Zionism is a
movement aimed at establishing a national Jewish state in Palestine, the ancient Jewish
homeland. Active Zionism began in the 1800's and led to the establishment of Israel in
1948. Zionism now supports various projects in Israel and acts as a cultural bridge
between Israel and Jews in other countries. Zionists work to revive the national Jewish
language and culture, and to establish the political and social institutions needed to
re-create national Jewish life. Zion is the Hebrew poetic name for Palestine.
Movement to Palestine. A series of pogroms (organized persecutions of the Jews) in Russia
in the late 1800's and early 1900's spurred the first major wave of Jewish emigration from
Europe. In 1882, groups of Jewish youths calling themselves Hoveve-Zion (Lovers of Zion)
formed a movement to promote immigration to Palestine. They started what was called
practical Zionism, which favored establishing Jewish settlements in Palestine. Theodor
Herzl, an Austrian journalist, developed political Zionism, which worked for political
recognition of the Jewish claim to a Palestine homeland.
Herzl was a reporter at the famous trial in 1894 of Alfred Dreyfus, the French army
officer falsely convicted of treason. The Dreyfus affair convinced Herzl that, if
anti-Semitism could be an active force in a country as enlightened as France, Jews could
not assimilate in non-Jewish society. To him, the only remedy was to create an independent
Herzl organized the Zionist movement on a worldwide scale at the First Zionist Congress in
Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. Since that time, Zionism has been opposed by those Jews who
claim (1) that only God can restore the Jews to their homeland; and (2) that the Jews are
a religious denomination, not a national group.
Practical Zionism dominated the movement until World War I. But the movement gained
political recognition when Britain liberated the Middle East, including Palestine, from
domination by the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Scientist Chaim Weizmann, who later
became the first president of Israel, helped persuade the British government to issue the
Balfour Declaration in 1917.
The Balfour Declaration pledged British support for a national homeland for the Jews in
Palestine. It was included in the mandate (order to rule) over Palestine that was granted
to Britain in 1920. Arabs opposed a Jewish state in Palestine, and severe fighting broke
out several times in the 1920's and 1930's. The mandate recognized the Jewish Agency as
the representative organization of the Jews in Palestine. The agency developed economic
and cultural facilities, set up educational and scientific institutes, and encouraged Jews
to settle there.
In 1937, the British began to set limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine to gain Arab
support for the Allies during World War II. Palestine's Jews fought bitterly against the
restrictions after World War II, and the British submitted the problem to the United
Nations (UN). In 1947, the UN approved the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a
Jewish state. The Zionists proclaimed the State of Israel in 1948. For information on the
history of Israel, see ISRAEL (History).