Zionism and Jewish Return to the Land Eretz Yisrael


The Return to the Land

Mandate Map










Jews started immigrating back to the Land under the Zionist movement of the nineteenth century. Theodor Herzl was a Jewish Austro-Hungarian journalist and the father of modern political Zionism, and in effect, the modern State of Israel. After a brief legal career in Vienna and Salzburg, he devoted himself to journalism and literature, working as a correspondent for the Neue Freie Presse in Paris. In 1896 he wrote a book titled The Jewish State, which outlined the need for the Jewish people all over the world to have a homeland. The book and his ideals spread quickly around the world and attracted international attention. The following quote from the book sums up the thesis of his work.

“The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilized countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.”[1]

His diaries also discussed the return to the Land issues.

“When we occupy the land, we shall bring immediate benefits to the state that receives us. We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly … It goes without saying that we shall respectfully tolerate persons of other faiths and protect their property, their honor, and their freedom with the harshest means of coercion. This is another area in which we shall set the entire world a wonderful example … Should there be many such immovable owners in individual areas [who would not sell their property to us], we shall simply leave them there and develop our commerce in the direction of other areas which belong to us”[2]

By the time that Herzl’s writings came out there had already been a number of books and pamphlets calling for a return to Zion. One catalyst was the publication in September 1882 by an Odessa, Ukrainian physician, Leo Pinsker (1821-91), of a pamphlet, Auto-Emancipation, asserting that the Jews must be the architects of their own salvation and not rely on the goodwill of European nations to emancipate them; and that they needed a national home of their own (which Pinsker originally thought need not be Palestine). Auto-Emancipation was published in German, partly because of the Russian censorship but also because Pinsker wanted to appeal to the Jews of Central and Western Europe, whom he considered were, unlike those of Eastern Europe, able to provide the initiative and resources to bring about his objective. [3]

In Great Britain another prominent pro Zionist force, the English Zionist Federation (EZF) was founded on July 22, 1897. Its task was not so much to negotiate with the British government but to fulfill Herzl’s other injunction, “to capture the communities”, that is to mobilize the institutions of organized Jewry in the cause of achieving the Jewish national home. Among their leadership was Sir Francis Abraham Montefiore who had social position, a famous name and from 1904, the presidency of the Spanish and Portuguese community, but was hardly a charismatic leader. [4]

Chaim Weizmann, the future first President of the State of Israel, was at this time based in Manchester England. In 1913 he organized a local group of young intellectuals that included Israel Sieff, Simon Marks, and Harry Sacher, a lawyer and journalist associated with the Manchester Guardian, and Leonard Stein a barrister. While agreeing with the goals of the EZF, they did not make many Zionist converts. Although there were Zionist adherents in the East End of London and the other immigrant quarters, most of the recent immigrants were too busy trying to survive economically to have time for politics, and those who were politically inclined tended to follow the politics of the left. This group did not have much impact on the religious leadership.

Herzl’s Zionism had proscribed as a “creeping in by the back door” program that operated through step-by-step colonization. It was only in 1908 that the “Practical Zionists” such as Weizmann managed to get some colonization started in Palestine under the auspices of the Zionist Organization. Even so, such colonization was small until 1911. But after 1911 when the “Practical Zionists’” took over the running of the movement, colonization finally expanded. While of the 85,000 Jews in Palestine in 1914, only 30-35,000 were immigrants of the post-1880 period, there were more immigrants in 1914 than in any previous year and work had begun on specifically Jewish institutions such as the Haifa Technion and even the planning of a Hebrew University.[5]

What changed the situation and brought Zionism into the sphere of practical politics was the entry of Turkey into the First World War against the Allies. On November 9, 1914, Asquith, the British Prime Minister, in his speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, announced: “The Turkish Empire has committed suicide.” Palestine, like the rest of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, now became a target for dividing their territory among the Allies, after their expected WW I victory. In January 1915, Herbert Samuel, a member of the British Cabinet, circulated a memorandum to his colleagues on the future of Palestine. In the course of writing it, he modified his advocacy of a Jewish state to admit that the time was not yet ripe for it, but he looked forward to an independent Palestine. [6]

There were, of course, many counter political arguments to Britain championing Zionism. But the keen awareness of arguments in favor of Zionism motivated Weizmann to push the case for Zionism into influential British government circles; indeed Weizmann fed the material regarding this to the British Cabinet Secretariat.

There were two separate groups in Anglo-Jewry fighting for the attention of the British government. On the one hand, there was the official community, represented by the Conjoint Foreign Committee of the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association. Their secretary from 1914 was Lucien Wolf, the leading expert on Jewish diplomacy and the fight for Jewish rights in Europe. On the other hand, there was Weizmann’s small group and some Zionist associates and sympathizers, including people in key positions within the government. Since it was always the pride of the Anglo-Jewish establishment that they were a key influence with the government, it proved a humiliating disappointment that Weizmann (a Russian Jew who had been a resident for only about ten years in Britain) outmaneuvered them. [7]

In 1914 the Conjoint Committee, which consisted of fourteen members from the two constituent bodies, was prepared to do anything to protect their rights of oppressed or underprivileged Jews abroad. Interestingly, the committee was opposed to Zionism as a movement. That threatened the emancipation of Jews as individuals in their countries of residence. In 1914 and 1915 the Conjoint Committee treated the Zionists with condescension.  The Conjoint Committee did not know that Weizmann was having regular meetings with members of the government such as Samuel (MP), Balfour (foreign secretary) and Lloyd George (prime minister), and that Samuel had circulated his memorandum on Zionism in January 1915. The Conjoint Committee saw as its’ principal objective the amelioration of the position of the Jews of Russia.

In the meanwhile, Weizmann had been working on the British government to secure a declaration favorable to Zionism. He also sought support within the Anglo-Jewish establishment. It is not clear when Walter, the second Lord Rothschild (MP and financier), became a Zionist but it was certainly not later than 1915, when he succeeded his father. Charles, the younger brother of Walter, also became a convinced Zionist.

The Conjoint Committee realized early in 1917 that it was being out-maneuvered by Weitzman and Samuel in its quest to influence the British government at the highest level. This realization was confirmed when the Foreign Office twice hinted in May 1917 that it would deprecate any action by the Committee to engage in public controversy against Zionism.

On June 19, 1917, Lord Rothschild and Weizmann saw Balfour, and Rothschild told Balfour that the majority of British Jews were in favor of a national home. Rothschild was asked by Balfour for a draft declaration which was sent a month later on the 18th of July. This is why the declaration, written by Lord Balfour and when ultimately approved by the War Cabinet, was solely addressed to Lord Rothschild.[viii]

When the British Cabinet made its decision on October 31, 1917 to issue a declaration, the determining factors were not the opinions of British Jews but the supposed impact on Jews in Russia, America and elsewhere. “If we could make a declaration favorable to such an idea, we should be able to carry on useful propaganda both in Russia and America.” Balfour did mention in general terms the objection – “the difficulty felt with regard to the future position of the Jews in Western countries” – but rejected it; and the Secretary of State was authorized to take a suitable opportunity of making “the following declaration of sympathy with Zionist aspirations.” [ix]

Even Weizmann in 1918, writing to Ormsby Gore, then with the Zionist Commission in Tel Aviv, stated: “We consider a British Palestine and a Jewish Palestine practically identical and that in working for a Jewish Palestine we will at the same time be working for a British Palestine . . .. We do not consider any other solution, such as, for instance, a Jewish state, satisfactory or possible.” [x] In such circumstances it is not surprising that by April 1919 Lucien Wolf, as secretary of the Joint Foreign Committee, could bring to the attention of the Paris Peace Conference a statement on Palestine agreed by both the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association, which accepted the Balfour Declaration, subject only to the proviso that it must not “be held to imply that Jews constitute a separate political nationality all over the world, or that the Jewish citizens of countries outside Palestine owe political allegiance to the Government of that country.” This acceptance of the Declaration was accompanied by a growth of popular support for Zionism within Anglo-Jewry. The membership of the English Zionist Federation (EZF) rose from 4,000 in 1917 to over 30,000 in 1921. A petition by the EZF to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, asking for the implementation of the Balfour Declaration “to reconstitute Palestine as (the Jews’) national home” was signed by some 77,000 Jews in the United Kingdom, out of a total Jewish population of probably less than 300,000. [xi] So the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was one more British Governmental edict whereby the Jews became one step closer to having a national homeland.

Winston Churchill a friend of the Jews [xii] said that once British General Allenby marched into Jerusalem in 1914 the British officially had control of Palestine and could exert substantial influence in the way it would be occupied and administered. [xiii] So the First World War had a tremendous influence in bringing the Jews back to their Land.


Daniel E. Woodhead




[1] Herzl, Theodor, Der Judenstaat, cited by C.D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 2001, 4th ed., p. 53

[2] Herzl, Theodor The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, vol. 1 (New York: Herzl Press and Thomas Yoseloff, 1960), pp. 88, 90

[3] Lippman, V.D, A History of the Jews in Britain Since 1858, Holmes & Meier, New York, NY 1958,


[4] ibid; pp. 123

[5] ibid; pp. 124

[6] Ibid; pp. 125-126

[7] Ibid; pp.128

[viii] Ibid; pp.131-134

[ix] Ibid; pp.133

[x] Ibid; pp. 133

[xi] Ibid: pp. 134

[xii] Couch, Mal, The Birth of the Nation Israel, Scofield Ministries, Publisher, Clifton, TX, 2010, pp. 81

[xiii] Churchill, Winston S.  The World Crisis, The Aftermath, The First World War, Norwalk, CT: The Easton Press, 1991, with permission of Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929 pp. 360