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What is a zionist?

Updated on December 28, 2008

Zionist is a term often heard, but it's not always understood. Many people assume that to be a Zionist, someone must also be Jewish, or conversely, that all Jews are Zionists. This is not the case.

It appears that the term Zionist was coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum, a Viennese scholar and intellectual. He used Zionist and Zionism to refer to what was basically a political movement, one that would result not only in the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland in Palestine, but a return with political sovereignty.

The Zionist movement is not universally supported by Jews. Even today, there are a number of Orthodox Jewish groups that believe that Zionism violates the Torah. For instance, the Neturei Karta, founded and based in Jerusalem, refuses to acknowledge the state of Israel, and make the argument that that Torah requires that the land seized from the Palestians in the 20th century must be returned to them.

On the other hand, a number of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians do support ideals of Zionism. Their support is religious in nature, since their theology teaches that the return of the Jewish people to Palestine is a necessary pre-condition for the second coming of Christ. This viewpoint is referred to as Christian Zionism, and is controversial in its own right. It predicts what is essentially the destruction of Judaism, with all Jews either converting to Christianity or being destroyed during the battle of Armageddon.

Old Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Photo by John McLean, published under license per Creative Commons 2.0
Photo by John McLean, published under license per Creative Commons 2.0


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    • uzma shaheen profile image

      Uzma Shaheen Bhatti 5 years ago from Lahore,Pakistan

      I beleive in freedom of every human being, jews deserve to live freely and peacefully but if it is on cast of lives of innocent people,like is being happen in gaza then I don't support it. In my opinion zionist movement is far more than freedom of jews, its about establishing one global government.

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      Ari. 5 years ago

      This is still a very misused/misunderstood word.

      As Jews, we were taught simply that Zionism means freedom for the Jewish people to live and be Jewish in the land of Israel. You can see that in the post by "Jewy Jewman" above, lol.

      The "Zionists" were actually a group of eastern europeans in the late 1890's and early 1900's who actively began buying land in Israel/Palestine to create a Jewish homeland. Much of the impetus for this was a response to the pograms, discrimination, and anti-sentimism that was rising in Germany and Eastern Europe, due to economic and political reasons.

      Technically, there are no more Zionists by that official definition. Now, Zionist is used as a dirty word label against Israelis, to define settlers that are trying to expand Israel's border (an extremely small segment of the population), and by Jews in a very different way, simply meaning a supporter of freedom and return to our ancestral homeland.

      I think the word Zionist should be eliminated, as it a really confusing label, is being misused for hate, and it doesn't truly apply to anyone in present time.

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      Tim S 6 years ago

      hey great post, well researched! :)

    • Kari Winchester profile image

      Kari Herreman 6 years ago from Ontario, California

      It is good to read a piece which inspires dialogue on the topic of Zionism. In my temple experience, Zionism is an expected trait. Well written approach to a very controversial topic. Thanks for posting, look forward to reading more!

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      Jewy Jewman 6 years ago

      I do not know the difference between Zionism and Judaism. I am a Conservative Jew, not overly religious. However, when you say Zionist, and by that you mean it stands for Jewish Freedom, power and safety..I am a Zionist. If I am a Jew that still mistrusts the entire world's attitude about Jews, I am a Zionist. Are Jew and Zionist two meanings? Not for this Jew, not for this Zionist Jew. Peace through Strength and strength through tradition. Maybe we don't have the Ark of the Covenant anymore, but we Jews have Atomic Weapons at Dimona, Israel. Get my drift?

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      TB 7 years ago

      Well...that's a little unfair. That's like associating someone with the anti-christ movement just because they accept that THAT has to happen for the second coming of Christ...I do believe that the prophecy will be fulfilled, but I am not promoting the movement that would take land from people...and now everybody throws around this Zionist label like a dirty word for everyone who believes that these things will come to past...

    • SXP profile image

      SXP 8 years ago from South Africa

      This is a very contensious subject, but thx for the explanation.

    • Angie497 profile image

      Angie497 9 years ago

      I know that there's definitely confusion in the States about the terms. There's just an assumption that they're interchangeable.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 9 years ago from London

      The distinctions between "Zionist", "Jew", and "Israeli" are so often misunderstood, it's great to see this hub.

    • sukkran profile image

      Mohideen Basha 9 years ago from TRICHY, TAMIL NADU, INDIA.

      hi, it is a well informative hub. to day i have learned some thing new from you. good work.

    • jennyblog profile image

      jennyblog 9 years ago from alabama

      Oh WoW!!! Thank you so much for your reply. I feel i have a great understanding now, thanks for a great detailed explanation. I must say you are a fantasic writer. Much appreciated.