Homeland for the Jewish people

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Jews, largely Holocaust survivors, on their way from France to Mandatory Palestine, aboard the SS Exodus

A homeland for the Jewish people is an idea rooted in Jewish history, religion, and culture. The Jewish aspiration to return to Zion, generally associated with divine redemption, has suffused Jewish religious thought since the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian exile.[1]

History (1839–1916)

The book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896) by Theodor Herzl

The first wave of modern Jewish migration to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe.[2] Although the Zionist movement already existed in practice, Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism,[3] a movement that sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, thus offering a solution to the so-called Jewish question of the European states, in conformity with the goals and achievements of other national projects of the time.[4]

In 1896, Theodor Herzl set out his vision of a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people in his book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State).[5][6] The following year he presided over the First Zionist Congress in Basel, at which the Zionist Organization was founded.[7]

The draft of the objective of the modern Zionist movement submitted to the First Zionist Congress of the Zionist Organization in 1897 read: "Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law." One delegate sought to insert the phrase "by international law",[8] which was opposed by others. A compromise formula was adopted, which came to be known as the Basel Program, and read:

Zionism aims at establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.[9]

The Second Aliyah (1904–14) began after the Kishinev pogrom; some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine, although nearly half of them left eventually. Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews,[10] although the Second Aliyah included socialist groups who established the kibbutz movement.[11] Though the immigrants of the Second Aliyah largely sought to create communal agricultural settlements, the period saw the establishment of Tel Aviv as the first planned Jewish town in 1909. This period also saw the emergence of Jewish armed militias, the first being Bar-Giora, a guard founded in 1907. Two years later, the larger Hashomer organization was founded as its replacement.

The Sykes–Picot Agreement of 16 May 1916 set aside the region of Palestine for "international administration" under British control.[12] The first official use of the phrase "national home for the Jewish people" was in the Balfour Declaration.[13] The phrase "national home" was intentionally used instead of "state" because of opposition to the Zionist program within the British Cabinet. The initial draft of the declaration referred to the principle "that Palestine should be reconstituted as the National Home of the Jewish people."[14]

History (1917–1948)

External videos
video icon "Palestine Outburst Follows UN Vote", British Movietone News, December 8, 1947. [2]

With the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the United Kingdom became the first world power to endorse the establishment in Palestine of a "national home for the Jewish people."

In 1919 Harry Sacher wrote "A Jewish Palestine the Jewish case for a British trusteeship. In 1919 the general secretary (and future President) of the Zionist Organization, Nahum Sokolow, published a History of Zionism (1600–1918). In this book, he explained:

"... It has been said, and is still being obstinately repeated by anti-Zionists again and again, that Zionism aims at the creation of an independent "Jewish State". But this is wholly fallacious. The "Jewish State" was never part of the Zionist programme. The "Jewish State" was the title of Herzl's first pamphlet, which had the supreme merit of forcing people to think. This pamphlet was followed by the first Zionist Congress, which accepted the Basle programme—the only programme in existence."[15]

At the San Remo conference of 19–26 April 1920, the principal Allied and Associated Powers mandated the creation of a Jewish homeland.[16] Britain officially committed itself to the objective set out in the Balfour Declaration by insisting on its forming the basis of the Mandate for Palestine, which was formally approved by the League of Nations in June 1922. The preamble of the Mandate declared:

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country....[17]

A statement on "British Policy in Palestine," issued on 3 June 1922 by the Colonial Office, placed a restrictive construction upon the Balfour Declaration. The statement excluded "the disappearance or subordination of the Arabic population, language or customs in Palestine" or "the imposition of Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole", and made it clear that in the eyes of the mandatory Power, the Jewish National Home was to be founded in Palestine and not that Palestine as a whole was to be converted into a Jewish National Home. The Committee noted that the construction, which restricted considerably the scope of the National Home, was made prior to the confirmation of the Mandate by the Council of the League of Nations and was formally accepted at the time by the Executive of the Zionist Organization.[18] The Partition Resolution of the UN General Assembly died at birth when rejected by the Arabs. The UNGA has only the power to recommend.

On 29 September 1923, the British government became responsible for the administration of Mandatory Palestine. Along with its longstanding control of the Persian Gulf Residency and the Aden Protectorate, and its recently-acquired control of the Emirate of Transjordan and of Mandatory Iraq, the British now controlled all of the territories in the Middle East except the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon.

In 1942, the Biltmore Program was adopted as the platform of the Zionist Organization, with an explicit call "that Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth." In 1946, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, also known as the Grady-Morrison Committee, noted that the demand for a Jewish State went beyond the obligations of either the Balfour Declaration or the Mandate and had been expressly disowned by the Chairman of the Jewish Agency as recently as 1932.[19]

The period of the British Mandate was characterized by a great deal of political and social unrest among the Jews, the Palestinian Arabs, and the British (for example, the 1936–1939 Arab revolt, the 1944–1948 Jewish insurgency, and the 1947–1948 civil war in Mandatory Palestine).

The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was passed on 29 November 1947. The plan was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine but was rejected by the Arab Higher Committee and by most of the Arab population. The Arab League then adopted a series of resolutions endorsing a military solution to the conflict.

Founding of the State of Israel

The State of Israel was finally established on 14 May 1948 with the Israeli Declaration of Independence.[20] Legal dominion in the collective political rights to self-determination vested in the Jewish People, the trust beneficiary, partly in 1948 and partly in 1967.[clarification needed]

The concept of a national homeland for the Jewish people in the British Mandate of Palestine was enshrined in Israeli national policy and reflected in many of Israel's public and national institutions. The concept was expressed in the Israeli Declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948 and given concrete expression in the Law of Return, passed by the Knesset on 5 July 1950, which declared: "Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh."[21] This was extended in 1970 to include non-Jews with a Jewish grandparent, and their spouses. These declarations were widely condemned and considered racist by Palestinians.[citation needed]

While nowadays the concept of a Jewish homeland almost always means the State of Israel under some variation of its current borders, there have been many other proposals for a Jewish state over the course of Jewish history. While some of those have come into existence, others never came to be implemented.

Character of the State of Israel

There has been ongoing debate in Israel on the character of the state, regarding whether it should enshrine more Jewish culture, encourage Judaism in schools, and enshrine certain laws of Kashrut and Shabbat observance. This debate reflects a historical divide within Zionism and among the Jewish citizens of Israel, which has large secular and traditional/Orthodox minorities as well as a majority of people who lie somewhere in between.

Secular Zionism, the historically dominant stream, is rooted in a concept of the Jews as a people that have a right to self-determination. Another reason sometimes submitted for such establishment was to have a state where Jews would not be afraid of antisemitic attacks and live in peace. But such a reason is not a requirement of the self-determination right and so is subsidiary to it in secular Zionist thinking.

Religious Zionists, who believe that religious beliefs and traditional practices are central to Jewish peoplehood, counter that assimilating to be a secular "nation like any other" would be oxymoronic in nature, and harm more than help the Jewish people. They seek instead to establish what they see as an "authentic Jewish commonwealth" which preserves and encourages Jewish heritage.[citation needed] Drawing an analogy to diaspora Jews who assimilated into other cultures and abandoned Jewish culture, whether voluntary or otherwise, they argue that the creation of a secular state in Israel is tantamount to establishing a state where Jews assimilate en masse as a nation, and therefore anathema to what they view as Jewish national aspirations. Zionism is rooted in a concept of the Jews as a nation, in this capacity, they believe that Israel has a mandate to promote Judaism, to be the center of Jewish culture and center of its population, perhaps even the sole legitimate representative of Jews worldwide.[citation needed]

Partisans of the first view are predominantly, though by no means exclusively, secular or less traditional. Partisans of the second view are almost exclusively traditional or Orthodox, although they also include supporters who follow other streams of Judaism or are less traditional but conservative and would not object to a more prominent state role in promoting Jewish beliefs – although not to the point of creating a purely Halachic state.

The debate is therefore characterised by significant polarities. Secular and religious Zionists argue passionately about what a Jewish state should represent. Post-Zionists and Zionists argue about whether a Jewish state should exist at all. Because Israel was created within the sphere of international law as the instrument for Jewish self-determination, these polarities are captured by the questions such as, "should Israel maintain and strengthen its status as a state for the Jewish people, or become a state purely for "all of its citizens", or identify as both? And, if both, how to resolve any tensions that arise from their coexistence?. To date, Israel has steered a course between secularism and Jewish identity, usually depending on who controls the Israeli High Court of Justice.

On 19 November 2008, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni addressed the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Jerusalem. In her speech, she argued: "These two goals of Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state must coexist and not contradict each other. So, what does that mean, a Jewish state? It is not only a matter of the number of Jews who live in Israel. It is not just a matter of numbers but a matter of values. The Jewish state is a matter of values, but it is not just a matter of religion, it is also a matter of nationality. And a Jewish state is not a monopoly of rabbis. It is not. It is about the nature of the State of Israel. It is about Jewish tradition. It is about Jewish history, regardless of the question of what each and every Israeli citizen does in his own home on Saturdays and what he does on the Jewish holidays. We need to maintain the nature of the State of Israel, the character of the State of Israel, because this is the raison d'etre of the State of Israel."[22]

According to a 11 January 2019 article in Haaretz, Justice Esther Hayut, the President of the High Court of Justice, announced that eleven justices would be debating the "legality" of the July 2018 Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, also known as the Nation-state law, including its "historical stipulations".[Notes 1][23][24][25]


  1. ^ Israel's Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, was the advocate and architect of the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People which defines the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

See also


  1. ^ Berlin, Adele (2011). The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. Oxford University Press. p. 813. ISBN 978-0-19-973004-9.
  2. ^ Halpern, Ben (1998). Zionism and the creation of a new society. Reinharz, Jehuda. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 53–54. ISBN 978-0-585-18273-5. OCLC 44960036.
  3. ^ Kornberg 1993 "How did Theodor Herzl, an assimilated German nationalist in the 1880s, suddenly in the 1890s become the founder of Zionism?"
  4. ^ Herzl 1946, p. 11
  5. ^ Herzl, Theodor (1988) [1896]. "Biography, by Alex Bein". Der Judenstaat [The Jewish state]. transl. Sylvie d'Avigdor (republication ed.). New York: Courier Dover. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-486-25849-2. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
  6. ^ "Chapter One". The Jewish Agency for Israel1. 21 July 2005. Archived from the original on 10 December 2018. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  7. ^ The World Zionist Organization
  8. ^ Jubilee Publication (1947). The Jubilee of the first Zionist Congress, 1897–1947. Jerusalem: Executive of the Zionist Organization. pp. 108 pages, 2 leaves of plates. Published simultaneously in Hebrew, French, Spanish and Yiddish.
  9. ^ "Jewish Virtual Library: The First Zionist Congress and the Basel Program". Archived from the original on 6 December 2016. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  10. ^ Stein 2003, p. 88. "As with the First Aliyah, most Second Aliyah migrants were non-Zionist orthodox Jews ..."
  11. ^ Romano 2003, p. 30
  12. ^ "Sykes-Picot Agreement". Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  13. ^ Barzilay-Yegar, Dvorah (4 May 2017). A National Home for the Jewish People: The Concept in British Political Thinking and Policy Making 1917-1923. Vallentine Mitchell. ISBN 978-1-910383-32-2.
  14. ^ Stein, Leonard (1961). The Balfour Declaration. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 470.
  15. ^ Sokolow, Nahum (1919). History of Zionism (1600–1918). Vol. I. London: Longmans, Green, and Company. pp. xxiv–xxv.
  16. ^ Sovereignty over the old city of Jerusalem: a study of the historical, religious, political and legal aspects of the question of the old city: Gauthier, Jacques Paul – Genève : Institut universitaire de hautes études internationales, 2007. 1142 pp.
  17. ^ The Council of the League of Nations (2008). "The Palestine Mandate". The Avalon Project. New Haven, Connecticut: Lillian Goldman Law Library. Retrieved 24 October 2023.
  18. ^ See the report of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, UN Document A/364, 3 September 1947
  19. ^ See Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry – Chapter V, the Jewish Attitude, [1]
  20. ^ "The Declaration Scroll". Tel Aviv: Independence Hall of Israel. 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  21. ^ "Israel's Law of Return". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org.
  22. ^ "Address by FM Livni to the UJC GA". Archived from the original on 13 October 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2009.
  23. ^ Wootliff, Raoul. "Israel passes Jewish state law, enshrining 'national home of the Jewish people'". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  24. ^ Kershner, Isabel (19 July 2018). "Israel Passes Law Anchoring Itself as Nation-State of the Jewish People". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  25. ^ "The High Court of Justice Against the Israeli People". Haaretz. 11 January 2019. Retrieved 11 January 2019.

Works cited

Further reading

  • Shatz, Adam, "We Are Conquerors" (review of Tom Segev, A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion, Head of Zeus, 2019, 804 pp., ISBN 978 1 78954 462 6), London Review of Books, vol. 41, no. 20 (24 October 2019), pp. 37–38, 40–42. "Segev's biography... shows how central exclusionary nationalism, war and racism were to Ben-Gurion's vision of the Jewish homeland in Palestine, and how contemptuous he was not only of the Arabs but of Jewish life outside Zion. [Liberal Jews] may look at the state that Ben-Gurion built, and ask if the cost has been worth it." (p. 42 of Shatz's review.)

External links