Zionism

   Although the idea of Zionism, or the return of the Jews to their ancestral homeland in Palestine, had been proposed by such diverse 19th-century personalities as Moses Hess, Rabbi Hirsch Zvi Kalischer, and the leaders of Russian Zionism, it was Theodor Herzl, an assimilated Hungarian Jew, who became the effective founder of the Zionist movement. It was Herzl who founded the World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897. As a journalist based in Vienna, Herzl was sent to France to cover the trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army who was falsely accused of passing on military secrets to Germany. The atmosphere surrounding the trial shocked Herzl, who encountered a virulent form of anti-Semitism on the part of the anti-Dreyfusards. Herzl had already experienced the appeal of Jew-baiting in Vienna, where Karl Lueger had been elected mayor on an openly anti-Semitic platform, and he was also aware of the anti-Jewish policies of the czarist government in Russia. He did not, however, expect to find in democratic France the mobs that chanted “death to the Jews” because of their belief in Dreyfus’s guilt.
   It is not known exactly when Herzl took up the idea of a Jewish return to the ancestral homeland, but this solution to the endemic anti-Semitism that characterized much of Europe was promoted in a thin volume he titled The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat), a book he published in 1896. Herzl concluded that if in republican France antiSemitism could continue to attract large segments of the population, then the future of the Jews in Europe was indeed a bleak one. Only in their own homeland could Jews realize the security and equality that the anti-Semites were attempting to deny them in Europe. Although Herzl did not live to witness the fulfillment of his dream, one of his successors, Chaim Weizmann, was instrumental in convincing Great Britain to issue the Balfour Declaration in November 1917, which supported the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Despite the achievement, most Jews did not identify with Zionism. The bulk of Europe’s Jews tended to describe themselves as a religious fellowship and not a nation. In Germany, for example, Jews viewed themselves as Germans of the Mosaic religious persuasion. In fact, many Jews felt threatened by Zionism and the implication that Jews were a nation within a nation, thus making them susceptible to charges of dual loyalty.
   The Nazi seizure of power in 1933 and the subsequent persecution of the Jews in Germany reached its climax in the Holocaust. Tragically, the murder of six million Jews vindicated the Zionist assessment of the precarious nature of Jewish existence in Europe. As Jews throughout the world became aware of the Final Solution, many turned to the Yishuv as a refuge for the victims of Nazi persecution. The British White Paper of 1939, which restricted Jewish immigration into Palestine as the Germans systematically pursued their objective of annihilating the Jews of Europe, convinced many Jews to reevaluate Zionism. Jews the world over concluded that had there been a Jewish homeland, six million of their brethren would still be alive. On the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948, most Jews embraced the Zionist idea and supported the creation of the Jewish state.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

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