Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Zionism from Philip's Encyclopedia

Jewish nationalist movement advocating the return of Jews to the land of Zion (Palestine). Although it represents a desire expressed since the Jewish Diaspora began in the 6th century bc the modern Zionist movement dates from 1897, when Theodor Herzl established the World Zionist Congress at Basel, Switzerland. In 1917, it secured British approval for its objective in the Balfour Declaration, and Jewish emigration to Palestine increased in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine between Jews and Arabs, leading to the foundation of the state of Israel.

Summary Article: Zionism
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

modern political movement for reconstituting a Jewish national state in Palestine.

Early Years

The rise of the Zionist movement in the late 19th cent. was influenced by nationalist currents in Europe, as well as by the secularization of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, which led many assimilated Jewish intellectuals to seek a new basis for a Jewish national life. One such individual was Theodor Herzl, a Viennese journalist who wrote The Jewish State (1896), calling for the formation of a Jewish nation state as a solution to the Diaspora and to anti-Semitism. In 1897 Herzl called the first World Zionist Congress at Basel, which brought together diverse proto-Zionist groups into one movement. The meeting helped found Zionist organizations in most countries with large Jewish populations.

The first issue to split the Zionist movement was whether Palestine was essential to a Jewish state. A majority of the delegates to the 1903 congress felt that it was essential and rejected the British offer of a homeland in Uganda. The opposition, the Territorialists led by Israel Zangwill, withdrew on the grounds that an immediate refuge for persecuted Jews was needed. Within the Zionist movement a broad range of perspectives developed, ranging from a synthesis of nationalism with traditional Jewish Orthodoxy (in the Mizrahi movement, founded 1902) to various combinations of Zionism with utopian and Marxist socialism.

The Balfour Declaration and Settlement in Palestine

After Herzl's death, the Zionist movement came under the leadership of Chaim Weizmann, who sought to reconcile the “practical” wing of the movement, which sought to further Jewish settlement in Palestine, and its “political” wing, which stressed the establishment of a Jewish state. Weizmann obtained few concessions from the Turkish sultan, who ruled Palestine; however, in 1917, Great Britain, then at war with Turkey, issued the Balfour Declaration (see Balfour, Arthur James), which promised to help establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Great Britain was given a mandate of Palestine in 1920 by the League of Nations, in part to implement the Balfour Declaration.

Jewish colonization vastly increased in the early years of the mandate (see Palestine for the period up to 1948), but soon the British limited their interpretation of the declaration in the face of Arab pressure. There were disputes in the Zionist movement on how to counter the British position. The right-wing Revisionists, led by Vladimir Jabotinsky, favored large-scale immigration to Palestine to force the creation of a Jewish state. The most conciliatory faction was the General Zionists (representing the original national organizations), who generally remained friendly to Great Britain.

Since the Holocaust and Founding of Israel

After World War II the Zionist movement intensified its activities. The sufferings of the European Jews at the hands of the Germans demanded the opening of a refuge; the stiffening opposition of the Arabs increased the urgency. At this time the World Zionist Congress was divided, the Revisionists demanding all Palestine and the General Zionists reluctantly accepting the United Nations plan to partition Palestine (see Israel). After the Jewish state was proclaimed (May 14, 1948), the Zionist movement was forced to reevaluate its goals.

Against those who argued that the simple expression of support for Israel was sufficient for affiliation, the movement's 1968 Jerusalem Program defined the goal of personal migration to Israel as a requirement for membership. However, most Jews in the United States and other Western democracies seemed content to support the Zionist movement as a means of supporting Israel, without any personal commitment to living there. The Zionist movement today facilitates migration to Israel and supports Jewish cultural and educational activities in the diaspora.

  • See Weizmann, C. , Trial and Error (1949, repr. 1972);.
  • Cohen, I. , A Short History of Zionism (1951);.
  • Halpern, B. , The Idea of the Jewish State (2d ed. 1969);.
  • Laqueur, W. , A History of Zionism (1972);.
  • Avineri, S. , The Making of Modern Zionism (1984);.
  • Vital, D. , The Origins of Zionism (1980),.
  • Zionism: The Formative Years (1982), and.
  • Zionism: The Crucial Phase (1987);.
  • Morris, B. , Righteous Victims (rev. ed. 2001);.
  • Schneer, J. , The Balfour Declaration (2010).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article Zionism
Encyclopedia of German Literature

In response to the anti-Semitism that he had witnessed in Paris as foreign correspondent for the Neue Freie Presse (the Dreyfus trial was held...

Full text Article ZIONISM
The New Encyclopedia of Judaism

Modern movement for the national independence of the Jewish people in Erets Israel. The ideology of the modern Zionist movement, whose goal was...

Full text Article Zionism
Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought

Zionism is the doctrine and movement which seeks to bring Jews together in Palestine to establish and maintain their own state....

See more from Credo