Zionists will forever debate when their undertaking began. There are Zionists who fervently argue their first member was Abraham. When God told Abraham, “Go forth from your land to the land I will tell you…” and Abraham arrived in a land to be named “Eretz Yisrael,” he became the first Zionist. More contemporary thinking Zionists will claim Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, was the first Zionist and started the drive of the Jewish people to return to their homeland. There’s no end to the debate, but there’s also no question the Zionist movement is built upon millennia of history, personalities, and ideas.
Zionism is often called a modern movement. When describing Theodore Herzl’s efforts to establish a Jewish state in the land of then called Palestine, it’s accurate to call his efforts the start of a modern political movement others coined, “Zionism.” Many argue that Zionism isn’t just a 150-year-old movement, but rather an ideology. The idea of the Jewish people establishing their own authority in the land of Israel is much older than a century and a half. Arguably Moses and Joshua who led the Jewish people back to Israel after their enslavement in Egypt could be seen as the first Jewish leaders to inspire the Jewish people to return to Eretz Yisrael to govern their own nation.
Theodore Herzl’s modern Zionist political movement was founded based on an ideology that was thousands of years old and multifaceted. The ideology started with the belief that God had promised the Jewish people the land of Canaan to become their land of Israel. It evolved to believe the Jewish people had a national right to self-determination as their own nation. That self-determination was considered a necessity to ensure the security of Jews around the world facing Gentile and Arab antisemitism. Zionism also maintained the Jewish people deserve to enjoy self-determination on their historic homeland – the land of Israel.
Zionism didn’t only discuss the Jewish people on their own land. Dovetailing with traditional Jewish values, Zionism understood that the Jewish people were to be a light on to the nations, modeling exemplary behavior for the global community. Zionism aimed to create a State for the Jewish people whose values, scientific, technological and medical advancement would help the world. The values of the Zionist ideology are what fueled the Zionist movement.
If Zionism was “just” a movement, the opposition to Zionism from within the Jewish community would be more understandable. A movement without an ideology is a dangerous headless monster. It can distract and pull Jews away from traditional Judaism – however you define traditional Zionism. Without an ideology Zionism could be seen as a movement that comes to replace Judaism’s age old values with nothing more than political machinations. Politics for political sake is not a Jewish value. To gain acceptance, Zionism needed to be based on an ideology.
While many Jews – from all walks and sects of Judaism – play ostrich and refuse to look into Zionism’s ideology, preferring to assume its values instead of learning them, others take a critical look at Zionism and see its consistency with traditional Jewish ideology. It’s easy to point to individual Zionists and policies of Israel and demonstrate their inconsistency with Judaism’s tenets, those discrepancies aren’t representative of Zionism’s ideology. The ideology of Zionism that stands for a return of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael, ensuring the security of the Jewish people and modeling behavior for the rest of the world, is the exact ideology of traditional Zionism.
Many argue that after the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, Zionism has outlived its purpose. This viewpoint sees Zionism solely as a movement that aimed to create a Jewish State and once their goal was achieved what purpose could the movement have going forward? As an ideology, Zionism extends past a movement and lives eternally. The State of Israel is the vehicle to manifest Zionist values into the coming decades and centuries. As the State of Israel grows in so many ways, it is able to display its values for the benefit of the world and humankind.