Zionism, a movement for the restoration of a Jewish national state in Palestine, land of Zion. After the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, Zionism became largely a movement to obtain aid for Israel's development.
Zionist groups throughout the world send delegates to the World Zionist Organization, which holds periodic congresses to set policy. The Jewish Agency, the WZO's executive arm, works closely with the Israeli government. The American Zionist Federation coordinates activities of various Zionist groups and unaffiliated persons in the United States.
Some Zionists would like to see all Jews settle in Israel. Most Zionists believe that the majority of Jews will continue to live outside Israel but should support Israel, help homeless Jews settle there, and look to Israel as an important source of cultural and religious inspiration. Some Jews are either indifferent to or opposed to Zionism, and some support Israel without belonging to Zionist organizations.
For centuries the Jews were scattered throughout the world. Yet always they kept alive their hope for a savior, or Messiah, who would restore them to Palestine and reestablish the Jewish state. This hope was largely a religious aspiration until it took on political form late in the 19th century. In 1896 Theodor Herzl published a pamphlet, The Jewish State , proposing that the scattered Jews should be gathered into one land where they could establish their own state and be free of anti-Semitism. Under his leadership the first Zionist congress met in 1897, in Basel, Switzerland, and set up the World Zionist Organization.
At first, the ancient hope seemed an impossible ideal. Palestine was under Turkish control and was inhabited mainly by Arabs. Some Zionists considered other territories, especially Uganda in East Africa. The 1905 Zionist congress, however, decided that Palestine must be the Jewish homeland. In 1917, during World War I, Dr. Chaim Weizmann led in persuading the British government to issue a statement, the Balfour Declaration, supporting creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration was confirmed by the great powers, including the United States. Zionist hopes soared.
After the war Palestine became a British mandated territory and thousands of Jews poured in. David Ben-Gurion became chairman of the influential Jewish Agency. Increases in the Jewish population led to much strife between Arabs and Jews. The fate of Jewish refugees, especially in Europe during World War II, increased Zionist activity. When the British government gave up its mandate in 1948, Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel in accordance with the United Nations Partition Resolution of 1947. He became prime minister and Weizmann president of the new state.
Zionism gradually took on a new meaning after the Jewish state was established. Although many Jews from all over the world soon moved to Israel, many others did not. Zionists, especially in the United States and Canada, continued to help Jews migrate to Israel and also gave money to support Israel's economic and cultural development. However, antagonism developed between Israelis insisting that Jews move to Israel and Zionist leaders living outside.