and the establishment of a state. The NZO rejoined the WZO in 1951.
The situation with socialist Zionists such as David Ben-Gurion was also ambiguous. In public Ben-Gurion upheld the official position of his party that denied the necessity of force in achieving Zionist goals. The argument was based on the denial of a unique Palestinian identity coupled with the belief that eventually the Arabs would realise that Zionism was to their advantage. Privately, however, Ben-Gurion believed that the Arab opposition amounted to a total rejection of Zionism grounded in fundamental principle, and that a confrontation was unavoidable. In 1937, Ben-Gurion and almost all of his party leadership supported a British proposal to create a small Jewish state from which the Arabs had been removed by force. The British plan was soon shelved, but the idea of a Jewish state with a minimal population of Arabs remained an important thread in Labour Zionist thought throughout the remaining period until the creation of Israel.
The attitude of the Zionist leaders towards the Arab population of Palestine in the lead-up to the 1948 conflict is one of the most hotly debated issues in Zionist history. This article does not cover it; see Israel-Palestinian conflict and Palestinian exodus.
The struggle for PalestineWith the defeat and dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, and the establishment of the British Mandate over Palestine by the League of Nations in 1922, the Zionist movement entered a new phase of activity. Its priorities were the escalation of Jewish settlement in Palestine, the building of the institutional foundations of a Jewish state, raising funds for these purposes, and persuading — or forcing — the British authorities not to take any steps which would lead to Palestine moving towards independence as an Arab-majority state. The 1920s did see a steady growth in the Jewish population and the construction of state-like Jewish institutions, but also saw the emergence of Palestinian Arab nationalism and growing resistance to Jewish immigration.
International Jewish opinion remained divided on the merits of the Zionist project. Many prominent Jews in Europe and the United States opposed Zionism, arguing that a Jewish homeland was not needed because Jews were able to live in the democratic countries of the West as equal citizens. Albert Einstein, one of the best-known Jews in the world, said: “I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain, especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks.” The many Jews who embraced socialism opposed Zionism as a form of reactionary nationalism. The General Jewish Labor Union, or Bund, which represented socialist Jews in eastern Europe, was strongly anti-Zionist.
The Communist parties, which attracted substantial Jewish support during the 1920s and 1930s, were even more virulently anti-Zionist, if one defines Zionism as the advocacy of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. During this time Communists actively promoted an alternative Jewish homeland — the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, or Birobidzhan, which had been set up by the Soviet Union in the Russian Far East.
At the other extreme, some American Jews went so far as to say that the United States was Zion, and the successful absorption of 2 million Jewish immigrants in the 30 years before the First World War lent force to this argument. (Some American Jewish socialists supported the Birobidzhan experiment, and a few even emigrated there during the Great Depression.)
The rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1933 produced a powerful new impetus for Zionism. Not only did it create a flood of Jewish refugees — at a time when the United States had closed its doors to further immigration — but it undermined the faith of Jews that they could live in security as minorities in non-Jewish societies. Some Zionists allegedly supported the rise of the Nazi party, recognising that it would increase the possibility of a Jewish state. It is claimed by author Lenni Brenner that The Zionist Federation of Germany even sent Hitler a letter calling for collaboration in 1933; however the strongly anti-Semitic Nazis rejected the offer and later abolished the organisation in 1938. Jewish opinion began to shift in favour of Zionism, and pressure for more Jewish immigration to Palestine increased. But the more Jews settled in Palestine, the more aroused Palestinian Arab opinion became, and the more difficult the situation became in Palestine. In 1936 serious Arab rioting broke out, and in response the British authorities held the unsuccessful St. James Conference and issued the MacDonald White Paper of 1939, severely restricting further Jewish immigration.
The Jewish community in Palestine responded by organising armed forces, based on smaller units developed to defend remote agricultural settlements. Two military movements were founded, the Labor-dominated Haganah and the Revisionist Irgun. The latter group did not hesitate to take military action against the Arab population. With the advent of World War II, both groups decided that defeating Hitler took priority over the fight against the British. However, attacks against British targets were recommenced in 1940 by a splinter group of the Irgun, later known as Lehi, and in 1944 by the Irgun itself.
The revelation of the fate of six million European Jews killed during the Holocaust had several consequences. Firstly, it left hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees (or displaced persons) in camps in Europe, unable or unwilling to return to homes in countries which they felt had betrayed them to the Nazis. Not all of these refugees wanted to go to Palestine, and in fact many of them eventually went to other countries, but large numbers of them did, and they resorted to increasingly desperate measures to get there.
Harry S. Truman and David Ben-Gurion (Abba Eban behind)Secondly, it evoked a world-wide feeling of sympathy with the Jewish people, mingled with guilt that more had not been done to deter Hitler’s aggressions before the war, or to help Jews escape from Europe during its course. This was particularly the case in the United States, whose federal government had halted Jewish immigration during the war. Among those who became strong supporters of the Zionist ideal was President Harry S. Truman, who overrode considerable opposition in his State Department and used the great power of his position to mobilise support at the United Nations for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine; although it should be noted that he privately disliked Zionist Jews, and Jews in general. Since Britain was desperate to withdraw from Palestine, Truman’s efforts were the crucial factor in the creation of Israel.
Thirdly, it swung world Jewish opinion almost unanimously behind the project of a Jewish state in Palestine, and within Palestine it led to a greater resolution to use force to achieve that objective. American Reform Judaism was among the elements of Jewish thought which changed their opinions about Zionism after the Holocaust. The proposition that Jews could live in peace and security in non-Jewish societies was certainly a difficult one to defend in 1945, although it is one of the ironies of Zionist history that in the decades since World War II anti-Semitism has greatly declined as a serious political force in most western countries, and Jewish communities continue to live and prosper outside Israel.
Zionism and IsraelIn 1947 Britain announced its intention to withdraw from Palestine, and on 29 November the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state (with Jerusalem becoming an international enclave). Civil conflict between the Arabs and Jews in Palestine erupted immediately. On 14 May 1948 the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine made a declaration of independence, and the state of Israel was established. This marked a major turning point in the Zionist movement, as its principal goal had now been accomplished. Many Zionist institutions were reshaped, and the three military movements combined to form the Israel Defence Forces.
The majority of the Arab population having either fled or been expelled during the War of Independence, Jews were now a majority of the population within the 1948 ceasefire lines, which became Israel’s de facto borders until 1967. In 1950 the Knesset passed the Law of Return which granted all Jews the right to immigrate to Israel. This, together with the influx of Jewish refugees from Europe and the later flood of expelled Jews from Arab countries, had the effect of creating a large and apparently permanent Jewish majority in Israel.
Since 1948 the international Zionist movement has undertaken a variety of roles in support of Israel. These have included the encouragement of immigration, assisting the absorption and integration of immigrants, fundraising on behalf of settlement and development projects in Israel, the encouragement of private capital investment in Israel, and mobilisation of world public opinion in support of Israel.
The 1967 war between Israel and the Arab states (the “Six-Day War”) marked a major turning point in the history of Israel and of Zionism. Israeli forces occupied the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the holiest of Jewish religious sites, the Western Wall of the ancient Temple. They also took over the remaining territories of pre-1948 Palestine, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (from Egypt). Religious Jews regarded the West Bank (ancient Judaea and Samaria) as an integral part of Eretz Israel, and within Israel voices of the political Right soon began to argue that these territories should be permanently retained. Zionist groups began to build Jewish settlements in the territories as a means of establishing “facts on the ground” that would make an Israeli withdrawal impossible.
The 1968 conference of the WZO adopted the following principles:
The unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life The ingathering of the Jewish people in the historic homeland, Eretz Israel, through aliyah from all countries The strengthening of the State of Israel, based on the “prophetic vision of justice and peace” The preservation of the identity of the Jewish people through the fostering of Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education and of Jewish spiritual and cultural values The protection of Jewish rights everywhere. Control of the West Bank and Gaza placed Israel in the position of control over a large population of Palestinian Arabs. Whether or not there had been a distinct Palestinian national identity in the 1920s may be debated, but there is no doubt that by the 1960s such an identity was firmly established — the founders of Zionism had thus, ironically, created two new nationalities, Israeli and Palestinian, instead of one.
The faith of the Palestinians in the willingness and ability of the Arab states to defeat Israel and return Palestine to Arab rule was destroyed by the war, and the death of the most militant Arab leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, in 1969 reinforced the belief of Palestinians that they had been abandoned. The Palestine Liberation Organisation, created in 1965 as an Egyptian-controlled propaganda device, took on new life as an autonomous movement led by Yasser Arafat, and soon turned to terrorism as its principal means of struggle.
From this point the history of Israel and the Palestinians can be followed in the article Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution which said that “Zionism is a form of racism.” This resolution was rescinded in 1991. This issue is discussed in the article on anti-Zionism.
Zionism todayMore than 50 years after the founding of the State of Israel, and after more than 80 years of Arab-Jewish conflict over the territory that is now Israel, many have misgivings about current Israeli policies. Some liberal or socialist Jews, as well as some Orthodox Jewish communities, still oppose Zionism as a matter of principle. Well-known Jewish scholars and statesmen who have opposed Zionism include Bruno Kreisky, Hans Fromm and Michael Selzer. In the United States Jewish intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein have continued to oppose Zionism, although few argue that the Jewish settlement of Palestine should actually be reversed.
Criticism of Israeli policies in the occupied territories has become sharper since Ariel Sharon became Prime Minister of Israel. Some elements of Orthodox Judaism remain anti-Zionist, although mainstream Orthodox groups such as the Agudat Israel have changed their positions since 1948 and now actively support Israel, often assuming right-wing stances regarding important political questions such as the peace process. Today, the overwhelming majority of Jewish organisations and denominations are strongly pro-Zionist.
Among the important minority threads within Zionism is one that holds Israelis to be a new nationality, not merely the representatives of world Jewry. The “Canaanite” or “Hebrew Renaissance” movement led by poet Yonatan Ratosh in the 1930s and 1940s was built on this idea. A modern movement which is partly based on the same idea is known as Post-Zionism. There is no agreement on how this movement is defined, nor even of which persons belong to it, but the most common idea is that Israel should leave behind the concept of a “state of the Jewish people” and instead strive to be a state of all its citizens according to pluralistic democratic values. Self-identified Post-Zionists differ on many important details, such as the status of the Law of Return. Critics tend to associate Post-Zionism with anti-Zionism or postmodernism, both charges which are strenuously denied by proponents.
Another persistent opinion favors a binational state in which Arabs and Jews live together while enjoying some type of autonomy. Variants of the idea were proposed by Chaim Weizmann in the 1930s and by the Ichud (Unity) group in the 1940s, which included such prominent figures as Judah Magnes (first dean of The Hebrew University) and Martin Buber. The emergence of Israel as a Jewish state with a small Arab minority made the idea irrelevant, but it was revived after the 1967 war left Israel in control of a large Arab population. Never more than the opinion of a small minority, the idea is nevertheless supported by a few prominent intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, the late Edward Said, and (since 2003) Meron Benvenisti. Opponents of a binational state argue that since Arabs would form the majority of the population in such a state, the Jewish character on which the state was founded may be lost.Non-Jewish ZionismThe question of whether a non-Jew can be a Zionist is a largely semantic one, akin to the question of whether a man can be a feminist. The websites of major Zionist organisations make it clear these are entirely Jewish organisations. The website of the American Zionist Organization (http://www.azm.org/), for example says: “The American Zionist Movement is a coalition of organizations and individuals devoted to the unity of the Jewish people and eternally connected to our homeland, Israel.” (emphasis added)
There are nevertheless many non-Jews who support the State of Israel, and some of these may choose to define themselves as Zionists.
Non-Jewish support for Zionism takes three forms:
The traditional support from the political left for the Jews as an oppressed people and for Israel as a semi-socialist state. Since the 1970s the first of these has been almost entirely lost as the left has shifted its sympathy to the Palestinians, while the second has been lost since the Israeli Labor Party lost its hold on power in 1977. In the United States, Israel continues to find support from most political liberals, but outside the U.S. this has largely evaporated. However, some of the strongest critics of Zionism in the US include prominent progressives like Ralph Nader. Support from some political conservatives, mainly in the United States and to a lesser extent in other countries such as the United Kingdom. Much of this is really support for Israel as a pro-Western state rather than support for Zionism per se, and is also strongly motivated by domestic politics, particularly in the U.S. However, some of the strongest critics of Zionism have also been political conservatives like Pat Buchanan. “Christian Zionism”, a movement among evangelical Christians in the United States which sees the return of the Jews to the Holy Land as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Christian Zionists also believe that most Jews will be killed and will “burn” in Hell while some will be converted to Christianity as a prelude to the second coming of Jesus, after which Christians will inherit the Holy Land; thus their ultimate goals differ greatly from those of Jewish Zionists. Lobbying by Christian groups in the United States on behalf of Israel has influenced U.S. policy towards the Middle East.
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