Are all Jews Zionists?

Zionism is about the pursuit of an independent Jewish state. The word is derived from Zion, a hill near the city of Jerusalem. But nowhere near all Jews live in Israel and not all inhabitants of Israel are Jewish.

The birth of the State of Israel

For centuries, Jews have lived all over the world. More than 100 countries have a Jewish minority. Two countries have a large Jewish community: Israel and the United States (both around 6 million people). But out of a population of more than 300 million, the 6 million Jews in the United States are but a small minority. In Israel, on the other hand, almost 80% of the population is Jewish.

The state of Israel was founded after the Second World War, in 1948. In the Middle East, in a place where Jews had lived for thousands of years with their Arab neighbours. Because of their history and religion, Jews had felt a strong connection with this region for generations. Many European Jews who had survived the Holocaust, went to live in Israel after the war. Many Jews from Arab (Muslim) countries also fled or migrated to Israel.

The United Nations endorsed the partition of the area controlled by the British, then known as Palestine, into Jewish and Arab sections. In doing so, they facilitated the creation of a new state of Israel and a Palestinian state. However, there was significant resistance among the Arab population in the area designated to become Israel.

Immediately after the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, five neighbouring Arab countries declared war on Israel. Israel won that war. Many Arab residents of the region fled the country and many others were driven from their homes. Palestinians refer to this event as the Nakba (Arabic for disaster or catastrophe).

The state of Israel’s history, spanning more than seventy years, is marked by conflicts with its Arab neighbours and the Palestinians, who view Israel as the occupier. There is substantial criticism of Israel’s occupation of territories that, according to the United Nations’ partition plan, were allocated to the Palestinians, and of the construction of settlements in these territories.

The difference between Zionists, Jews and Israelis

Back to the question. So, a Zionist is someone who advocates for an independent Jewish state where Jews can live in safety. To many religious Jews, Israel is 'the promised land'. But many non-religious Jews, too, value the fact that there is a country where Jews can live in freedom and safety. 

Nowadays, the word Zionist is often used as a swearword. As a negative label. Many Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinian cause no longer distinguish between the words 'Jew', 'Israeli' and 'Zionist'. That is not correct. Most Jews do not live in Israel. Not every inhabitant of Israel is Jewish; there are also many non-Jews living in Israel. And not all Jewish Israelis are 'settlers' who want to conquer more and more Palestinian land. 

The vast majority of Jews believe that the State of Israel should continue to exist. But many Jews, both living in Israel and elsewhere, are in favour of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as a possible solution to the conflict. 

To cut a long story short: although many Jews identify with Zionism, there are still many different points of view. That is reason enough not to mix up the words 'Jew', 'Israelis' and 'Zionists'.