What is Zionism?
Zionism is the political movement that is implementing the national liberation of the Jewish people. It is based on the assertion that the Jewish people, like any other people, has the right to self-determination; Jews have a right to a national home in their historic homeland. Zionism has made a reality of the "impossible" project of restoration of the Jewish people to our homeland, after nearly 2,000 years of exile. The work of Zionism is far from complete, however.
Zionism has always been a part of Judaism
The ideological and cultural foundations of Zionism have always been present in Jewish tradition. Jews always thought of themselves as a nation or people. The concept of "am Yisrael" - the "people of Israel" or "nation of Israel," has been inherent in Jewish culture from ancient times. Jewish cultural and religious life always centered around the land of Israel. This did not change during two millennia of dispersion.
History of Zionism
The modern ideological expression of Zionism began to take shape in the nineteenth century. Jews freed from the ghetto found that they could not, or did not want to, assimilate and lose their Jewishness, while at the same time, they could be part of a medieval religion whose time had passed. They came to the understanding that Jews are a people as well as a religion, and made explicit what had been implicit in Jewish culture. Various thinkers such as Moses Hess and Leon Pinsker wrote the first real Zionist ideological manifestos, and the Chovevei Tzion and BILU groups organized Zionist immigration to the land of Israel on a small scale.
Zionism becomes a political movement
Zionism became a political movement with the first Zionist congress in 1897, organized by Theodor Herzl. The conference turned an intellectual "movement," scattered around Europe, into a political force, and provided a clear goal: the achievement of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, guaranteed by international law. Beyond this symbolic step, the conference was in reality a rather modest milestone. Without the support of the Jewish masses and rich financiers, it was hard for Zionism to show great concrete achievements. Without such achievements, it was hard for Zionism to win the support of the Jewish masses for a project that seemed hopeless and Quixotic. Tenacity, gradualism, pragmatism, courage and daring leveraged the tiny, gradually accumulated achievements of Zionism from a few people in a conference hall to a movement, from a movement in Europe to Jewish settlement in the land of Israel, from a few settlements to the British mandate, from the mandate to a Jewish state.
Zionism achieves a first goal
The first stage on the way to attaining a Jewish national home was the Balfour Declaration, secured for the Zionist organization through the efforts of Chaim Weizmann and others. In it, the British government promised to support the creation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. When the Balfour declaration was incorporated in the League of Nations mandate for Palestine in 1922, it became international law. The United Nations inherited the obligations of the League of nations. Therefore, the state of Israel is the result of a promise backed by international law, and not an "illegal entity" as anti-Zionists claim.
Zionism creates the State of Israel
An important tenet of Zionism was the understanding that the Jews of Europe were in danger, that Anti-Semitism would continue to rise and become increasingly virulent. Therefore, Zionists understood that there was some urgency about their work. Most of the world, and most of the Jews of the world, did not understand the urgency until after the rise of Nazism, when it was too late. Not even the Zionists could imagine the horrors of the Holocaust however.
The Arabs of Palestine, led by the Nazi Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini, agitated against Jewish immigration and began a revolt in 1936. The revolt was evidently funded and supported by the axis powers in order to fight the British. The British reneged on their promise to create a national home for the Jews in Palestine, and shut the gates of Palestine to Jewish immigration in 1939 with the White Paper. The Zionist leadership despaired of the British and in 1942, when they thought it was still possible to save some of the Jews of Europe, they adopted the Biltmore Program, calling for an independent Jewish state.
After World War II, it was discovered that the Nazis had murdered six million Jews, virtually all the Jews of Europe. A tiny remnant remained and wanted to immigrate to Palestine, but the British would not allow it. The Jews turned against the British and using guerilla warfare, forced them to relinquish their hold on Palestine, which was partitioned by UN General Assembly Resolution 181 into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Arabs did not accept the decision of the UN. Open warfare broke out. After the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948, neighboring Arab countries invaded the new state. 600,000 Jews fought off the armies of four Arab states, backed by others who had declared war, but did not send troops, in the Israel War of Independence. The creation of the state did not end the mission of Zionism, since the new Jewish state was surrounded by enemies and since most Jews still did not live in Israel.
For a detailed history of Zionism, see History of Zionism
Achievements of Zionism - Zionism is the ideological success story of the twentieth century, overcoming seemingly insuperable obstacles to realize an impossible dream. The story of Zionism challenges the imagination. Zionism revived a dying people and brought them back to their land. Zionism changed the image of the land and of the people.
Zionism in Israel - Zionism brought water to a thirsty country. The Israel national water carrier pumps more water in a day than was consumed in all of Palestine in 1948. Thanks to Zionism, glass and steel towers rose from sand dunes; the forgotten and disease ridden armpit of the Ottoman Empire became the most technologically advanced society in the Middle East, where both Arabs and Jews enjoy a higher standard of living than anywhere else in the Middle East, except the petroleum sheikhdoms, the highest literacy rates in the Middle East, and the lowest infant mortality. Zionism benefited Jews and Arabs. The average Israeli Arab enjoys a higher standard of living than the average citizen of oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
Zionist Revolution - Zionism was more than a political movement to obtain a homeland for the Jewish people. Zionism proposed, and carried out, a revolution within Jewish thought and culture. Zionism gave a new life to the ancient Hebrew language. Zionism changed the image of the Jewish people. Thanks to Zionism, merchants and students and peddlers came out of the ghetto to become Jewish mechanics, Jewish farmers, Jewish engineers and Jewish soldiers. Zionism made the "impossible" into reality. Zionism ended "the longest occupation in history" - the occupation of the land of Israel.
Benefits of Zionism - Zionism benefited Diaspora Jews as well as those living in Israel, Zionists and anti-Zionists, because it gave a different meaning to the reviled word "Jew." Zionism helped to save people and salvage the vestiges of the dignity and honor of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, bringing boatloads of immigrants to Mandate Palestine in the "illegal" immigration, sending parachutists behind enemy lines to save Jews and help the allied war effort, and leading ghetto revolts and partisan groups. By creating and defending the state of Israel, Zionism ended the 2,000 year nightmare during which Jews were despised and persecuted by almost every nation in the world, through no fault of our own.
What is anti-Zionism?
The basic premise of Zionism is that Jews have the same rights to nationhood as any other people. Anti-Zionism is based on the racist thesis that Jews are somehow different.
Zionism is opposed by a variety of groups:
Jewish religious anti-Zionism arose out of fear that a secular ideology would supplant religion as the mainstay of Judaism and a phobia of change. Jews had "always" lived in ghettos in the Diaspora, and therefore Jews must continue the tradition, according to religious anti-Zionists. Anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jews like the Neturei Karta regularly meet with and praise anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, agreeing with him that the Holocaust was exaggerated, and lending "legitimacy" to anti-Semitic myths. In practise, anti-Zionist Jews tend toward paradoxical Anti-Semitism. Assimilationist Jews were afraid that Zionism, with its insistence on Jewish nationhood, would hinder acceptance of Jews as equals in European nation-states. Marxist Jews and non-Jews opposed Zionism as a "reactionary" nationalist tendency, but later, paradoxically, came to support every "national liberation movement" except Zionism.
Anti-Semitism, Marxism and anti-Zionism
The largest recruiting base for Anti-Zionism is simple racist anti-Semitism. Neo-Marxist radicals denounce Zionism as racism, starting from the premise that Zionism was a colonialist movement, and that all colonialism is racism. The notion that Zionism is racism was probably spawned by the Soviet doctrine of "Zionology," an anti-Semitic ideological invention that was aimed as much at bolstering state-sponsored anti-Semitism as it was intended to support the anti-Israel policies of the Soviet government.
Most Arabs oppose Zionism because they believe that the entire Middle East belongs to them, and they encouraged the development of an opposing Palestinian (Arab) national identity. The creation of a Jewish national home and later, of the state of Israel, was increasingly opposed by the Arab states, and by the Arabs of Palestine.
Muslim and Islamist anti-Zionism
Most Muslims oppose Zionism and the existence of Israel, for different reasons. Some believe that all land that was once part of the Muslim territory (Dar al-Islam) must remain Muslim. For that reason, those opposed to Zionism sometimes also want to retake al Andalus (Spain). Some associate Zionism with the Christian Crusades, which conquered Palestine briefly and were viewed as an intrusion and an insult. Many Muslim leaders are afraid of Western ideas of progress and human rights, such as equality for women and homosexuals, that are transmitted through Zionism, as well as scientific doctrines that they view as pernicious such as evolution.
Current attitudes to Zionism, and the current image of Zionism, are influenced by the Israeli occupation of lands conquered in the Six day War, including the Golan Heights and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Anti-Zionism often insists that Zionism is identical with "Greater Israel" and "Likud" ideology, though Israel has repeatedly offered to withdraw from conquered territories in return for peace, and most Zionists support a two state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some advocates of the Arab cause insist that the conflict began in 1967. However, Arab opposition to Jewish presence and settlement in Palestine began long before the creation of the Jewish State in 1948, and violent attacks on Israel are still initiated from Gaza, though Israel, under Likud party leadership, withdrew from Gaza.
False claims of anti-Zionism
Contrary to the claims of anti-Zionists, Zionism did not seek to set up a "Jewish exclusivist" state in the land of Israel, or plot to expel the Arabs of Palestine, nor was Zionism ever a militaristic, fascist type movement, though there were militaristic Zionists. Zionism was a non-militaristic movement in its foundation, rather pacifist in orientation. Early Zionists ignored the claims of Arab nationalism, because there was no Arab nationalism evident in the land of Israel, and because of their own ignorance of actual conditions in the land. Beginning about 1905, Zionists took cognizance of Arab nationalism, but usually assumed that Zionism and Arab nationalism could work together, and that Zionism could benefit the Arabs of Palestine. Theodor Herzl's utopia, Altneuland, described the future Jewish state as a multipluralistic democracy where Jews and Arabs lived as equals.
The enemies of Zionism tend to identify "Zionism" with the worst and most unfortunate acts of misguided extremists. They insist that Zionism is racism, and accuse Zionism of crimes ranging to deliberately planning to expel the Arabs to instigating the French Revolution. They often paint all Zionists as religious fanatics from Brooklyn intent on rebuilding the third temple, murdering or expelling the Arabs of Palestine and creating a "Jewish exclusivist" state that encompasses huge areas of the Middle East. They depict Zionism as a "pernicious plot" that controls European and American governments, just as anti-Semites depicted Jews as plotting to subvert governments and achieve world domination. They insist, nonetheless, that they are not anti-Semitic, though they deny the right of the Jews to self-determination.
The Zionism Controversy
When did Zionism begin? Is Zionism "Messianic?" Is Zionism expansionist? Is Zionism imperialistic? Is Zionism racism? Did Zionism plot to dispossess Arabs? Does Zionism run the American government? Is Zionism right wing? Is Zionism the source of all problems in the Middle East? Is Zionism colonialist and evil? Is Zionism fascist?
Some answers: History of Zionism and Israel Zionism and its Impact What Is Zionism?-Definitions of Zionism Zionism and Israel-FAQ Zionism and Israel - and anti-Zionism Zionism Encyclopedic Dictionary of Israel and Zionism Zionist Quotes Fake Zionist Quotes Anti-Zionist Quotes