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Zionism: Origins and meanings
Jewish Nationalism that aimed to create a Jewish state or
homeland in historical Palestine.
Zionism was born in an era when Europe was at the height of its
power as a colonial authority.
The dominance of European colonial powers was also justified by
racial theory or Social Darwinism.
At the end of the 19th century Jews were victims of this racial
But supporters of Zionism applied the same racial register to
people of the Middle East.
Anti-Semitism in Europe
The late 19th century witnessed a growing mood of anti-Semitism
across Europe.
Jewish merchants often became the scapegoats for the financial
difficulties experienced by European countries at the time.
Pogroms against Jews were especially pronounced in Eastern
Europe and parts of Russia.
The roots of anti-Semitism are thus located in Europe.
Responses to anti-Semitism
Immigration to the Americas. Between 1881 and 1920 more than 2
million European Jews chose this route.
In Eastern Europe and Russia many joined radical political
movements, especially socialist organizations.
The economically prosperous and educated elite generally
integrated themselves into official society.
Some embraced Zionism, and argued that Jews could protect
themselves against European discrimination by creating their own
Theodore Herzl
The Jewish State: An attempt at
a modern solution of the Jewish
question (1896).
The Jewish Question was a
national issue and required Jews
to have control over their own
First Zionist Congress held in
World Zionist Organisation
mobilised support to assist
immigration of Jews to Palestine.
1901 the Jewish National Fund
was created to raise money to
finance settlements.
Different Versions
Political Zionism [Herzl]: Jews could only become a nation like
other nations within the framework of a Jewish state/homeland.
Cultural Zionism [Ahad Ha’am]: Concerned that the creation of a
national state would endanger the survival of Jews because Jews
would be imitating gentiles to prove they could be normal.
Labour Zionism [David Ben Gurion]: Influenced by socialist ideas.
Members were active in the Bund Party in Russia and stressed
Early Jewish responses to Zionism
Wealthy and assimilated Jews regarded it as disruptive of the status
American Jews showed very little interest in the project.
The Chief Rabbi of Vienna declared that Zionism was incompatible
with Judaism.
Socialist opposed any form of nationalism.
Many however remained attracted to the idea of a Jewish homeland
in Palestine.
A form of expansion?
Gershon Shafir: “Zionism was a variety of Eastern European
nationalism, that is, an ethnic movement in search of a state… But, at
the other end of the journey it may be seen more fruitfully as a late
instance of European overseas expansion.”
Theodore Herzl: “The Jewish Company is partly modelled on the lines of
a great acquisition company. It might be called a Jewish Chartered
Company, though it cannot exercise sovereign power, and has no other
than purely colonial tasks.”