What is Zionism?
What Is Zionism?
Dr. Alex Grobman
Zionism — the Jewish national renaissance movement — is one of the most misunderstood examples of modern nationalism. Part of the reason is that Zionism is founded on a paradox. In an attempt to transform the Jewish people into being like all other nations, Zionism sought a contemporary solution to the “Jewish problem” by returning Jews to their ancestral homeland. 
Although secular Zionist thinkers drew upon sacred Jewish traditions of rebirth and restoration, they discarded or recast anything not connected to restoration, especially religious rituals. Zionism is thus an endeavor to restore the Jew to his historical roots through national revival while “rebelling against Jewish history;” an effort to re-establish Jewish tradition while redefining Jewish practice and ritual; an attempt to enable Jews to live in their own land like every other nation, while stressing the distinctive elements in their history, culture, and society. 
Those who initially immigrated to the Yishuv (Jewish settlement in Palestine) were motivated by a desire for self-determination, liberation, and identity within the context of the liberalism, secularism, modernism, and nationalism unleashed by the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Human Rights of Man. 
The Enlightenment, an intellectual utopian movement of the 18th century, posited that were logic and reason to reign in society, they would overcome superstition and hatred. This would free the Jews from their old ways and enable them to acquire roots in their adopted lands.
The idea that the Enlightenment would usher in an era where bigotry and prejudice would be replaced with tolerance and moderation turned out to be a fantasy. For Jews, it was an especial failure because in the 18th century Jews still lived behind ghetto walls, essentially cutting them off from society at large. Their dress, religious practice, and ways of thinking made them appear peculiar and parochial, and set them apart. Even after the ghetto walls no longer existed, masses of European Jews maintained their Jewish traditions instead of assimilating. 
Though Jews had pined for the land of Zion for millennia, Zionism itself did not develop before the 19th and 20th centuries because it was much more than just a response to antisemitism. It was an attempt to create a new Jew based on Enlightenment ideas,  but a Jewish return to Zion was more than the emigration of a people to a new land. Zionist settlers did not seek to go to Palestine to dominate another people and exploit the area’s natural resources for export. They came to establish settlements and to develop their country.
The future State of Israel would have no towns or villages named New Warsaw, New Lodz, New Moscow, New Minsk, or New Pinsk — unlike the New World, where settlements were named for old cities (e.g., New London, New Orleans, New York, New England, and New Madrid).
Furthermore, by rejecting Europe and by creating the modern Hebrew language, the Zionists created their own intellectual and cultural energy without imitating or transplanting the old ways. Using biblical (Hebrew) names to affirm control over their geography, they did not consider themselves outsiders or conquerors. Their settlements were tangible manifestations of the Jewish return to the homeland. 
Those Jews who settled in the Yishuv came to a land that was sparsely populated and economically underdeveloped, with sizable regions of desert, semi-arid wilderness, and swamps. Before the British arrived in Palestine at the end of World War I, the authorities in the Ottoman Empire had practicalions, or controls on the construction of private and public buildings. Except for a few roads and a rail line that projected the Ottoman Empire’s imperial power, there were few public works projects.
Resident Arabs, traditional in outlook, had no interest in new plans for their communities either. Thus, for Herzl and other European Zionists, in addition to its being the ancestral homeland, Turkish Palestine was inviting because of its lack of government account- ability, absence of local Arab initiative, and the “empty landscape.”
At this point in history, post-World War I, political pressure caused the international community to endorse the Jewish desire for national self-determination and accepted that the Jewish people had a justifiable claim to return to their homeland.
Significantly, in this recognition, the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate under the League of Nations make no mention of Palestinians as a separate and distinct people with their own national rights. The indigenous people were regarded as residents whose political identity was connected to the larger Arab nation. 
For the British, the matter was quite clear: Palestine was not a state but the name of a geographical area. This had been reinforced by the indigenous Arabs themselves. When the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations met in Jerusalem in February 1919 to select Palestinian Arab representatives for the Paris Peace Conference, they adopted the following resolution: “We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic, and geographical bonds.”
For the international community, justice for the Arabs meant guaranteeing their economic, civil, and religious rights. Awarding the Arabs any form of self-government within Palestine was precluded by British commitments to the Jews under the Balfour Declaration, which had been incorporated in the mandate of the League of Nations. 
1. Abraham I. Edelheit, The History of Zionism: A Handbook and Dictionary (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2000), xv.
3. Shlomo Avineri, The Making of Modern Zionism: The Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State (New York: Basic Books, Inc. Publishers, 1981), 5, 13.
4. George L. Mosse, Germans and Jews (New York: Grosset and Dunlop, 1970), 42-76. Many Jews, particularly on the left, were influenced by the ideas of the Russian revolution that all oppressed nations should unite in their fight for emancipation against a common enemy. Jacob L. Talmon, Israel Among the Nations (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970), 142.
5. Avineri, The Making of Modern Zionism: The Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State, op.cit. 5, 13.
6. S. Ilan Troen, Imagining Zion: Dreams, Designs, and Realities in a Century of Jewish Settlement (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 7-9, 55, 142.
7. Ibid. 151-152, 158.
8. Ibid. 70, 90-91, 159.
9. Eli E. Hertz, Reply, Myths and Facts, 2005, 24. See Yehoshua Porath, The Palestinian Arab National Movement: From Riots to Rebellion, Volume 2 (London: Frank Cass and Company, 1977), 81-82.)
11. Troen, op.cit. 44; Yosef Gorny, Zionism and the Arabs: 1882-1948 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p. 82; Michael J. Cohen, The Origins and Evolution of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1987), 64-65.