Zionism, the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, advocated, from its inception, tangible as well as spiritual aims. Jews of all persuasions, left and right, religious and secular, joined to form the Zionist movement and worked together towards these goals. Disagreements led to rifts, but ultimately, the common goal of a Jewish state in its ancient homeland was attained.
Political Zionism stressed the importance of political action and deemed the attainment of political rights in Palestine a prerequisite for the fulfillment of the Zionist enterprise. Political Zionism is linked to the name of Theodor Herzl, who considered the Jewish problem a political one that should be solved by overt action in the international arena. His aim was to obtain a charter, recognized by the world leadership, granting the Jews sovereignty in a Jewish-owned territory. The Basle Program, drawn up in accordance with these principles, states that Zionism aims to establish "a secure haven, under public law, for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel." Organizational and economic mechanisms (the Zionist Organization [ZO], the Jewish National Fund [Keren Kayemet L’Israel], the Jewish Colonial Trust and so on) were established to carry out this program.
"Synthetic Zionism", with its guidelines – political realism, flexibility and the quest for a common denominator among the partners in the Zionist idea – dominated the Zionist movement from the Tenth Congress (1911) onward.
Socialist Zionism strove to achieve Jewish national and social redemption by fusing Zionism with Socialism. Its founder was Nachman Syrkin, who promulgated this view shortly before the third Zionist Congress (1899).
Disagreements about the conceptual and philosophical foundations of Socialist Zionism, the methods to use in achieving it in Palestine and relations with Socialist organizations and parties in other countries, led to the formation of many and sundry Socialist Zionist parties. Some of these entities eschewed Marxist terminology and refrained from explicitly terming themselves Socialist. Others, considering themselves more Socialist and less Zionist, forswore membership in the Zionist Organization at various times.
The Socialist Zionist idea gave rise to many pioneering youth movements, such as Hashomer Hatz’air and Hehalutz. The leaders of Socialist Zionist parties were among the most prominent in the pre-independence Palestine community and the State of Israel; David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Berl Katznelson are but three examples. Socialist Zionism is the progenitor of most of Israel’s settlement movements and the Israel Labor Party, one of Israel’s two main political parties.
The declared goals of Revisionist ideology included relentless pressure on Great Britain, including petitions and mass demonstrations, for Jewish statehood on both banks of the Jordan River; a Jewish majority in Palestine; a vigorous policy toward Britain; re-establishment of the Jewish regiments; and military training for youth.
The Revisionists waged a heated debate in the Zionist Organization concerning the immediate and public stipulation of the final aim of Zionism. When their approach was rejected, they seceded from the ZO (1935) and established the New Zionist Organization. They returned to the ZO in 1946, explaining that this became possible after the Biltmore Program had proclaimed the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine as the goal of Zionism.
The National Military Organization (Etzel) and some members of the Jewish Freedom Fighters (Lehi) came from the ranks of the Revisionists. After the State of Israel was established, the Revisionist Zionist Organization merged with the Etzel-founded Herut movement to form the Herut party, a component of the Likud, one of Israel’s two main political parties.
Religious Zionism has pledged much of its efforts and resources to constructing a national-religious education system. Hapoel Hamizrahi branched away from the main movement (1922) to focus on Orthodox rural settlement in Palestine under the slogan "Torah va-‘Avoda" (Torah and Labor). In 1956, the two movements, Mizrahi and Hapoel Hamizrahi, united under the umbrella of the National Religious Party, active in Israeli politics today.
General Zionism was initially the term used for the beliefs of all members of the Zionist Organization who had not joined a specific faction or party – belonging to their countrywide Zionist organizations only. Over the years, the General Zionists, too, created ideological institutions and joined the Organization of General Zionists, established in 1922 as a centrist party in the ZO. The precepts of the General Zionists included Basle-style Zionism free of ideological embellishments and the primacy of Zionism over any class, party, or personal interest. This party, in its many metamorphoses, championed causes such as the encouragement of private initiative and protection of middle-class rights. In 1931, the General Zionists split into Factions A and B as a result of disagreements over issues of concern in Palestine: social affairs, economic matters, the attitude toward the General Federation of Jewish Labor (the Histadrut), etc. In 1945, the factions reunited.
Most of Israel’s Liberal movements and parties were formed under the inspiration of the General Zionists and reflect mergers in and secessions from this movement.
In contrast to the views of Herzl and Political Zionism, in which Jewish statehood was advocated as a solution to the question of the Jews, Ahad Ha’am saw the crux of the problem in the question of Judaism, which, he believed, had lost its spiritual assets – its sources of creative and national might.
Because Ahad Ha’am did not believe that Palestine could accommodate all of Jewry, a Jewish state there, in his estimation, would not solve the problem of the Jews’ social and economic status. Efforts should concentrate on establishing a national spiritual center, a hub of high-quality life in Palestine, that would radiate to all Diaspora communities.
The correct course of action, Ahad Ha’am argued, is extensive and continuing educational activity among Jews and moderate settlement activity in Palestine.
Non-Zionist parties which proposed solutions to the Jewish problem outside the Land of Israel included:
Jewish Autonomism, a non-Zionist ideology first enunciated in the early twentieth century by Simon Dubnow, crystallized in Eastern Europe. It believed in the future viability of Jewish life in the Diaspora as long as Jewry continues to maintain self-rule in community organizations; to sustain its educational and mutual-assistance institutions; and to develop its "spiritual nationhood."
The Autonomism ideology served as a conceptual foundation for the People’s Party (Volkspartei) that operated mainly in Poland and Lithuania, and it appeared in various versions in the platforms of Socialist Jewish parties such as the Bund and the Sejmists. Some of the Zionist parties favored Jewish self-rule in the Diaspora as long as the Diaspora existed, but did not consider it a solution to the problem of the Jewish people.
The Holocaust put an end to the foundation of autonomism; today it has no practical impact on Jewish life and philosophy.
Territorialism preached the formation of a Jewish collective in Palestine, or anywhere else, on the basis of self-rule. The territorialist outlook coalesced in the debate over the Uganda Program. In July 1905, after the Zionist Congress rejected this plan, the Territorialist Jewish Organization was established in Basle under the leadership of the writer Israel Zangwill. It attempted to locate territory suitable for Jewish settlement in various parts of Africa, Asia, and Australia, but with little success. The Balfour Declaration and the resulting Zionist awakening negated the movement and led to its dissolution in 1925.
Other territorialist attempts, meant as counterweights to Zionism, were undertaken in the Soviet Union between the two world wars. The first was in the southern Ukraine and the northern Crimea, where four non-contiguous "national districts" (raiony) were established in the early 1920s and obliterated when the Nazis invaded. The second was in Birobidjan, where a "Jewish Autonomous Region" was proclaimed in 1934. This venture also failed, leaving a small Jewish minority in the region. In 1935, in response to the Nazi accession to power in Germany, I. L. Steinberg established the Freeland League in the United States. This organization attempted, unsuccessfully, to pursue Jewish autonomy by obtaining a large piece of territory in sparsely populated areas in Ecuador, Australia, or Surinam.
None of the territorialist movements are today viable.