Last updated on: 5/12/2008 | Author:

What Are the Origins of Zionism?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)


This site was archived on Aug. 3, 2021. The two-state solution is no longer the most popular solution among the jurisdictions involved. A reconsideration of the topic is possible in the future.

Avi Shlaim, PhD, Professor of International Relations at St. Antony’s College at Oxford University, in his 2001 book The Iron Wall, wrote:

“The Zionist movement, which emerged in Europe in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, aimed at the national revival of the Jewish people in its ancestral home after nearly two thousand years of exile. The term ‘Zionism’ was coined in 1885 by the Viennese Jewish writer Nathan Birnbaum, Zion being one of the biblical names for Jerusalem. Zionism was in essence an answer to the Jewish problem that derived from two basic facts: the Jews were dispersed in various countries around the world, and in each country they constituted a minority. The Zionist solution was to end this anomalous existence and dependence on others, to return to Zion, and to attain majority status there and, ultimately, political independence and statehood.”


Encyclopedia of the Orient, an online publication based in Scandinavia, posted an article on its website (accessed on May 25, 2007) titled “Zionism,” which stated:


18th century: The German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn initiates a Jewish secularism, which focused on Jewish national identity.

1862: The German Jew Moses Hess publishes the book Rome and Jerusalem where he called for a return of Jews to Palestine. He also said that Jews would never succeed by assimilating into European societies.

1881: Pogroms of Russia result in heavy emigration to USA. Some few Jews even emigrate to Palestine, as they are motivated by religious ideas of Palestine as Jewish homeland. 1893: Nathan Birnbaum introduces the term ‘Zionism.’

1896: The Austrian Jew Theodor Herzl publishes the book The Jewish State, where he declares that the cure for anti-semitism was the establishment of a Jewish state. As he saw it, the best place to establish this state was in Palestine, but this geography was no precondition.

1897: The 1st Zionist Congress is held in Basel in Switzerland. About 200 delegates participate. The Basel Program is formulated, calling for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, where Jews could live safely under public law. The World Zionist organization is also founded, and establishes its head quarters in Vienna, Austria.

1903: Britain offers an area of 15,500 kmĀ² in Uganda in Africa, an area of virgin land to the Jews of the world, where a Jewish homeland could be established.

1905: The 7th Zionist Congress refuses Britain’s Uganda proposal. Israel Zangwill forms the Jewish Territorial organization, which sought to find territory for a Jewish state, no matter where this would be. His organization got only few supporters.

1917: The Balfour Declaration, issued by the British foreign secretary, gives official British support to the work of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. After the Russian revolution is defeated, many young Jews emigrate from Russia.

1922: Britain gives The World Zionist organization the mandate to administer Jewish immigration and settlement in Palestine. This immigration and settlement was funded by American Jews.

1939: The British ‘White Paper’ gives the Arabs of Palestine de facto control over Jewish immigration.

1942: A call is issued from Zionist leaders for the establishment of a Jewish state in all of western Palestine, when World War 2 ends.

1948 May 14: The State of Israel is founded. The World Zionist organization continues to back Jewish immigration to Israel.”

May 25, 2007

Dilip Hiro, MA, author and journalist, in the 2003 edition of The Essential Middle East / A Comprehensive Guide, wrote:

“In 1862 Moses Hess, a German Jew, published a book entitled Rome and Jerusalem, which advocated the return of Jews to Palestine and the creation of a spiritual center there for the Jewish Diaspora [dispersion]. This was religious Zionism, which called on Jews to return to Zion for religious reasons. The idea was adopted by the Hovevei Zion (Hebrew: Lovers of Zion) societies that sprang up in Russia soon after the pogroms of 1881-1882 following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. They organized the first immigration wave into Palestine. This was seen as part of an effort to create a spiritual center for Jewish civilization by such Jewish thinkers as Ahad HaAam (1875-1927), who stressed the significance of maintaining a Jewish national culture, including developing Hebrew as a modern language.

It was left to Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), an Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist, to give a political dimension to the concept of Zionism. In his pamphlet Der Jundenstaat (German: The Jewish State) (1896), he argued for a Jewish homeland to be set up — preferably, but not necessarily, in Ottoman Palestine — and that it should be secured through an international agreement. The next year Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland. It established the Zionist Organization — later called the World Zionist Organization (WZO) — which stated: ‘Zionism strives to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law.'”


Benyamin Neuberger, PhD, Professor of Political Science and Communications at the Open University of Israel, in a Oct. 12, 1999 article posted on Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website titled “ZIONISM- Background” wrote:

“The origin of the term ‘Zionism’ is the biblical word ‘Zion’, often used as a synonym for Jerusalem and the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael). Zionism is an ideology which expresses the yearning of Jews the world over for their historical homeland – Zion, the Land of Israel. The aspiration of returning to their homeland was first held by Jews exiled to Babylon some 2,500 years ago – a hope which subsequently became a reality. (‘By the water of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.’ Psalms 137:1). Thus political Zionism, which coalesced in the 19th century, invented neither the concept nor the practice of return. Rather, it appropriated an ancient idea and an ongoing active movement, and adapted them to meet the needs and spirit of the times. The core of the Zionist idea appears in Israel’s Declaration of Independence (14 May 1948), which states, inter alia, that:

‘The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcible exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.’

Over centuries in the Diaspora, the Jews maintained a strong and unique relationship with their historical homeland, and manifested their yearning for Zion through rituals and literature. In prayer, the Jewish worshipper is instructed to face east, towards the Land of Israel. In the morning service, Jews say ‘Bring us in peace from the four corners of the earth and lead us upright to our land.’ Worshippers repeatedly recite, ‘Blessed are You, O Lord, Who builds Jerusalem,’ and ‘Blessed are You O Lord, Who returns His presence to Zion.’ The grace after meals includes a blessing which ends with a prayer for the rebuilding of ‘Jerusalem, the Holy City, speedily and in our days.’ In the marriage ceremony, the bridegroom seeks to ‘elevate Jerusalem to the forefront of our joy.’ At a circumcision the following is recited from the Psalms ‘If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither.’ On Passover, every Jew declares, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ At times of mourning, the bereaved are comforted with mention of the Land of Israel: ‘Blessed are You, O Lord, Consoler of Zion and Builder of Jerusalem.’ The longing of the Jewish people to return to its Land was also expressed in prose and poetry in Hebrew and in other Jewish languages, which evolved over the centuries, Yiddish in Eastern Europe and Ladino in Spain.”

Oct. 12, 1999