The fundamental definition of Political Zionism may be reduced to the simple phrase, "Jewish Nationalism". This philosophy, born out of several movements of the late 19th century, including but not restricted to the German brand of "herrenvolkist" nationalism (as opposed to the American and French variants of universalist nationalism), of Jew hatred, coined by a German as "anti-Semitism", which regressed from a long standing religious intolerance towards Jews to one of "racial" intolerance, as well as various Utopian philosophies which developed at the same time striving to create the "ideal society".
It is formally accepted that this movement was begun in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, commonly called "The father of political Zionism", at his convening of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in August of that year. He had his theoretical antecedents, such as Moses Hess, who was Socialist, unlike himself a bourgeois member of Viennese café society. However it was not so much Herzl’s theories as his organizational ability, for which he is given credit as "the father."
This movement met with extreme criticism, predominantly from Jews of all spectrums of belief, who saw this movement as a threat not only to their status in the countries of which they were citizens, but also by others as a threat to their religious beliefs.
Herzl himself, was entirely assimilated, and had only the vaguest of notions of what Judaism was about. His disdain for the faith of his birth was exemplified by his Quixotesque quest to The Pope of Rome, declaring himself "king of the Jews", and writing to the Pope his notion for "solving the Jewish question" in Europe, by gathering all the Jews in Vatican Square and having them convert en masse to Catholicism. Another assimilated Jewish Englishman, Lord Edwin Montague, Viceroy of India, and the only member of the British cabinet at the time of the formation of the Balfour Declaration during the years 1916-17 found the ideas of Herzl, and his close followers, notably Chaim Weizmann and Max Nordau to be antinomial, not only to himself but to many other Jewish Englishmen and women. These Jewish nationalist ideas, and their acceptance by the ruling hierarchy in England, for their own reasons, prompted him to write the famous letter to his colleagues entitled, "On the Anti-Semitism of the Present Cabinet." Eighty-four years ago, he foresaw what has now come to pass:
"I do not know what this (The Balfour Declaration) involves, but I assume that it means
that Mohammedans and Christians are to make way for the Jews, and that Jews should
be put in all positions of preference and should be peculiarly associated with Palesine in
the same way that England is with the English, or France with the French, that Turks
and other Mohammedans in Palestine will be regarded as foreigners…." [ Alfred M. Lillienthal, THE ZIONIST CONNECTION; publ. Dodd-Mead 1978 p. 738]
Other Jews, of a more religious frame of mind ranging from Reform to Haredi Orthodox also opposed Political Zionism for their own reasons.
The founding rabbis of the Reform Movement in North America (The Union of American Hebrew Congregations ) in their 1885 Declaration of Principles (The Pittsburgh Conference) under the auspices of the rabbinical arm of that movement, The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), led my founder, Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, stated in part, with regard to a a physical return to Palestine that:
"5. We recognize, IN THE MODERN ERA OF UNIVERSAL CULTURE OF HEART AND
INTELLECT (caps mine for emphasis), the approaching of the realization of Israel’s great
Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all
In this sentence of the declaration, these men of principle, recognized what Herzl failed to during the trial of Alfred Dreyfus. Whereas that frame-up of a Jewish French officer by some Jew hating members of the French military hierarchy had led Herzl to despair of any acculturation of the masses of Jews in Europe into general society (even though he himself was a prime example of such acculturation) and thus claim that Jews were "un-assimilable" and thus permanent outsiders; what he failed to realize was that ultimately, in that case, universalism and truth and democratic ideals triumphed. Moreover, this was accomplished primarily through the tremendous efforts of a gentile, Emile Zola, the author of "J’accuse", and many French men and women who took the ideals of the French Revolution, a century earlier, in earnest. Herzl was simply too impatient for the societal acceptance of changes to catch up with the declaration of the principles for those changes. When, in that sentence, they speak of "Israel" they are speaking of "The People Israel"; namely those persons who claim spiritual descent from the ancient Hebrew patriarch Jacob. Moreover their entire notion is transcendent and not in any way worldly. In that one concise sentence, they allude to all of the universalist teachings contained in the books of Jeremiah and Micah, both representing the best in the universalist strain of Judaism.
On the other hand, the rabbis of the CCAR, having been brought up in one of the two ever competing streams of Judaism, universalism, as opposed to particularism, were optimistic, even in the face of prejudice towards Jewish immigrants to the new world, that with time and changing mores, acculturation was inevitable. They continued in principle 5 of that declaration,
"We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state."
Well, truth be told, the vast majority of the early Zionists, led by Weizmann outside of the Yeshuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) and by Ben-Gurion, in the Yeshuv, did not expect a return to sacrificial worship by the sons of Aaron or the restoration of any laws from the Biblical period either. Virtually all were non-believers, including the head of the Revisionist Zionists, Vladimir Jabotinsky. While all three of these men agreed with the precepts of Political Zionism as laid down by Herzl; namely that Jews were "un-assimilable" were "permanent outsiders" and thus needed "The Jewish State"; they differed in their beliefs in economic systems. Weizmann was middle class bourgeois, Ben-Gurion was a socialist from the Russian Jewish bund; and Jabotinsky flirted with Fascism. All of these gentlemen would have been stunned to find out that there exists today in Jerusalem, a Yeshiva dedicated to producing Temple Priests for the time when the al-Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock will be destroyed (either by the hand of God, or with a little help from his friends), the Temple rebuilt, and animal sacrifice reinstituted. As a matter of fact, there was considerable jubilation in some sectors a few years ago when an unblemished red heffer was born, and deemed as a propitious sign to these Temple Mount Faithful.
At the other end of the religious spectrum, Orthodoxy viewed political Zionism with equal disdain, based not on principles of assimilation and universalism but on the notion of "Moshiach", the coming of the Messiah. In their view, Jews were expelled from the Holy Land in biblical times, and the Temple destroyed because the Jews had not obeyed God’s laws as they had promised to do at Sinai ("we will do and we will listen"). Thus the giving of the land was conditional, and since Jews had fallen away from the 613 mitzvot,(good deeds) which they were enjoined to obey; they were expelled in the same way Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden. Only through fervent prayer and obeisance to The Law, would the Messiah come and re-establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, and then and only then, could the Jews return to "The Promised Land". Although in recent years, many religious Orthodox have fallen away from those premises, hundreds of thousands still hold to them. These people are members of both the Satmar Hasidim, as well as the Neturei Karta (the Guardians of the City), many of whom live in the Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem.
The religious Zionist fanatics, holding onto illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories (The West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem), are all followers to one extent or another of two rabbis – Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of the State of Israel (there are no chief rabbis in North America in non-Orthodox branches), and his son Zvi Yehuda Kook; who established a theology justifying the taking of the land before the messiah comes. Naturally, those Orthodox opposed to this notion, view such teachings as blatant heresy; and yet such fanatics as Rabbi Moshe Levinger, spiritual head of the Gush Emunim, are direct products of those teachings, and thus use religion to justify their actions.
Thus it may be seen that from the outset, Political Zionism was opposed by Jews who were completely secular, by Jews from the liberal branches of the religion, as well as from the Orthodox communities. Moreover, the vast majority of these people were either entirely or partially integrated into their communities and were fully invested in societies based on individual rights; i.e, Capitalist or Free Market societies in part or total, and made their livings as merchants, skilled craftsmen (diamonds, furs, clothing), professionals, entrepreneurs and industrialists. Some managed to elevate themselves to the highest rungs of society and became congressional representatives, ambassadors, attorneys-general, mayors and the like. For the most part, the Zionists who settled in Palestine, were socialists and believed in the Collective over the individual. Thus, Zionism early and proudly held up such communal groups as Kibbutzim and Moshavim as ideal ways of living. Even as late as the 50s, and 60s Jewish American parents were encouraged to send their kids for a summer, to Israel, to work on a kibbutz. It is certain that the vast majority were entirely unaware that non-Jews were excluded from these working institutions by Israeli law.
With all that being said, this author finds it personally interesting, that many of those who are now adamantly opposed to Political Zionism, especially in North America, and are Jews, identify themselves with the political and economic left. It is well known that this holds true in Israel. On an internet discussion group, I had briefly participated in recently, those who had joined were asked to write a brief introduction of themselves. The group was made up of Arab-Americans as well as Jewish-Americans (one an ethnic designation, the other a religious designation) Here were some of the typical responses (names have been omitted as has the group):
" Sisters, brothers, comrades…I am one of the founders of CDP..also the editor of Socialist Action…co-chair of the Socialist Caucus..(and) a substitute teacher."
" I’m a college dropout and I currently work at ( omitted ). One day Ill go back to school to become a social worker. They (whomever "they" are) insist on forcing me to take this PROPAGANDIST U.S. history survery coure before I can re-enter college!" (such nerve!)
"My name is J.F. I have been..a Jew for X years and a revolutionary socialist for thirty years"
Others insist on their own versions of political correctness,
"My name is D.W. I was born and raised in The United States of NORTH America";
" as a militant feminist I object to….."
Yet the most lavish self-description comes from Uri Davis, who as a public person, I will name. Mr. Davis is the author of several extremely well written and important works exposing the dark underside of Zionism in Israel. I myself have admired his writings and own all of his books. Thus, I fail to understand why he must circumnavigate just who he is.
"I am an anti-Zionist Palestinian Hebrew citizen of Israel". Uri, you left out your hair color.
But, what I found startling, for someone who considers himself also to be a citizen of the world, as well as of the U.K. is that "my TRIBAL AFFILIATION is Jewish".
Jews are NOT members of a tribe. Jews are members of a particular religion. Ten of the twelve biblical Hebrew tribes were "lost". In truth the northern tribes of the Kingdom of Israel assimilated into the conquering Assyrian culture. They were no more lost, than modern Jews who intermarry are "lost". They simply ceased to follow the northern version of the Hebrew religion based on the deity El and not Yahweh (whom as legend has it, and the Bible has it, King David cleverly combined into one deity. The Jewish prayer, known as the Sh’ma confirms this notion.). A remnant of these people may be found in current day Nablus; the highly interbred Samaritans. The two remaining tribes in the southern Kingdom of Judah (hence the name Jew), namely the tribes of Judah and the small tribe of Benjamin, became dispersed to Babylon, and from their to other parts of the world, where the original stock intermarried with native peoples. Even without taking the Khazars ;of the early middle ages into account, there is still no "Jewish Tribe".
But why should anti-Zionism be the sole province of the left of the political spectrum? The reasons that people such as those quoted above, for opposing Zionism are just and true. Do those who adhere to other economic systems thus agree with the Zionists? No. Many don’t, and hold the same objections to the philosophy as those on the left.
In an article in the April 2001 issue of the magazine, LIBERTY, a journal of The Libertarian Movement; Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad; president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, poses the question, in an essay entitled, "The Dark Side of Israel – why should Americans support a Socialist, Racist, Theocratic State?"
Mr. Ahmad states that "the laws and policies of Israel are blatantly contrary to the tenets of libertarianism – (1) the universality of individual rights, (2) a commitment to non-aggression, and (3) the right to hold private property"
He cites as the prime example of Israel as a racist state, The Law of Return. Those who are reading this are no doubt familiar with this law. What is interesting about the article is that it serves as a primer for those libertarians (and there are hundreds of thousands, if not several million in the United States who belong to The Libertarian Party, as does this author.) who have not paid that much attention to the middle east situation. He also cites the infamous "Present-Absentees" law, and informs the readers that "a non-Jewish Jerusalemite loses his residency if he acquires American citizenship. (Jews do not.)
He cites that the definition of a "Jew" in Israel is racial and not religious. Having grown up in Palestine-Israel, perhaps Uri Davis may be excused for having not shuffled off all of the indoctrination he had undergone in the Israeli school system.
"Israel binds itself less to actual religion than to ETHNICITY. Israel grants full citizenship, including property rights, subsidies, and individual rights to any person OF ANY NATIONALITY, SO LONG AS THAT PERSON IS OF JEWISH ETHNICITY." Thus in truth, Israel is cited not as a democracy but as an "ethnocracy", the term coined by Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University.
Mr. Ahmad then goes to touch upon Israel’s blatant militarism, the pretext of which has been from the beginning that it is a tiny nation in "a sea of Arabs"; yet if one is to compare size by military might, Israel winds up on a map being about the size of Brazil. The Arab countries combined are about the size of Italy, and the Palestinians would compare to The Principality of Monaco. No air-force, no navy, no army, no food, no water. There was a casino. It closed.
Yet where Mr. Ahmad provides most of his ammunition is in the area of private property rights, something of paramount interest to all libertarians. He points out how the Jewish National Fund has by covenantal arrangement caused most of the land to be owned not by individuals but as the corporate entity known as "The Jewish People", and then in perpetuity. Moreover, this land may not be sold, only leased, and then only to Jews. Jews who lease may not sublease to non-Jews. Not content with this arrangement, water, a prime commodity in the region is appropriated from Palestinian private lands. "Israelis raid the aquifer in the occupied territories to meet their needs." [ reference cited: Swain, A.. Arab Studies Quarterly v.20#1 (winter 1998), p.1]
Not only are the settlements illegal under international law, but the expropriation of privately owned lands, for "security reasons" and other pretexts are "violent, illegal and above all contrary to the fundamental concept of private property.
In conclusion, from a libertarian viewpoint, "The very foundation of
Israel’s present existence should be anathema to any libertarian who disagrees
that race should supersede all other factors when it comes to granting
or denying citizenship and basic rights, that history should be ignored
when justifying militarism, and that private property rights can be overruled
in favor of government-mandated collectivism."