Definition of Zionism
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Zionism is the national revival movement of the Jewish people. It holds that the Jews have the right to self-determination in their own national home, and the right to develop their national culture. Historically, Zionism strove to create a legally recognized national home for the Jews in their historical homeland. This goal was implemented by the creation of the State of Israel. Today, Zionism supports the existence of the state of Israel and helps to inspire a revival of Jewish national life, culture and language.?
Controversy - Definitions of Zionism are controversial. The above definition is intended to be historically correct and tries not to exclude any Zionist group or make Zionism the "property" of a particular political faction. Other definitions may either delegitimize Zionism intentionally, or may do so unintentionally and may introduce distortions of various types.? There are many definitions of Zionism that we will explore below.
Definitions suggested by readers - You are welcome to post your definitions or criticisms of these definitions in the forum. These may be published here.
Here is a definition of Zionism suggested by a reader.? (Malvina M., Australia):
Zionism today, in its simplest form, is the affirmation and support for the democratic state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Zionism is a political movement that includes many shades of opinion. Different factions of the Zionist movement and different commentators have offered different definitions of Zionism that suit their purposes and outlook. Not all of them are historically or ideologically accurate as generalizations.
"Zionism" has several different types of meanings:
1. Zionism as an ideology - Zionist ideology holds that the Jews are a people or nation like any other, and should gather together in a single homeland. Zionism was self-consciously the Jewish analogue of Italian and German national liberation movements of the nineteenth century. The term "Zionism" was apparently coined in 1891 (1885 according to some sources) by the Austrian publicist Nathan Birnbaum, to describe the new ideology, but it was used retroactively to describe earlier efforts and ideas to return the Jews to their homeland for whatever reasons, and it is applied to Evangelical Christians who want people of the Jewish religion to return to Israel in order to hasten the second coming.?
2. Zionism as a descriptive term - It is also used to describe the belief that Jews should return to their ancient homeland, and might be applied not only to the religious ideas of Evangelical Christians, but to the preaching of the ancient prophets..
3. Zionism as a political movement - The Zionist movement was founded by Theodore Herzl in 1897, incorporating the ideas of early thinkers as well as the organization built by Hovevei Tziyon ("lovers of Zion").?
Not everything that the Zionist movement accomplished, or that Zionists do or say, is a necessary part of Zionism
Not just about a state - Zionism was not, historically, officially a movement to create a "Jewish State." The first Zionist congress in Basle, Switzerland, in 1897? resolved:
Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law (or International Law).
Zionists therefore sought charters from governments to establish a national home under their protection. The objectives of the Basle Program were thought to have been realized with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the Mandate for Palestine granted to the British in 1922. However, the British eventually reneged on their mandate obligation to support a Jewish homeland. In 1942 the Biltmore Conference resolved to adopt the goal of creating a Jewish state in Palestine, in opposition to British policy. This was not the original official goal of Zionism, but a departure from it forced by circumstances.
Not just about religion - There are many religious Zionists, and early proponents of return to Zion in the 19th century were rabbis. However, the founders of the Zionist movement were not religious and the Zionist movement is not about religion or return to a "promised land."
Not about borders - Zionism was never about borders. Some Zionist programs envisioned a Jewish homeland outside of Palestine, some Zionists envisioned a bi-national state (the Mapam party) , while others ("Revisionists") insisted that the Jewish state must be established on both sides of the Jordan river, in the full territory of the British Mandate.
Not about taking from others or excluding others - Though the history of Zionism quickly became entangled with Arab nationalist aspirations, Zionism was not about taking land from others or excluding others. The Zionist "colonial" project aimed to buy land in Palestine, not to conquer it by force. See The Occupation, Palestinians, Israel and Zionism )
Not about militarism - Though the history of Israel and Jewish settlement in Palestine often seems like one long war with interruptions, most Zionists were not militarists. They believed that their cause would triumph by moral force alone. An early Zionist argued:
We shall never possess cannons, even if the goyim shall bear arms against one another for ever. Therefore, we cannot but settle in our land fairly and justly, to live and let live. "
(Meir Dizengoff (writing as "Dromi") "The Workers Question," Hatzvi, September 21, 22, 1909)
The online reference Answers.com (http://www.answers.com/topic/zionism ) has this definition of Zionism:
A Jewish movement that arose in the late 19th century in response to growing anti-Semitism and sought to reestablish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Modern Zionism is concerned with the support and development of the state of Israel.
The definition seems innocent, but it is loaded with assumptions and questionable historical assertions. Among Jews, the modern Zionist idea first began to take shape in the first part of the 19th century among the Proto-Zionists and was a response to the challenge of rise of nationalism, the enlightenment and the emancipation of the Jews, which threatened to make the Jewish adaptation to Diaspora life obsolete. The Chovevei Tzion groups who studied Hebrew and set up Hebrew schools in Russia were not doing so in order to escape anti-Semitism, but rather to bring about a national revival that would enable Judaism to adapt to the modern secular nation-state. Anti-Semitic persecutions provided a motive that helped popularize Zionism, but they could not, in themselves have been responsible for the Zionist ideology. The major reaction to anti-Semitic persecutions in Europe was emigration to the United States, not Zionism. The idea that the ancient land of Israel might be a refugee shelter for persecuted Jews captivated many American Jews such as Emma Lazarus. It is interesting that Lazarus and others did not think of going to the land of Israel themselves, nor, on the other hand, did it occur to them that the Jews of Europe might be rescued by bringing them to the United States. The latter idea did occur to Mordecai Manuel Noah, but he viewed his US project as only a temporary shelter, until the Jews could return to Zion. Unfortunately, the idea of Zionism as a refugee salvage operation opens Israel and Zionism to Arab criticism that they are not at fault for the sins of Europe, which cannot be repaired at the expense of the Arabs.
Everyone? has to decide for themselves if they are a Zionist. If you believe that the Jews are a people, and support the right of the Jews to a national home, and you are willing to stand up for that right when it is challenged, then you can call yourself a Zionist, whether or not you belong to any organized Zionist group or accept any "official" definition, and whether or not you live in Israel or plan to live in Israel - and whether or not you are Jewish.
See also - A History of Zionism and the Creation of Israel- A detailed history from the Zionist point of view that discusses and addresses some criticisms of Zionism.
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