"Diaspora" is a Greek term meaning "to disperse," or "to scatter," and is often applied to the Jews and their dispersion out of the land of Israel. Many scholars point to the year 588 B.C., when the kingdom of Judea was conquered by the Babylonians as the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora. ("Diaspora") The Jews were forced to relocate to Babylon where, even after the Persians conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return to Judea, many remained. It was also when the Babylonians conquered Judea that many Jews fled to Egypt, where they created a Jewish community in exile that continued for centuries. After the return of the Jews to Judea in 538 B.C., the entire area became embroiled in a series of conflicts that resulted in the creation of a Hellenic culture throughout the middle east. As a result, Jews spread out from their traditional homeland to create small Jewish communities throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
It was at this time, in the first century B.C., that the Romans came to dominate the Mediterranean and Judea became a Roman province. But Roman occupation was intolerable to the Jews and they revolted in 70 A.D., only to fall under the military might of the Roman army. As a result of their failed uprising, the Jews were forced to leave Judea, which was renamed Palestine, and scatter across the Roman world. It would be close to two thousand years before the Jews would once again establish a nation in their traditional homeland.
After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, many Jews were taken away as captives and found themselves spread throughout the Roman Empire. These captives would form new Jewish communities, and along with those Jews who fled the Roman onslaught, maintained and adapted Judaism to their new situation. These communities would be the main focus of the Jewish faith until the end of the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, Jews slowly emigrated from the Mediterranean region into Northern Europe. As a result, the Jews divided into regional factions: the Ashkenazi of Northern and Eastern Europe, and the Sephardic Jews of the Muslim World. But with the discovery of the New World, new Jewish communities formed in the Americas as well.
It was during the 19th century that the Jews of the world began to conceive of the reality of returning to the land of Israel. "Zionism," as this movement would come to be called, first came about as a reaction to the freeing of restrictions placed against the Jews throughout Europe. By the 19th century there were nearly 2.5 million Jews in the world with 90% of them living in Europe. (Maor) As the Jews came to be assimilated into the nation-states of Europe, they began to separate their religious beliefs from their civic lives. Many Jews adopted the prevailing attitude of the separation between church and state and became secularized, many spoke the languages of their respective nations, and some even converted to Christianity. There arose a distinct tension between the "personal life of a Jew and the public life among secular society…Zionism was a reaction to the attempts of Jews to bridge this gap." (Maor) The subsequent rise in anti-Semitism in the late 19th century also fueled the movement to create a place where Jews could construct a Jewish national life.
Throughout the 19th century there were isolated calls for the establishment of a Jewish nation located in Palestine from such proponents as Rabbi Yehuda Shlomo Alkalay, Rabbi Zevi Hirsch Kalischer, and Moses Hess. (Maor) In 1862, "Hess argued that the Jews were not a religious group but rather a separate nation characterized by a unique religion whose universal significance should be recognized." (Maor) And in the 1870's the first calls for the immigration to Palestine came from Russian Jews, but quickly spread. Zionism then diverged into a practical form, which established Jewish settlements in Palestine, and political Zionism, which strove for the political establishment and recognition of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Unfortunately, at the beginning of the 20th century Palestine was under the control of the Ottoman Turks, who, being Muslim, were hostile to the idea of a Jewish state. But when World War I broke out in Europe, the Ottomans sided with the Central Powers of Germany and Austria. This allowed the British to invade Palestine from their bases in Egypt, but it was not until December 11, 1917 that British General Allenby became the first Christian conqueror since the crusades to take Jerusalem. (Woodward) With the occupation of Palestine by the British came the British government's support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In the Balfour Declaration, British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, stated the government's backing for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object…" ("Balfour Declaration") This declaration was later incorporated into the Mandate for Palestine granted by the Council of the League of nations to Britain on July 24, 1922 in order to prepare the conditions for the establishment of a Jewish nation. For the first time the international community recognized Judaism as a legitimate nationality and Zionism as its political manifestation.
Even with international recognition, the Jews of Europe still had no established homeland in Palestine and with the rise of the Nazis in Germany came on of the most destructive period in the history of Judaism. While the Jews had been the victims of persecution and dispersal from their homes, they had never experienced the sheer hatred of a society that was intent on the complete eradication of the Jewish people. This was the aim of the Nazis and their creation of death camps in order to accomplish this goal led to the "holocaust" and the deaths of more than six million Jews. But the defeat of the Nazis at the hands of the Allied forces not only exposed the crimes of the Nazis, but also reinvigorated the idea for a Jewish nation. The extraordinary crime perpetrated against the Jewish people spurred the newly created United Nations organization to create a special committee to decide the issue of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In September of 1947 this committee recommended the "partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state." (Maor) This proposition was ratified by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 29, 1947 and the state of Israel was officially founded on May 14 of the following year. After close to two thousand years the Jews were finally back in Israel in a nation of their own.
For most of the previous century the term Zionism was different depending upon the person giving the definition; and could encompassed practical, political, religious, cultural and spiritual aspects of Judaism. But with the establishment of a Jewish state, many found that the diverse aspects of Zionism needed to be organized into a centralized theme, something that could, in a few words, capture the all encompassing aspects of Zionism in the modern world. Therefore, in 1968 the 28th Zionist Congress, which met in Jerusalem, adopted the five points of the Jerusalem Program as the aims of Zionism in the modern world. These five ideas form the basis of Zionism as it has been adapted to the formation of a nation-state founded on the principles of Judaism. The five points include the unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life, the gathering of the Jewish people from their various countries into their historic homeland, the strengthening of the state of Israel based on a prophetic vision of justice and peace, the preservation of the Jewish people and their culture, and the protection of Jews and their rights everywhere. ("Zionism Definition")…