Zionism is an international movement that supports the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel (known as Palestine) and continues primarily to support the modern state of Israel. The term “Zionism” is derived from the word Zion, referring to Mount Zion, a small mountain near Jerusalem. Zionism arose in the late 19th century in Europe as a national revival movement in reaction to anti-Semitism and exclusionary nationalist movements in European countries such as France, Germany, and Russia.
One of the principal founders of Zionist political thought was Leon Pinsker, a Russian political activist, and physician. In the 1882 book, Auto-Emancipation, Pinsker held that not an emancipation granted by others, but a territorial concentration of Jewish people could solve the problems facing the Jewish people within Europe. “A land of our own whether it be on the banks of the Jordan or the Mississippi” was an ideal solution according to Pinsker. Another contributor to Zionist political thought was Theodor Herzl, an Austrian-Hungarian political activist, and playwright. Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”) in 1896 and founded the World Zionist Organization at the first Zionist Congress in 1897. The initial goal of the Zionist movement was to establish a sovereign Jewish-dominated state in the region known as Palestine.
The ruling power of Palestinian territory area at the turn of the century was the Ottoman Empire, followed by Great Britain after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1920. Lobbying by Chaim Weizmann and others culminated in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 by the British government. This declaration endorsed the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In 1922, the League of Nations approved the notion of a Jewish State in the region. Despite the support by the League of Nations, the Palestinian people resisted Zionist migration to their long-held territory. In the Palestinian Territory during this period, there were numerous revolts against Zionist immigration, the most notable of which being the 1936-39 Arab Revolt, which resulted in the deaths of some 20,000 innocent Palestinian civilians, the decimation of the Palestinian Christian community and was a serious setback for the Palestinian nationalist movement.
After World War II and the Holocaust, support for Zionism increased exponentially in the Western world. The Zionist movement eventually succeeded in establishing the state of Israel in 1948, as the world’s first and only Jewish nation. Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, Zionism continues to advocate on behalf of Israel and to address threats to Israeli national security. Some supporters of Zionism including current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feel that Israel has the right to gain control over the entire western part of the Middle East and eliminate any threats to the Jewish people at both the regional and global level. Additionally, Zionist political organizations have formed alliances with political groups in both the US and countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and have recently sought to increase their influence in world affairs.
Despite the success of Zionism in establishing a Jewish state, there has emerged a movement in direct opposition to Zionism and the human rights abuses committed by Israel. Opponents of Zionism view the ideology as neo-colonialist, racist, and advocating the genocide and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people. At the international level, countries such as Iran are the primary opponents of Zionism and support resistance efforts to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The opposition to Zionism within Iran stems from two factors. The first reason is that the Israeli government actively supported the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and both, directly and indirectly, encouraged the human rights abuses he committed against the Iranian people between 1953 and 1978. Additionally, the Iranian people have a shared kinship with the Palestinian people despite linguistic, religious, and cultural differences. The reason why the Iranians and the Palestinians share such a bond is that both have experienced oppression at the hands of foreign imperialist powers. Other countries critical of the notion of Zionism and supportive of efforts meant to raise attention to the human rights abuses that stem from the application of its most important principles include Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
The anti-Zionist movement is primarily led by Christians and Muslims from both the Middle East and Western nations. In particular, the Catholic Church and Palestinian Christian organizations in both the Middle East and the US are persistent critics of Zionism and the current policies of the Israeli government. Opposition to Zionism is also common in some sects of Judaism. Neturei Karta, a sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism led by Yisroel Dovid Weiss is also opposed to Zionism and argues that Jews should peacefully protest the existence of Israel as a nation and raise attention to the human rights abuses committed against the Palestinian people.