Please note that the intention of this blog post is not to promote an opinion either way on Zionism, the intention here is merely to explain the meaning of the term.

Zionism is Israel’s national ideology. Zionists believe Judaism is a nationality as well as a religion, and that Jews deserve their own state in their ancestral homeland, Israel, in the same way the French people deserve France or the Chinese people should have China. It’s what brought Jews back to Israel in the first place, and also at the heart of what concerns Arabs and Palestinians about the Israeli state.

Jews often trace their nationhood back to the biblical kingdoms of David and Solomon, circa 950 BC. Modern Zionism, building on the longstanding Jewish yearning for a “return to Zion,” began in the 19th century — right about the time that nationalism started to rise in Europe. A secular Austrian-Jewish journalist, Theodor Herzl, was the first to turn rumblings of Jewish nationalism into an international movement around 1896.

Herzl witnessed brutal European anti-Semitism firsthand, and became convinced the Jewish people could never survive outside of a country of their own. He wrote essays and organized meetings that spurred mass Jewish emigration from Europe to what’s now Israel/Palestine. Before Herzl, about 20,000 Jews lived there; by the time Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, the number was about eight times that.

Though Zionists all agree that Israel should exist, they’ve long disagreed on what its government should look like. In the most general terms, the Zionist left, which dominated the country’s politics until the late 1970s, is inclined to trade Israeli-controlled land for peace with Arab nations, wants more government intervention in the economy, and prefers a secular government over a religious one. The Zionist right, which currently enjoys commanding positions in the Israeli government and popular opinion, tends to be more skeptical of “land-for-peace” deals, more libertarian on the economy, and more comfortable mixing religion and politics.

Arabs and Palestinians generally oppose Zionism, as the explicitly Jewish character of the Israeli state means that Jews have privileges that others don’t. For instance, any Jew anywhere in the world can become an Israeli citizen, a right not extended to any other class of person. Arabs, then, often see Zionism as a species of colonialism and racism aimed at appropriating Palestinian land and systematically disenfranchising the Palestinians that remain. Arab states actually pushed through a UN General Assembly resolution labeling Zionism “a form of racism and racial discrimination” in 1975, though it was repealed 16 years later.

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