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The Term
Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. It is a political movement that supports the right of the Jewish people to national sovereignty in its ancestral homeland, Israel. The word is derived from the traditional name for Jerusalem, Zion. The yearning to return to Zion exists throughout traditional Jewish texts and daily prayer. Modern Zionism, however, is a product of 19th century nationalism. The actual term ‘Zionism’ was coined by Austrian Jewish thinker Nathan Birnbaum in 1890.

The Impetus
The mid to late 19th century saw a rise in two problems: increased anti-Semitism and growing assimilation. This was compounded by worsening living conditions for many Jewish populations, especially in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe. These circumstances compelled Jewish leaders to seek an answer to “the Jewish problem.” The rise of national movements at that time was, in all likelihood, what led many Jewish thinkers to think about a return to Zion, the land of Israel, as a solution to the Jewish problem. Zionism was not the only solution offered; however, over time, Zionism prevailed.

The Visionary
As a young journalist posted in Paris, Theodor Herzl covered the treason 1894 trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army. So deeply affected by the virulent anti-semitism released by the event, the experience changed Herzl’s life forever. He was not the first person to write about Zionism or speak of a return to Zion, but Theodor Herzl is credited as the father of Zionism because he conceived and organized the political movement that successfully brought about the establishment of the State of Israel. In 1896 Herzl published a monograph Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). In 1897 he organized the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, which adopted a political program calling the establishment of “…a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine,” for the Jewish people.

The Movement
There has never been a single Zionist ideology, but there are common denominators which cross ideological trends in Zionism. All Zionists concur that the land of Israel is the national homeland of the Jews and, as such, must be the focal point for the Jewish national self-determination. Israel is understood by Zionists to be central to the Jewish people and to Jewish identity. Jews have had a continuous presence in Eretz Yisrael, and their deep historical ties and religious traditions undeniably link the Jewish people to the Land,
Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the Zionist Movement has focused most of its energies on building the State, securing its future, attracting and integrating new immigrants (olim) and engaging Jews world-wide in the Zionist experiment. Zionist efforts today are also directed toward making Israel a model society, in Hebrew an or l’goyim, a “light unto the nations,” much as Herzl first envisioned his State of the Jews.