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Zionism was a self-conscious psycho-political effect of the failure of assimilation, which looked to the Jewish state to provide a remedy for “poverty, complete tranquillity and national glory.” The genesis of Zionism was in large part caused by the rise of anti-Semitism, especially the events of 1881-84 in Russia, following the death of Tsar Alexander II.This composed and fuelled the movement in its formative years.
Moreover, assimilation broke down the Jewish spirit; the Russian and Polish Jewry were confined to shtetlachs (Jewish areas of inexorable decline) and Ha’am highlights that the failure of assimilation had a profound moral and material impact, and the only cure was Hovevei Zion.Nordau stresses Zionism as a cure for the rootless, Western Jew – where Palestine would anchor the nation and provide security.The failure of assimilation and growth of anti-Semitism highlighted Jewish physical insecurity, Zionism provided a simple solution for this with Palestine.This essay shall argue that Zionism was, to a limited extent, a response to the failure of assimilation but especially due to the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), whose contrast to assimilation, highlighted a moral and physical “national death.” Albeit, Zionism was in essence a response to the precarious situation in Europe, which in turn was caused by a rise of anti-Semitism and hence the need for security and dignity through Jewish unity.Although Ahad Ha’am stresses that the ‘instinct for national survival’ and not anti-Semitism caused Jewish nationalism, Anita Shapira argues that it was a mixture of all these factors that caused Zionism to be born out of deep disappointment, shame and outrage. Arab nationalism in turn, was a response to Western colonial encroachment and anti-Ottoman feeling, inspired by a return to the purity of Islam; Arab nationalism was an “immortal message and the way to salvation.” Edward Said highlights that Zionism was Palestinian nationalism’s alter ego, it helped shape the identity it took, but identities are fluid and dynamic and to suggest that Palestinian nationalism emerged as a response to Zionism, would be greatly myopic and underestimate its roots in pan-Arabism.Western colonial encroachment played a role in the shift from Dar al-Islam (Household of Islam) to the contemporary territorial states, a shift that was mediated by pan-Arabism.Al-Bazzaz argues Arab nationalism was a tool to create a healthy political existence, a weapon against intellectual imperialism and a way towards salvation, dignity and justice, through the formation of national spirit. Although a feeling of ‘Arabism’ and Arab consciousness had always existed, Western colonial encroachment fuelled and necessitated Arab nationalism as a form of physical, intellectual and psychological defence.Pinkser writes in 1882 that anti-Semitism was a ‘psychosis and incurable’, the only remedy was to become an independent nation through self-liberation.Herzl appreciated this analysis especially after the 1903 pogrom that left 49 dead – Brenner argues that it was not the butchery that stirred the Jews, but rather that the Jews had put up no defence. Hence, anti-Semitism abased the Jewish nation, and abreast with the failure of assimilation, provoked a response that sought to cure this abnormal condition of Jewish life. The nationalists.” Such a mentality highlights the feeling of betrayal, thus the emergence of Zionism was to demand action from the Jews.Although this essay has focused on political Zionism, it is important to realise the role of cultural Zionism, where Ha’am emphasised the need for a spiritual centre – this would be grasped by raising national dignity to a moral obligation, “to take pride in its people, glory in the honour of the nation!” Through this Zionism would also encourage the emancipation of the Jewry from a feeling of inferiority; it saw itself as an enlightened for of nationalism to liberate the oppressed.