is the political movement that arose in Europe in the late 19th century with the aim of creating a Jewish state in Palestine. It asserted that the Jewish people were a separate nation and were entitled to have a country of their own and succeeded in its objective with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Since then, the Zionist movement has concentrated on strengthening Israel and encouraging Jews from around the world to migrate and settle in the Jewish state. This paper traces the history of Zionism from its origins to the present time.
Origins and Background
Although the Zionist political movement started in the late 19th century, its roots lie as far back as 70 AD when Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans ended with the destruction of the Temple and the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem. The land of Israel was re-named Palestine and the entry of Jews in Jerusalem remained banned until the capture of the city by the Muslims from Byzantine control in 638 AD. The Jewish religious tradition held that Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) had been given to the ancient Israelites by God and it was God's will that the Jewish people would one day return to their homeland. The Jewish people of Diaspora (exile) also linked such a return to the coming of a Messiah, a savior whom God, who shall lead them to the Holy Land. For this reason, many religious Jews opposed the Zionist movement and considered it a blasphemy to establish their homeland through human effort without divine intervention.
Jews had lived in small groups in different parts of the world since their expulsion from Jerusalem and had suffered through periodic prosecution due to a long tradition of anti-Semitism
. Throughout the centuries, the Jews maintained their separate identity, clinging to the belief that they were the God's chosen ones and were ordained to one day return to the Promised Land.
Jewish Nationalism: Precursor of the Modern Zionist Movement
Europe was swept by the ideas of Enlightenment and liberalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. Various national struggles, such as those for German and Italian unification, and for Polish and Hungarian independence were also taking shape at the time. A number of European Jews were also inspired by the ideals of Enlightenment and this gave rise to a class of secular Jews who propagated the idea of Jewish nationalism as opposed to Jewish religious orthodoxy. Some of the secular Jews, e.g., the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn initiated the Haskala (Hebrew for "enlightenment") movement in the late 19th century, and urged the assimilation of the Jews into the Western secular culture. The attempts at assimilation, however, proved to be a false dawn as a fresh wave of anti-Semitism in Europe and Russia forced the Jewish leaders to rethink their strategy of assimilation.
Start of the Modern Zionist Movement
The second half of the 19th century saw anti-Semitic parties emerging in Germany and Austria-Hungary. In Russia, the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 unleashed vicious anti-Jewish pogroms. But the event which probably triggered the start of the modern Zionist movement was the Dreyfus Affair
An Austrian Jewish journalist named Theodor Hezl, who until the time had been a supporter of Jewish assimilation, covered the Dreyfus trial. Having observed the injustice of the trial and the anti-Semitic passions it aroused in France and the rest of Europe convinced Hezl
that the dream of assimilation of Jews was not realistic and realized that emigration to a state of their own was the only solution for the majority of Jews.
Herzl published his famous pamphlet The Jewish State, in February 1896. The Jewish question, he argued in his essay, was not a social or religious question but a "national question" that could be solved only by making it "a political world question to be discussed and settled by the civilized nations of the world in council." Many Jewish intellectuals ridiculed Herzl's ideas but they struck a resonant chord among most ordinary Jews and soon Herzl became a leading Zionist leader.
The First Zionist Congress
In 1897 Herzl organized the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, which was attended by nearly 200 delegates. The Congress formulated basic platform of the Zionist movement which became known as the Basel Program and defined Zionism's goal "for the Jewish people of a home in Palestine secured by public law."
The congress also founded a permanent World Zionist Organization (WZO) and authorized it to establish branches in every country with a substantial Jewish population.
After failing to convince the Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid II of Turkey to the proposal of a separate Jewish homeland in his Empire, Herzl tried to win support of the British who offered the so-called "Uganda Scheme" -- the possibility of a Jewish settlement in East Africa. Herzl's initial consideration of the offer resulted in a split of the Zionist move with several extremist Zionist accusing him of betrayal. Herzl, deeply hurt by the criticism suffered a heart attach and died soon after.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917
The World Zionist Organization survived Herzl's death and its Congress continued to meet every year. Weizaman, a Jewish professor at a British university, had succeeded Herzl as the leader of the Zionist movement continued to woe the British about a separate homeland for the Jews. The Zionists were successful when the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour came out with his famous Belfour Declaration in 1917, which promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine. The declaration was a political move by the British to win the support of the powerful Jewish community during World War I but as Palestine came under British control after Turkey's defeat in the First World War, the Zionists now had a charter for separate homeland.
Period between the Wars
After the First World War, the Zionist movement, though beset with internal wrangling, concentrated on increasing the Jewish population in Palestine. This along with the Balfour Declaration greatly alarmed the Arabs who feared that Palestine would become a Jewish state. Several Arab revolts during the 1920s and 1030s along with the approaching War with Hitler's Germany convinced the British of a need to win Arab support. As a result, on the eve of the Second World War, the British back-tracked on the Balfour Declaration and released a "White Paper" in May 1939 promising the Arabs the establishment of a Palestinian state within ten years and restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine over the next 5 years in order to ensure the existing Arab majority.
The Armed Struggle
The Zionists in Palestine responded by organizing armed resistance against the British and the Arabs. Military organizations such as Haganah and Irgun were formed and although they suspended their activities against the British at the height of WWII because of its fight with Hitler, it recommenced its armed revolt in 1944.
The State of Israel
The conditions created during the Second World War contributed directly to the ultimate formation of the State of Israel. The genocide of 6 million Jews by the Nazis had created widespread sympathy for the Jews. It had also forced large populations of European Jews to flee to the "promised land." More importantly, the United States administration led by President Truman decided to throw its considerable weight behind the establishment of a separate Jewish state. Britain was also desperate to withdraw from Palestine. As a result, the UN General Assembly voted in November 1947 to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. When the British mandate over Palestine ended on May 14, 1948, at midnight, the Jews declared their independence in the new state of Israel: the long and hard Zionist struggle for an independent homeland was finally realized.