The Jerusalem Program

The official platform of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), the Jerusalem Program, initially adopted as the Basle Program at the First Zionist Congress in 1897, is an evolving declaration of the objectives of the Zionist movement. Last amended in 2004, the Jerusalem Program now relates more to the nature of the Jewish state as a growing and evolving society, as opposed to previous versions more focused on the establishment of the state.

For each section, we raise a few questions for you to ponder while considering whether you are prepared to “sign on” to the Jerusalem Program.

1. Jerusalem Program תכנית ירושלים (Tokhnit)

The most recent version of the Jerusalem Program reads as follows:

Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, brought about the establishment of the State of Israel, and views a Jewish, Zionist, democratic and secure State of Israel to be the expression of the common responsibility of the Jewish people for its continuity and future.

הציונות, תנועת השחרור הלאומי של העם היהודי, הביאה להקמתה של מדינת ישראל ורואה במדינת ישראל יהודית, ציונית דמוקרטית ובטוחה, את הביטוי לאחריות המשותפת של העם היהודי להמשך קיומו ועתידו.

The foundations of Zionism are:

  • The unity of the Jewish people, its bond to its historic homeland Eretz Yisrael, and the centrality of the State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of the nation;
  • Aliyah to Israel from all countries and the effective integration of all immigrants into Israeli Society.
  • Strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world.
  • Ensuring the future and the distinctiveness of the Jewish people by furthering Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education, fostering spiritual and cultural values and teaching Hebrew as the national language;
  • Nurturing mutual Jewish responsibility, defending the rights of Jews as individuals and as a nation, representing the national Zionist interests of the Jewish people, and struggling against all manifestations of anti-Semitism;
  • Settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism.

This revised manifesto is testimony to the organization’s commitment to ensuring that both its ideological charter and ongoing activity remain relevant to the current realities, while remaining true to the vision of its founding fathers. Endorsement of the Jerusalem Program is a requirement for eligibility to participate in the democratic process by which delegates to the Zionist Congress are chosen.

Q: What does “national liberation” even mean? Do the Jews indeed constitute a people, or a religion? What do your friends think? Do you relate to the “common responsibility” referred to here, and if so, what are you doing about it? Is this “common responsibility” something to which you believe most Diaspora Jews relate?

2. Unityאחדות (Ahdut)

The unity of the Jewish people, its bond to its historic homeland Eretz Yisrael, and the centrality of the state of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of the nation.

אחדותו של העם היהודי, זיקתו למולדתו ההיסטורית ארץ ישראל ומרכזיותה של מדינת ישראל וירושלים בירתה בחיי העם.

The first foundation of the Jerusalem Program asserts the unity of the Jewish people, an underlying tenet of the Zionist movement from its inception. Though Jewish communities may be separated by geographical distance, cultural difference, and religious orientation, Zionism has always embraced the traditional Jewish value that all Jews are responsible for one another (כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה). This concept also finds expression in phrases such as עם ישראל, am yisra’el, “the nation of Israel,” referring to the entire Jewish people, and בית ישראל, beit yisra’el, “the house of Israel.” The latter is an especially powerful metaphor, portraying Jews dispersed around the world as being members of a single household. This idea is also echoed in the long-standing refrain of the organized Jewish community in the Diaspora: We are one.

In recent years, however, concerns have increased regarding the inviolability of the connection between Jews of Israel and Jews of the Diaspora, fueled by reports of a distancing of Diaspora Jews from the Jewish state, particularly among those of the younger generation. Against this background, the principle of unity becomes ever more important in expounding the Zionist ethos.

Q: “We are one” has long been a slogan of the Jewish people. In what ways is it true and in what ways is it being tested? Is Israel indeed central to your life? To the life of your Jewish community? To the life of the Jewish people? In what ways might such “centrality” be expressed?

3. Aliyahעליה (Aliyah)

Aliyah to Israel from all countries and the effective integration of all immigrants into Israeli Society.

עליה הארצות לישראל ושילובה בחברה הישראלית.

עליה, aliyah, “immigration to Israel” occupies a prominent place in the Jerusalem Program. Respecting the vitality of Jewish life in communities around the world, Zionist ideology nevertheless unabashedly promotes Jewish life in Israel as having the potential to be both the richest and the fullest – whether because of its communal nature, the possibilities it holds for applying Jewish values to the public domain, or its fulfillment of a religious commandment. Aliyah, furthermore, is seen as the ultimate expression of accepting responsibility for the future of the Jewish people.

The word עליה, aliyah, meaning “going up” or “ascent” is derived from the root עלה (technically, עלי). The use of this root to describe immigration to Israel is of biblical origin. Reflecting the differences in their attitudes, the Torah refers to “descending” to Egypt, but “ascending” to Canaan. The early rabbis recognized this as a feature of topography, but also believed that the Land of Israel has a special, holy quality. They saw “going up” to Israel not merely a physical, but a spiritual ascent as well. A Jew is elevated by virtue of living in the Land of Israel.

The term עליה, aliyah, followed by a numerical designation is used by historians to designate various waves of immigration in the modern period, up until the establishment of the state of Israel. For example, העליה הרישונה, the first aliyah, refers, to the immigration of Eastern European and Yemenite Jews at the end of the 19th century. There were four others with numerical designations.

Q: Is aliyah an option for you? Must a Diaspora Jew aspire to make aliyah, or at least dream about the possibility, to be a genuine Zionist? Does living in Israel automatically make one a Zionist, or is there something else that is required?

4. Societyחברה (Hevrah)

Strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state and shaping it as an exemplary society with a unique moral and spiritual character, marked by mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world.

ביצורה של ישראל כמדינה יהודית-ציונית ודמוקרטית ועיצובה כבעלת ייחוד ערכי-רוחני המושתתת על כיבוד הדדי של הרב-גוניות בעם היהודי, ועל חזון הנביאים, כחברת מופת, השואפת לשלום ותורמת לתיקון

The nature of Israeli society, החברה הישראלית, hahevrah haYisraelit, is a major concern of the Jerusalem Program, reflecting Herzl’s conviction that Zionism should never be reduced only to ensuring that the Jews have a safe place in which to live, but also that they strive to create an exemplary state one that would serve as a beacon of morality and social justice for the entire world. His own vision reflects that of the ancient Hebrew prophets and this plank of the Jerusalem Program consciously gives expression to his proclamation that “even after we possess our land, Zionism includes not only the yearning for a plot of the Promised Land legally acquired for our weary people, but also the yearning for ethical and spiritual fulfillment.” While the need for strengthening and defending the Jewish state can never be neglected, neither can the struggle to maintain its social and moral fiber.

Q: Is it fair to demand of Israel that it aspire to being an “exemplary society”? What happened to the idea of “normalization” that was so integral to early Zionist ideology? What does “mutual respect for the multi-faceted Jewish people” mean to you and is it something that characterizes Israeli society today or not?

5. Languageלשון (Lashon)

Ensuring the future and the distinctiveness of the Jewish people by furthering Jewish, Hebrew, and Zionist education, fostering spiritual and cultural values and teaching Hebrew as the national language.

הבטחת עתידו וייחודו של העם היהודי על ידי קידום חינוך יהודי, עברי וציוני, טיפוח ערכי רוח ותרבות יהודיים והנחלתה של הלשון העברית כשפתו הלאומית.

One of the most powerful unifying forces for Jews worldwide is the shared commitment to Hebrew as the לשון lashon “language” of the Jewish people. Everywhere Hebrew is the language of study of Jewish texts, of Jewish prayer, and of Jewish value concepts. In Israel it is also the language of everyday life.

All languages evolve with the passage of time and the separation of communities from one another. Today’s American English, for example, is not the English of Shakespeare of even George Washington, nor is it the English of today’s London. Similarly, Hebrew has evolved over millennia. Biblical Hebrew, rabbinic Hebrew, medieval Hebrew, the Hebrew language reborn in the nineteenth century, modern Hebrew – each is a language in its own right, yet each builds on the linguistic treasures of Hebrew that preceded it. While paying homage to the Jewish tradition at its roots, today’s Hebrew also celebrates the vibrancy of modern Israel and the fulfillment of the Zionist vision of a people returned to its homeland. It is also a tribute to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who persevered in his efforts to revive our ancient tongue, despite the lack of encouragement from others who initially believed it an impossible task. Even Herzl once quipped that it wasn’t even possible to buy a train ticket in the language of our ancestors.

Q: How important do you believe Hebrew really is to Jewish continuity, or to the continuity of Jewish values? Is it realistic to expect Diaspora Jews to learn Hebrew at a level that will make a difference in terms of their connection either to the Jewish people of Jewish heritage? What does “Zionist education” mean, and is anyone getting it?

6. Defendingהגנה (Hagannah)

Nurturing mutual Jewish responsibility, defending the rights of Jews as individuals and as a nation, representing the national Zionist interests of the Jewish people, and struggling against all manifestations of anti-Semitism.

טיפוח הערבות ההדדית, הגנה על זכויות היהודים כיחידים וכלאום, ייצוג האינטרסים הלאומיים ציוניים של העם היהודי ומאבק בכל ביטויי האנטישמיות.

A corollary of the unity of the Jewish people worldwide is the responsibility of Jews to protect and defend one another, both as individuals and also as an entire people. The word הגנה hagannah means “protection,” “defense.” The root is גנן, which means “cover,” “surround [for protection], and “defend.” Words with a מ before the root sometimes indicate an instrument or tool for performing the action, as in מגן magen, meaning “shield.”

The Zionist movement has always seen itself as playing such a role in safeguarding the future of the Jewish people, not only in the building up a strong and secure Jewish state, but also in extending itself on behalf of the safety of Jews everywhere. This has been the case ever since the moment Herzl stood up in defense of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. The cry of the French masses for the death of all Jews – and not only of this one Jew – solidified his realization that we share a common fate that is also our common responsibility. Efforts to extricate Jews from the horrors of the Holocaust exemplified by the martyrdom of Hannah Sennesh, the heroism of Yoni Netanyahu during the Entebbe rescue, the dangerous airlifts that brought thousands of Jews to Israel from Ethiopia, and the ongoing efforts of the WZO to combat the disease of anti-Semitism today are all expressions of this aspect of the Zionist ethos.

Q: Zionist ideologists in general, and Herzl in particular contended that anti-Semitism was in large measure to the “abnormality” of the Jewish condition. The creation of a Jewish state was to change all that. It didn’t. How do you explain the persistence of the phenomenon and what do you think we should be doing about it?

7. Settlingישוב (Yishuv)

Settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism.

יישוב הארץ כביטוי להגשמה ציונית הלכה למעשה.

התישבות hityashvut, the act of settling the land, has always been one of the highest priorities of the Zionist movement. The importance attached to it was two-fold: (a) the ideological imperative of creating a new kind of Jew, one who was connected physically and spiritually to the ancient homeland and to a life of productivity; and (b) the practical need to define the territory within the Land of Israel that would eventually become part of the Jewish state. Over time, political differences within the Zionist movement regarding the status of the territory coming under Israeli sovereignty in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War created two distinct and frequently antagonistic positions hityashvut. One sought to extend settlement activities throughout the “Greater Land of Israel,” while the other sought to limit the continued settlement activity to territory within the pre-1967 cease-fire “Green Line.” The WZO, with a constituency that extends across the political spectrum, has determined that its Settlement Division, funded entirely by the Government of Israel, will operate in accordance with government policy.

Q: Settling the land has always been integral to the Zionist enterprise. The kibbutzim, the moshavim, and the outposts on Israel’s periphery are all testament to that. Is it still important today? Do you make any distinction between settlement within and beyond the border resulting from the Six Day War?

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