Zionism from Its Inception to 1948

Derek Penslar

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Zionism from Its Inception to 1948


Zionism is a variety of Jewish nationalism. It claims that Jews constitute a nation whose survival, both physical and cultural, requires its return to the Jews’ ancestral home in the Land of Israel. Pre-1948 Zionism was more than a nationalist movement: it was a revolutionary project to remake the Jewish people. Zionism’s origins lay in a confluence of factors: physical persecution of East European Jewry, Jewish assimilation in the West, and a Hebrew cultural revival that rejected or transformed traditional Jewish religiosity. At the end of the 1800s, Zionism’s first adherents were concentrated in the Russian Pale of Settlement and Rumania, but under the dynamic leadership of Theodor Herzl, Zionism established itself as a global political movement. During World War I, Chaim Weizmann and the British government came to a meeting of minds about the desirability of a Jewish national home in Palestine. During the interwar period, Zionism’s fortunes waxed and waned. On the one hand, the Zionist movement claimed millions of supporters, and Palestine’s Jewish community, the Yishuv, grew from a handful of settlements and urban enclaves into a protostate. On the other hand, Arab opposition and British policy restricted Palestine’s capacity to absorb mass Jewish immigration, and in the diaspora many Jews opposed Zionism on religious or political grounds. Jewish support for Zionism became nearly universal during and after World War II, and Jewish volunteer fighters and financial contributions played a key role in Israel’s victory in the 1948 war. Zionist historiography was pioneered by activists and became a scholarly enterprise only in the 1960s. Until the 1990s the vast bulk of the literature was available only in Hebrew, but Israeli scholarship has become increasingly available in English translation, and the number of scholars in the English-speaking world who work on Israel has grown markedly. There is considerable overlap between scholarship on Israel’s origins, diaspora Jewish politics, the Zionist-Palestinian conflict, and the development of Palestinian politics and society. In the early 21st century, literature on the Yishuv has increasingly integrated Zionist and Palestinian history through what Zachary Lockman has called a relational paradigm.

Article.  11359 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »