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Political Zionism  - Definition

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Political Zionism - The approach to Zionism favored by Theodor Herzl, which aimed at securing a charter for a Jewish national home from a great power. The Jewish national home would be guaranteed in accordance with international law (German: "Volkerrechtig"). This was the avowed aim of the Zionist movement founded by Herzl as expressed in the resolution of the first Zionist Congress at Basle in 1897 (See Program of the First Zionist Congress) . Herzl believed was that he could leverage on the fact that the Ottoman Empire was on the brink of bankruptcy, and trade a national home in Palestine for loans to the Turks. What he found was that the Sultan was unwilling to give Palestine to the Jews, though he was quite willing to accept money, and that Jewish financiers were unwilling to invest in the Ottoman Empire, with good reason.

Herzl's approach was ridiculed by Achad Haam, who pointed out that the Jews were not a political force, had no chance at all of getting such a declaration from any country, and had no massive presence in Palestine that could provide a basis for their claims.  He wrote a trenchant criticism of Herzl and the "Volkerrechtig" national home: Jewish State, Jewish Problem, which convincingly "proved" that the idea was impossible to implement.

Events seemed to prove Achad Ha'am right. Herzl tried in vain to obtain such a charter from the Turkish Sultan and the German Kaiser, as well as the British. Herzl died in 1904, without realizing his dream.

However, in 1917, thanks to the efforts of Chaim Weizmann, the political charter was indeed obtained, in the form of the Balfour Declaration. Political Zionism was contrasted with Practical Zionism and Cultural Zionism. Practical Zionism posited that the land could only belong to the Jews if Jews settled in it. It grew out of the efforts of early settlers such as the BILU who had preceded Herzl and the Zionist congress, as well as the later efforts of Arthur Ruppin, and represented their interests and point of view. Practical Zionism - settlement - was in fact furthered by the "political Zionist" movement that Herzl had founded The Cultural Zionism of Achad Haam posited that it was necessary to first induce a cultural revival in the Jewish people, so that they would become conscious of their natural heritage and be ready to support Zionism. Events proved that each approach was correct and pointed out a necessary factor, without which there could be no Jewish state. 

"Political Zionism" should also be understood in a larger sense. It represents the real contribution of Theodor Herzl. Prior Zionist efforts had been scattered, unfocused and disorganized. Because he thought in political terms, Herzl understood that the movement had no chance of success if it did not become a recognized and unified international political source. Though anti-Semites imagined that there was an international Jewish conspiracy, prior to the Zionist congress there was no international body that represented Jews. Before the late 19th century, there could not have been such a body, because Jews had no political rights in Europe in earlier periods, and because of the immense difficulties of transportation and communication.

Ami Isseroff

October 6, 2008


Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:   Zionism<


Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.


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This work and individual entries are copyright 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

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