My Friend William Boyle shared on Facebook this comment and associated article on Ahad Ha'am (Hebrew: אחד העם, lit. one of the people, Genesis 26:10):
Ahad Ha'am (Hebrew: אחד העם, lit. one of the people, Genesis 26:10)
(18 August 1856 – 2 January 1927)
"An act of folly that turns out well is still an act of folly."
--Ancient Yiddish proverb.
Wikipedia notes that:
Ahad "was a Hebrew essayist, and one of the foremost pre-state Zionist thinkers. He is known as the founder of cultural Zionism. With his secular vision of a Jewish "spiritual center" in Israel, he confronted Theodor Herzl. Unlike Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, Ha'am strived for "a Jewish state and not merely a state of Jews" [Wikipedia article]
Jews wanted a state after what happened in France to Dreyfuss and to Jews living in France as the RW there used the Franco Prussian War to justify a coup. The French Military Officers were pro-German and had imbibed racist ideas from the Brits that "Germans" were a superior race. And agents of the Prussians not only betrayed the French from within but put the blame on an obscure Jewish Officer named Dreyfus. They then used the trial to stoke up anti-semitism. It was that that led to the Zionist movement and Jews might have picked some place in the USA but most already had ties with Palestine and wanted to go back there to their ancestral home. The various leaders of the new Zionist organizations had different ideas of what Zionism was about. Some wanted Jews to form mini-states in countries like Argentina or USA, but others like Ahad focused on Israel from the beginning.
"Ginsberg was born in Skvyra near Kiev in Imperial Russia, to pious well-to-do Hasidic parents. As early as eight years old, he began to secretly teach himself to read Russian. His father, Isaiah, sent him to heder until the age of 12. When Isaiah became the administrator of a large estate in a village in the Kiev district, he moved the family there and took private tutors for his son, who excelled at his studies. Ginsberg was critical of the dogmatic nature of Orthodox Judaism but remained loyal to his cultural heritage, and especially the ethical ideals of Judaism"
The issue was that Europeans, Arabs and other ethnicities had visions of Nationalism that weren't going to accept Israel as a "State of Jews". If that had been possible than big settlements like Moiseville in Argentina (Jewish Gauchos of the Pampas -- Gerchenov) or in the USA would have been more feasible, or even possible in Russia where there were millions of Jews living on either side of the borders between Russia and what had been Poland. Ha'am was a "Russian Jew, born on the Russian side of that border (like my late Wife's father):
Even so he was a Zionist before the Dreyfus Affair:
"After unsuccessfully attempting to study in Vienna and Germany, he returned in his early thirties to Odessa where he was influenced by Leon Pinsker, a leader of the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement. Hovevei Zion began as independent study circles in the late 19th century, and formed a philanthropic confederation called Hibbat Zion (love for Zion). Their practical aim was settlement of Jews in Palestine, and they produced the settlements of the first Aliyah (immigration wave). The Zionist settlement program was beset by practical difficulties, and many settlements failed or were failing." [Wikipedia article]
I've met folks who had been in Israel since before the first Aliyah. Jews, especially orthodox, hasidic or Esoteric (Donmei or followers of Shabbetai Tsvi) had been emigrating to "The land of Israel" (Eretz Israel) as Palestine was known in Hebrew/Aramaic, for centuries. Many went to Safed in what is now the West Bank. Others would go to Jerusalem. The Turks restricted numbers so many Jews would wind up in ghettos or towns in cities scattered around what is now Israel, Palestine and Jordan. They often struggled in their new homes. And some would return to "Galut" (exile) in frustration, or wind up in other places. Most of these people were not interested in politics. And
"Unlike Pinsker, Ginsberg did not believe in political Zionism, which he fought, 'with a vehemence and austerity which embittered that whole period'. Instead, from his very first article, he hailed the spiritual value of the Hebrew renaissance within the Zionist movement. To counter the debilitating fragmention for the Jewish folk-soul of life throughout the diaspora, the idea of assuring unity through an ingathering of Jews into Palestine was not an answer. That is, kibbutz galuyoth was a messianic ideal rather than a feasible contemporary project. The real answer lay in achieving a spiritual centre, or 'central domicile', within Palestine, that of Eretz Israel, which would form an exemplary model for the dispersed world of Jewry in exile to imitate, a spiritual focus for the circumferential world of the Jewish diaspora. He split from the Zionist movement after the First Zionist Congress, because he felt that Theodor Herzl's program was impractical." [Wikipedia article]
"Lo ze haderekh" (This is not the way)
For the religious Jew the purpose of return to Zion is partly to eventually return the "Shekhina" or spirit of God back to Israel where it would heal both Israel and itself. In Kaballist literature "Galut" is a spiritual state as well as a literal state. God and the Jew are both in exile. And as long as God is in exile, the entire of humanity is also in spiritual exile. Thus returning the spirit of God "Shekhina" to Israel is a spiritual journey. And as he noted one, it would be an arduous one unless Jews were willing to work harder and would reform a kind of "inward zionism" "Hibat Zion":
"He wrote that the Land of Israel will not be capable of absorbing all of the Jewish Diaspora, not even a majority of them. Ahad Ha'am also argued that establishing a "national home" in Zion will not solve the "Jewish problem"; furthermore, the physical conditions in Eretz Yisrael will discourage Aliyah, and thus Hibat Zion must educate and strengthen the Zionist values among the Jewish people enough that they will want to settle the land despite the great difficulties. The ideas in this article became the platform for Bnai Moshe (sons of Moses), a group he founded that year. B'nai Moshe, active until 1897, worked to improve Hebrew education, build up a wider audience for Hebrew literature, and assist the Jewish settlements."
But of course, Jews in Europe didn't really have the time and space to learn how to dig stoney fields to plant or learn to endure the harsh conditions of this land alongside the great deserts of North Africa and Arabia. When Hannah Arendt centered her "Origins of Totalitarianism" on a study of the Dreyfus affair and it's impact on the escalation of anti-semitism in Europe. Prior to the Dreyfus affair most Jewish folks had hope that they could assimilate into French and other European Countries and remain Jewish, the way we've hoped to do in the United States.
Europeans & Arabs Choose vicious Nationalism over Civitas
But the Dreyfus affair showed that in the European mind there was a tug of war between nationalism as "Volk"/Folk/tribe and nationalism as citizenship in a particular location and that for many Europeans citizenship was a pipe dream. Seeing the same kinds of nationalism and tribalism/chauvinism rise in other countries convinced about a third of Jews that Zionism as a country of their own was the only viable option for survival. This has proved true at least for European Jews. Though they have been allowed to live in the Americas, their citizenship has always had a provisional character even for FDR and until Truman both recognized Israel and relaxed Wilsonian/FDR anti-semitic restrictions on Jewish immigration. Prior to 1947 emigrating to Israel, legally or illegally was the only survival option for many Jews and that was closed BY FORCE by the British even as they fought off Rommel and Hitler.
So Hibat Zion proved to be a journey by fire for those who survived the ministrations of Hitler.
Europe is too mixed, has too many ethnicities to sanely be both nationalistic on a tribal basis and embrace the concept of civitas (the roots of our separation of Church and State, birth citizenship etc....) They should have embraced the power of civitas and civilizations and Europeans, including Jews, focus on spiritual renaissance and not start killing each other. A'Had Haam died in Tel Aviv with part of his vision in operation, but before the horrors of WWII and the Nazis.