Palestine: Part 2 – Zionism
Established in 1897 amidst the Dreyfus Affair, the World Zionist Organization’s first Congress defined Zionism as the seeking of establishment of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law. This would be attained through the promotion by appropriate means of the settlement in Palestine of Jewish farmers, artisans, and manufacturers; the organization and uniting of Jews by means of appropriate institutions, both local and international, in accordance with the laws of each country; the strengthening and fostering of Jewish national sentiment and national consciousness; and the taking of preparatory steps toward obtaining the consent of governments, where necessary, in order to reach the goals of Zionism. “Under public law” was generally understood to mean seeking legal permission from the Ottoman rulers of Palestine for Jewish migration. In this text the word “home” was substituted for “state” and “public law” for “international law” so as not to alarm the Ottoman Sultan.
The World Zionist Organization’s initial strategy was to obtain permission to allow systematic Jewish settlement in Palestine. Eventually, they pursued a strategy of building a homeland through persistent small-scale immigration and the founding of such bodies as the Jewish National Fund (founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine) and the Anglo-Palestine Bank (founded in 1902 to promote the industry, construction, agriculture, and infrastructure of the land hoped to ultimately become Errata Yisrael or The Promised Land).
In 1903, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain suggested the British Uganda Program. This called for appropriation of land for a Jewish state in “Uganda” (in today’s Uasin Gishu District, Eldoret, Kenya). Zionists established a committee to investigate the possibility, but it was dismissed in the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905. After that, Palestine became the sole focus of Zionist aspirations.
The U.S. and Great Britain
The Jewish population of the USA increased about ten times between 1880 and 1920, with the immigration of poorer, more liberal and radical, “downtown”, Eastern European immigrants fleeing persecution. It was not until 1912, when the secular “people’s lawyer” Louis Brandeis became involved in Zionism, just before the First World War, that Zionism gained significant support. By 1917, the American Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs, which Brandeis chaired had increased American Zionist membership ten times to 200,000 members making American Jews the financial center of global Zionism.
As in the US, England had experienced a rapid growth in their Jewish minority. About 150,000 Jews migrated there from Russia between 1881 and 1914. With this immigration influx, pressure grew from British voters to halt it. When added to the knowledge in British society of Old Testament scripture, Zionism became an attractive solution for both Britain and the Empire.
Before World War I, Palestine’s Arab population mostly saw themselves as subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Zionist leaders concerns before World War I were with the future of the Jewish settlement. A Jewish state seemed highly unlikely then and realistic aspirations focused on creating a new centre for Jewish life. The future of the land’s Arab inhabitants concerned them as little as the welfare of the Jews concerned Arab leaders.
Palestine: Part 3 – World War 1