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Monday, 27 April, 1998, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Zionism - 50 years after Israeli independence
Zionist settlers
The celebrations surrounding Israel's 50th anniversary of independence are more low-key than might have been expected - an indication of the questioning and doubt in many peoples' minds about the future course of the country. Israel's achievements in 50 years have been considerable; it has been transformed from a tiny embattled state into a thriving modern economy, well able to defend itself.

But old and new in Israel sometimes sit uncomfortably side-by-side. Old ideologies and patterns of thought appear less relevant to today's generation. BBC correspondent Jonathan Marcus looks at the fate of the founding ideology of the Jewish State - Zionism - and what it means today.

The 26th Zionist Congress
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Zionism - like so much of modern nationalism - is rooted in the 19th century. It guided the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine in the mid-twentieth century. But how relevant is Zionism to the future of the Jewish State?

Zionism bears the indelible marks of its origins in the Europe of the 1880's and 1890's. Nationalism was already on the march - Italy and Germany had been established - and the great Empires of Russia and the Hapsburgs looked increasingly shaky.

The founders of modern Zionism saw it as the only salvation for the Jewish people - they dreamed of a state that would provide a haven from pogroms and persecution.

Unlike the religious, messianic Zionism that had been a traditional component of Jewish religious expression, modern Zionism was avowedly secular. Indeed many of Israel's founding fathers were not just Zionists, but also socialists.

Political Zionism was prompted by the rising nationalist tide in fin de siecle Europe, but it didn't lead to Jewish state-hood until some 50 years into the next century.

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
In the meantime there had been the Holocaust - the Nazi extermination of some six million Jews - a tragedy which had a fundamental bearing on Israel's creation. But also, due to one of the unfortunate coincidences of history, Zionists achieved their state just when the embers of European nationalism were dying and a new tide of nationalist sentiment was emerging in the developing world.

As the colonial shackles were overthrown this new strand of nationalism was ultimately to give rise to the demands for Palestinian state-hood.

Modern Zionists?
Bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel in May 1991
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Israel at 50 has perhaps outlived the usefulness of its founding ideology. The days of the pioneers are over. Israel is a more acquisitive, a more affluent society than it ever was. It is beset by the same social problems as many other developed societies. It is, in short, a much more individualistic society than in the past.

Zionism may still be important as a founding myth. But it probably means little to most average Israelis as they go about their daily lives.

This raises a number of interesting questions: does Israel still need such an ideological foundation? And if not traditional Zionism, is there any competing ideology that could supplant it?

Israel, as so often, is a frustrating mix of the old and the new; a society that is both established and young; one that still craves ideological foundation and one that believes that it has outgrown its ideological roots.

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