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Zionism

To consider Zionism from the Biblical point of view, Zion represents the hill of the Lord, where only the clean-handed and pure-hearted were invited to ascend (Psalm xxiv.). Eyes were always set upon one distant point, always believing that somehow, some day, the ancient greatness would be restored; always saying when they met in their families on Passover Night, "Next year in Jerusalem." Year after year, generation following generation, century succeeding century, till the time that has elapsed is counted in thousands of years, still they said, "Next year in Jerusalem."

The belief that the dispersion of the Jews among the nations, their "exile," was an expiation of the sins of the people, and that it was to end with the gathering of the Jews from the ends of the earth to the Holy Land and the restoration of their nationality, had been a cardinal article of orthodox faith in all the centuries, and though the realisation of this hope promised by so many would-be Messiahs was repeatedly disappointed, the faith was unshaken.

Before Napoleon emancipated French Jewry in 1791, continental and Central European Jews had been forced to reside in designated Jewish "ghettos" apart from the non-Jewish community. Emancipation enabled many Jews to leave the confines of the ghetto and to attain unprecedented success in business, banking, the arts, medicine, and other professions. This led to the assimilation of many Jews into non-Jewish European society. The concomitant rise of ethnically based nationalisms, however, precluded Jewish participation in the political leadership of most of the states where they had settled. Political Zionism was born out of the frustrated hopes of emancipated European Jewry. Political Zionists aspired to establish a Jewish state far from Europe but modeled after the postemancipation European state.

In Eastern Europe, where the bulk of world Jewry lived, any hope of emancipation ended with the assassination of the reform- minded Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The pogroms that ensued led many Russian Jews to emigrate to the United States, while others joined the communist and socialist movements seeking to overthrow the tsarist regime and a much smaller number sought to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. Zionism in its East European context evolved out of a Jewish identity crisis; Jews were rapidly abandoning religious orthodoxy, but were unable to participate as equal citizens in the countries where they lived. This was the beginning of cultural Zionism, which more than political Zionism attached great importance to the economic and cultural content of the new state.

Zionism played a major role in New York's various Jewish communities of the early 20th century. The Zionist Organization of America was founded in 1898, and in 1912, Henrietta Szold founded Hadassah, which has played a major role both in the history of Zionism and the development of American Jewish women's culture. During World War I, the international headquarters of the Zionist movement temporarily relocated in New York. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Zionism's principal spokesman in the United States before World War II, settled in New York in 1907 and participated broadly in the city's Jewish life founding the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1922 to train liberal rabbis.

The most important Zionist movement in Palestine was Labor Zionism, which developed after 1903. Influenced by the Bolsheviks, the Labor movement led by David Ben-Gurion created a highly centralized Jewish economic infrastructure that enabled the Jewish population of Palestine (the Yishuv) to absorb waves of new immigrants and to confront successfully the growing Arab and British opposition during the period of the British Mandate (1920-48). Following independence in May 1948, Ben-Gurion's Labor Zionism would guide Israel through the first thirty years of statehood.

The advent of Zionism and the eventual establishment of the State of Israel posed anew a dilemma that has confronted Jews and Judaism since ancient times: how to reconcile the moral imperatives of the Jewish religion with the power politics and military force necessary to maintain a nation-state. The military and political exigencies of statehood frequently compromised Judaism's transcendent moral code. In the period before the Exile, abuses of state power set in rapidly after the conquests of Joshua, in the reign of Solomon, in both the northern and southern kingdoms, under the Hasmoneans, and under Herod the Great.

In the twentieth century, the Holocaust transformed Zionism from an ideal to an urgent necessity for which the Yishuv and world Jewry were willing to sacrifice much. From that time on, the bulk of world Jewry would view Jewish survival in terms of a Jewish state in Palestine, a goal finally achieved by the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. The Nazi annihilation of 6 million Jews, on whose behalf the West proved unwilling to intervene, and the hostility of Israel's Arab neighbors, some of which systematically evicted their Jewish communities, later combined to create a sense of siege among many Israelis. As a result, the modern State of Israel throughout its brief history has given security priority over the country's other needs and has considerably expanded over time its concept of its legitimate security needs. Thus, for reasons of security Israel has justified the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs, the limited rights granted its Arab citizens, and harsh raids against bordering Arab states that harbored Palestinian guerrillas who had repeatedly threatened Israel.



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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:38:35 ZULU