LESSON 1: Zionism & Arab Nationalism

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What is Nationalism?

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DOCUMENT 1: The Jewish State (1896), Theodor Herzl

Herzl (1860-1904), a Jewish journalist from Vienna, became increasingly concerned about the growing antisemitism across Europe at the end of the 19th century. Despite the fact that many Western European countries had emancipated Jews, he noted that Jews, even those in high positions, were not safe from antisemitism. He concluded that the only solution to the antisemitism that he saw around him was to establish a Jewish state. He detailed his vision of this state in his book, Der Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”). Herzl's Zionism was the animating force in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; he is viewed as the father of modern political Zionism.


The idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is an ancient one: It is the restoration of the Jewish State.

No one can deny the gravity of the Jewish situation. Wherever they live in appreciable numbers, they are more or less persecuted. Their equality before the law, granted by statute, has become practically a dead letter. They are debarred from filling even moderately high positions in the army, or in any public or private institutions. And attempts are made to thrust them out of business also: “Don’t buy from the Jews!”

Attacks in Parliaments, in assemblies, in the press, in the pulpit, in the street, on journeys...are increasing by the day.

Can we hope for better days..? I say that we cannot hope for the current to shift.... The nations in whose midst Jews live are all either covertly or openly Anti-Semitic....

We are one people--our enemies have made us one without our consent, as repeatedly happens in history. Distress binds us together, and thus united, we suddenly discover our strength. Yes, we are strong enough to form a State, and, indeed, a model State. We possess all the requisite human and material resources.

The whole plan is in its essence perfectly simple....Let sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves.

This passage has been excerpted from The Jewish State translated by Sylvie D’Avigdor in 1896 and printed by the American Zionist Emergency Council in 1946 and from The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader, ed. by Arthur Hertzberg and published by the Jewish Publication Society (Philadelphia) in 1959.

DOCUMENT 2: First Zionist Congress (Basel, Switzerland, 1897)

Shortly after he published his book, The Jewish State, Theodor Herzl called for the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. During this assembly, Jewish delegates from all over the world established the World Zionist Organization and approved the following goals.


The aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine secured by public law. [This would be achieved by:]

1. The settlement in Palestine of farmers, artisans and laborers in such a manner as serves the purpose [of creating a national home].

2. The organization and union of the whole of Jewry in suitable local and general bodies, in accordance with the laws of their respective countries.

3. The strengthening of Jewish national feeling and national consciousness.

4. Preparatory steps to obtain governmental consent necessary to achieve goals of Zionism.

Elon, Amos. Herzl. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976.

DOCUMENT 3: Selected Writings of Sati' al-Husri


  • Language is the most important spiritual tie which binds an individual to the rest of mankind because it is the medium of communication amongst individuals....Since languages differ between [peoples], it is natural that we find groups of individuals who share the same language drawing nearer to each other than to other groups, thereby forming a nation which is distinct from other nations.
  • Nationalist feeling depends on historical memories more than anything else....We do not exaggerate when we say that generally. . . the struggle for independence and unity begin only by recalling the past....Love for independence is nourished by memories of the lost independence; the longing for power and glory begins with a lament for the lost power and diminished glory; faith in the future of the nation derives its strength from a belief in the brilliance of the past.
  • [A common language and a shared history] form the fundamental bases of nation formation. The union of these two spheres leads to the fusion of emotions and aspirations, of sufferings and hopes, and of culture. And in this, people see themselves as members of a unitary nation distinct from other nation.... If we want to specify the roles of language and history in the formation of a nation, we can say: language is the soul and the life of the nation; history its memory and its cognizance.

Dawisha, A. I. Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016.

DOCUMENT 4: First Arab Congress (Paris, 1913)

Nationalist ideas began to spread among Arabs in the late 19th century. Still part of the Ottoman Empire, Arabs initially took interest in nationalism as a literary and cultural movement to re-establish the prominence of Arab language and culture and to promote a positive ethnic identity. In 1911, a group of Arab students in European universities formed a group called al-Fatat (“the Young Arab Society”) to discuss their growing interest in nationalist ideas. In 1913, the group called for a meeting of the First Arab Congress where they made the following resolutions.


1. Radical and urgent reforms are needed in the Ottoman Empire.

2. It is important to guarantee Ottoman Arabs the exercise of their political rights by giving them meaningful roles in the administration of the Ottoman Empire.

3. It is important to establish decentralized governments in each of the Arab and Syrian administrative districts [giving them more autonomy within the Ottoman Empire] according to their needs and abilities....

5. The Arabic language must be recognized by the Ottoman Parliament and considered the official language in Syrian and Arab regions.

6. Military service of those living in the Syrian and Arab administrative districts will be regional [rather than throughout the Ottoman Empire], except in extreme cases....

9. These resolutions will be communicated to the Imperial Ottoman Government.

10. These same resolutions will also be communicated to those powers friendly to the Ottoman Empire....

"British Imperial Connexions to the Arab National Movement." World War I Document Archive. Translated from the French. https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/British_Imperial_Connexions_to_the_Arab_National_Movement.


Arab Nationalism took a number of different forms, beginning in the 19th century and developing and changing throughout the 20th century. See below for two other voices on Arab Nationalism.

Excerpt: The homeland [nation] is the nest of man, where he toddled and from which he emerged, the congregation of his family, and part of his inner self. It is the homeland whose soil, food, and air have raised him, whose breeze has reared him and in which he grew up....Generous people long for their beloved ones like the lion who longs for its jungle... Free people do not prefer any country to their homeland, and are never patient being away from it.

Kurzman, Charles. Modernist Islam, 1840-1940 a Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Excerpt: As for the kind of nationalism that should adorn [belong to] the Muslim youth, it is that he should set a good example to the inhabitants of his homeland [nation] irrespective of their religion and sects [groups within a religion], and that he should cooperate with them in every legitimate action to further the independence of the homeland and to raise it up in learning, virtue, strength, and wealth.... The Muslim youth must not forget, while serving his homeland and his people, that Islam has honored him...[and that as a Muslim] he is a member of a body bigger than his people, his own personal homeland is only a part of his religious homeland.

Haim, Sylvia G. Arab Nationalism: An Anthology. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of Calif. Press, 1976.


Just as there were many different visions of Arab Nationalism that emerged over time, the same was true with Zionism. The forms of Zionism that you encounter below differed significantly from Theodor Herzl's political Zionism although having a presence in the ancient homeland was critical to all of them.

Excerpt: [Judaism] needs not an independent State, but only the creation in its native land of conditions favourable to its development: a good-sized settlement of Jews working without hindrance [obstacles] in every branch of culture, from agriculture and handicrafts to science and literature. This Jewish settlement [community], which will be a gradual growth, will become in course of time the center of the nation, wherein its spirit will find pure expression and develop in all its aspects up to the highest degree of perfection of which it is capable.

Excerpt: In the lands of the Diaspora the soul of our people—our Holy Torah [sacred texts and traditions]—can no longer be preserved in its full strength, nor can the commandments, which comprise the entire spiritual life of the people, be kept in their original purity, because the times are besieging us with difficult demands....Against his will each loses his Jewish self in the [non-Jewish] majority....

The people has found one remedy for this affliction—to direct their hearts to that one place which has always been the focus of our prayers, that place wherein the oppressed of our people will find their longed-for respite: Zion and Jerusalem.

Both passages can be found in: Mendes-Flohr, Paul R. The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Background image: The Western Wall (also called the "Kotel" in Hebrew) is what remains of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Here you see Jews in the late 19th century praying at the Western Wall.

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