What Is The Zionist Movement?

Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist Organization.
Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist Organization.

5. What Do Zionists Believe?

In 1896, Theodor Herzl conceived of and founded the Zionist movement in Basel, Switzerland. Herzl and his associates then proceeded to define who and what a Zionist stands for. They declared that “A Zionist is a person who desires or supports the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, which in the future will become the state of the Jewish people.” Thus, although a Zionist believes in the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel, that Zionist does not necessarily have to live in Israel. Secularist Jews form the majority of believers in Zionism, that is to say, those who believe in the separation of the Jewish state and the Jewish religion.

4. Zionism Before World War 2

In 1919, David Ben-Gurion, who would become the first Prime Minister of Israel in later years, saw that the Arabs would not choose to yield any of the Palestinian lands to the Jewish people. In 1923, Russian Jewish intellectual Ze'ev Jabotinsky also wrote that it was impossible to come to an agreement with the Arabs. Also, the question of a separate defensive force for the Jewish community against riots in Palestine were refused by the British authorities who then had jurisdiction over the region. As a result, a series of riots in 1930 spurred the Zionists to form an underground force for their defense. The rift had thus been widened between the two communities, and the Arabs refused to support Jewish representation within the local government. More riots occurred, largely instigated by the Arab Mufti and the spread of false, divisive rumors by both sides. At the same time, schools and services were being set up, labor organizations from both sides were also being established.

3. 1948: A New Jewish State

On May 15th, 1948, amid the fighting in Palestine, the Jews declared the state of Israel in what was formerly the British possession of Palestine that had just recently received its independence. The fighting escalated as Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt invaded Palestine, an action which later resulted in the expulsion of 800,000 Arabs by the new Jewish powers. The Anti-Zionist Jews made accusations that the Zionists were responsible for the mass expulsions, as well as rumored massacres of Arabs, to which they were vehemently against. The Zionists retorted that their preferred policy was voluntary transfer, and even requested Arabs to stay. They stated that their plan was to buy land from the Arabs, although this proved difficult as local Arabs were not keen on selling. Also, lands that were held by Arabs were often still under Turkish lease, dating back to Ottoman rule in the region before the British took over after World War I. The Greek Orthodox Christian Church also owned large tracts of land in the area, and would not sell its lands either. As a result, the Jewish community held only 6% of the land in Palestine at this time.

2. Zionists Around The World

The Zionist Organization founded in 1897 was renamed as the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in January of 1960. It has under its direction the contemporary Zionist movement that believes in the establishment of the Israeli state in Palestine. On May 14th, 1948, the state of Israel was established in Palestine. The World Zionist Organization allows membership only to other organizations, unlike before when it was open to Jewish individuals. However, the WZO recognizes and honors individuals who have contributed and volunteered for Israeli and Zionist causes. Nonetheless, some of its activities have been judged by Israel's Supreme Court as thievery, especially in the case of houses demolished on lands that were owned by Palestinians and given to Jewish settlers in the West Bank region.

1. Criticism, Threats, and Territorial Disputes

There were many Jewish organizations and religious groups that were, and still are, opposed to the Zionists. Clearly, this has been in large because of the fact that the Zionists claimed to represent all Jews. Yet, the Reform Jewish Movement altered their liturgy by removing sources that speak of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Also, the Ultra Orthodox (or Haredi) Jews were not in favor of the secular views of the Zionists. Jewish Communists also are generally against Zionism. Noam Chomsky was also opposed to Zionism, as well as the Ultra Orthodox Neturei Karteh. The UN General Assembly in 1975 branded Zionism as racist, but this stance was later revoked in 1991. Many considered Zionism as a colonialist movement that considered Jews as a superior race but, as a matter of fact, Zionist theorists contend that they have always looked at Jews as a unique group due to their longstanding lack of a homeland, especially prior to World War II.


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