Zionism as a political movement advocating the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine began in the 19th and early 20th centuries, led most famously by Theodor Herzl. But Zionism has a meaning and origin deeper in Jewish history as the homeland of the Jewish People.
Zionism begins with the Covenant, God’s promise to Abraham that he and his descendants would inherit a land called Canaan that was occupied by many tribes and clans, including Kenites, Kenizzites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Emorites, Girashites, Jebusites, and, later, Plishtim (Philistines) – a group of pirates called “sea people,” who roamed the eastern Mediterranean and became the rulers of what came to be known as Eretz Yisrael, and Palestine. The word pleshet means “invaders”.
Canaan/Eretz Yisrael was conquered by Joshua, but, for Jews, the struggle with its inhabitants continued for many years, until the reigns of King Saul and King David.
The word “Zion” first appears in II Samuel (5:7) and refers to a fortress in “the City of David,” and eventually, Jerusalem. Along with the Jewish People, King David “bought the threshing-floor (from Aravna the Jebusite) … and built there [on the Temple Mount] an altar to the Lord” (II Samuel, 24:24). This was the site of the first and second Holy Temple.
The proximity of the City of David to the Temple Mount is noted in Psalm 48 (which is recited every Monday in prayers): “Great is Hashem and much praised in the city of our God, Mount of his Holiness, fairest of all sites, joy of all the earth is Mount Zion, on the northern side of the great king’s city, in her palaces, God is known as the Stronghold.”
Historical destruction has not destroyed Zionism
Zion is embedded in our consciousness. Zionism did not end with the destruction of The Temple and the exile of Jews. It is the core of Judaism. Jews in the Diaspora remembered Zion and many returned, especially after the Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. The city of Safed became a flourishing spiritual center of Kabbalah – Jewish mysticism.
Although the right of the Jews to their homeland was recognized by the League of Nations and by the United Nations, Jewish immigration to Palestine was restricted and prevented by the British during the Mandate period, thus contributing to the Holocaust.
Even earlier, during Arab riots in the 1920s and 30s and their massacre of Jews in Hebron in 1929, the British did little or nothing to stop the attackers, protect the Jews, or arrest the perpetrators.
The term “Zionism” was coined by Nathan Birnbaum in 1890 and was adopted as the name for the movement to support establishing a Jewish state in the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel/Palestine). Even under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Jews flocked to Palestine, as it was known, and built “settlements” throughout the land.
Zion refers to the holiest place in the world for Jews, the innermost sanctum, the Holy of Holies in the Temple, which represents the connection between God and humanity.
In kabbalistic teaching, it refers to the spiritual source of “reality,” the presence of God in the universe. “Zion” is referred to 152 times throughout the Bible as “Jerusalem, the Holy City.”
Zionism and Zionist principles and ethics are the foundation of the State of Israel. Zionism is, therefore, more than a political and social construct. It is, first and foremost, an idea in the “Mind of God.”
Those who accuse Zionism of racism, therefore, are saying that God is a racist. Those who deny Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel are denying God’s sovereignty. Those who assert that a Jewish state in Eretz Israel – designated by God as the homeland of the Jewish People – has no right to exist and those who deny the right of Jews to their homeland are denying God’s Will.
The roots of Zionism are well known; they should not be taken for granted or ignored.
The writer is a PhD historian.