{zy' - uhn - izm}

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A Jewish nationalist movement, Zionism was responsible for establishing the modern state of Israel as the Jewish homeland. Although generally attributed to Theodor Herzl and other 19th century groups, Zionism dates back to the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora, the Babylonian Exile of the 6th century BC. The Lamentations of Jeremiah and Psalm 137 speak of the exiled Jews' longing for Zion (Jerusalem).

Jewish history during the Diaspora was marked by the appearance of a succession of pseudo messiahs - among them Sabbatai Zevi - who claimed that they would return the Jews to Zion. Equally unsuccessful was the scheme of the Italian Nasi family, which obtained a permit from the Turks to establish a Jewish community in Galilee in the late 16th century.

Until 1791 and the Jewish emancipation during the French Revolution, Jews lacked the mobility essential to the success of Zionism. In the 19th century, however, rising national sentiment in Europe inspired Moses Hess, David Luzatto, Leo Pinsker, Zvi Kalischer, and Yehudah Alkalai to attempt to raise the national consciousness of ghetto Jewry. Financial assistance came from philanthropists Moses Montefiore, Edmond de Rothschild, and Maurice de Hirsch, and various programs for the return of Jews to the Middle East were implemented.

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Not until 1897, however, with Herzl's World Zionist Congress at Basel, Switzerland, was an effective worldwide political movement created. Despite opposition from fundamentalist and assimilationist Jews and internal divisions (at the 1905 Congress one group withdrew when the majority of delegates rejected a British proposal for establishing a Jewish homeland in Uganda), the Zionist organization gathered strength. Eventually it secured approval for its program of establishing a homeland in Palestine from the British government (with the Balfour Declaration, 1917) and the League of Nations (with the creation of a mandate for Palestine in 1922). During the period of the mandate, which was held by Britain, increasing violence occurred between the Jewish settlers and the Arabs in Palestine. Finally, the United Nations voted in November 1947 to partition Palestine, and the State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948.

Saul S Friedman

B Halpern, The Idea of the Jewish State (1969); W Laqueur, A History of Zionism (1972); M Selzer, ed., Zionism Reconsidered: The Rejection of Jewish Normalcy (1970); D Vital, Origins of Zionism (1975).


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This term refers to the philosophy of the Jewish people's restoration to "Zion," which early in Jewish history was identified with Jerusalem. After the Roman expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem in AD 135 this "Zion" idea was never divorced from Jewish thinking, and Jewish prayers (both individual and corporate) emphasized the desire to return to their homeland. The religious Jew dreamed of an end period of ultimate release from his dispersion among the nations and a return to the land of promise. A handful of Jews had always remained in Palestine, and their numbers were augmented by refugees of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. Nevertheless, to many Jews the notion of a physical return to Palestine seemed an illusive, if not impossible, dream.

During the nineteenth century the rise of Hebrew literature, Jewish nationalism, and most importantly a fresh outbreak of anti - Semitism stimulated groups such as Hoveve Zion ("Lovers of Zion") to raise money to send Jewish settlers to Palestine. Pogroms in czarist Russia after 1881 resulted in thousands of panic - stricken refugees who realized that Palestine was their safest place of refuge. Agricultural settlements were also sponsored by benefactors such as Baron Edmond de Rothschild.

Premodern Zionism emphasized a religious motive and quiet territorial settlement. With the publication of Der Judenstaat ("The Jewish State") by Theodor Herzl in 1896, however, political Zionism was born and with it the modern conception of Zionism. A new era in Jewish history unfolded when Herzl, an Austrian journalist, changed from an advocate of Jewish assimilation to a belief that anti - Semitism was inevitable as long as the majority of Jewish people lived outside their homeland. He expounded political, economic, and technical efforts that he believed were necessary to create a functioning Jewish state. The first Zionist Congress met in 1897, and over two hundred delegates from all over the world adopted the Basel Program. This stressed that Zionism sought to create a legal home in Palestine for the Jewish people and would promote settlement, create worldwide organizations to bind Jews together, strengthen Jewish national consciousness, and obtain consent of the governments of the world.

Herzl's thinking was purely secular; in fact, he was an agnostic. The majority of his followers, however, were Orthodox southeastern Europeans, and while Herzl opposed turning Zionism into a cultural, religious, or piecemeal settlement society, he did make concessions to these advocates. This fragile alliance indicates the many facets of Zionism during the twentieth century. To Herzl, the main goal of Zionism was to obtain a political charter granting Jews sovereign rights in their homeland. Shortly after his death in 1904 approximately seventy thousand Jews had settled in Palestine. A majority (at least 60 percent) lived in the cities. Zionism was metamorphosed into a mass movement and political power during World War I. In 1917 the British issued the Balfour Declaration, which bestowed favor upon the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish national home.

Zionism was a minority movement and encountered opposition even within the Jewish community. American Reform Judaism, for example, believed that Jews were not suited for the rigors of Palestine, where disease and famine were rampant. Furthermore, they claimed that Palestine was no longer a Jewish land and that the United States was "Zion." To these non - Zionist Jews, Zionism was damaging to the fabric of Judaism and only served to stir up the Russians. It was only the horror of the mass murder of a hundred thousand Jews by Russian army units from 1919 to 1921 and, ultimately, the horror of the Nazi Holocaust during World War II in which six million Jews were exterminated that drew Zionists and non - Zionists together in support of Palestine as a Jewish commonwealth, a haven for the persecuted and homeless.

In November, 1947, a partition plan creating a Jewish state, endorsed by both the United States and the Soviet Union, was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The State of Israel was formally recognized on May 14, 1948, when British rule ended. As the young state strengthened, the definition of Zionism and what its current goals and purpose should be have been heatedly debated within the World Zionist Organization itself. Since 1968 the emphasis of aliyah (personal migration to Israel) has been seen by many as an ultimate, yet controversial, goal.

Zionism has been aided in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by "Christian Zionists." Because of their premillennial eschatology fundamentalist evangelicals have been particularly supportive of the restoration of the Jewish people to Israel and of Israel itself in the twentieth century.

D A Rausch
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

W Laqueur, A History of Zionism; A Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader; N W Cohen, American Jews and the Zionist Idea; I Cohen, Theodor Herzl: Founder of Political Zionism; E J , XVI.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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