Zionism: A Movement Of The Elite & Intelligentsia

Published on July 02, 2010, 8:12 am
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Before the creation of a Jewish state, all Jews existed in Diaspora. Dispersed throughout the world, Jews adopted the corresponding language, culture, and traditions of their perspective countries, but preserved a common ethnic identity as a Jewish people.

Development of a culture in the Diaspora yields a different trajectory than a people within a given territory, as identity may undergo dilution. The Jews, however, although scattered in separated communities, maintained their religious practice and collective identity from the beginning of the Diaspora thousands of years ago and henceforth. The natural desire for a state, in conjunction with the rise of anti-Semitism, precipitated the founding of the Zionist movement which claimed the land between the Mediterranean and Jordan River in the Southern Levant as the rightful Jewish homeland. Garnering significant international support and funding, Zionism gained momentum, precipitating waves of Jewish emigration from all points of the world. Whether from Europe, Asia, or elsewhere, the Jews of Eretz Israel identified with one another as a common people with a common mission, subsequently forging a collective identity. Not all Jews supported the aims of Zionism however, and those who chose to immigrate to this new land distinguished themselves from the Diaspora by a specific nationalist trajectory.

As a movement founded and espoused by the Jewish intelligentsia, Zionism evolved from a quixotic notion to a persuasive ideology that accomplished its ultimate goal of creating a state. Under the direction of the intellectuals, Zionism provided a vehicle for the development of Jewish nationalism, heightening a national consciousness and advancing a national movement towards self-determination. The elite communicated the ideals, goals, and principles of Zionism in programs and proclamations, using rhetoric to mobilize the masses behind their cause. With international support and funding, Zionism developed concrete organizations aiding Jewish settlement, providing social services, and promoting Hebrew as the national language. Zionism became a structured, well-organized movement under the direction of competent leadership that created institutions to facilitate Jewish immigration and settlement. Further advancing the ideals of Zionism was the peril of anti-Semitism emanating from various parts of Europe; for, anti-Semitism provided Zionism the momentum to further its goal of establishing a Jewish state. Many Jews in Diaspora sought the creation of a state to create a sanctuary and form a unified front vis-à-vis anti-Semitism. Posing a pervasive threat to an ethnic group as a whole, anti-Semitism not only fueled immigration to Eretz Israel, but provided a focal point around which Jewish identity would coalesce. Jewish nationalism in Eretz Israel eventually culminated in a new identity: the Israeli Jew.

A natural aim inherent in nationalist movements is the founding of a nation-state. Since the Jewish people were relegated to existence in Diaspora, Zionism–a movement in the late nineteenth century–became the force directing and shaping the Jewish nationalist movement seeking to establish a Jewish homeland. Zionism proved not monolithic in nature, but had many different variants promoting and advancing settlement in Eretz Israel: political, socialist, revisionist, cultural, and religious strands. Theodor Herzl founded the movement in 1896. He propagated Zionism as an ideology seeking to achieve the political goals of sovereignty and self-determination, precipitating a national awakening among the Jews. Not all Jews became Zionists; to the contrary, anti-Zionist voices had a noteworthy following as many Jews chose not to immigrate and remain in Diaspora. Educated in law at the University of Vienna, Herzl, aside from his pursuits in journalism and literature, became a political activist working to ameliorate the lot of the Jewish people and extinguish the plight of anti-Semitism. He advanced and publicized his Zionist project at the Zionist Congress in Basel, the first in a series held in 1897, consequently heightening public awareness. In his publication Der Judenstaat, Herzl outlined the tenets of Zionism, encouraging Jews to seek their own state free from the pervasive persecution afflicting the Jewish people. Herzl proposed that those who wished to preserve their Jewish identity would immigrate to the designated homeland, while those who chose not to emigrate would allow their Jewish identity to be diluted and eventually extinguished against the dominant cultures in Diaspora. Similarly, David Ben-Gurion, head of the Executive Committee of the Zionist Yishuv, exhorted the importance of immigration not only to enable the creation of a Jewish state, but to preserve the Jewish identity. Leon Pinsker, a physician from Poland, printed a popular pamphlet in 1882 entitled Auto-Emancipation in which one section, Warning to His Fellow People from a Russian Jew, evaluated the ancient hatred of the Jewish people and directed Jews to seek their own independent state. Pinsker help found Hovevei Zion, one of the many Zionist organizations established in Eastern Europe to promote Jewish immigration and settlement in Eretz Israel. With financial backing, Hovevei Zion purchased land in Eretz Israel and aided in agricultural development, culminating in the establishment of the first Zionist settlements there. Such financial support was pivotal to the success of the Zionist movement, as funding arrived from philanthropists, charitable organizations in Eastern Europe, and wealthy individuals especially of the Diaspora Jewry. Edmond James de Rothschild, an ardent advocate of Zionism, was one such donor whose financial contributions also enabled the establishment and growth of many settlements in Eretz Israel. Rothschild was also a shareholder in the Jewish Colonization Association, an organization that focused on facilitating immigration, but also undertook ancillary ventures such as introducing forms of cultivation and draining swamps. Countless other foundations and organizations were created with the purpose of aiding the Zionist cause.

The Jewish immigrants settling in Eretz Israel hailed from an array of countries, and therefore spoke a variety of languages. Certain intellectuals recognized the need to establish a common language that would unite all Jews, and in effect, revived Hebrew as a spoken language. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was instrumental in revitalizing Hebrew and argued that in order for Hebrew to flourish, the nation must be awakened and returned to its original land. Hebrew schools were created in the settlements in a conscious, organized attempt to adopt Hebrew as the official language. The success of the endeavor, however, is attributed to the vigorous momentum of Jewish nationalism.

Zionism was spearheaded by educated European secular Jews, obscuring the delineation between the roles of nationality and religion in forming the Jewish identity. Anti-Semitism influenced many intellectuals to support the Zionist movement and subsequently play a role in its facilitation; anti-Semitism also fueled the necessary immigration upon which Zionism was reliant. The various publications and writings by Zionist intellectuals helped to rouse a national consciousness among the Jewish people. Some Zionists invoked the biblical reference citing Eretz Israel as the rightful Jewish homeland, furnishing an additional incentive and justification for settlement. Others forewarned that the creation of a homeland was vital to preserving the Jewish identity and the only defense against anti-Semitism. The organizations that took root in Eretz Israel under Turkish rule became more numerous and complex during the British Mandate, eventually becoming the institutions of the state of Israel. Zionism, as directed by the intellectuals, provided a vehicle for the development of Jewish nationalism, heightening a national consciousness and advancing a national movement towards self-determination.

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