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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 more recent times, the term is often misused to describe the Israeli occupation of, and settlement in, lands outside its internationally-recognized borders in the West Bank and Gaza, commonly referred to as the Palestinian territories. It is also problematic and arguably antisemitic to use the term as a snarl word in denying Israel's right to exist within its legal borders because that entails denying the right of self-determination of the Jewish people living in Israel. 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.

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

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.


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 DeclarationWikipedia 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.

Secular Zionism[edit]

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.

Christian Zionism[edit]

"[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.

Muslim Zionism[edit]

"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.


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.

More Recent Anti-Zionism, Respectable and Not[edit]

While legitimate criticisms can be made of both Zionist goals and methods, such as the criticisms of Max Blumenthal[4][5], Glenn Greenwald[6] or Ali Abunimah[7][8], some 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, a feverish notion distinguishable from professional, fact-based, critical examination of the Zionist political lobbies in that nation[9][10] and the UK[11].

Many Neo-Nazi and other antisemitic groups have adopted the label "Zionist" as effectively a synonym for "Jew" and continue to spout the same old antisemitic conspiracy theories they have been doing for decades under that rubric. For example, their now-favoured phrase Zionist Occupation Government or ZOG — i.e. Jews secretly directing the US government.

Comparisons between Zionism and Nazism[edit]

Anti-Semites have made the claim that Zionism is comparable to Nazism, but so have some who are not antisemitic, including the Zionist Israeli and former director of Shine Bet, Avraham Shalom. According to Shalom, Israel has become "a brutal occupation force similar to the Germans in World War II."[12] Additionally, the deputy editor of Haaretz, Aliyana Traison, wrote in 2012: "I am as afraid to live in the Israel of 2012 as any right-minded German should have been in 1938..." [13]

Zionism and Nazism are both forms of blood and soil nationalism, a 19th century enthusiasm that is no longer popular in the West.[14] (Indeed, Western Jews increasingly "don't believe that blood-and-soil Jewish nationalism should crowd out their Jewish and universalist values."[15]) Also, both Zionism and German National Socialism include an expansionist territorial project to "repossess" purportedly ancestral lands.

That all said, the comparison is most inflammatory when Israel's treatment of Palestinians is compared with the Third Reich's exterminationist Jew hatred that culminated in the Holocaust. For example, the journalist Max Blumenthal has been sharply criticized[16] for, in his book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, titling chapters “The Concentration Camp” and “The Night of Broken Glass.” Blumenthal, however, explains that he took the former title from "former Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin" who called Israel's internment camps for non-Jewish Africans "concentration camps."[17] Some pro-Palestinian activists do claim that Israel is and has been engaging in genocide, but there clearly has not been a policy remotely like the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Dachau put in place by Israel. It is not hard to see why survivors of those camps, and their descendants, would be offended by such a claim.

Jews opposed to Zionism[edit]

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:

Secular opposition[edit]

Other Jews oppose Zionism for secular reasons. These hold a political objection to the need of a Jewish state -- or at least as currently constituted. Examples include:

  • Glenn Greenwald the Pulitzer Prize-winning who frequently writes scathingly about both Israel[18]and it's U.S. lobby.[19]
  • Max Blumenthal Who says that he had come to have Palestinianj freidns by the time of Israel's carnage in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead and decided to "use the privilege I have as a Jewish American" to speak out against Israel and for Palestinians.He has done this in many speaking appearances and multiple books and articles.[20][21][22]
  • Judith Butler, a professor of philosophy who is an activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel,[23]. and therefor the Jewish Museum refused to host an event in which Butler would represent th views of Franz Kafka.[24]
  • Mark Braverman, who in books[25], columns and speeches calls on his fellow Jews to "let[] go of the concept that an ethnic nationalist entity, a concept carried over from the late nineteenth century, is the answer to anti-Semitism...mourn the understandable mistake of political Zionism as the solution to our historic suffering, a forgivable (if and when we acknowledge the mistake) but all the same catastrophic wrong."[26]
  • International Jewish Anti-Zionism Network
  • Jewish Voice for Peace

See also[edit]


  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