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Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism.

Zionism is a mass political movement originated in the 19th century to create a political and geographic nation-state for the Jewish people, so that they could establish their national independence and escape the persecution and anti-Semitism that was so prevalent throughout Europe at the time. In this way, Zionism was an expression of Jewish nationalism, though the two should not necessarily be considered identical. The movement was named for Mt. Zion, the mountain that Jerusalem was built on. "Zion" is also a synonym for the Holy Land or the Jewish national homeland.

In a broader sense, while there are no doubt longstanding Jewish claims on the land that now makes up the state of Israel, Zionism, like settler colonialism in the Americas, Australia, and South Africa, has had long-standing detrimental effects on those people already living on the land who were not members of the nation in question.

Good old-fashioned anti-Semites also use the word "Zionist" to refer to anything they don't like done by anyone (supposedly or actually) Jewish, which is not entirely helpful.


[edit] Background and previous "re-settlement" schemes by rulers

Most forms of Zionism focused on creating a state in what was originally Ottoman Palestine and later British Mandate Palestine and is today Israel. Symbolic attachment to Jerusalem had been constructed for centuries by rabbis and it was natural for nationalists to construct an attachment to the city and the surrounding territory. Still several other locations were considered in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Argentine Patagonia and British East Africa, the latter in what is today Uganda. In 1903 London (British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain) offered a tract of land for an autonomous Jewish settlement in what was then British East Africa.[1] Later in the 20th century there were British proposals to establish Jewish settlements in British Guyana and northern Australia, an American proposal to settle Jews near Sitka in Alaska, and a Nazi German proposal to settle Jews in Madagascar. The Soviet Union actually established the Jewish Autonomous Oblast of Birobidzhan on the Amur River in the Soviet Far East. Although Uncle Joe deserves some respect for actually doing what his various counterparts in the West merely discussed, Birobidzhan attracted too few Jewish settlers to become a serious alternative to Palestine.

[edit] History

The movement originated in 19th century Europe with Serbian/Hungarian Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl, and was originally a secular movement devoted to providing a refuge for Jews, whom Herzl believed, especially in the wake of the French Dreyfus affair, could not be safe in a country in which they were a minority. The area was controlled by the Ottoman Empire at the time, falling into the control of the British Empire after the First World War. The Balfour Declaration[wp] gave hope to many Zionists that a Jewish state would be carved out of the Middle East, giving western Palestine to the Jews, and Trans-Jordan to the Arabs. Other political forces took hold, however.

The British, needing a favorable relationship with the Arab peoples in Palestine/Trans-Jordan during WWII, put stringent restrictions on Jewish immigration. Jews living in displaced persons camps were smuggled into Palestine by the Aliya Bet (or "informal" immigration service). As populations shifted, frictions increased between the Arabs and Jews in the area known then as the British Mandate of Palestine.

After World War II and the Holocaust, the need for a safe homeland for Jews was recognized by many of the Allied powers who agreed to grant a stretch of land to the Jewish people. In 1948, the modern Jewish state of Israel was founded. (It should be noted that both the United States and the Soviet Union were quick to diplomatically recognize the new state.) Someone must always pay a price when someone else's nationalist project is achieved. In this case it was the Palestinian Arab population. A terror campaign of ethnic cleansing drove much of the Palestian population from its ancestral homes into exile in the newly created Jordan and in neighboring Lebanon.[2] Other Palestians were scattered across the Middle East in a disapora that, ironically, mirrors that of the Jews. At the same time, the rest of the Mid-East ethnically cleansed itself of its own Jewish populations, in that great circle of violence where A and B are fighting because B and A committed atrocities against the other. The five surrounding Arab countries considered this Western imperialism, promised to "drive the Jews into the sea" and attacked the State of Israel the day after it was proclaimed. To the surprise of many, Israel won that first war, and several wars after. A major war occurred in 1967 , leading to Israel's capture of the Western Wall and the territories that had been captured by Jordan in 1948. In 1993, a set of accords intended to bring mutual recognition between Palestinians and Israel was signed in Oslo by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

To go into all the conflicts would take longer than this article is intended to be.

[edit] Secular Zionism

For the first half-century of its existence, Zionism was overwhelmingly a movement of secular Jews. Herzl himself was not particularly observant and actually considered himself rather assimilated until the antisemitic rage that followed the Dreyfus affair convinced him that even the most assimilated Jew would always be perceived as "other". Until the end of the Second World War, a majority of (rather observant) eastern European Jews rejected Zionism as blasphemous and rather sought various means of "self strengthening" Jewish communities where they already existed.

While the Holocaust convinced many religious Jews that Zionism might be a good idea, early in its history Israel was dominated by secular left-wing parties, strongly rooted in the international workers' movement and the Israeli Kibbutz movement, until the right wing took over shortly after the Six Days' war. The religious right in Israel has complicated the peace process as, unlike the secular left that is - in principle - willing to give up some land for a peace, many religious Zionists argue that giving up "Biblical Jewish" land (as opposed to Sinai, an area not claimed as the historic Jewish homeland and thus easily given up for peace with Egypt even by a right-wing government) is tantamount to apostasy. However, the rise of Hamas and the failure of the Oslo peace process have made this point moot as even secular Zionists now mostly agree that giving up land in exchange for a peace that does not in fact hold up is not worth it.

[edit] Christian Zionism

"[A] lot of the Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country."
Billy Graham[3]

Many Christians, particularly fundamentalists, support the State of Israel for their own religious reasons, calling themselves "Christian Zionists". They believe that the return of the Jews to Israel is vital to the Second Coming of Christ. Some of them even believe that all but 144,000 Jews and everyone else in the world who is not a Christian will die in a hellfire, as per their interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

[edit] Muslim Zionism

"Thus (were those things taken from them) and We caused the Children of Israel to inherit them."
—Quran 26:59

Yes, such a thing exists, but is very much a minority opinion.

[edit] Anti-Zionism

In the 19th and early 20th century, the majority of Jews rejected Zionism. The causes of this reaction varied — on the right, orthodox religious Jews (especially Haredi and Hasidic) believed that the re-establishment of a Jewish state in Israel was a task to be undertaken by the Messiah alone — Zionists, by attempting to hurry up the divine plan of redemption, were committing a sin. They pointed to various rabbinical passages which prohibited the return of Jews to Israel en masse prior to the coming of the Messiah. However, this rejection of Zionism was only one opinion within the conservative religious Jewish community with notable support coming from several prominent and senior Rabbis especially Rabbi Kook. On the left, progressive, secular and reform Jews wanted Jews to be accepted as members of the nations they were now living in, rather than attempting to form their own for themselves. These Jews often had commitments to liberal internationalism or socialism, and they saw Zionism as contrary to this.

However, the traumatic events of the 20th century dramatically changed the Jewish attitude towards Zionism, from being a position with minority support to being the majority view. But there are still groups which carry on these earlier anti-Zionist positions. On the right, a number of Haredi and Hasidic groups maintain a religiously-based rejection of Zionism — the most notable of these groups is the Satmar dynasty, but there are many others. A small, but notable group is the Neturei Karta, who express their rejection of Zionism through extreme means, including associations with the Palestinian and Iranian leadership, and associations with Holocaust deniers. Even though many other groups like Satmar share the opposition to Zionism, they reject the extreme approach of the Neturei Karta. In particular, the attendance of Neturei Karta delegates at a Holocaust denial conference arranged by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caused great offence, although the Neturei Karta attendees insisted they did not reject the Holocaust, but were attending the conference to try to change the Holocaust deniers' minds. As a result of their actions, Neturei Karta have been universally shunned by all Jewish groups and placed in cherem, a form of excommunication. Their numbers are estimated at being under 200 worldwide.

One particular passage the religious anti-Zionists point to is a a passage in the Talmud called the "Three Oaths", where the Jews swear to God to obey the rule of the Gentiles and not attempt to return to Israel en masse, and the Gentiles swear not to persecute the Jews excessively. Religious anti-Zionists see Zionism as a violation of the oath, and therefore sinful. Zionists have a number of responses: that the oath is not one of the legally binding parts of the Talmud (haggadah rather than halakah); that no individual Jews can violate the oath (since it does not prohibit the return of individual Jews), so Zionists cannot be held to be in violation of the oath; that the oath has been cancelled due to the Gentiles' failure to keep their side of the bargain (not to persecute the Jews excessively). Anti-Zionists do not accept these responses - in particular, they argue that since the three oaths are to God, not oaths the Jews and Gentiles make to each other, a failure of the Gentiles to obey their oath does not justify the Jews in violating theirs.

Zionists point out that many anti-Zionists support Palestinian nationalism while opposing Jewish nationalism, and that this is a double standard. But some anti-Zionists reject Palestinian nationalism as well and all forms of nationalism, and hence must reject Jewish nationalism (Zionism) as well. Many anti-Zionists, rather than supporting the Palestinian nationalist call for a separate Palestinian state, instead favour the one state solution — abolition of Israel and Palestine, to be replaced by a single state which is for all its citizens (sometimes suggested to be called "Israelestine" or similar. This, of course, would mean there would be no Jewish state left in the world.

Since the founding of the State of Israel, and especially since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, "Zionism" and "Zionist" have become snarl words in some circles.

[edit] Extremist anti-Zionism

While legitimate criticism can be made of both the Zionist goals and methods, the term has since been stretched beyond its original meanings. Many conspiracy theories, particularly ones that revolve around the supposed "New World Order", frequently refer to a "Zionist conspiracy" or efforts to set up a "Zionist government." These people will often claim that "Zionists" control the United States, which goes so far beyond the call of what Zionists actually want as to be laughable. In many of these cases, it is obvious that "Zionist" is merely a euphemism for "Jewish" and that the groups using the term are anti-Semitic and/or neo-Nazi.

Many people say "anti-Zionism" is a cover for "anti-Semitism", but others say that this accusation is an attempt to slur their opponents: according to the proper meaning of the word, one can make a direct challenge to Zionist ideals (political) and not be anti-Semitic. One crosses the line when facts are replaced with ingrained hatred.

Many Neo-Nazi and other antisemitic groups, however, have adopted the label "Zionist" as effectively a synonym for "Jew"; having done so, they continue to spout the same tired old antisemitic conspiracy theories they have been doing for decades, but by replacing "Jew" with "Zionist" it does not sound as bad, and people may not recognize these same old ideas in their new form, whereas in their original form they would immediately reject them. This process is the origin of their favoured phrase Zionist Occupation Government or ZOG — i.e. Jews secretly direct the US government.

[edit] Facile comparisons between Zionism and Nazism

Anti-Semites have made the claim that Zionism is equivalent to Nazism. This is laughable when one considers that Zionists were trying to secure ONE state as a place of refuge for Jewish people, whereas Nazis were attempting to exterminate and subjugate all other nations. Besides, Godwin's Law.

The only commonality between Zionism and Nazism is that they are both forms of nationalism with a expansionist territorial project to "repossess" ancestral lands. (They are not of course the only two forms of nationalism, there are many others). Anti-nationalists see them both as rotten fruit of a rotten tree, although there can be no doubt that Nazism is among the most rotten of the many rotten fruits that tree has produced.

[edit] Jews opposed to Zionism

A number of Jewish groups believe that Zionism is a form of heresy and is incompatible with true Judaism; such are usually found among Hareidi (Ultra-Orthodox) Jewish sects, many of which teach that Zionism was an unscriptural attempt to restore the Land to the Jews that only God was supposed to do (when he feels good and ready).

Some Jewish religious websites opposed to Zionism include:

[edit] Secular opposition

Other Jews oppose Zionism for secular reasons; on the left, many progressive Jews living outside of Israel reject the need of a Jewish state, and see Zionism as inevitably resulting in the oppression of the Palestinian people. Examples include:

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Tom Segev. (Haim Watzman, trans.) 1999. One Palestine Complete: Jews and Palestinians Under the British Mandate. New York: Henry Holt. p. 36.
  2. Ilan Pappe. 2006. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinian. Oxford: OneWorld.
  3. When Billy Graham Urged Nixon to Kill a Million People
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