From the standpoint of non-Zionist religious Jews, the Zionist movement went against the teachings of the Talmud. The Neturei Karta noted in their writings that the group was against the creation of the State of Israel, and the uprooting of Arab individuals from their communities by Zionists wishing sovereignty. According to the group, the shedding of Jew and non-Jew blood for this sovereignty was against Judaism not only because of the violence, but because the cause for which the wars occurred was against Judaism. The Neturei Karta believed Eretz Yisrael would be returned to the Jews on the appearance of the Messiah, and that any other method of return was invalid. As such, the Neturei Karta opposed, and still opposes, the creation of a Jewish state, on the basis that the creation of such a state is against the teachings of the Talmud, and against the word of God.
Clearly, the religious Jews were divided by the Zionist movement, primarily due to disagreement on the creation of a Jewish state, and the legitimacy of that creation at the hand of man, rather than because of the coming of the Messiah. At the same time, the secular Jews also became divided over the concepts of Zionism, even though the movement was primarily secular in nature. Yet even without any religious connotation, the secular Jews had vast areas of differences in their opinions of the fundamental concepts of Zionism.
Primarily, at the turn of the 19th century, religious supporters and opponents of Zionism were battling over the theoretical concept of Zionism as an ideology. However, several groups of Jewish peoples had begun to realize the need for a practical plan to settle Palestine, and claim rightful ownership of Eretz Yisrael, which most religious Zionist views did not specifically discuss. Additionally, there were an increasing number of socialist and communist movements among young Jewish peoples of Russia and the Zionist leaders realized a need to appeal to these groups in order to further the resettlement of Palestine by the Jewish people. As a result, Labor Zionism was created.
At the forefront of the movement was Nachman Syrkin, who founded the Workers of Zion, the first Labor Zionist party, in 1906, and Ber Borochov. Syrkin believed a Jewish settlement needed to be created based on the organizational ideas of socialism, those of the accumulation of capital by the Jews and the employment of Jewish laborers.
He noted in his writings that anti-Semitism was the result of unequal distribution of power in society, and that if the Jews remained weak, anti-Semitism would also remain. In other words, Syrkin called for the Jews to attain social and political power in order to create an environment in Palestine conducive to settlement by the Jewish peoples.
Ber Borochov believed in similar concepts, but his views contained far more ideologies of class and nationality. In his work, Nationalism and Class Struggle, Borochov laid out a plan for class struggle that would give rise to the Jewish nation. Borochov noted that through the creation of a Jewish society, in which Jews controlled all economic, social, and moral aspects, a class struggle could ensue that would allow the impoverished Jews of the world to unite against a similar cause and attain sovereignty over Palestine and the rightful land of the Jews. At the time, the Russian influence over many Jewish youths made such a concept appealing to many.
Clearly, support of Zionism from a secular viewpoint was not solely due to a need to avoid persecution, as the originators of Zionism believed, but was also as a way to attain and maintain social and economical power. As Syrkin pointed out, anti-Semitism was abundant in the world at the close of the 19th century through the early 20th century, and secular Zionism supporters such as Syrkin saw such processes continuing until the Jews could establish their own sovereignty, complete with economic and political independence. In order to create such a Jewish State, the Labor Zionists and other supporters realized a need to first create a society of Jewish labor and power, hence the need to create settlements in Palestine.
While socialism clearly influenced the secular pro-Zionists, it also had an effect on the secular anti-Zionists. While the pro-Zionists were planning settlements in Palestine to create a Jewish nation of economic, political, and social sovereignty that would force an end to anti-Semitism, the anti-Zionist secular movement was battling for an end to Zionism. For them, Zionism was simply an escape from anti-Semitism, rather than a solution.
During the early 20th century, many of the Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe were attracted to communism, believing that the only way to end the racism against them was to overthrow the powers of the world that practiced anti-Semitism.
Unable to join in many socialist circles, the Jewish, led by Alexander Kremer, formed the Jewish Bund in 1897. The early foundation of the Bund was that Jewish nationalism was transitory. In other words, the Jews were predestined to live in exile, and many advocated Diaspora nationalism in the face of this destiny. They believed the Jews were a nation of people who would always be a minority in Europe, but could thrive in their own countries. In numerous writings, the Bund leaders reiterated the concept that they "believe our home is here, in Poland, in Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and the United States... If my home is 'there,' it means that every drop of my sweat that falls here, in a foreign land, is in vain... A national home in Eretz Israel will not eliminate the Diaspora."
The Bundists also believed that to guarantee a Jewish self-expression of nationalism, cultural and communal autonomy would be needed. To achieve this, however, they did not advocate a return the Palestine, but rather, the overthrow of capitalism with replacement by a socialist society. As a result of this belief, the group sought not to unite all Jews, but to prepare them for revolution. In addition, according to the Bund, the maintenance of a Jewish heritage could be had through the perpetuation of the Yiddish cultural and language. In several writings, even throughout the Nazi crisis, the Bundists note their clear dedication to fight capitalism and Zionism in an effort to create a worldwide nationalism for the Jews. In one writing, the Bundists note, "We Bundists wish to shatter the existing economic frameworks and show the Jewish masses how a new society can be built not by escape but by struggle. We link the essence of the Jewish masses' life to that of humankind."
So, while the secular Zionists sought to establish a Jewish state, complete with economic, political, and social sovereignty through settlements in Palestine and Jewish laborers, the secular anti-Zionists, including the Bundists, sought to instead create economic, political and social power through a worldwide Jewish nationalism. These individuals believed strongly that to create a Jewish state would be to run from anti-Semitism, and that the only way to overcome such attitudes was to create a socialist society worldwide for the preservation of Jewish heritage and culture.
There can be no question that the religious and secular Jews of the latter 19th century differed greatly in their opinions of Zionism, and helped develop various sects of the movement over time, including the religious Zionism of Kook and his followers and the Labor Zionism of Nachman Syrkin. At the same time, the rebellion against the Zionism ideology by such groups as the Neturei Karta and the Bundists served to act as the alternate force in a highly divided battle over the future of the Jewish people. Even within their own groups, no common thread was apparent.
However, in analyzing the Zionist movement during this time period, it is clear that the forces at work in the latter 19th century, namely those of anti-Semitism, Judaism, and socialism, played a vital role in the development of each group's individual concepts, whether in favor of or against Zionism. For religious Zionists, Judaism showed that a return to Eretz Yisrael was the only means of redemption. For religious anti-Zionists, the same faith in Judaism held that to return to the land was to defy God. For secular Zionists, anti-Semitism dictated a need for a safe homeland, and the creation of an economic, political, and social state of the Jews. For secular anti-Zionists, this same anti-Semantic view, along with the attraction of socialism, dictated the need for each Jew, as an individual, to develop their own self-expression of nationalism in their own countries, in an effort to overthrow capitalism and retain Jewish heritage. Clearly, the combination of these forces had a large impact on the Zionist movement in the late 19th century.
Bein, Alex. Theodore Herzl: A Biography. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1967.
Borochov, Ber. Nationalism and Class Struggle. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,…