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A History of Zionism

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Zionism created Israel, and Israel recreated Zionism.

Some background:

This article by Martin Peretz provides some more in-depth historical background as well as an evaluation of Zionism:  Zionism - The God that Did Not Fail

This timeline gives details of the history of Zionism and Israel.

This article provides an overall history of Israel and Palestine:

History of Israel, Palestine and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Zen & Understanding the Middle East - How illogic is used to explain events in the Middle East - and elsewhere. Including Dr. Michael Labossiere's Fallacy Handbook.  Israel News


Introduction - What is Zionism?

Zionism is the Jewish national liberation movement. "Zionism" derives its name from "Zion," (pronounced "Tzyion" in Hebrew) a hill in Jerusalem. The word means "marker" or commemoration. "Shivath Tzion" is one of the traditional terms for the return of Jewish exiles.  "Zionism" is not a monolithic ideological movement. It includes, for example, socialist Zionists such as Ber Borochov, religious Zionists such as rabbis Kook and Reines, nationalists such as Zeev Jabotinsky and cultural Zionists exemplified by Asher Ginsberg (Ahad Ha'am). Zionist ideas evolved over time and were influenced by circumstances as well as by social and cultural movements popular in Europe at different times, including socialism, nationalism and colonialism, and assumed different "flavors" depending on the country of origin of the thinkers and prevalent contemporary intellectual currents. Accordingly, no single person, publication, quote or pronouncement should be taken as embodying "official" Zionist ideology.

Zionism is the ideological success story of the twentieth century. It has overcome seemingly insuperable obstacles to realize an impossible dream. Zionism is not a pernicious conspiracy, but it has aroused opposition owing to its success. This brief survey will discuss the history of the Zionist movement, and show how it created modern Israel and was in turn re-shaped by the revolutionary new reality that it had created.

See also - Definitions of Zionism

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Background - When did Zionism Begin?

Love of Zion in Jewish History

Capsule History of Zionism

In retrospect, it is useful to divide the development of Zionism into several more or less distinct stages, influenced by the course of external events as well as changes that Zionism itself brought about.

Pre-Zionism - The cultural basis of Zionism, the tie of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, existed since the time of the exile, throughout the history of the Galut (Golah, Diaspora). In this period, Zionism was often expressed in Messianic movements. We may, with some truth as well as humor, call this the period of "impractical Zionism."

Proto-Zionism - Early 19th century writings and movements that advocated the restoration of the Jews to the land of Israel, without waiting for the Messiah. This included the rabbinical Zionism of rabbi Yehudah Alkalai and Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Kalischer as well as the somewhat later practical and secular Zionism of Moses Hess, Leon Pinsker and others.

Foundational Zionism - In this period, Zionism became an organized political movement inspired and initially led by Theodor Herzl and then by Chaim Weizmann. It includes the development of Zionism from the first Zionist congress to the British Mandate, including Political Zionism, Cultural Zionism, Practical Zionism,Religious Zionism  and Territorial Zionism. The latter movements were stimulated as a reaction to Political Zionism. This period also saw the emergence of Labor Zionism or Socialist Zionism. The principle concern of Zionism in this period was obtaining a charter for a Jewish national home. The Zionist movement was led by middle and upper class Jews.

Mandatory Zionism - Under the British mandate, the leadership of the Zionist movement came to be centered in the land of Israel ("Palestine") rather than in Europe, and became identified with the Labor Zionist leadership of the Jewish Yishuv (community in Palestine). In this period Zionism focused on settling the land, on defense against Arabs, and later on rescuing Jews from the Holocaust and the struggle against the British government. David Ben-Gurion led the Zionist movement during most of this period.

Zionism after the birth of Israel -  The Israel War of Independence and the birth of the state of Israel marked a watershed in the ideological and practical development of Zionism. David Ben-Gurion again is identified with the initial period of Israeli independence. Inside Israel, "Zionism" became associated with "official" ideology and political cant, derisively known as "tsiyonut."

Zionism after the Six Day War - The Six day war wrought significant changes in Zionism. It made Zionism more respectable in the United States among American Jews and it kindled a Zionist reawakening in Jews around the world, especially in the Soviet Union. At the same time it encouraged militarism, the birth of the Greater Israel movement and ultimately helped to bring to power revisionist Zionism under Menachem Begin and the Likud party. It also encouraged the dangerously complacent belief that the existence of Israel is an irreversible fact. 

Zionism under the Revisionists - The Yom Kippur War set in motion a train of events that led to disillusionment with Labor Zionist leadership. In 1977, the Likud party came to power. Israel and a portion of the Zionist movement became focused on developing settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip. Socialist ideals were discarded in favor of a free economy. The historical culture of Israel changed. The education system downgraded the contribution of the Labor Zionist movement and its leaders. The change expressed itself in all aspects of Israeli culture. Formal dress, once anathema to Israeli politicians and Israeli society, became acceptable and desirable. Revisionist and religious Zionist movements, once the fringe of the Zionist movement, insisted that they are the "real" Zionists, and Zionism abroad came to be identified with the settlement movement.

The "Post-Zionist" Reaction and dovish Zionism - Those Israelis who opposed the settlement movement initiated a reaction against the Zionist swing to the right. This reaction expressed itself in the form of Zionist opposition to government policies, and of anti-Zionist opposition, which called itself "post-Zionist." The Zionist opposition seeks to end the occupation and settlement of territories conquered in 1967. The latter group strives to discredit Zionism as a colonialist imperialist movement and wants to end the Jewish State of Israel. As a byproduct of the Oslo peace process and the subsequent violence, the post-Zionist movement achieved considerable prominence for a time. Professor Zeev Sternhell is considered a member of the Zionist opposition, while Ilan Pappe is a "post-Zionist," actually anti-Zionist, advocate of the abolition of the Jewish national home.

Zionist Revival - The Arab Palestinian violence that began in September 2000 was accompanied by increasingly strident anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, including calls for academic boycotts of Israel and calls for dismantling the "apartheid state." This induced a revival of Zionism and Zionist sentiment, especially abroad.


Zionism was a natural product of the culture of the Jewish people in exile. It did not spring full blown from a void with the creation of the Zionist movement in 1897. The central idea of Zionism, disputed by anti-Zionists, is that the Jews are a people, a nation tied to a specific land, and not just just a religion. It is a misconception to think that this idea was born in the 19th century. Since the Romans exiled the Jews from the land that the Jews called Judea and the Romans called Palestine, the Jews had referred to the lands outside the land of Judea or Israel as Gola meaning "exile" rather than "Diaspora (meaning dispersion) and to their condition as "Galut." Both were always terms with negative and bitter connotations. Implicitly then, there was a land from which Jews were exiled and to which they understood that they belonged.

Jews had lived in "Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel, called "Palestine" by the Romans and Greeks) since about 1200  B.C.E. The land of Israel was at a crossroads of the Middle East and the Mediterranean and was therefore conquered many times: by Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Seleucid Greeks and Romans, as well as invading Philistines. Of these, only the Jews made the land into their national home. Jewish national culture, fused with religion, centered around the geography, seasons and history of the land and of the Jews in the land. The Jews created the Old Testament Bible- The Tanach, which described their history and the history of the land, and their connection to it. The Bible formed the backbone of Jewish culture and later was to form the backbone of Western Christian culture, so that the entire world recognized the connection between the Jews and their land. When the Romans conquered Palestine, and Jews were exiled to the Diaspora, the connection to the land was preserved in the Bible, and in prayers that daily called for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and it was expressed in the writings of medieval poets.

In the Diaspora, religion became the medium for preserving Jewish culture and Jewish ties to the ancient land land of the Jews. Jews prayed several times a day for the rebuilding of the temple, celebrated agricultural feasts and called for rain according to the seasons of ancient, sunny Eastern Mediterranean land of Israel  Israel, even in the farthest frozen reaches of Russia. The ritual plants of Sukkoth were imported from the Holy Land at great expense. A Holy-Land centered tradition persisted in Diaspora thought and writing. This tradition may be called "proto-nationalist" because there was no nationalism in the modern sense in those times. It was not only religious or confined to hoping for messianic redemption, but consisted of longing for the land of Israel. It is preserved in the poetry of Yehuda Halevi, a Spanish Jewish physician, poet and philosopher, who himself immigrated to "the Holy Land" and died there in 1141.

Jews had maintained a connection with Palestine, both actual and spiritual. This continued even after the Bar Kochba revolt in 135, when large numbers of Jews were exiled from Roman Palestine. The Jewish community in Palestine revived in subsequent years. Under Muslim rule, it is estimated to have numbered as many as 300,000 prior to the Crusades, about 1000 AD. The Crusaders killed most of the Jewish population of Palestine or forced them into exile, so that only about 1,000 families remained after the reconquest of Palestine by Saladin. The Jewish community in Palestine waxed and waned with the vicissitudes of conquest and economic hardship. A trickle of Jews came because of love of Israel, and were sometimes encouraged by invitations by different Turkish rulers to displaced European Jews to settle in Tiberias and Hebron. At different times there were sizeable Jewish communities in Tiberias, Safed, Hebron and Jerusalem, and numbers of Jews living in Nablus and Gaza. A few original Jews remained in the town of Peki'in, families that had lived there continuously since ancient times.

From time to time, small numbers of Jews came to settle in the land of Israel in answer to rabbinical or Messianic calls, or fleeing persecution in Europe. Beginning about 1700, groups of followers led by rabbis reached Palestine from Europe and the Ottoman empire with various programs. For example, Rabbi Yehuda Hehasid and his followers settled in Jerusalem about 1700, but the rabbi died suddenly, and eventually, an Arab mob, angered over unpaid debts, destroyed the synagogue the group had built and banned all European (Ashkenazy) Jews from Jerusalem. Rabbis Luzatto and Ben-Attar led a relatively large immigration about 1740. Other groups and individuals came from Lithuania and Turkey and different countries in Eastern Europe.

At no time between the Roman exile and the rise of modern Zionism was there a movement to settle the holy land that engaged the main body of European or Eastern Jews, though many were attracted to various false Messiahs such as Shabetai Tzvi, who promised to restore Jews to their land. For most Jews, the connection with the ancient homeland and with Jerusalem remained largely cultural and spiritual. Return to the homeland was a hypothetical event that would occur with the coming of the Messiah at an unknown date in the far future. European Jews lived, for the most part in ghettos. They did not get a general education, and did not, for the most part, engage in practical trades that might prepare them for living in Palestine. Most of the communities founded by these early settlers met with economic disaster, or were disbanded following earthquakes, riots or outbreaks of disease. The Jewish communities of Safed, Tiberias, Jerusalem and Hebron were typically destroyed by natural and man-made disasters and repopulated several times, never supporting more than a few thousand persons each at their height. The Jews of Palestine, numbering about 17,000 by the mid-19th century, lived primarily on charity - Halukka donations, with only a very few engaging in crafts trade or productive work.

Spinoza and Zionism

The religion of the nation of Israel, Judaism, had been so completely identified with its people, that almost nothing remained of an ethnic or national consciousness. Indeed, in Europe of the Middle Ages, "nations" did not really exist, and there were few if any people who would admit to being non-religious. One of the first Jews who may be studied as a "test case" regarding the nature of Judaism was Baruch Spinoza (Baruch d'Espinoza 1632-1677). Spinoza was a refugee from the Spanish  Inquisition who lived in Holland. He began to deliver himself of beliefs that the elders of the congregation felt were incompatible with the Jewish religion. Spinoza did not believe in conventional religion and prayer, and he asserted that god was in everything and everywhere. He was excommunicated from the Jewish congregation. Therefore, he was no longer a member of the Jewish religion. Yet it was clear that everyone considered him to be a Jew in some sense. Therefore, it is clear that even before the 19th century, the Jews, and the world, understood that "Jewish" is something more than a religion. Spinoza cannot be considered a Zionist, but his ethics and his approach to Jewish history and the Jewish religion served as an inspiration for many later secular Zionists. (see Yovel, Yirmiyahu, Spinoza and other Heretics, The Marrano of Reason, Princeton University Press, 1989).

Emancipation and Zionism

The French revolution and the rise of Napoleon hastened the emancipation of European Jewry, who were no longer confined to the ghettos of European cities, and became citizens like everyone else. Eventually, the liberalization reached Eastern Europe and Russia as well. The enlightenment of the 18th century and the emancipation of the 19th were a great shock for Jewish culture and identity. Jews split into several groups during the nineteenth century. Ultraorthodox Jews remained faithful to the culture of the ghetto, which excluded the possibility of intermingling in modern society or gaining a modern education. A second group attempted to assimilate completely into European society, converting to Christianity and losing their Jewish identity. A third group believed that they could integrate as modern citizens, with equal rights and still maintain their Jewish faith, while renouncing any cultural or group allegiance to Judaism. In effect, their Judaism became somewhat like a section of the Protestant religion. They found various euphemisms for their identity, such as Hebrews or Germans of the Mosaic faith. This group founded the Reform Judaism movement. The assimilationist viewpoints took it on faith that once the Jews "became like everyone else" they would be accepted in society as equals, and would become Germans, Italians, Englishmen or Frenchmen. However, it became increasingly evident to many during the nineteenth century that assimilation was not necessarily desirable. Perhaps it was impossible as well, since anti-Jewish feeling did not abate. The newly coined Christians and "Germans of the Mosaic Faith" found themselves the objects of increasing anti-Jewish sentiment, which took on the title of "anti-Semitism" in 19th century Germany.

The ferment and cultural chaos unleashed by the emancipation produced a confusing variety of religious, intellectual and cultural reform movements among the Jews, which also evolved in many directions. The "Haskalah" or Jewish enlightenment was a movement for modernization of Judaism. In part it was assimilationist, but some of the leaders of the Haskalah believed in Hebrew culture and some turned ultimately to nationalism and Zionism, causing a split within the movement.

The first challenge of emancipation to Judaism was that while it seemed that Jews could live as equal citizens in modern society, it became obvious that if they truly integrated into modern secular democracies, Jews would stop being Jews, and therefore the idea of "equal rights for Jews" would be meaningless. 

See also History of anti-Zionism Jewish anti-Zionism Reform Jewish anti-Zionism


Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Kalischer (Kalisher) Forerunner of modern Zionism

During this period, after the French Revolution and the emancipation of European Jewry, the vague spiritual bonds of the Jewish people to Israel began to express themselves in more concrete, though not always practical ways. About 1808, groups of Lithuanian Jews, followers of the Vilna Gaon (a famous rabbi and opponent of Hassidism) arrived in Palestine and purchased land to begin an agricultural settlement. In 1836, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Kalischer. petitioned Anschel Rothschild to buy Palestine or at least the Temple Mount for the Jews. In 1839-1840, Sir Moses Montefiore visited Palestine and negotiated with the Khedive of Egypt to allow Jewish settlement and land purchase in Palestine. However, the negotiations led to nothing, possibly frustrated by the outbreak of an anti-Semitic blood-libel in Damascus. Thereafter, Montefiore continued with less ambitious philanthropic schemes in Palestine and in Argentina. In the 1840s, Rabbi Kalischer in Poland, and rabbi Yehudah Alkalai a Sephardic Jew, wrote articles urging practical steps for hastening redemption by settling in the Holy Land, to be sponsored by the efforts of philanthropists.

Rabbi Judah Alkalai (Alkali) - forerunner of modern Zionism
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Kalischer (Kalisher)
Rabbi Judah ben Shlomo Alkalai (Alkali) (1798-1878)

British Zionism

The idea of a Jewish restoration also took the fancy of British intellectuals for religious and practical reasons. British religious support for restoration of the Jews can be traced back to the Puritans and beyond. It was renewed in the theology of the Plymouth Brethren founded by J.N. Darby in the early 19th century. The restoration was championed in the 1840s by Lords Shaftesbury and Palmerston, who in addition to religious motivations thought that a Jewish colony in Palestine would help to stabilize and revive the country, Jewish national stirrings were also voiced by novelists and writers such as Lord Byron, Benjamin Disraeli, George Eliot and Walter Scott. ( for a detailed discussion of British Zionism click here ).

Christian Zionism

US Christian Support for Restoration of the Jews

Puritan support for restoration of the Jews was transferred to the United States with the arrival of the Puritans. Increase Mather and many others were early champions of restoration of the Jews in 17th century United States. This idea became assimilated into the mainstream of U.S. ideas and culture and was supported by Presidents beginning with John Adams. In more recent times, it has also become the project of fundamentalist sects, including those derived from dispensationalist doctrines. (see Christian Zionism for a detailed history)

Zionism of Sephardic Jews

Through an accident of history, European (Ashkenazy) Jews took the lead in organized Zionism for many years. However, Sephardic (Spanish) Jews and Jews in Arab lands maintained a closer practical tie with the holy land and with the Hebrew language than did Ashkenazy Jews and also influenced and participated in the the Zionist movement from its inception. Sarajevo-born Judah ben Solomon Hai Alkalai (1798-1878,) is considered one of the major precursors of modern Zionism. Alkalai believed that return to the land of lsrael was a precondition for the redemption of the Jewish people. Alkalai's ideas greatly influenced his Ashkenazy contemporary, Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Kalischer. Alkalai was also a friend of the grandfather of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. Another Sephardi Jew, David Alkalai, a grand-nephew of Judah Alkalai, founded and led the Zionist movement in Serbia and Yugoslavia., and attended the first Zionist Congress in Basel (1897).

Early Zionism

The modern formulation of Zionism was partly divorced from religious aspirations. The 19th century enlightenment allowed the Jews to leave the ghettos of Europe for the first time. Some converted to Christianity and assimilated to surrounding society. Others, exposed to a general education, dropped their religious beliefs, but understood that both they and others still considered them to be Jews. This suggested a conundrum. If one could be a non-believer and still be a Jew, then "Jew" must be more than just the name of a religion, a problem already raised by the case of Spinoza. German racists solved this conundrum by inventing a racial theory, which lacked any real scientific basis. Socialists cited the aberrant class structure of Jewish society and labeled Jews a "caste.". Zionists solved the conundrum by declaring that Jews are a people, a fact implicit in the Jewish biblical and cultural concept of "am Yisrael." The Jews were a people without a country however, and would remain politically powerless as long as they did not have a national home. They would be guests everywhere and at home nowhere, according to Zionist ideology. This homelessness was the cause of the "Jewish Problem," and it could not fail to be exacerbated by the rise of nationalism and nations in the 19th century. This explained why, paradoxically, anti-Jewish sentiment might become more pronounced in "enlightened" Europe than it had been in previous centuries.


Moses Hess, a more or less secular Jew and a socialist, was probably the first to enunciate these ideas in so many words in his book Rome and Jerusalem, published in 1862, calling for a Jewish national movement similar to the Italian risorgimento nationalist movement. These and similar sentiments were adopted by numerous small groups that formed primarily in Eastern Europe, but also in Britain and in the United States.


Religion and Zionism


Jewish religious authorities took a variety of attitudes to the evolving Zionist movement. One group was unalterably opposed to Zionism, both because they understood that Zionism provided a secular alternative to their monopoly on leadership of the Jewish community, and for theological reasons. Rabbi Moses Schreiber, the Hatam Sofer (1762-1839) was the rabbi of Pressburg. He opposed any type of reform. His opposition to Zionism was based on the assertion that nobody had ever thought of it before, so it must be wrong:

Why should we look for new ideas never dreamed of by our ancestors? If the idea of settlement was good and pleasing in the eyes of the Lord, why did our ancestors never devote themselves to it? As men say -- whatever is new is forbidden by the Torah. (Slucki, A,J. ed Shivat Tziyon, Warsaw, 1892, V 1, p 70.)

Rabbi Israel Meir Ha-Cohen of Radun, the Hafez Chaim ("desirer of life")  who founded the anti-Zionist  Agudath Yisrael, expressed similar opinion:

It is not in our power to repair the condition of our people, because we are under the sway of our enemies; we must attend to the spiritual situation of our people, which degenerates from day to day, and return them to the Lord. When we have corrected our actions, our material state will also improve, as promised in the Torah. (Poupko, H.L Hakohen, Kitsur Toldot heHafetz Haim, Mikhtevei HeHafetz Haim, Warsaw, 1937, page 68.)

A much smaller group of orthodox leaders took up the cause of settlement in the land of Israel in the late 19th century. They included Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines, the founder of the Mizrachi movement, Rabbi Naphthali Zeev Berlin, and Rabbi Samuel Mohilever (or Mohilewer) who led the religious faction of Hovevei Tzion. They variously saw their task as one of preserving the unity of the Jewish people, of blending the Haskalah with orthodox Judaism, or of ensuring that religious Jews did not lose control of the settlement enterprise and allow unbelievers to run the Jewish community in the land of Israel, which was, after all, holy to them.   

Proto-Zionism and the "First Aliya"

The first groups of immigrants who came to the land with the idea of turning the land into a national home for the Jews are known as the "first Aliya." "Aliya" literally means "going up" and it is term Jews have used for a long time for coming to the holy land. Beginning in the 1870s, religious and nonreligious Jews established several study groups and societies for purchasing land in Palestine and settling there. In 1870 the Alliance Israelite, an ostensibly non-Zionist organization, founded the Miqve Yisrael agricultural school near Beit Dagan.

In 1882, the BILU (an acronym for "Beyt Ya'akov Lechu Venelcha" - House of Jacob let us go) and Hibbat Tziyon (love of Zion) and Hovevi Tziyon groups were established. They were inspired by the impetus of the wave of anti-Jewish violence that had swept Russia in 1881.

Hibbat Tziyion began as a network of independent underground study groups, eventually forming larger groups called Hovevei Tziyon. They attracted followers of the Haskalah who could no longer believe in assimilation or the possibility of normal life as Jews in the Diaspora. These and similar groups established a number of early Jewish settlements including Yesod Hamaalah, Rosh Pinna, Gedera, Rishon Le Tziyon, Nes Tziyona and Rehovot on land purchased from Arab owners with the aid of Jewish philanthropists, chiefly Lord Rothschild. Joel Solomon led a group of orthodox Jews out of Jerusalem to found Petah Tiqva in 1878.

Zionism - Petah Tivka settlers

Petah Tiqva

The settlements were characteristically vineyards and orange orchards. The settlers were mostly religious Jews, though the religious Jewish establishment frowned on Zionism. In 1882, 150 Yemenite Jews also found their way to Palestine. The first Aliya numbered about 25,000 persons, primarily from Eastern Europe. Many of them returned home defeated by disease, poverty and unemployment.

Revival of Hebrew - Among the first arrivals of the first Aliya was Eliezer ben Yehuda (Perelman). Inspired by European, particularly Bulgarian nationalism, Ben Yehuda was moved to settle in Palestine. He arrived in 1881 and undertook to revive the Hebrew language. With the help of Nissim Bechar, principal of a school operated by the Alliance Israelite Universelle, Ben Yehuda began teaching Hebrew. Later he founded and published the Hatzvi newspaper and set up a linguistic council. Ben Yehuda's work was the major force in the revival of Hebrew as a modern language.

Leon Pinsker and Hovevei Tziyon - Inspired by the anti-Semitic violence in Russia, Leon Pinsker formulated the modern idea of Zionism in a small pamphlet called Auto-Emancipation, published in 1882. Pinsker believed that anti-Semitism was inevitable as long as Jews were guests in every country and at home nowhere, and wrote that the Jews' only salvation lay in liberating themselves and settling in their own country. Pinsker favored Argentina or other countries as sites for the Jewish homeland. However, Western Jews who might have favored this idea rebuffed him. In his native Russia, however, his ideas were well received, but they were channeled to settlement in Palestine. In 1884, Pinsker was made head of the Hovevei Tziyon organization, which united many small and scattered groups, primarily in Russia, into a single organization. Pinsker favored "political Zionism," that is, organization of Jews in Europe and petitioning the great powers for land on which to establish a national home. However, his efforts in this direction were rebuffed by the Russian government. Instead, he directed his energies to the gradual purchase of land and settlement of small groups in Palestine.

Early settlers faced innumerable cultural and economic difficulties. In 1800, the ravages of misadministration and war had reduced the population to about 200,000. By the 1880s, the land had recovered somewhat, but it was still poor and disease ridden. The total population was about 450,000. Jerusalem was a small town of 25,000 inhabitants, slightly more than half Jewish. The first settlement of Petah Tiqva in 1878 failed and was later refounded.

Zionism - Early Jewish Settlers

Early Jewish Settlers

The Ottoman government barely tolerated the settlers, especially those who retained their foreign nationality, and the government officially restricted Jewish immigration, while making somewhat frantic attempts to import Muslim settlers from other parts of the Ottoman empire, including Bosnia, Kossovo and Circassia. Settlers who adopted Ottoman nationality were liable for the Turkish draft. Disease, poverty and unemployment caused many to leave.

The Bible and Zionism

The Old Testament Bible inspired not only Christian Zionists, but Jewish Zionism as well. Secular Zionists, especially David Ben Gurion, viewed the Bible as the "deed" of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and a part of both  Cultural Zionism and to a lesser extent Religious Zionism was study of the bible and de-emphasis of Jewish Diaspora writings, philosophy and religious thought. Students in the Jewish Yishuv educational system memorized long passages of the Bible, and went on field trips to explore and familiarize themselves with places mentioned in the bible. For both Christians and Jews, biblical archeology became an ideological activity as well as an academic pursuit.

Foundational Zionism


Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Zionist Movement

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Zionism was transformed from a cultural feature of Judaism to a charitable concern to a social movement. The writings of the proto-Zionists gave it an ideology. The contribution of Theodor Herzl was to transform Zionism into a political organization.

The Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish officer in the French Army was falsely convicted of treason, developed in France beginning in 1894. It excited a wave of anti-Semitism that made Western European Jews conscious of their national identity, and made many lose their faith in assimilation through the progress and equality offered by modern liberal democracy. In particular, it affected a young Vienna journalist, Theodor Herzl and his friend Max Nordau. Herzl's pamphlet Der JudenstaatThe Jewish State, was published in 1896. Herzl's plan for creating a Jewish State, arrived at after contemplating other solutions as well, provided the practical program of Zionism, and led to the first Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, in August, 1897

Zionism: Theodore Herzl - Founder of the Zionist movement
Theodor Herzl (1860 -1904)

After the first Basle Congress, Herzl wrote in his diary, “Were I to sum up the Basle Congress in a word- which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly- it would be this: ‘At Basle, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. If not in 5 years, certainly in 50, everyone will know it.’”

In 1902, Herzl published a utopian novel to popularize the Jewish state, Altneuland, (old-new land). Set in Eretz Yisrael (Palestine), Altneuland is  a pluralistic multicultural vision complete with monorails, modern industry and equality for Arabs. The novel concludes, "If you will, it is no legend."


Streams in Zionism

As the Zionist movement developed, several different factions or streams emerged in the early years. The protocols of early Zionist congresses were filled with the squabbles of these groups, and in some cases the squabbles led to splits. However, it should be understood that these groups often worked together, and that the Zionist movement tended to support all efforts that bore fruit. In retrospect, it could be seen that each group had made an essential and valuable contribution.

Political Zionism

Those who believed, like Herzl, that the key to success lay in a political solution, were classed as advocates of Political Zionism.

Herzl thought that diplomatic activity would be the main method for getting the Jewish homeland. He called for the organized transfer of Jewish communities to the new state. Of the location of the state, Herzl said, "We shall take what is given us, and what is selected by public opinion."

Herzl attempted to gain a charter from the Sultan of Turkey for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, then ruled by the Ottoman Empire. To this end he met in 1898 with the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, in Istanbul and Palestine, as well as the Sultan, but these meetings did not bear fruit.

Herzl negotiated with the British regarding the possibility of settling the Jews on the island of Cyprus, the Sinai Peninsula, the El Arish region and Uganda. After the Kishinev pogroms, Herzl visited Russia in July 1903. He tried to persuade the Russian government to help the Zionists transfer Jews from Russia to Palestine. At the Sixth Zionist Congress Herzl proposed settlement in Uganda, on offer from the British, as a temporary "night refuge" (nachtasyl). The idea met with sharp opposition, especially from the same Russian Jews that Herzl had thought to help. Though the congress passed the plan as a gesture of esteem for Herzl, it was not pursued seriously, and the initiative died after the plan was withdrawn. In his quest for a political solution, Herzl met with the king of Italy, who was encouraging, and with the Pope, who expressed opposition.

Territorial Zionism

A small group, the Jewish Territorial Organization ("Territorial Zionism") led by Israel Zangwill, split with the Zionist movement in 1905, and attempted to establish a Jewish homeland wherever possible. The organization was dissolved in 1925.

The insistence of Eastern European Jews on Palestine as the Jewish homeland, coupled with the failure of alternatives, maintained the focus of the Zionist movement on Palestine.

Attempts to find a "night asylum" in places such as Cyprus and Uganda have been distorted and exploited by anti-Zionists as "proof" that Zionism was not particularly focused on Palestine as the territory of the Jewish state. However, they were never intended as a permanent state and never gained much support. They were an expression of the misery of Eastern European Jewry and of the frantic urgency with which some Zionists viewed the situation of the Jews.

Cultural Zionism

Herzl's political approach was attacked by Achad Haam, father of Cultural Zionism. He pointed out that the Jews were not a political force, had no chance at all of getting a declaration guaranteeing a Jewish national home from any country, and had no massive presence in Palestine that could provide a basis for their claims. Therefore, he felt that both political Zionism and Zionism based on settlement were premature and impractical.  Ahad Haam wrote a penetrating criticism of Herzl and the "Volkerrechtig" national home: Jewish State, Jewish Problem, which seemed to prove that the idea was impossible to implement. As we shall discuss below, he also foresaw objections of the Arab inhabitants of the land to Zionist settlement, and believed that the tiny Jewish community would never be able to hold its own against the Arabs.

Achad Ha'am believed that the new Jewish homeland should at first be primarily a cultural center for Jews of the Diaspora. He explained that revitalization of Jewish culture was needed before large numbers of Jews would come to Palestine. It was never precisely clear whether he intended that the Jewish state should house only a minority of the Jews at all times, or whether he thought that eventually it would become a physical and actual center, as well as a cultural center.

Achad Haam had earlier attacked the settlement movement, claiming that it was premature and would not be able to stand up against Arab resentment, in This is not the way ("The wrong way") written in 1889. But in his eulogy for Pinsker, An Open Letter to my Brethren: Pinsker and his Pamphlet, Auto-Emancipation, Ahad Ha'am made it clear that there was no real contradiction between his approach and that of the settlers, and that he was not opposed to settlement in the land of Israel.  

Cultural Zionism fought a battle on two fronts. One front, as discussed, was opposition to political Zionism. The real battle of cultural Zionism however, was against the traditional Diaspora Jewish education system and religious rabbinical Judaism. Cultural Zionists attacked the traditional and backward "Cheder" education system which taught religious subjects by rote, and did not prepare its students for life in the modern world. Cultural Zionists understood that a revitalized Jewish nation and cultural life could not be viable without a modern education, and that Cheder education was driving many Jews into assimilation. They advocated and instituted reforms in the education system, as well as the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language. The Orthodox Jewish establishment was horrified by these ideas, and by the proposal that would essentially remove Jewish education from their exclusive oversight. This opposition was expressed at Zionist congresses through the religious Zionists, who gradually coalesced into a separate stream. It was their opposition, and not the opposition of a "political Zionist" faction, that prevented adoption of the cultural Zionist program they proposed. Herzl was afraid to back their demands because he believed that adoption of the program would split the Zionist movement, and we has, above all, concerned for unity of the movement. The revival of the Hebrew language, and the spread of Hebrew education in the Diaspora were the two major and lasting contributions of Cultural Zionism.

In modern times, some have taken Achad Ha'am's ideas out of context, to imply that Israel should remain only a cultural center for a Jews around the world, and also to claim that Ahad Ha'am believed that settlement in Israel was impossible and undesirable due to Arab oppostion. However, that is a gross distortion of Achad Ha'am's ideas and of cultural Zionism. Alongside his advocacy of cultural Zionism, Achad Haam  was an enthusiastic supporter of Zionism in the conventional sense of ingathering of the exiles. Ahad Ha'am came on Aliya and died in Tel Aviv.


Practical Zionism

The new Zionist movement, despite its preference for high politics,  could not and did not want to ignore the fact of settlement of the land, however tiny it was. The early settlers of the BILU and others of the first Aliya had established "facts on the ground." Those who represented them insisted that settlement of the land, rather than Quixotic political efforts, would turn the Zionist dream into reality. Their approach came to be known as Practical Zionism.  

In 1907, a young economist named Arthur Ruppin was sent to Palestine to study the conditions of the Yishuv. Arthur Ruppin's report and ideas formed the basis for the Zionist action program in the coming years, and shaped the second Aliya as well as the future of Zionist settlement and the character of the state. Ruppin understood that it was impossible to continue with the plantation model introduced by the first Aliya settlement program. He backed a small group of socialist settlers who wanted to found a commune at Sejera. This became Kibbutz Degania in 1909, later followed by Kinnereth, Merchavia and other kibbutzim. The arrangement, originally thought to be temporary, proved to be practical, as well as suited to the socialist ideals of the new settlers. It soon inspired several other kibbutzim (collective farms). The Kibbutz movement was to become the backbone of Labor Zionism in Palestine, and eventually provided political and military leadership. Kibbutzim provided ideal places for hiding arms from the British and recruiting and training troops, as well as for organizing local defense and guarding borders.

Religious Zionism

Religious Zionism is the most natural-seeming stream in Zionism for outsiders, but it is also the stream that actually came to Zionism with the greatest difficulty, it is most misunderstood stream and it changed and evolved since its inception.

Contrary to the beliefs of heavy handed anti-Zionist propagandists, the religious Zionism of Rabbis Mohilever, Reines and Kook was not "Messianic." On the contrary, adoption of Zionism was a break with tradition for religious Jews. It meant that they were taking matters into their own hands and were not waiting for divine redemption. The goal was not to bring the Messiah, but to be satisfied with a less ambitious material improvement in the condition of the Jews. In 1876, Mohilever wrote:

... we see that we have not succeeded through our deeds to bring about speedy redemption. The earlier generations with their righteousness were not granted the boon of bringing the miraculous redemption immediately, so a fortiori we shall not merit it.... We have to expect the redemption "in its season" and it will be by natural means and of a lower degree. (Fishman, Rabbi J.L., ed. Sefer Shmuel, Jerusalem, 1923, p 153) 

Redemption would come about through self-help. This made it possible for religious thinkers to break free of the paralyzing formulations of rabbinical Zionism that had prevented religious participation in Zionism. Mohilever led the religious faction of the Hibbat Tziyon for many years. The key to his approach was unity of the Jewish people. It was difficult for some orthodox Jews to accept that this "material redemption" would come about through the agency of unbelieving Jews.

Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines carried on the battle of religious Zionism in the Zionist congresses. When the fifth Zionist Congress, in 1902, decided to implement the cultural Zionism program of Ahad Ha'am, it was perceived as a clear threat to religious education. There was no religious alternative to modernization of Jewish cultural life and education. Reines founded the Mizrachi (an acronym for "Mercaz Ruhani" - spiritual center) movement as a faction of the Zionist movement in that year. Mizrachi had in fact existed in Russia before this time, as a faction of the Hovevei Tziyon let by Rabbi Mohilever. The ideas of Mizrachi soon received the support of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Cook was to become the  first Ashkenazy Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine. Like Mohilever and Reines, Kook believed in the legitimacy of secular Zionism, which was, according to him, performing a sacred mission, and he strove for reconciliation of all parts of the Zionist movement. The National Religious Party (NRP) which is the political part of Mizrachi followed a similar line until 1967 was a dovish liberal, progressive party in the traditions of German Jewish liberalism. 

The Second Aliyah and Socialist Zionism

Herzl's political Zionism had been a movement designed for, and led by, the middle and upper classes. The Zionist congresses with their frock coated delegates could hardly be taken for workers' assemblies. This was not entirely an accident. Herzl was convinced he needed the support of rich Jewish financiers to pay the Sultan's debts and to finance immigration and land purchase in Palestine, and the support of rabbis who would bring the Jewish communities they represented with them. Many of the delegates to the congress were chosen because they were relatively relatively affluent. Russian communities often "sent" delegates who were actually already in Western Europe - students and business people. In Russia, Zionism was represented primarily by the orthodox Zionists of the Mizrachi movement. This made it easy for the anti-Zionist Bund and the communists to portray Zionism as a reactionary religious movement. Chaim Weizmann wrote to Herzl in 1903:

In Western Europe it is generally believed that the large majority of Jewish youth in Russia in in the Zionist camp. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. The larger part of the contemporary younger generation is anti-Zionist, not from a desire to assimilate as in Western Europe, but through revolutionary conviction... (Luz, Ehud, Parallels Meet, N.Y, 1988 p 177)

Weizmann may have exaggerated. The potential for progressive Zionism existed. There were Russian Socialist Zionists. Nahman Syrkin had formulated his ideas for non-Marxist Zionist socialism in 1888. In 1898, Syrkin published the article The Jewish Problem and the Socialist Jewish State, but by this time he was in exile in Austria. There were also Marxist Zionists,  but they were part of the  the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (SDLP) as it was called then, the party that later split into the Bolshevik and Menshevik parties. There was no effective socialist Zionist political organization. The only possible political organization in Czarist Russia that was in any way revolutionary had to be an underground organization, and the leaders of those organizations, like Syrkin, were frequently exiled. 

However, it soon became apparent that the "Political Zionism" approach was, at least in the immediate future, a failure. The Sultan would not give up Palestine, the British had nothing to offer but empty promises and the Kaiser was not really interested. Moreover, the rich financiers would not back Zionism as a mass movement. Herzl died, and at the same time a change took place in Russian society and in Russian Zionism. It became increasingly evident that the Russian communists (Russian Social Democratic Labor Party -SDLP as it was called then )  had no place or patience for the Bund or and of the other nationalist organizations. Plekhanov derided the Bund as "Zionists who get sea-sick." A Jewish member of the SDLP, Ber Borochov, split with the party and founded the Poalei Tziyon party which soon had a substantial membership. Borochov explained the Jewish problem in economic terms and produced a synthesis of Marxist socialism and Zionism that was appealing to secular Jewish socialists who had already felt the sting of anti-Semitism within the nascent communist movement.

According to Borochov. the Diaspora produced aberrant social conditions that made Jews economically inferior and politically helpless. The normal organization of society was a pyramid, according to Borochov, with a large body of workers and smaller groups of intelligentsia, land owners and capitalists. The Diaspora had created an 'inverted pyramid' in Jewish society, with almost no Jewish peasant or worker class as Borochov showed in his analysis of Jewish occupations - The Economic Development of the Jewish People. Jews performed peripheral occupations which were not desirable to non-Jews for various reasons, and in which Jews had a competitive advantage. In the successive economic crises of capitalism however, the lower middle class, which included many Jews were "proletarianized" - forced into the working class, and competition for places of employment intensified. Jews would be forced out of their niche.

The Jews were therefore the most vulnerable part of any society during social change, and would be pushed out of the countries of world one after the other as they industrialized (a "stychic process"). Self-liberation of the Jews would come about by proletarianization of the Jews in their homeland, and the nascent Jewish proletariat would join the socialist international. (See The National Question and the Class Struggle, Our Platform and Eretz Yisrael in our program and tactics ) The idea that the Jewish proletariat, rather than the rabbis or the rich Jews of Western Europe would lead the Zionist revolution seemed totally quixotic, since the Jews of Russia were poor and weak, and the Jewish people lacked a true working class as Borochov's analysis had shown. Nonetheless, it was precisely the Jewish proletariat and Labor Zionism in Palestine which was to form the nucleus of the Zionist movement, providing for  Zionist self defense and a Zionist government and virtual state organization under the British Mandate.

The Russian revolution of 1905 failed, and many young radicals fled the Tsarist police. Some came directly to Palestine, others fled to Poland and then to western Europe. 

Many of these young men and women made their way to Palestine and formed the Second Aliya. The socialists formed several movements in Palestine.  Hapoel Hatzair, ("The young worker") was founded by   A.D. Gordon. Marxist followers of Borochov founded Poalei Tziyon ("workers of Zion"), and later Hashomer Hatzair ("the young guard) was also inspired by Ber Borochov.

Labor Zionism - Meeting of Hapoel Hatzair in 1909
Labor Zionism - Detail of photo showing delegates to the fourth meeting of the Hapoel Hatzair, about 1909. more about labor Zionism and socialist Zionism.

A.D. Gordon, inspired by 19th century romanticism, called for a Jewish return to the soil and virtually made a religion of work. These ideas fused into the ideals of "productivization" (returning the Jews, who engaged mostly in professional and mercantile trades, to productive labor) and "conquest of labor" (Kibbush Haavoda ). "Conquest of labor" later took on additional meanings. (See also Labor Zionism and Socialist Zionism

The Second Aliya arrived and established itself under the most prohibitively difficult conditions. Disease, poverty and Turkish persecution reduced its numbers and tried its will. Zionists of foreign nationality, mostly Russian, were viewed by the Turks as enemy aliens and were forced to flee the land during the first world war. A wave of epidemics swept the country, killing and impoverishing many. Those who survived were extremely tough, able, pragmatic individuals, who would go on to become the backbone of the leadership of the Jewish State, including David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir Ze'ev (Valdimir) Jabotinsky and many others. The viable nucleus of a Zionist Yishuv (community) was planted in the land of Israel in this period and had taken root by 1914. A tradition of Zionsit self-defense was inaugurated with the creation of the Hashomer group. The ultraorthodox beggars of the "old yishuv" had now become a minority. Practical Zionism had become a reality, if as yet only a tenuous one. The vanguard of Zionist efforts had shifted from the philanthropic efforts of rich Jews toward the socialist revolutionaries of the Poalei Tziyon and Hapoel Hatzair.  Practical settlement efforts gradually increased the Jewish population of Palestine from about 25,000 in 1882 to approximately 85,000 to 100,000 just prior to World War I, including a new Jewish city, Tel Aviv, and the first kibbutzim. 

Zionism and the conquest of labor

The new immigrants arrived with the ideals of socialist Zionism, but reality was not favorable to implementing those ideas. The Zionist movement attempted to find them work. but the new immigrants, who had no training in agriculture and poor physical stamina, were unable to compete with Arab peasants. Arabs certainly would not hire Jewish workers, who could not work well and could not speak Arabic. Arab labor was also preferred by the plantation and vineyard owners of the First Aliya. Arabs were experienced and hard workers, and were able to work for much lower wages because they were often members of an extended family that made its main income from sharecropping. The plantation owners had also developed a superior colonialist mentality which suited the hiring of "natives," and clashed with the egalitarian ideas and social demands of the newly arrived socialists.

The socialist Zionist movements tried to force plantation owners to grant higher wages, and also began to insist that plantation owners hire only Jewish workers. This aspect of "conquest of labor" was controversial within the socialist-Zionist movements because it engendered lack of solidarity with the Arab working class and was discriminatory. One labor Zionist leader wrote:

"How can Jews, who demand emancipation in Russia, rob rights and act selfishly toward other workers upon coming to Eretz Israel? If it is possible for many a people to hide fairness and justice behind cannon smoke, how and behind what shall we hide fairness and justice? We should absolutely not deceive ourselves with terrible visions. 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,  1909)

At the same time, Conquest of Labor was a central part of Labor Zionist ideology, as a means of rebuilding the Jewish people, not a discriminatory ideology. A.D. Gordon wrote:

But labour is the only force which binds man to the soil… it is the basic energy for the creation of national culture. This is what we do not have, but we are not aware of missing it. We are a people without a country, without a national living language, without a national culture. We seem to think that if we have no labour it does not matter - let Ivan, John or Mustafa do the work, while we busy ourselves with producing a culture, with creating national values and with enthroning absolute justice in the world. (A.D. Gordon, "Our Tasks Ahead" 1920)

The boycott of Arab labor, only partly successful, was carried out reluctantly as a matter of necessity, and because the establishment of Jews as a class of colonial plantation owners seemed worse than the alternative. In 1934, David Ben-Gurion told Palestinian leader Musa Alami,

“We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland” (Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs: From Peace to War, London: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 140).

While it was the only way to foster Jewish labor, the "conquest of labor" program was discriminatory. It provoked bitterness among some Arabs, particularly watchmen who lost their jobs to Jews. Realistically, as the Jews were about 15% of the population of Ottoman Palestine, the program could not have had a real effect on the Arab labor market. In the main the "conquest of labor" movement was not successful before World War I. Only a few thousand Jewish workers were involved. Gershon Shafir (Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914, University of California Press, 1996) estimates that about 10,000 such workers passed through Palestine in the second Aliya, many leaving in discouragement. Other sources claim there were about 3,000 workers out of approximately 33,000 who came to Palestine in the second Aliya. Because of the wage differential and because of the expertise of Arab workers, Arab labor continued to find employment in Jewish settlements. Conquest of Labor was to become important in the late 1930s, when the Arab revolt and strikes, as well as swelling Jewish immigration cause a much more significant displacement of Arabs from Jewish industry and agriculture, especially when Arabs simply didn't show up for work. At the same time, it must be remembered that Arabs almost never hired any Jews, especially not for agricultural or industrial labor, and this discrimination was taken for granted.

Zionism in WW I

The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 isolated Zionists in their respective communities in the Diaspora. The Zionist organization decided to remain officially neutral, though Zionists in each country aided their side in the war. Conditions in Ottoman Palestine, never good, deteriorated. The authorities expelled those Jews who were enemy Russian nationals. Many of the leaders fled to Egypt and to the United States. In the United States, they played an important role in strengthening the beginnings of the Zionist organization. Joseph Trumpeldor, Ze'ev Jabotinsky and others helped to form first the Zion Mule Corps and then the Jewish Legion, which fought on the side of the British at Gallipoli.  The official leadership in Palestine however, cooperated with the Turks, and Jews having Turkish citizenship served in the army or aided the war effort. The Zionist Yishuv was anxious not to provoke further Turkish oppression of the Jews, but a clandestine group, the NILI, organized by Aaron Aaronsohn, communicated with British ships and aided the British assault. Most of the NILI group were arrested and executed, but Aaronsohn escaped to Egypt and gave General Allenby's forces vital information about water sources in the Negev desert that aided in the capture of Beersheba.  During the war, the Jewish population was greatly depleted by emigration and by successive epidemics of typhus and influenza.

Mandatory Zionism


The British Mandate - The first achievement of Political Zionism

The Zionist movement did not give up efforts to find a political solution. The political Zionism and practical settlement approaches were merged into "Synthetic Zionism" advocated by Chaim Weizmann. Weizmann and others understood that a British victory would spell the end of the Ottoman empire, and present a unique opportunity to implement a Jewish national home in Palestine.

The efforts ultimately bore fruit in the Balfour Declaration, a promise by Britain to support a Jewish national home in Palestine, and in the League of Nations Mandate, which gave international sanction to the Jewish national home. Weizmann became head of the Zionist organization and later was the first President of Israel.



Zionism in America

Zionist sentiment in the United States was primarily kindled among early Christian groups, and motivated initial missionary work in the land of Israel. The same time, the project of Mordecai Manuel Noah to form a Jewish "state" as a temporary on Grand Island in New York, remained for many years the lone symbol of American proto-Zionism. The cause however, was taken up by American Jewish poet Emma Lazarus and others toward the end of the 19th century. Another very important American Zionist was Henrietta Szold, who in 1912 initiated the foundation of the Hadassah organization. Initially a medical relief effort, Hadassah went on to become the largest women's Jewish organization in the United States, underpinning much of the educational and charitable work of the Zionist organization in the US and around the world, and marrying Zionism to progressive causes and women's rights in the United States.

During World War I, both chief Justice Brandeis and Justice Frankfurter became supporters of the Zionist cause, using political influence to help garner support for the Balfour declaration and the British mandate for Palestine. Jewish refugees from Palestine who found temporary refuge in the United States also built support for Zionism and recruited for the Jewish Legion. However, American Zionism in the United states remained a low key organization for many years. American Jews were satisfied with their new home. If they supported Zionism, it was only mostly as a movement to build a refuge for unfortunate European Jews. American Jewish interest in Zionism was cooled by the anti-Zionist stance of the large Reform Judaism movement. This opposition began to change as the tragic events in Germany disproved assimilationist ideologies and demonstrated the unity of the Jewish people. It was not until 1937, however, that Reform Judaism officially reversed its historic antipathy to Zionism in the Columbus Platform.  Thereafter, American Jews increasingly came to play a critical role in support for Zionism and the Jewish state, replacing European Jewry that was destroyed in the  Holocaust, and becoming the largest Diaspora community of Jews. American Zionists are responsible for most of the charitable donations to the Palestinian Jewish community and to Israel, for financing the creation of Jewish military capabilities, for organizing the campaign to bring about creation of a Jewish State, and for ongoing political efforts to secure support for Israel in the United States.

The split in Zionism

During the 1920s, a split occurred in the Zionist movement, owing to disagreements over cooperation with the British and Jewish self defense. British policy in London at first favored Zionism in Palestine, but Palestine was still under military rule in 1920. The British military had little use for either Jews or Zionism. In 1920, and again in 1921 Arab riots broke out in Palestine, apparently with the encouragement of the British, and led by Hajj Amin Al Husseini and Aref el Aref.  In 1920, the Arabs had rioted in Jerusalem during the Nebi Musa holiday at Easter time. They screamed "Palestine is our land and the Jews are our dogs ("Filasteen Arduna wa'al yahud kilabuna"). Ze'ev Jabotinsky and other veterans of the Jewish Legion had formed a tiny clandestine defense force armed with pistols, the beginnings of the Haganah. They were arrested following the riots. The riots and the British reaction demonstrated the urgent need for a Jewish self-defense force, since the British would not protect the Jews from the Arabs. The Haganah was established as a clandestine force, and Jewish and Arab gunrunning was a matter of concern for the British administration, who exaggerated its extent. Some veterans of the Jewish Legion insisted that there must be a legal and open defense force and some British officials were sympathetic ( see John Evelyn Shuckburgh, Colonial Office Memo on Jewish Gun-Running in Palestine) but the British administration was opposed. If they granted a Jewish force, they reasoned that they would need to grant an Arab force as well. The Zionists did not press the point.  In 1923, Jabotinsky published the Iron Wall, Though clothed in apocalyptic bombast, the Iron Wall was not a call for a modern national army, but only for legalization of a small force of Jewish police who would carry rifles. 

Palestine: Map of British Mandate for Palestine and TransjordanMeanwhile, the British were having second thoughts about the Jewish national home, which provoked opposition from the Arabs. The British split the large area of Transjordan from the Palestine Mandate (see map at right). This was part of the basis for an eventual split in the Zionist movement. The revisionists refused to accept the loss of Transjordan and eventually left the Zionist movement over that and other issues. In 1923 the British also split off the Golan heights, a small portion of northern Palestine, northeast of the sea of Galilee, and gave it to French mandated Syria. The Zionist movement, led by Weizmann, accepted the loss of these lands and counseled cooperation with the British. Jabotinsky and a few followers resigned from the Zionist movement in protest. 

A nucleus of radicalized crystallized around Jabotinsky. They were bitter over the loss of the greater part of Palestine, and Jewish defenselessness in the face of Arab attacks. Most of them were out of step with the leaders of the Jewish yishuv, who were predominantly socialist. In 1925, Jabotinsky founded the revisionist Zionist movement as an alternative to official Zionism. The main tenet of Revisionism was the claim to both sides of the Jordan river. 

Jewish Immigration under the Mandate

The creation of the Mandate seemingly opened up a huge new opportunity for the Zionist organization, but the promise was only partially fulfilled. Only tiny sums of money could be raised in Europe and the United States to purchase lands and settle immigrants in Palestine. Russian Jews, once the hope of the Zionist movement, were now confined to the USSR following the Russian revolution, and Zionist activity there was soon forbidden. In Britain, attitudes to Zionism hardened owing to opposition of Arabs and of foreign office personnel to the Zionist program. Some Zionists foresaw an urgent need for resettling the Jews of Europe and predicted a looming catastrophe, though none envisioned the Holocaust that was to take place. However, it was impossible to get even small sums to finance Zionist work from European Jewry, who would eventually be forced by the Nazis  to pay many times the 4 million pounds sterling that the Zionists required.

All these factors, plus sporadic Arab violence and initially poor conditions in Palestine, forced the Zionist movement to proceed cautiously and slowly, cooperating with British authorities in setting modest limits to the yearly immigration quotas as well as restrictive financial requirements for immigrants.

Jewish immigration after the British entered Palestine is somewhat arbitrarily divided into three further Aliyoth (plural of Aliya):

The third Aliya - The third aliya consisted mostly of Eastern European and Russian Jews, including some who had left or been expelled by the Turks during the war. This immigration began about 1919 when Palestine was still under British military rule and is considered to have ended about 1923. Perhaps 35,000- 40,000 Jews came to Palestine in this period (see Third Aliya).

The fourth Aliya - After the institution of the mandate, immigration quotas were established, and applicants had to prove that they had some capital with which to begin life in Palestine. The fourth Aliya lasted from 1924 to 1929 or 1932 and consisted in large part of Polish Jews who were motivated to come to Palestine by the anti-Semitic regime and the new immigration quotas imposed in the United States. The fourth Aliya is generally considered to have ended in 1929, after Arab riots in Jerusalem seemed to show that settlement in Palestine was not a safe solution for Jews, or in 1932, after which immigrants began coming from Nazi Germany in large numbers. About 60,000-70,000 Jewish immigrants came to Palestine in this period (see Fourth Aliya).

The fifth Aliya - The fifth Aliya lasted from 1929 or 1933 to 1939, when the British White Paper closed the gates of Palestine to Jewish immigration due to the Arab revolt and international Arab pressure on Great Britain. About 200,000- 250,000 Jews arrived in this period; 174,000 of them came between 1933 and 1936, when severe quotas were first introduced. Many of them were German Jews fleeing Nazism. The Germans allowed the Jews to leave in part because of the "hesder" or "ha'avara" agreement under which the property Jews took with them was treated as "export goods" in return for a ransom paid to the Reich (see Fifth Aliya ).

The Jewish Agency

The Jewish Agency was set up formally in 1929 through the efforts of Chaim Weizmann and others, in accordance with the stipulation of the League of Nations Mandate that an "agency" comprised of representatives of world Jewry assist in the establishment of the Jewish National Home. The agency was the official interlocutor for the Jews of Palestine and the Zionist endeavor with the British Mandate and the League of Nations. The Jewish Agency was not a Zionist organization, however, since it was set up by the World Zionist Organization and non-Zionist groups and leaders, including Leon Blum, Felix Warburg and Louis Marshall.

Zionism and the Arabs

When Jews began thinking about return to Israel in the early 19th century, there were about 200,000 Arabs living in all of the land, mostly concentrated in the countryside of the West Bank and Galilee, and mostly lacking in national sentiment. Palestine was, in Western eyes, a country without a nation, as Lord Shaftesbury wrote. Early proto-Zionists did not trouble themselves at all about the existing inhabitants. Many were heavy influenced by utopianism. In the best 19th century tradition, they were creating a Jewish utopia, where an ancient people would be revived. They envisioned a land without strife, where all national and economic problems would be solved by good will, enlightened and progressive policies and technological know-how. Herzl's Altneuland was in in fact just such a utopia. Jewish population grew, but Arab population grew more rapidly. By 1914, there were over 500,000 Arabs in Palestine.

At the same time, Zionist pronouncements and outlook were often frankly colonialist, especially when addressing leaders of foreign powers. The plantations sponsored by Baron Rothschild were modeled on plantation settlement in Algeria and other colonies. Colonialism was fashionable and "progressive" in Europe,  and early Zionist leaders saw nothing wrong in assimilating this idea to Zionism along with other "modern" ideas such as socialism, utopianism and nationalism.

This changed as socialist Zionists came to dominate the Zionist movement. Later Zionists were heavily influenced by socialism and embarrassed at the colonialist aspects of the Zionist project. They were also aware, of course, that Palestine was already occupied by Arabs. Many however, including the young David Ben--Gurion, who headed the Executive Committee of the Zionist Yishuv (Jewish community) in Palestine and was later the first Prime Minister of Israel, initially thought that the Arabs could only benefit from Jewish immigration and would welcome it. Others, such as Eliezer ben Yehuda, frankly envisioned removal of the Arabs from Palestine.

One of the earliest warnings about the Arab problem came from the cultural Zionist writer Achad Haam (Asher Ginsberg), who wrote 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.

Arab opposition to Zionism grew after 1900. The birth of Arab nationalism and Arab political aspirations in the Ottoman empire coincided with the arrival of a fairly sizeable number of Zionists with the announced program of settling the land and turning it into a Jewish national home. In his book, Reveil de la Nation Arab in 1905, Najib Azouri stated that the Jews wanted to establish a state stretching from Mt. Hermon to the Arabian Desert and the Suez Canal. Azoury wrote:

Two important phenomena of the same nature but opposed, are emerging... They are the awakening of the Arab nation and the latent effort of the Jews to reconstitute on a very large scale the ancient kingdom of Israel. These movements are destined to fight each other continually until one of them wins.

*Mandel, Neville, The Arabs and Palestine, UCLA, 1976

Arabs recognized that the Jews had a  historic claim to the land, and that is precisely what frightened them. The mayor of Jerusalem, Zia al Khalidi, wrote to Tsadok Khan, chief rabbi of France:

Who can contest the rights of the Jews to Palestine? God knows, historically it is indeed your country.

But he asserted that the brutal force of reality prevented resettlement of Palestine by Jews. Khalidi concluded:

In the name of God, leave Palestine in peace. (Nusseibeh, Sari, Once Upon a Country, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007, p 23)

Arab nationalism was not recognized by the early Zionists because it did not exist. The Arabs, along with the West, recognized that Palestine had belonged to the Jews, and that the Ottoman Empire and the Arabs were colonialist occupiers, asserting their claim based on might rather than justice. This perception would soon change.

Local Arab opposition to Zionism and Zionist settlement was not initially based on national sentiment, but on specific conflicts arising from land purchases and on racism and prejudice and against Jews. Rashid Khalidi (Palestinian Identity, Columbia, 1997) notes that beginning about 1908 Palestinian newspapers offer extensive evidence of anti-Zionist agitation. Actual conflicts flared up because the Zionists purchased large tracts from landowners and subsequently evicted the tenant farmers. The former tenants, though they had received compensation, continued to insist that the land was theirs under time honored traditions, and tried to take it back by force. A notable case was Al-Fula, where Zionists had purchased a large tract of land from the Sursuq family of Beirut. Local officials took the side of the Arab peasants against the Zionists and against the Ottoman government, which upheld the legality of the sale. One hundred and fifty Palestinian notables cabled the Ottoman government to protest land sales to Jews in March 1911. Azmi Bey, Turkish governor of Jerusalem responded:

We are not xenophobes; we welcome all strangers. We are not anti-Semites; we value the economic superiority of the Jews. But no nation, no government, could open its arms to groups... aiming to take Palestine from us.

(Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 62)

This was an Ottoman Turkish national claim, not an Arab one. However, national claims were soon mixed with economic grievances. It was not clear which was the actual motivation, and which was the issue used as an excuse to advance the issue.

Likewise, the Kibbush Haavoda "conquest of labor" movement displaced some Arab watchmen and led to violence. While the actual number of persons displaced or dispossessed may have been small, and may have been offset by real economic benefits and increased employment provided by Zionist investment, the feeling grew among the Arabs that the Zionists had arrived to dispossess them. A Nazareth group complained that the Zionists were "a cause of great political and economic injury... The Zionists nourish the intention of expropriating our properties. For us these intentions are a question of life and death." (Morris, loc cit.)  As the conflict intensified, the Zionists formed a guard association, Hashomer, to guard the settlements in place of Arab guards. The attempts to retake land and disputes with Jewish guards led to increased violence beginning in the second half of 1911.

Many Zionists however, believed at least initially that conflict was not inevitable, and certainly most Zionist thinkers did not contemplate expulsion of the Arabs. Ber Borochov, the founder of socialist Zionism, said in his last speech:

Many point out the obstacles which we encounter in our colonization work. Some say that the Turkish law hinders our work, others contend that Palestine is insignificantly small, and still others charge us with the odious crime of wishing to oppress and expel the Arabs from Palestine...

When the waste lands are prepared for colonization, when modern technique is introduced, and when the other obstacles are removed, there will be sufficient land to accommodate both the Jews and the Arabs. Normal relations between the Jews and Arabs will and must prevail. (Ber Borochov - Eretz Yisrael in our program and tactics - Kiev, September 1917)

The Zionists were well aware of Arab nationalism by the start of World War I, and Chaim Weizmann took care to meet with the Emir Feisal. Weizmann wanted the Zionist and Arab national struggles to be seen as causes with a common interest. Feisal did not go quite so far perhaps, but he was willing to acquiesce in Zionist control of Palestine, provided that the British fulfilled their promises to the Arabs. (see Feisal-Weizmann Agreement   and Feisal-Frankfurter Correspondence )  That support evaporated when France was given a mandate for Syria, and the Arabs believed the British had betrayed their promises.

The Arabs of Palestine were appalled at the prospect of living in a country dominated by a Jewish majority and feared that they would be dispossessed. By 1919, representatives of the Jaffa Muslim-Christian council were saying  Arab opposition to Zionism was not based only on economic and social issues. It was colored by the traditional Muslim vision of the Jews as second class citizens. They announced:

"We will push the Zionists into the sea or they will push us into the desert"

(Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 91)

Anti-Jewish rioting and violence broke out in 1920 and 1921.  By the 1920s, it was also motivated by a strong admixture of Western anti-Semitism. In March of 1921, Musa Kazim El Husseini, deposed as Mayor of Jerusalem because of his part in riots earlier that year, told Winston Churchill:

The Jews have been amongst the most active advocates of destruction in many lands... It is well known that the disintegration of Russia was wholly or in great part brought about by the Jews, and a large proportion of the defeat of Germany and Austria must also be put at their door.

(Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 99)

It is not clear how Churchill received this unwitting testimonial to the aid supposedly proffered to his country's war effort by the Jews, or what Husseini thought to accomplish by it. Aref Dajani had earlier voiced similar sentiments to the King- Crane Commission:

It is impossible for us to make an understanding with them or or even to live with them... Their history and all their past proves that it is impossible to live with them. In all the countries where they are at present they are not wanted... because they always arrive to suck the blood of everybody...

Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 91)

By this time, Zionist leaders could no longer ignore the conflict with the Arabs. David Ben Gurion told members of the Va'ad Yishuv (the temporary governing body of the Jewish community in Palestine) in June 1919:

But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution! There is a gulf; and nothing can bridge it.... I do not know what Arab will agree that Palestine should belong to the Jews...We, as a nation, want this country to be ours; the Arabs, as a nation, want this country to be theirs.

(Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 91)

While Palestinian Arabs now viewed themselves as a small group of helpless victims of powerful British and Jewish "interests," the Zionists saw the opposite side of the coin. The militant Zionist leader, Ze'ev Vladimir Jabotinsky, asked in 1918:

The matter is not ... an issue between the Jewish people and the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, but between the Jewish people and the Arab people. The latter, numbering 25 million, has [territory equivalent to] half of Europe, while the Jewish people, numbering ten million and wandering the earth, hasn't got a stone...Will the Arab people stand opposed? Will it resist? [Will it insist] that...they...shall have it [all] for ever and ever, while he who has nothing shall forever have nothing?

(Caplan, Neil, Palestine Jewry and the Palestine Question, 1917-1925, Frank Cass, 1978)

In his Iron Wall article of 1923, Jabotinsky answered his own question. He argued that agreement with the Arabs was not possible, because 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.

Jabotinsky was at least initially against expulsion of the Arabs, which he was "prepared to swear, for us and our descendants, that we will never [do]". Rather in The Iron Wall, he argued that  the Jewish presence should be imposed by forming a strong defense that would demonstrate to the Arabs that the Jews could not be forced out of Palestine. However, while The Iron Wall expressed a comprehensive philosophy, its practical background and intent were much more limited. Jabotinsky wanted the British authorities to allow the Jews to form a separate defensive force under British supervision, to combat attacks such as the riots that had occurred in 1920 and 1921. The British refused. The Zionist organization resigned themselves to the British decision, but Jabotinsky wanted to continue with the formation of such a force. Though the Haganah defensive underground was founded in 1920 by Jabotinsky, it didn't become a major project of the Zionist movement until after the riots of 1930.

Meanwhile the Arab and Jewish communities grew progressively apart. Arabs refused to participate in a Palestinian local government which gave equal representation to the Jewish minority. The British, nearly bankrupt after WW I, insisted that the mandate should be self-sufficient. Mandate services were paid for from taxes paid by the Jewish and Arab inhabitants of Palestine. Additional services were funded by philanthropists from abroad and from membership dues in various organizations. Zionist philanthropy and organization far-outstripped what Palestinian Arabs could provide. By 1936, each Jewish worker in Palestine was earning on average four times as much as each Arab, and paying four times as much taxes. The Jews had set up an approximation of a modern industrial economy, while most of the Arabs languished in feudalism, and their leaders did nothing to help them.  Neither Arabs nor Jews wanted integrated schools. Zionist groups funded religious, secular and labor-Zionist educational networks for Jewish children in Hebrew, but few comparable schools were set up for Arabs. The Zionists founded the Histadrut  Labor federation to encompass Jewish workers, providing Hebrew education, medical care, worker-owned enterprises and cultural facilities as well as representation of labor rights. No comparable association was created by the more numerous Arabs of Palestine, though the Histadruth made some efforts to organize Arab labor beginning in 1927, and the Palestine Communist party attempted to represent both Jewish and Arab labor.

Zionism, the Arab Revolt and the Conflict With Britain

From the beginning of the British Mandate, Arab opposition to Zionism coalesced into organized resistance, taking the form of riots and later a revolt. The chief architects of this mischief were the Husseini clan led by Hajj Amin Al Husseini, the Grand Mufti. The Mufti and others convinced Palestinian Arabs that the Zionists were going to dispossess them of their lands by force, and spread false rumors that the Jews were going to desecrate the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Riots and pogroms were instigated in 1920, 1921 and 1929 (see Arab Riots and Massacres of 1929 and Hebron Massacre)resulting in deaths and injuries in Jaffa, Hebron, Jerusalem, Motza and elsewhere. The British government increasingly understood that its promises to the Zionists and Mandate obligations were very unpopular in the Arab world. They split off the major part of the Palestine Mandate territory to form Transjordan even as the mandate came into effect, and in 1930 issued the Passfield White Paper that proposed limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine.

Palestinian Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al Husseini (Hussayni) with Nazi Troops  
Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini featured on the cover of Vienna Illustrated (Wiener Illustrierte) magazine. Husseini is apparently reviewing troops he had recruited.

The Passfield White Paper was quietly withdrawn under pressure from Zionists, from British public opinion and from the League of Nations. However, Palestine did not remain quiet. The Mufti allied himself with Fascist Italy and Germany, and probably was funded by the Italian government beginning about 1936.

These policies turned the once-friendly British into antagonists of the Zionist movement. Labor Zionists and the Zionist Executive were in favor of moderate policies that would try to work around the British opposition to Zionism. A faction led by Ze'ev Jabotinsky believed in confronting the British and the Arabs, and if necessary, using force. In 1925, Jabotinsky split from the main Zionist movement and formed the Revisionist movement.

In 1936, in response to the large Jewish immigration from Europe, open Arab Revolt broke out. Three years of bloody riots instigated by the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini and his allies resulted in hundreds of Jewish casualties and an estimated 4,500 Arabs were killed, the majority by the Mufti's gangs. The rioting forced the British to take draconian measures. The Mufti fled to Iraq in 1937 and then to Nazi Germany in 1941 after instigating a pro-Axis Coup in Iraq. In 1937, the British proposed tentatively to partition Palestine in the Peel report. This caused additional divisions in the Zionist movement. Some believed in a bi-national Jewish Arab state and objected to the idea, contained in the Peel recommendations, of transferring Arabs "voluntarily" out of the territory to be allotted to the Jewish state. The revisionists and religious Zionists, on the other hand, objected to giving up any part of the territory of Palestine. Subsequently the British issued the White Paper of 1939, severely limiting Jewish immigration. The Revisionists formed the Irgun underground army, which attacked British soldiers and administrators and perpetrated terror attacks against Arabs in retaliation for Arab attacks on Jews.

Zionism during the Holocaust

The murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime in the Holocaust has become inevitably and inextricably bound up to the history of Zionism. The relation of the Holocaust to Zionism has provoked controversy and resentment, particularly among anti-Zionists. Zionists have been accused of indifference to the plight of European Jews. To an an extent it was true at first. Initially, the reports of Nazi persecution did not seem to be any worse than persecution of Jews that had occurred in Europe for hundreds of years - confiscation of businesses, discriminatory legislation and expulsion. The Yishuv was struggling with an Arab revolt and trying to build a Jewish society. The tiny, more or less powerless and poor Israeli Yishuv and the Zionist movement that supported it, could do very little to aid the Jews of Europe in any case. Nonetheless, the Zionist organization and the Yishuv ransomed Jews from Nazi Germany in return for economic concessions. The Zionists managed to save over 200,000 European Jews before World War II. When the British responded to Arab pressure and ended Jewish immigration to Palestine, the Zionists, attempting to rescue Jews from the Nazis, organized illegal immigration through the "Institution for Illegal Immigration" (Hamossad L'aliya Beth).  

Illegal immigration (Aliya Bet)  was organized by the Jewish Agency between 1939 and 1942, when a tightened British blockade and stricter controls in occupied Europe made it impractical, and again between 1945 and 1948. Rickety boats full of refugees tried to reach Palestine. Additionally, there were private initiatives, an initiative by the Nazis to deport Jews and an initiative by the US to save European Jews. Many of the ships sank or were caught by the British or the Nazis and turned back, or shipped to Mauritius or other destinations for internment. The Patria (also called "Patra") contained immigrants offloaded from three other ships, for transshipment to the island of Mauritius. To prevent transshipment, the Haganah placed a small explosive charge on the ship on November 25, 1940. They thought the charge would damage the engines. Instead, the ship sank, and over 250 lives were lost.  A few weeks later, the SS Bulgaria docked in Haifa with 350 Jewish refugees and was ordered to return to Bulgaria. The Bulgaria capsized in the Turkish straits, killing 280. The  Struma, a vessel that had left Constanta in Rumania with about 769 refugees, got to Istanbul on December 16, 1941. There, it was forced to undergo repairs of its engine and leaking hull. The Turks would not grant the refugees sanctuary. The British would not approve transshipment to Mauritius or entry to Palestine. On February 24, 1942, the Turks ordered the Struma out of the harbor. It sank with the loss of 428 men, 269 women and 70 children. It had been torpedoed by a Soviet submarine, either because it was mistaken for a Nazi ship, or more likely, because the Soviets had agreed to collaborate with the British in barring Jewish immigration.  Illegal immigration continued until late in the war, apparently without the participation of the Mossad l'aliya Bet.  Despite the many setbacks, tens of thousands of Jews were saved by the illegal immigration.

To circumvent British regulations against creating new settlements, the Zionists initiated the "stockade and tower" ("homa umigdal") program, that allowed overnight creation of a new "settlement," consisting of a wall and watch tower. Under the law, the British could not destroy such an 'established' settlement.

The Zionists wanted to fight Fascism and rescue European Jews, but they could not do so except as permitted by the British government. The British recruited soldiers in Palestine. About 26,000 Jews out of a population of perhaps 500,000 and 6,000 Arabs out of a population of over a million, volunteered to fight in the British army. The Zionists pleaded for combat duty in Europe in a special Jewish Brigade. For the most part, however, they were employed in the Middle East. Eventually a Jewish Brigade was formed. The Jewish Agency proposed a scheme to send hundreds of Jewish commandos into occupied Europe to liaison with partisan groups and rescue Jews. Over a year passed before the British finally approved of a limited version of this plan. About 110 Zionist Parachutists were trained of the 250 who volunteered, but less than 40 reached Europe.  

Reports of Nazi atrocities became increasingly frequent and vivid. Despite the desperate need to find a haven for refugees, the doors of Palestine remained shut to Jewish immigration. The Zionist leadership met in the Biltmore Hotel in New York City in 1942 and declared that it supported the establishment of Palestine as a "Jewish Commonwealth." This was not simply a return to the Balfour declaration repudiated by the British White Paper, but rather a restatement of Zionist aims that went beyond the Balfour declaration, and a determination that the British were in principle, an enemy to be fought, rather than an ally. This was a defeat for the left-wing party of the Labor Zionists, Mapam, who wanted a bi-national Zionist state. David Ben-Gurion also portrayed it as a victory for himself over  Chaim Weizmann, who had opposed confrontation. Weizmann supported the Biltmore declaration, but he was too irrevocably identified with the failed moderate line, and he lost support. The Revisionists rejoined the Zionist movement, but were still called "dissidents" and did not merge their underground armies, the Irgun (Etzel ) and the LEHI (also called the "Stern Gang") into the Hagannah defense organization of the mainstream Zionists.

On November 6, 1944, members of the Lehi underground Eliyahu Hakim Eliyahu Bet Zuri assassinated Lord Moyne in Cairo. Moyne, known to be an anti-Zionist, was in charge of carrying out the terms of the 1939 White Paper. Lord Moyne and his wife were personal friends of the Churchills. The assassination turned Winston Churchill against the Zionists. The Jewish Agency and Zionist Executive believed that British and world reaction to the assassination of Lord Moyne could jeopardize cooperation after the war, that had been hinted at by the British, and might endanger the Jewish Yishuv if they came to be perceived as enemies of Britain and the allies. Therefore they embarked on a campaign against the Lehi and Irgun, known in Hebrew as the "Sezon" ("Season"). Members of the underground were to be ostracized. Leaders were caught by the Hagannah, interrogated and sometimes tortured, and about a thousand persons were turned over to the British.

Following World War II, Britain continued to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine. The Zionist factions united and conducted an underground war against the British, as well as applying pressure on the British government through the United States. In June of 1947, the British rammed the Jewish illegal immigrant ship Exodus  (formerly "President Warfield") on the high seas. They towed it to Haifa where it was the subject of extensive publicity, generating public sympathy for the Zionist cause. The passengers were eventually disembarked in Hamburg. The incident set world opinion, and particularly US opinion against the British, and caused the British to intern illegal immigrants thereafter in Cyprus, rather than attempting to return them to Europe.

History of Zionism: The refugee ship Exodus - 1947

The Exodus - 1947

Post-State Zionism


Israel - Zionism creates the Jewish National Home

The British found it necessary to maintain a large military establishment in Palestine to enforce the draconian immigration policy and respond to Jewish underground attacks on British personnel. This policy was increasingly unpopular at home owing to loss of British lives. This forced the British to announce in February 1947 that they were returning their mandate to the UN. A special commission, UNSCOP, was set up to recommend a solution to the UN. The commission recommended partition. The Arabs were opposed to either partition or a binational state. The U.S. and the USSR supported partition of Palestine, and carried a large bloc of votes with them. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in General Assembly Resolution 181.

Map of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, 1947

A war broke out in fact, while the British were still in Palestine.  The Arab League initiated a war against the Jewish community and the Jewish state, with the declared aim of "driving the Jews into the sea." There was little doubt about their intentions. The  Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini, a Nazi collaborator who escaped the clutches of the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, had told the British that in his view the preferred solution for the Jews of Palestine was the one adopted in Europe, in other words, annihilation. Apparently he had planned to build a death camp near Nablus.

Almost as soon as the UN decided on partition of Palestine, Arabs began attacking Jews, beginning with lethal riots in Jerusalem and attacks on Jewish transportation. The British allowed a volunteer army under Fawzi El Kaukji, to enter Palestine in January of 1948. During the fighting, with Jerusalem virtually blockaded, the state of Israel was established on May 15, 1948. Arab countries, chiefly Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, invaded almost immediately. (see Israel war of Independence

Zionism, the Establishment of Israel and the Palestinian Refugee Question

The Arabs of Palestine were not well organized and could not attain their goal of cleansing Palestine of Jews.  Instead, it was they who suffered expulsion. The Jews were also able to hold their own against the invading armies of Arab states. As a result of the war, between 600,000 and 800,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes. Population displacements are deplorable, but they often happen as a result of war. The Czechs expelled the Sudetens Germans after World War II, because like the Arabs of Palestine, the Germans of Czechoslovakia sought to destroy the state in which they lived. It is absurd to claim that the Czechs had planned to expel the Germans since the beginnings of Czech nationalism, but this claim is often made about Zionism.

Israel: Map of Green line armistice borders, 1948

Map of the Israel "Green Line" Borders


Map of Israel showing the 1949 armistice lines.

In a civil war such as occurred in 1948, armed militias use villages and neighborhoods as bases. Civilian casualties were therefore inevitable, and it was very likely that once the war was initiated, one side or the other would suffer massive displacement and tragedy. For the Arabs of Palestine, their Nakba, or catastrophe, vindicated their fears that the Zionists were bent on dispossessing them. (see Palestine Nakba, 1948 )

Both anti-Zionists and right-wing Zionists have claimed that the expulsion of Arabs in 1948 was a more or less deliberate result of Zionist policy and ideology. Anti-Zionists make this claim to discredit Zionism, while right-wing Zionists make this claim in order to justify possible transfer or expulsion of Arabs in the future. This is, in part, a major support for the often repeated "Zionism is Racism" slogan. The evidence does not seem to support those claims. It is true that some Zionists were (and are) in favor of "voluntary transfer," which is not the same thing as forcible expulsion and genocide. A great many quotes of Zionist leaders about "voluntary transfer" are cited in this connection. For the most part, these statements were made in a very specific historical context, at a time when such transfers were common practice. In 1937, the British were considering creation of a tiny Jewish state, and it was the British Peel and Woodhead commissions that proposed transfer as part of this plan, which was discussed with varying reluctance by different Zionist leaders. However, there is no decisive evidence that transfer or expulsion became part of Zionist or Israeli government planning. Several Zionist political parties strongly protested incidents of massacre and expulsion in 1948. Ben Gurion was apparently genuinely surprised by the early flight of Palestinian Arabs in 1948, and in Haifa and a few other places, Zionist leaders tried to convince Palestinian Arabs to stay. The Haganah plan "D," (plan Daleth) is frequently cited by anti-Zionists as the Zionist blueprint for expelling the Arabs of Palestine. However, the plan did not call for mass expulsion, but only for temporary occupation of villages as part of a defensive strategy.

From the first, the Zionist plan was to buy land and not to expel Arabs by force. Arthur Ruppin, the Palestine land agent, described in detail some of the difficulties involved in Palestine purchases. Purchase of land was hampered by lack of money, by the unwillingness of Palestinian landowners to sell land to Jews, and by the arduous conditions obtaining in the Middle East in those days. Additionally, and perhaps more important, there was not much land to buy. Under Turkish law, most of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine leased their land from the government or cultivated village land that was held in common. The Turks had introduced private land ownership in the Tanzimat reform of 1858. However, as few wished to pay taxes, they did not register their lands. Large tracts were bought by notables close to the ruling circles, but much of this land was in the the West Bank. Land was also purchased in the Galilee, and part of this land was purchased by the Jewish Agency. Some land was and is owned either by the Waqf (Muslim religious endowment), The Greek Catholic Church or other religious institutions. The Greek Orthodox church was and remains one of the largest landholders in Palestine, and some of this land was leased by the Zionist leadership, including the land where the Israeli Knesset (parliament) is located. The Greek Orthodox Church however, could not sell its land. The British regularized the registry of land to the extent that land that was not village land or government or Waqf land was considered taxable, regardless of who owned it. The person or persons who worked the land paid taxes and it was theirs to use, but not to sell as long as the land did not lie fallow for three years. The lands of the Negev, which were not arable before the national water carrier was built, were owned by the government and were not for sale. The government owned about 48% of the land in all. The Jewish Agency managed to purchase only about 6% of the land area of Palestine that became Israel by 1948. This was a small percentage of the total area, but it was a large percentage of the land that was privately owned and could be bought.


The UN Partition Resolution and Israeli Legitimacy

Some argue that it was "understandable" that the Palestinians would defy the U.N. partition resolution, because the resolution "took Palestine away from them and threatened to dispossess them of their homes. However, there is no evidence that Jewish leaders planned to dispossess Arabs or threatened to do so. Just before the establishment of the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, head of the World Zionist Organization and first President of Israel, wrote in his autobiography, Trial and Error, "... the world will judge the Jewish state by what it will do with the Arabs." (Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1949, p. 566).

That was Zionist policy and intent, but the war forced upon Israel by the Palestinians and the Arab states produced an impossible reality. The right of the Jews to self-determination in Palestine was recognized not only by the United States, South American and Western European countries, but by the USSR as well. There is hardly a more eloquent defense of Zionism then the one given by the Soviet representative, Andrei Gromyko in the United Nations:

The delegation of the USSR maintains that the decision to partition Palestine is in keeping with the high principles and aims of the United Nations. It is in keeping with the principle of the national self-determination of peoples...

The solution of the Palestine problem based on a partition of Palestine into two separate states will be of profound historical significance, because this decision will meet the legitimate demands of the Jewish people... UN Debate on Palestine Partition- November, 26, 1947

Besides, the disposition of Palestine as a Jewish national home had already been recognized as part of the post World War I peace settlement, and in the League of Nations British Mandate for Palestine. Those who claim that this settlement was illegitimate because it was inspired by imperialism and colonialist greed, must remember that the same arrangements created all the Arab states of the Middle East as well as Czechoslovakia, Poland and other countries. The Arab defiance of the UN in 1947 was not very different than the German defiance of the League of Nations when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938. Indeed, the Nazis used parallel arguments: the Versailles treaty was unjust, Czechoslovakia was an "artificial state" and the Sudetens Germans had, according to Hitler a "general right to self-determination."

The Holocaust and anti-Zionism

The Holocaust and the historical view of the Holocaust have been made into a major item of contention by anti-Zionists. The Holocaust was the tragic and dramatic fulfillment of Zionist claims that Jews would never be safe without a sovereign Jewish homeland. This prophecy was not just an abstract ideological principle. In particular, the revisionist Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky repeatedly warned Polish Jews of the coming catastrophe. For example, in August of 1938, he wrote, in an article published in Warsaw:

 "...it is already three years that I am calling upon you, Polish Jewry, who are the crown of world Jewry. I continue to warn you incessantly that a catastrophe is coming closer. I became gray and old in these years, my heart bleeds, that you, dear brothers and sisters, do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spit its all consuming lava. I know that you are not seeing this because you are immersed in your daily worries. Today, however, I demand your trust. You were convinced already that my prognoses have already proven to be right. If you think differently then drive me out from your midst.

"However, if you do believe me, then listen to me in this 11th hour: In the name of G-d, Let any one of you save himself as long as there is still time. And time there is very little.

Jabotinsky's warnings went largely unheeded.

The Holocaust seemed to be a solemn warning that Jews could not ever integrate securely into European society. That question itself became moot after World War II, because there were so few Jews left in Europe, and there was so much revulsion at the crimes of the Nazis, that for a long period anti-Semitism seemed to have disappeared entirely. Nonetheless, the Holocaust remains a major embarrassment for anti-Zionist ideologues, and they in turn, have attempted to counter this impression in different ways. Some have resorted to Holocaust denial, others insist that the Zionists were somehow at fault for the Holocaust, because they didn't do enough to save European Jewry. Others insist that "the Zionists" have made too much of the Holocaust and have created a "Holocaust industry," and that in fact, the Holocaust was not aimed particularly at Jews, since some gypsies and homosexuals and mental defectives were also killed by Nazis. Of course, nobody could have really foreseen the extermination of European Jews, despite Jabotinsky's warning, and even if they had, there was little more that the Zionists could have done than what they did. The tiny Yishuv (community) and the struggling Zionist movement managed to save only a few tens or hundreds of thousands of Jews out of all the millions of European Jewry, but the fact is that nobody else saved more. The US Jewish community did little to protest the Nazi policies even after there was hard evidence of the murders in the 1940s, and even if they had, it is unlikely that the US government, fearing anti-Semitic backlash, would have done very much about it.

To an outsider it may seem that the state of Israel would not have come into existence without the Holocaust. Anti-Zionists have used this impression to claim that the state was "given" to the Jews by the world as a "special favor" and that therefore the legitimacy of the existence of Israel depends on the morality of Israeli acts, as judged by them. The same people often give the idea that there were no Jews in Palestine before World War II, and that immediately after the war, Zionists brought hundreds of thousands of Jews, creating the state at the expense of the Palestinians, to atone for European misdeeds. That idea is certainly false, since most of the 1948 Jewish population of Palestine had arrived before the war, and since Zionism, born in 1897, could not have been motivated by the Holocaust that happened nearly half a century later.

While it is certain that the Holocaust helped to mobilize international opinion in favor of a Jewish state, it is by no means certain that it was a critical factor or necessary cause. Sever Plocker and Tom Segev have both argued that without the Holocaust, a Jewish state would have been born in any case, and it would have been much stronger because of the support and presence of European Jews. Certainly, the Zionists envisioned that the Jewish state would be built by European Jews. The Holocaust, and the imprisonment of Soviet Jewry made this impossible and changed the nature of the state, exacerbating the problems it faced. Segev wrote:

... After three decades of Zionism in Palestine, there was still no clear timetable for the Jewish state, but no doubts remained that Jewish independence was on the horizon. The social, political, economic and military foundations of the state to-be were firm, and a profound sense of national unity prevailed. The Zionist dream was about to become a reality.

There is therefore no basis for the frequent assertion that the state was established as a result of the Holocaust...." (Tom Segev in "One Palestine Complete" pp 490-491)

It is probably philosophically unsound to insist on the inevitability of the creation of the state either with or without the Holocaust. However it is certainly unprovable that the state would not have been created without the Holocaust. Israel came about through a series of improbable events. Only a tiny group of people believed in 1897 that it could be possible to establish a Jewish national home anywhere, that any power would grant a charter for such a home, or that Jews would come to live in this country. However the Zionist movement was opportunistic. Zionist leaders leveraged on anti-Semitic notions of mysterious "Jewish power" as well as on Christian sentiment for restoration of Israel to obtain the Balfour declaration during World War I.

Faced with the tragedy of the Holocaust, Zionist leaders used it to lobby for a Jewish state. The Holocaust was a unique event in many ways, but there is little doubt, given the nature of European history, that an anti-Semitic upheaval of some kind would have occurred in Europe, as indeed it occurred in the USSR despite Soviet anti-Fascist propaganda. There is also little doubt that any such anti-Semitic manifestation would have helped to mobilize Jewish and world sentiment in favor of a Jewish state. The relatively small numbers of the Jews in Palestine masked their potential, which was due to organization and economic power. The organization was due to the ability of the Zionist leaders, despite differences, to unite around a common program and to provide essential services that bound the community to them. The economic power was due in part to the organizational ability and social cohesion, which produced the kibbutzim, the Histadrut labor union, school systems, agricultural training schools and an agricultural advisory service among other institutions. In part, the economic power was due to the relatively large investment in Palestine made by the Zionist organization. As a result, each Jew in Palestine produced about times the amount that each Palestinian Arab produced, and Zionist investment accounted in large part for the prosperity of the Palestinian Arabs. (see Zionism and its Impact Wars are decided by economic power.. If conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine was unavoidable, the outcome of such a conflict was predictable in advance. The Jews, being the more organized and economically stronger power, would have won in any case, and certainly would have had a better chance of success with the backing of a large population of European Jews. See also discussion here and here ).

Labor Zionism vs Revisionism - After independence, the Labor Zionist movement became, for many years, the leading political force in Israel. Mapai (Miflegeth Poalei Eretz Yisrael - the party of the workers of the land of Israel) party led by David Ben-Gurion and his successors held power continuously until 1977. The Zionist movement had split when Jabotinsky led the revisionists out of the Zionist organization in the 1930s. The Zionist executive was led by Labor Zionism under David Ben-Gurion. Revisionists and Labor Zionists had separate underground armies. Revisionists and Labor Zionists cooperated against British after World War II. However, the "Sezon" in 1944-45, the massacre perpetrated at Deir Yassin by the Revisionists in April 1948, and the subsequent sinking of the "Altalena" Irgun arms ship by the Israeli government, as well as numerous smaller incidents, helped to deepen the split between mainstream Labor Zionism and Revisionist Zionism. Begin, the leader of the Revisionist Zionists, was distrusted by Ben-Gurion and viewed a dangerous extremist. It was not until the Six day war in 1967 that revisionists were allowed to participate in a government coalition.


Zionism After the Establishment of the State of Israel

The Zionist organization has continued to function after the establishment of the Jewish state. It has helped to bring millions of new immigrants to Israel; it encourages the teaching of Hebrew and Jewish culture abroad; it lobbies for Israel with the US and other governments, and rallies support to Israel in times of crisis. However, in Israel, "Zionism" became somewhat of a pejorative, associated with government propaganda, super-patriotism and regimentation. Zionism, and the Israeli self-image, has reinvented itself many times and will need to continue to reinvent itself to adapt to changing realities.

Israel was a surprise success story that confounded anti-Zionists and skeptics. Defying the experts, Israel beat its enemies handily in the War of Independence, absorbed huge numbers of immigrants in the first years of its existence and created a viable economy. Detractors pointed out that Israel was accumulating a huge national debt. They insisted that the new nation of Jews from all over the world would disintegrate because of differences between Ashkenazic Jews, and Sephardic Jews or because Arabs would outnumber Jews, or Israel would be conquered by Arab nationalists. In fact, in every period of Israel's existence detractors and experts "proved" that Israel could not exist another ten years, or another twenty years. The dogs barked, but the caravan moved on. The differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, so important in the first years of the state, diminished with time. Lacking natural resources, Israel invented an economy driven by technological excellence and scientific research. This required a revision of the agricultural and settlement Zionism of the earlier pioneers and a reorientation of societal values that is not yet complete. Beloved institutions such as the kibbutz, central to the early years of Zionism, were modified or fell by the way-side if they failed to adapt.

The most important change brought about by Zionism was psychological rather than material. It is very difficult for people living today to imagine the self-image of Jews or the image of Jews in the eyes of others, before the existence of the Jewish state. Not all the change has been positive. Anti-Semites who pictured Jews as cowards now picture Jews as evil technological super-soldiers. Where once Jews idealized intellectualism and compromise, over-zealous enthusiasts now imagine that force can solve all problems. However, the cowering ghetto Jew, once a universally recognized icon,  is now just a bad memory of European culture. Zionism did not banish anti-Semitism yet, as early Zionists supposed it would, but Zionism and the establishment of Israel changed the rules of the game.

Zionism and Modern Israel

Despite the initial successes of Israel in overcoming its enemies in the War of Independence, absorbing and integrating over a million refugees, and the military victory of the Sinai Campaign, Diaspora Jews in the affluent West remained largely indifferent to Zionism. If they thought of Israel at all, it was as a charitable cause, a place where unfortunate refugees might be settled. The Jews of Soviet Russia were unable to leave or to voice their support for Israel. Substantial numbers of Jews who had survived the Holocaust did arrive from Romania, Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. However the bulk of the new immigrants to Israel in the first two decades of statehood were Jews who were forcibly expelled from Arab countries or those who chose to leave Arab states.

The fortunes of Zionism and of Israel rose and fell with Israel's material success. Until the mid-1960s, owing to this steady stream of immigrants and to investment and construction, the Israeli economy enjoyed a steady expansion. A slow down in immigration, economic downturn and political disaffection within the ruling Labor party brought on a movement of great pessimism. 

 In the background, the Arab states had been repeatedly vowing to defeat Israel since the Arab Summit of 1964. Palestinian terrorist groups were established by the Arab countries with the aim of destroying Israel. Egyptian President Nasser and his Syrian rival embarked on a dangerous rhetorical contest, each trying to demonstrate that they were the leaders in the effort to destroy Israel. This was encouraged by the USSR, which hoped to gain by maintaining a constant confrontation and using the issue of Israel to push the United States out of the Middle East. 

In its pessimistic national mood, Israel seemed hardly ready to deal with a military and diplomatic crisis of any kind. in 1966, emigration exceeded immigration. A famous cartoon showed a sign at Lod airport, "The last one to leave should please remember to shut off the electricity."

Zionism after the Six Day War

The Arab political machinations escalated into a crisis in 1967. Increasingly violent border incidents related to the Israel water carrier plan led to Syrian complaints, fed by deliberately false Soviet information, that Israel was massing troops in preparation for an invasion. President Nasser of Egypt, goaded for his inaction,  closed the straits of Tiran to Israeli ships, dismissed the UN Emergency Force that had been put in place in 1956 and moved about six divisions of the Egyptian army into the Sinai desert. After a long waiting period, Israel launched a lightning attack on Egypt on June 5, 1967, beginning the  Six day war, Dealing with each enemy in turn, Israel first conquered the Sinai desert from Egypt, then turned to the West Bank and wrapped up the war with Jordan, and then proceeded to capture the Golan heights from Syria. 

The dramatic victory changed the image of Israel and of Zionism among Israeli Jews, Jews in the Diaspora, friends and allies.   Most Diaspora Jews came to look upon Israel as a source of pride and an asset. The United States, had more or less ignored Israel or treated it as a "poor relative" or "unviable client state," as one US diplomat expressed it. US foreign aid and military sales to Israel had been minimal. The Israeli air force was French, because the US refused to sell Israel aircraft. Israeli armor consisted mostly of third hand remodeled Sherman tanks and tiny French AMX anti-tank vehicles. Though the US had supplied Israel with some Patton tanks, these were being refitted at the time of the war. Requests for temporary replacements were refused. Prior to the war, the US reneged on promises to reopen the straits of Tiran closed by Gamal Nasser, owing to the unpopularity of the Vietnam war and pressure by oil lobbies. However, the US  understood that it could now regain a foothold in the Middle East only by trading land won in the war for influence with Arab countries. It also understood that Israel was an independent military power that had won the war primarily with French military equipment. This was an uncomfortable state of affairs. For the Arabs, the war was a humiliating defeat. It destroyed the Pan-Arab nationalist dreams of Gamal Nasser.

A wave of euphoria and a false sense of invincibility engulfed Israel following the Six day war. The unification of Jerusalem and the conquest of ancient Samaria and Judea (known as the West Bank after the name given it by the Jordanians after World War II) with their Jewish holy places inspired a wave of messianic Zionism. Religious Zionism, which had been a relatively mild and dovish movement, veered to the right and took upon itself the "mission" of settling the newly conquered territories.

Zionism after the Yom Kippur War

The sense of invincibility was shattered by the Yom Kippur War. Though Israel recovered from the surprise attack and objectively had dealt the Arab countries another defeat, the Arabs had proven that Israel was vulnerable after all. Zionism and the Israeli image had to reinvent themselves again. The Labor Zionist movement, that had founded the state, eventually found itself in a minority, replaced in large part by more militant religious Zionists and the Likud party, which inherited the mantle of revisionism, carried on by Menachem Begin after the death of Ze'ev Jabotinsky. This change both reflected a change in the evolving self-image of Israel and the Zionist movement, and it catalyzed a further change. Initially, the changeover from a state that had been ruled by one party for thirty years was beneficial for democracy in the state and for the Zionist movement. However, the Likud itself soon developed all the negative symptoms of an incumbent party that has held power too long, and Israeli society moved away from pioneering values toward materialism. The Likud actively promoted settlement of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza.  For many people in Israel and abroad, "Zionism" came to imply support for the settlement of Jews in these territories, and assumed a very negative connotation for those who oppose the occupation.


Beginning in the 1980s, some Israeli historians and sociologists began to question facts about the official history of Israel and Zionism, as well as the Zionist ideology. They reasoned that Zionism had accomplished its purpose in creating the Jewish state, and that now it was time to move on. They posited that Israel and the Zionists had a large share of the blame for the animosity between Jews and Arabs, and had in fact, ignored the existence of the Arabs in Palestine and then dispossessed the Palestinians by force. This reasoning was supported by new histories, that talked frankly about less savory aspects of Israeli history that had been previously ignored. The new historians made a case that at least part of Zionism had always envisioned expulsion or transfer of the Arabs, and described massacres and expulsions which took place in 1948, often claiming that these were part of a deliberate policy. The historians claimed that these new facts were revealed by declassified archives. Actually, the main facts supposedly "revealed" by the new historians were known to all Israelis who wanted to know them, though perhaps not in detail, and not presented in the particular way that new historians presented them, and not written up in English. These ideas, called by some "Post Zionism," do not form a coherent ideology and their practitioners do not generally see themselves as members of a movement or followers of a distinct philosophy. Some "post-Zionists" like Ilan Pappe are avowedly anti-Zionist, while others, like Benny Morris, use the same facts to arrive at very different conclusions that might support a militant Zionist ideology. Post-Zionism attained a wide popularity for a while, fueled by resentment against the occupation. In an Israeli cultural atmosphere where "Zionism" ("tsiyonut") was ridiculed as hypocritical political hot air, "post-Zionist" and anti-Zionist views and those who preached them enjoyed an easy tolerance. Post-Zionism fell into eclipse after peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israel failed, and violence flared in September of 2000. The flag of "post-Zionism" was raised aloft by anti-Zionists, and revived and extended the different anti-Zionist currents discussed below.


Anti-Zionism has been inspired by several sources. The mainsprings of anti-Zionism were independent of the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine. The first was opposition of orthodox and  reform and assimilationist Jews to Zionism. The second was anti-Semitism. A third source was the insistence of communists that the coming of world communist would do away with the nation state and nationalism. Palestinian and Arab propagandists were quick to take advantage of all three of these potential sources of opposition to the Jewish state. In particular, they make public efforts to mobilize the support of "progressive" (anti-Zionist) Jews and of ultra-orthodox anti-Zionists. The conflicting opinions of these tiny minorities are used to "prove" that Zionism is not a legitimate movement and does not represent the Jewish people.

Under cover of combating the "occupation," anti-Zionists began to wage a militant campaign of delegitimization, boycotts and divestment, aimed at proving that Israel is an illegitimate state and Zionism is an illegitimate ideology. This campaign was apparently orchestrated by pro-Palestinian groups and timed to coincide with the outbreak of the Intifadeh in 2000.  The existence of Israel, which many had thought to be secure after the  Six day war was now understood to be threatened once again. This time the threat is through a propaganda war. Some reactions included "circling the wagons." Right wing Zionist extremists conducted an extremely defensive campaign that tried to equate any opposition to any Israeli policy as "anti-Semitism." Bona-fire anti-Semites capitalized on this to cloak anti-Semitic propaganda and ideology as "justified criticism of Israel." A more sophisticated approach is evolving, that attempts to separate legitimate criticism of Israel and internal debate from anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Jewish Anti-Zionism

Zionism was popular among Jewish people as a movement they might support with money or at political meetings. However, few, especially in Western countries, thought of coming to Palestine or Israel until the latter decades of the twentieth century, except when in danger of persecution. Palestine was too far, economically backward and dangerous to draw many immigrants. Nonetheless, non-Zionist groups like Alliance Israelite Universelle and many others helped Zionist efforts in Palestine and joined the Jewish Agency for Palestine.

Almost every national movement is of necessary also a social revolutionary movement. Zionism had much more of the characteristics of a social revolutionary movement than other national movements.

In the Diaspora, the Jewish communities had adopted a social life and organization that was suited to their anomalous social situation. A cohesive part of the community that remained orthodox was united under the rule of various rabbis. Other Jews, depending on their countries, tried to free themselves from the physical or social ghetto and assimilate. Rabbis and rich Jews controlled the social and charitable institutions and often represented "the Jews" as a group to the government. Zionism introduced new priorities and social values, and necessarily challenged the establish social order, though this was not necessarily understood by the early Zionists like Herzl, who tried to work through rich Jews and "great men." The Western European delegates to the first Zionist congress were largely looking for a solution for their "unfortunate brethren" in the East. They were willing to accept Uganda or Cyprus as an alternative to Palestine because they were not going there. Surprisingly, to Herzl, the Russian Jews who were the intended recipients of this "benefit" rejected it, and insisted that only the land of Israel could be the destination of Zionists. It is quite alright to contemplate Uganda as a Jewish national home after all, if you don't intend to live there yourself. The effect of the urgent situation of Russian and Eastern European Jews was to overturn the established social order. The Western European Jews who saw themselves as the "advanced" and natural leaders favored by fortune, were pushed aside by the more dynamic and committed socialist Zionists of Russia. For that reason, Zionism represented an additional threat to the established Jewish social order.

Several organized Jewish groups were actively anti-Zionist . Jews who sought to assimilate in their own countries claimed that they were loyal citizens of a different faith, sometimes styling themselves "of the Mosaic persuasion." They felt that the Zionist movement and the concept of a "Jewish People" would raise questions about their own loyalty, and they resented the fact that Zionists often spoke as though they represented all Jews. This movement was particularly prevalent in Germany, where Jews were staunch supporters of German nationalism. At one point, the reform Jewish movement went so far as to systematically remove all references to the Holy Land and Jerusalem from their liturgy. A large segment of ultraorthodox Jews were displeased by the secular ideas that dominated Zionism, and insisted that the rebuilding of Israel must await the coming of the messiah. In Europe, the agitation of assimilationist and ultraorthodox Jews helped to actively block Zionist rescue efforts in the 1930s, when it began to be apparent that Nazism would soon make Europe very dangerous for Jews.

Most religious Jews and the reform movement, initially anti-Zionist, reconciled themselves with the Jewish state, after the Holocaust seemed to bear out the basic thesis that Jews required a homeland of their own and would not necessarily be safe even in the best circumstances, and after the creation of Israel proved that Zionist aspirations could become a reality. Nonetheless, anti-Zionist ideologies and their representatives persist among religious groups such as the ultraorthodox Neturei Karta and leftist writers such as Noam Chomsky. In recent years they have leveraged on the issues raised by the occupation to try to legitimize their ideas as "criticism of Israel." Jewish anti-Zionists include figures like Rabbi David Weiss and others who support Holocaust Denial and other anti-Semitic claims.

Communist Anti-Zionism

Communists, including Jewish communists and the Jewish Bund were and are opposed to Zionism because Marxism posited the disappearance of the Jews as a historic anomaly, once international atheistic communism triumphed over nationalist particularism, and religion, the opium of the people, died out. In the USSR, as part of his "nationalities" policy, which assimilated or murdered numerous national groups, Stalin tried to handle the Jewish problem by creating an autonomous Jewish republic in the wastelands of Birobidjan. This project was never supported very seriously and was later abandoned. Though the USSR supported the creation of the state of Israel, Stalin was opposed to Zionism inside Russia and the USSR suppressed Zionist activities and at times persecuted Jews as well as Zionists.

"Zionism is Racism"

This ideological opposition to Zionism later dovetailed with the anti-Israel cold-war politics of the Soviet Union and the Arab antagonism to Israel, as well as with anti-Semitism. Retrospectively, communist ideologues pegged Zionism as a racist and colonialist ideology bent on exploiting and dispossessing the native inhabitants of Palestine, and creating an apartheid colonialist fascist Jewish state. Zionist theorists assumed that the Jews are socially inferior and "abnormal" because they did not have a national home. The "abnormal" Diaspora character of Jews would be corrected when the people returned to their own land, realized their right to self-determination and renewed their nation existence. Zionists believe that the Jewish right to the land is based on ancient historical links, not racial superiority. Some Zionists see the Arabs as usurpers, just as the Arabs see the Zionists as usurpers.

Anti-Zionists saw matters differently, and branded Zionism as "racism." The ideological basis for this was perhaps provided by Jean Paul Sartre's  1960 essay, "Racism and Colonialism as Praxis and Process," in his "Critique of  Dialectical Reason." Analyzing French colonialism in Algeria, Sartre argued that racism grew out of the need of colonialists to rationalize exploitation of natives by French "capitalists." This explanation of racism became popular, regardless of the fact that racism existed since the days of ancient Greece and Rome, and even though it could not explain anti-Semitism and other racist ideologies. When the Palestinian movements adopted the "national liberation movement" ideology of the Algerian FLN, it was natural that these same ideas would be transferred to Israel and Zionism. However, the original Marxist rationale is largely forgotten by many and different explanations are offered by various anti-Zionists to justify the slogan, "Zionism is Racism."  This slogan has prospered, whatever its merits as an explanation of social and historical reality.

In 1975, in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, a pro-Soviet and pro-Arab majority in the UN passed General Assembly Resolution 3397, branding Zionism as racism. The resolution was repealed in 1991, but similar sentiments were repeated at a conference of non-government organizations in Durban, South Africa in 2001. 

It is undeniable that early Zionist leaders used the language and rhetoric of colonialism and established organizations with names like "The Jewish Colonial Trust." In part, this reflects the influence of the 19th century European cultural milieu, when colonialism was a perfectly acceptable concept. In part, it reflects efforts of Zionist leaders to sell leaders of the great powers on the idea of supporting a Jewish colonization scheme that would support German or British or French interests in the Middle East. The Socialist-Zionist movement certainly did not see themselves as colonialists and were opposed to colonialism and imperialism, nor did the USSR originally oppose Zionism on the basis that it is a colonialist movement.

Apartheid Israel

The slogan "Apartheid Israel," named after the South African practice of racial segregation, was coined by anti-Zionists as a means of discrediting Zionism and the depriving the Jewish people of the right of self determination. The implication is that the "politically correct" democratic "peace" solution is to do away with Israel as a Jewish homeland. This slogan, once the emblem of extremists and bigots, was rendered respectable when Jimmy Carter used in the title of his book about the Israeli Palestinian peace process. The essential logic behind the phrase is flawed. Israeli Jews and Palestinian people, unlike South Africans, are not a single nationality that was separated by race laws. Palestinian Arabs do not want to become integrated into Israeli society, but rather to erect their own state or to destroy Israel. The facts behind the assertions are also wrong. See Israel is a democracy in which Arabs vote - Not an apartheid State.

Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

The equation of anti-Zionism with Anti-Semitism is controversial. Anti-Zionism that is based on the proposition that Jews do not have a right to self-determination, whereas Palestinians and other peoples do have such a right is discriminatory. It is difficult to see how this idea could not be considered racist and hence anti-Semitic. The pro-Palestinian academic, John L. Strawson, has written:

These arguments all lead to an uncomfortable position that whereas all other self-declared nationalisms have validity, the Jews have no such claims... While there are honorable Anti-Zionist positions they are few. On the whole Anti-Zionism is close to, or a mask for, Anti-Semitism.

"Anti-Zionist" writings are redolent of the language of anti-Semitism, and the arguments, with a few changes in wording, can often be easily shown to be a mask for anti-Semitic sentiments. These have become "politically incorrect," but hide themselves easily behind a facade of anti-Zionist terminology. "The Jews have too much power" becomes "The Zionists have too much power" or "the Israel lobby has too much power." The "Internationalen finanzjudentum" (international finance Jewry) of Adolf Hitler is recognizable in the phrase "International Zionism,"  Conspiracy theories formerly  based around the Jews or the mythical "Elders of Zion: are now transferred to "Zionists." The doctrines of "progressive" anti-Zionism are so indistinguishable from racism that a UK "Boycott Israel" activist saw no problem in recommending an article that supposedly explains the truth about Israel, even though the article was posted at the website of racist David Duke. (See  UCU anti-Zionists, Harry's Place, censorship and anti-Zionism vs Anti-Semitism )

These phrases are taken from different Web sites: 

Zionism: Anti-Zionism and Arab Anti-Semitism

Jewish Persecution - A Primary Tool Of International Zionism (Rense)

What Zionism is -- and its pernicious influence upon the USA (Serendipity)

Jew Watch - Jewish World Conspiracies - zionism (JewWatch)

They are certainly anti-Semitic, and there are hundreds more scattered throughout "anti-Zionist" rhetoric.

The imagery of anti-Zionist cartoons and graphics in the Arab world and even in European countries like Great Britain is indistinguishable from Nazi stereotypes used in anti-Semitic cartoons and propaganda themes.

That is not to say, of course, that all criticism of Israeli policies or of the Zionist movement is in itself anti-Semitic. One may be opposed to the occupation, or to a particular injustice in Israel or in any other country, without being a bigot. (see also: Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism; A.B. Yehoshua : 'Anti-Zionism: Mask for anti-Semitism'  )

Revival of Zionism

The failure of the peace process and Palestinian initiated violence in September of 2000 entrained a world wide anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic revival. Supposedly respectable British journals featured covers that portrayed the Jews taking over Europe, and caricatures of baby-devouring Jews. The libels directed at Jews by anti-Semites were transformed and thinly veiled as "anti-Zionist" accusations: The "Zionists" or "Israel Lobby,"  rather than the Jews, were alleged to control the government and the media.  This in turn caused many Jews and others to rally to the cause of Israel and Zionism, and to re-examine some of the beliefs that underlay the post-Zionist reaction. The so-called al-Aqsa Intifadah was accompanied by  violence, suicide bombings, beheading of Jews and calls to "Kill them wherever you find them." The existence and indestructibility of Israel, formerly taken for granted, were again understood to be directly threatened. A new generation came to understand that anti-Semitism is a reality, and that violent, racist Arab and Muslim  opposition to the existence of the Jewish state and even to the existence of the Jewish people was not a Zionist myth. A new generation of Israeli historians, including Yoav Gelber and Anita Shapira, attempted to achieve some balance between the heroic exaggerations and myths of early Israeli Zionist histories and the latter demonification and distortion of Zionist and Israeli history by new historians. In this period, the "new historian" Benny Morris "explained" that his earlier exposition of supposed Zionist evil-doing was misunderstood by the public, and that Zionist actions in settling the land and during the Israel war of Independence were, in his view, justified.  

The Future: Challenges to Zionism

Political, organized Zionism is scarcely more than a hundred years old. However, the work of Zionism, to oversee the collective well-being of the Jewish people as a nation, began, in a sense, over 3,000 years ago. It can never be done. As long as there is a Jewish people, there can never be a "post-Zionist" period. Some of the challenges and tasks facing Zionism:

To establish the undisputed legitimacy of Israel - Zionism must answer the challenge of anti-Zionism, whether it is motivated by anti-Semitism or other ideological or political factors. The existence of Israel must come to be truly taken for granted, in the same way as the existence of German, France, the United States or Egypt.

To achieve peace with Israel's Arab neighbors - The Arab-Israeli conflict has warped the development of the Jewish national movement and is a constant threat to Zionist achievements in Israel. Israelis are always conscious, and Zionists living abroad must never forget, that the threat of extinction hangs over Israel as long as the enmity of surrounding Arab states is maintained. As well as being a moral imperative, peace is a practical imperative.  Given that Arab and Muslim states are far larger and more numerous than Israel can ever be, it is obvious that Israel must make peace in order to survive.

To see to the physical defense and survival of the state of Israel - As long as there is no peace, military preparedness is a regrettable and burdensome necessity.

To complete the ingathering of the exiles - Zionism set out to bring the Jewish people to Israel. While the Jewish Diaspora will no doubt continue to exist, there are still, among the numerous Jewish population scattered throughout the world, a large number of people who would live in Israel if they could, but who are prevented from doing so for economic or cultural reasons or family ties unrelated to Zionist ideology. The Zionist movement must strive to remove the accidental impediments that prevent people from living in Israel.

To constantly improve Israeli society - No society is perfect; that certainly includes Israel. Zionism must strive to improve and perfect Israeli society. A healthy democracy and a strong society are also the best guarantees for Israeli survival.

To reunite and revitalize the Jewish people - Zionism must attempt to heal the numerous divisions among the Jewish people by providing a broad framework for Jewish cultural and national identity, and by providing cultural leadership for the Jewish community abroad.

Ami Isseroff

Some related articles - Israel - Birth of a Nation - The struggle for Israel's independence Palestine Nakba 1948   

Brief Bibliography of Zionism

Hertzberg, Arthur, The Zionist Idea, A conceptual Analysis and Reader, NYC, Atheneum, 1959. This classic book of readings is essential for understanding Zionism.

Laqueur, Walter, A History of Zionism, Fine Communications, 1997. This authoritative and readable history explains the beginnings of Zionism, from the French Revolution to the creation of Israel. Unlike Sachar's even larger book, it does not go into details of modern Israeli history.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. A comprehensive overview of the subject, told from the Zionist point of view. A good reference, but too detailed and compendious for casual reading by most.

Bibliography of Zionism


Additional articles on Zionism :

What is Zionism?  Chicago Peace Now on Zionism.

Zionism - Definition and Brief History

Labor Zionism

Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism

Zionism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Zionism at Jewish Virtual Library 

A.B. Yehoshua : 'Anti-Zionism: Mask for anti-Semitism'


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