Zionism is named after Zion, one of the hills on which Jerusalem is built. This is the focus of a homeland and it means far more than one hill.
Abram the patriarch (1800 BCE) with a small group of people came from Persia, then a land of many gods, because he believed in One God. The original Covenant between this figure renamed Abraham and God was that Abraham and his descendants should believe in the One God in return for the promised land. Genesis (in the Torah) describes this.
|When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Morch. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12)|
The Jews were a chosen people, meaning a demand to be holy. So if they sinned, they were to be driven away. Leviticus 26 (in the Torah) from verse 14 tells the Jewish people what will happen if they turn against this Covenant and goes on:
|33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you; and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up 40 But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery which they committed to me against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity; 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God.|
Set against this the Prophets, like Amos, promise a return to the land.
13 "Behold the days are coming," says the LORD, "when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper
and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant them upon their land,
and they shall never again be plucked up
out of the land which I have given them,"
says the Lord your God.
To make political moves then towards a state of Israel is for some to do the work reserved for the action of the LORD, and the subsequent belief in the work of a coming Messiah, and this was the basis of religious opposition to Israel being set up by human hands.
Chovovei Zion were Jews who supported settlements in Palestine from 1860s. Repression in Russia in the 1880s brought about migration including to Palestine; the way the French blamed the Jews as a whole for national ills when a Jewish army captain Dreyfus was accused of treason (later found innocent) in 1894 spurred on Theodor Herzl (1850-1904) to argue for a homeland to protect the Jews. Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 after the Zionist Conference in Basle in 1897. Then came the Holocaust. After survivors recovered they moved to Palestine in great numbers and fought the British who were sympathetic in any case to their cause.
The new Jewish state was attacked and took more land, and then more again in 1967 which is the norm for United Nations resolutions for Israel to return to its borders. Now religious Jews argue that a religious land (they criticise it being secular) will facilitate the coming of a Messiah, and so are building settlements beyond Israel's recognised political borders in Judaea and Samaria.
Zionism is nothing if not controversial. It promotes the politics of a homeland for a particular ethnic group: the Jews. Whilst the country is democratic, the immigration of Arabs is controlled so to maintain the Jewish basis of the state. The conflict with Palestinians remains and their demand for a viable state.
Nowadays all Jews, Orthodox and progressive, see Israel as having the right to exist, and as a special place which can be a light to humanity. The issue is whether this is the case and the demand on the political leadership to create an overall agreement with Arab neighbours and the Palestinians in particular.