The word “Zionism” can have either a positive or a negative connotation attached to it depending on who you are asking for a definition. When hard-pressed, most people, from either side of the spectrum have a difficult time clearly defining the word, yet it doesn’t stop them from using it. On one hand, the proponents of Zionism will define it using phrases such as “Right to the Land”, “Law of Return”, “Re-establishment of a Jewish homeland”, “Revival movement” or even “Repatriation to the ancestral homeland.” On the other hand, its foes will not hesitate to equate Zionism with “Colonization”, “Apartheid”, “Ethnic cleansing”, “Racism”, “Imperialism”, “Occupation” and “Human rights violations.”
There are many definitions of Zionism. A succinct and clear one goes like this ” Zionism is the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.” ‘
Anti-Zionists will often accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing or genocide is the intentional organized mass murder to eradicate a people group. The Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust both qualify as ethnic cleansings. In 1947 there were about 1.2 MM Arabs in British Mandate Palestine. Today, there are about 6 MM Arabs in the whole land, including 1.8 MM in Israel alone. There are more Arabs in Israel today than before 1947. This is the opposite of ethnic cleansing. Incidentally, there are still less Jewish people in 2019 than there were prior to the Holocaust. Zionism IS NOT ethnic cleansing!
Anti-Zionists will also accuse Israel of being an Apartheid State. Apartheid was South Africa’s way of keeping blacks and whites separated, and as such, it forbade blacks to eat in white restaurants or cafes, attend white schools or universities, be treated in white hospitals, live in white neighborhoods and serve in the white government. Israeli Arabs are full citizens who do not experience any of the restrictions that were known to South Africa, they even serve in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament.). The only difference is with citizens of Gaza and the West Bank, but THEY do not want to be Israeli citizens. Zionism IS NOT Apartheid!
Historically, we must go back to the Haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment that started in the late 1700s. The Jewish Maskilim “Enlightened Ones” led an intellectual movement promoting liberalism and freedom of thought. The hope was the emancipation of European Jews and equality in the various countries where they lived. It failed! The 1880s saw the beginning of the Russian Pogroms (government-sponsored riots) against Eastern European Jews. Various Aliyot or waves of immigration started to take place from Europe to the Land that was then still called Palestine.
But anti-Semitism didn’t stop at Eastern Europe. In 1894, French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason, stripped of his rank, imprisoned on Devil’s Island, and eventually vindicated. The Austrian journalist, Theodor Herzl covered the trial in Paris and became rapidly convinced that Dreyfus had been framed and that Jews had no future in Europe. Two years later he published “Der Judenstaadt.” In 1897, at the 1st Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, Herzl declared “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State…Perhaps in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.” Incidentally, 1897 plus 50 takes us to 1947 which is when the United Nations voted for the partition of British Mandate Palestine, leading to the 1948 birth of modern Israel.
The fascinating birth and growth of Zionism couldn’t have happened without contributions by key figures such as Eliezer Ben Yehuda who singlehandedly developed modern Hebrew from the liturgical tongue of the Scriptures. Chaim Weizmann was also instrumental in helping WW1 efforts and became close to British officials which led to the pivotal moment in Jewish history, the 1917 Balfour Declaration, telling the world that Jews had a right to their ancestral homeland. It was followed in 1920 by the San Remo Conference where 53 out of 61 countries of the League of Nations gave the rights to “Palestine” to the Jews and established an international legal precedent. Before long, the modern State of Israel was born on May 14, 1948, and since that day, it has been at war with its neighbors.
Is Zionism biblical or is it a valid thorn in the flesh of Palestinians who lived in and owned the land way before the Jewish people? Not everybody will use the Bible to validate Zionism, but since one of the main themes of God’s word is Israel, it sheds some light for us, as we can see in the Torah:
• The land belongs to God first and foremost: Leviticus 25:23
• God made a covenant with Abraham promising a land, a seed and a blessing: Genesis 12:1-3
• The land has specific boundaries: Genesis 15:18-21
• God’s covenant was reconfirmed through Isaac, Jacob and his 12 sons: Genesis 26:2-4, 28:13, 50:24
• God cares about the land and will bless/discipline Israel for obedience/disobedience: Deuteronomy 11:8-17
• The land is promised based on God’s character and not Israel’s performance: Deuteronomy 7:7-9
• God told Israel to conquer the land: Deuteronomy 9:3
• Israel’s exact boundaries are controlled by God: Deuteronomy 2:3-5, 16:19
• The Babylonian captivity didn’t annul the oath made by God:
Additionally, the Prophets tell us of the glorious future of Israel:
• Israel will never be destroyed because of God’s promise of eternal protection: Jeremiah 31:35-37
• God promised Israel a New Covenant when He will remember their sins no more: Jeremiah 31:31-34
• Israel’s glorious future includes a final restoration to the land:
• Israel’s glorious future is secure because of God’s character: Ezekiel 36:22-28
From the biblical record, it can easily be argued that God Himself was the first Zionist, but He also doesn’t want for anybody to perish, and He certainly has the same love and compassion for Jews and Arabs, and so should we. Being a Zionist doesn’t mean that one is a racist or a colonizer. Not historically, and certainly not biblically. Being a Zionist doesn’t mean that one is anti-Palestinian but sadly, the opposite is seldom true!