The History of Zionism

A movement for (originally) the re-establishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. It was established as a political organization in 1897 under Theodor Herzl, and was later led by Chaim Weizmann. (Oxford English Dictionary)


A clear, concise definition that holds within it the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people, not just since 1887 but from the Destruction of the Second Temple and the beginning of the Diaspora in 70 CE, a desire to return to our homeland expressed in the prayer “…next year in Jerusalem.”


Many books and studies have been written about the history and development of modern Zionism. Any attempt to provide a comprehensive explanation in just one article, is doomed to failure. However, what we shall do is attempt to give you a basic understanding of how modern, political Zionism developed and important milestones in the movement’s history.


From Enlightenment to Nationalism

Modern Zionism evolved during the Age of Enlightenment (18th and 19th centuries) which changed not only the way that others saw the Jews but also the Jews conception of themselves. Across Europe, Jews were gaining equal rights and becoming part of the cultural and social framework of the countries they lived in.

 Paradoxically, racially motivated anti-Semitism was also on the rise as nationalist movements began to grow across Europe. It was within this atmosphere, that modern, political Zionism began to develop.


Basle 1887 – the 1st Zionist Congress

Austrian born writer and Journalist, Theodore Herzl is seen as the father of modern Zionism. He was responsible for the founding of the World Zionist Organization and, with Nathan Birnbaum, organized the First Zionist Congress at Basel in 1897. The Congress formulated the Basle plan for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine:


1. To encourage the settlement of Jewish farmers, craftsperson, and industrialists in Palestine.

2. To create an organization that would encompasses Jews from all countries

3. To develop and strengthen Jewish consciousness.

4. To take all steps necessary to require governmental approval for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland.


It must be pointed out that prior to the Congress, and in the same decade some 50 Jewish settlements were established in Palestine during what is known as the First Aliyah. These included Mikveh Israel Agricultural School, Petach Tikva, Rishon LeTsion and Rosh Pina.


Cultural Zionism

Herzl saw Zionism as a solution for raising anti-Semitism. Others, such as Ahad Ha'am and Chaim Weizmann believed that believed Zionism should revive and foster Jewish national culture and the Hebrew language. This Zionist movement was in direct opposition to Herzl and his supporters.


Uganda or Palestine?

In 1903 the British Government put forward the Uganda Program which suggested the establishment of a Jewish State in Uganda. After initially rejecting the proposal, Herzl, at the 6th Zionist Conference, suggested that the proposal be considered. Despite fierce opposition, a committee was formed to examine the issue that was eventually dismissed in the 7th Zionist Congress in 1905. Palestine was now the focus of Zionist hopes.


Religious dissent

As Zionism became more secular, its main supporters (orthodox Jewish organizations) slowly began to oppose the movement. Paradoxically, in the United States, the Reform Movement, which rejected Jewish nationalism, rejected Zionism as being in opposition to Jewish citizenship in the Diaspora.


The 2nd Aliyah

Following violent pogroms across Russia led to a wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine. These new settlers were instrumental in reviving the Hebrew language and establishing the city of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was a “Hebrew” city with a Hebrew speaking school and city affairs conducted in Hebrew.


Jewish settlers and organization began purchasing large tracts of land and especially swamp lands seen as worthless by their Ottoman owners but which the settlers drained and turned into fertile farm land.

This period also saw the founding of Degania, the first Kibbutz.


The Balfour Declaration

Zionist leader and brilliant chemist, Chaim Weizmann, following his invention of a process to increase Britain’s explosives production during the First World War, persuaded the British Government to issue, in 1917, the Balfour Declaration which stated the government’s support of: “"the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”


The League of Nations endorses Zionism

Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire which had sided with Germany in the 2nd World War, the League of Nations endorsed the Balfour Declaration and established the British Mandate for Palestine. The Zionist movement entered a new phase of activity and the 1920’s saw a steady growth in the Jewish population and the establishment of Jewish institutions. However, it also saw the emergence of Palestinian Arab nationalism and growing resistance to Jewish immigration.


The 2nd World War

Events in Palestine and the mass exodus of German Jews from Nazi Germany towards Palestine, led to the British Government issuing its infamous White Paper in 1939. This stated that a Jewish National Homeland now existed and that further Jewish immigration would be harmful to the Arab population. A quota of 10,000 Jews a year were to be admitted from 1939 to 1944 as well as a one-time allowance of 25,000 because of the situation in Europe. This effectively sealed the fate for hundreds of thousands of European Jews.

During World War Two, Zionist organizations in Occupied Europe were active in organizing Jewish resistance movements in ghettos, concentration camps and amongst the general population. Even though, in most cases they knew that they were doomed to failure due to the overwhelming superiority of the Nazi forces, they fought back against the Nazis and Nazi collaborators.

In Palestine Zionist leadership instructed all able-bodied Jews to volunteer for the British Army.


Illegal immigration to Palestine

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, the restrictions of the British White Paper remained in force, despite the atrocities and mass murder of European Jewelry. The Zionist community in Israel and across the world began a campaign of illegal immigration of Jews from Europe to Palestine. Known as “Aliya Bet”, escape routes were organized from Europe to the Mediterranean where ships waited to bring the survivors to Israel.



In 1947 a UN committee proposed the portioning of Palestine into an Arab State and a Jewish State. This was accepted by the Zionist movement but rejected by the Arab League.


The Establishment of the Jewish State

Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 many pre-state Zionist institution in the now Israel, became government offices. Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, thought that the state must now take on many functions of the Zionist Organization. Since its goal of a Jewish State had now been achieved, the Zionist Organization adopted a new role of assisting Jewish Immigration and raising awareness and encouraging support for Israel.


The 28th Zionist Congress adopted the "Jerusalem Program”. This saw the aim of the Zionist movement as being:


1. The unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life.

2. The ingathering of the Jewish people from all countries in their historic homeland.

3. The strengthening of the State of Israel.

4. The preservation of the identity of the Jewish people through the fostering of Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education and of Jewish spiritual and cultural values.

5. The protection of Jewish rights everywhere.

Quick Registration
Phone Number
CAPTCHA Image Attention: large and small letters( Case sensitive ) Change code

Cell: 972-52-448-4032
Office: 972-9-743-8149