Zionism proceeds from the assumption that the Jews are still a people or nation, many of whom cannot or will not assimilate themselves to other peoples, and wish to retain their identity as a national community.
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, 5th ed. 1977, art. Zionism, p. 2016.
Zionism is as old as the Babylonian Exile, which began in 586BCE. Separation from the Land of Israel as they were being led into captivity by their conquerors rested crushingly upon the spirits of the Jewish exiles; a longing for the homeland consumed them. Turning in the direction of Judah, they then took an awesome vow: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy" (Psalms 137:5-6).
Nathan Ausubel, The Book of Jewish Knowledge, art. Zionism p. 526.
In principle, the Zionists lack any religion. They are lying when they say that they are Jews.
Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word — which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly — it would be this: At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.
Theodor Herzl in a diary entry, (3 September 1897), a few days after the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, as quoted in'Nonstate Nations in International Politics: Comparative System Analyses (1997) by Judy S. Bertelsen, p. 37.
All forms of Zionism hold the perception that a certain extent of anti-Semitism benefits the Zionist enterprise. To put it more sharply, anti-Semitism is the generator and ally of Zionism. Masses of Jews leave their place of residence only when their economic situation and physical safety are undermined. Masses of Jews are shoved to this country rather than being attracted to it. The yearning for the land of Zion and Jerusalem is not strong enough to drive millions of Jews to the country they love and make them hold on to its clods.
As the Jews in Israel long for immigrants with a certain affiliation to their people, and as Zionism—like any other ideology—needs constant justification, we have a secret hope in our hearts that a moderate anti-Semitic wave, along with a deterioration in the economic situation in their countries of residence, will make Diaspora Jews realize that they belong with us. ... Is proof even necessary? No one will protest the assertion that the rise in anti-Semitism in France gave us some satisfaction, in the sense of “we warned you, didn’t we?” Late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not hesitate to make such a declaration, angering the French government and many Jews who see themselves as unconditional French citizens. Thousands of Jews from France who see Israel as a lifeboat, as an insurance policy, purchased apartments here and raised real estate prices in the coastal cities. That’s good. It proves Zionism was right.
In order to remove these malignant doubts, it would be good to have some anti-Semitism in America. Not serious anti-Semitism, not pogroms, not persecutions that will empty America from its Jews, as we need them there, but just a taste of this pungent stuff, so that we can restore our faith in Zionism.
One can be a Zionist without being a nationalist, even an unaggressive one. The earlier Zionism, that which has had a far longer career than the Neo-Zionism of to-day, was none the less Zionist, even though it had no tinge of nationalism in the modern semi-aggressive sense. That Zionism was not based on a Jewish nation, whose existence in the modern sense it did not admit, but on the Jewish people. The earlier Zionism had no political connotation. It was no less successful on that account. It was certainly one of the instruments that kept Judaism alive and Jewry in existence. That early - it may be termed spiritual - Zionism still exists even though its voice is drowned by the more blatant shouts of a nationalism that differs from it in many respects. And as that earlier Zionism, which is a large part of Judaism, flourished for centuries before Political Zionism was conceived, it will not inconceivably survive Political Zionism as a living force, for centuries.
Anti-Zionists, last of all, exhibit a distaste for certain words. It was Thomas Hobbes who, anticipating semantics, pointed out that words are counters, not coins; that the wise man looks through them to reality. This counsel many anti-Zionists seem to have neglected. They are especially disturbed by the two nouns nationalism and commonwealth, and by the adjective political. And yet these terms on examination are not at all upsetting.
Jewish nationalism means no more than recognition of the peoplehood of Israel, and of the propriety of that people's being a religio-cultural group in America, a nationality in Eastern Europe, and in Palestine an actualized nation.
Nor is the word political more horrendous, even when it precedes Zionism. For what does it signify? It refers either to methods for realizing the Zionist objective or to the objective itself. If to the former, it denotes the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and their transactions with the Mandatory Power and others on immigration into Palestine and related problems. If this be political Zionism, what can be wrong with it? Anyone wishing Jews to be free to enter Palestine knows that governments must be dealt with and understandings negotiated. Or are there some so naive as to approve of results but not of the only means for attaining them?
The idea that Zionism is essentially racist is only consistent with the view that all nationalism is a form of racism. In that case all states that claimed to be based on nationalism would need to be removed as well. Anti-Zionism, however tends to argue one or some of the following ideas:
(a) Jews are not a nation
(b) Jews are only identifiable by attachment to Judaism as religion
(c) there is only tenuous evidence linking Jews to Torah historical accounts
(d) the Jews come from Eastern Europe, not the Middle East
(e) Jews are not a homogeneous group
(f) Jews have collaborated with oppressors (Imperialism, the Nazis)
(g) Zionism inevitably means oppressing the Palestinians.
There are of course other views. These arguments all lead to an uncomfortable position that whereas all other self-declared nationalisms have validity, the Jews have no such claims. Yet in different ways the arguments about Zionism can be easily adopted to almost all other national situations. Yet no one asks ‘So exactly how is it that you are Australian?’ This question is posed to Jews a great deal. While there are honorable Anti-Zionist positions they are few. On the whole Anti-Zionism is close to, or a mask for, Anti-Semitism.
I never heard [my parents] talk between themselves about Palestine or Zionism, and I suspected they had no strong convictions on the subject, at least until after the war, when the horror of the Holocaust made them feel there should be a “National Home.” I felt they were bullied by the organizers of these meetings, and by the gangsterlike evangelists who would pound at the front door and demand large sums for yeshivas or “schools in Israel.” My parents, clearheaded and independent in most other ways, seemed to become soft and helpless in the face of these demands, perhaps driven by a sense of obligation or anxiety. My own feelings […] were passionately negative: I came to hate Zionism and evangelism and politicking of every sort, which I regarded as noisy and intrusive and bullying.