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The World Zionist Organization

The World Zionist Organization is a Jewish organization founded by Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl during the First Zionist Congress, which convened in Basel in 1897 as an all-Jewish parliament. The Congress dealt with ways for implementing the goals of Zionism, and these were set in the Basel Program: "Establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Eretz Yisrael…" For the attainment of this purpose, four objectives were set in motion: The promotion of settling Eretz Yisrael with Jewish agriculturists, artisans, and tradesmen; the gathering of all Jews into effective groups of action, local or general, in accordance with the laws of their various countries; the strengthening of the Jewish-national feeling and consciousness; and fourthly, taking preparatory steps for the acceptance of worldwide recognition necessary for the achievement of the Zionist purpose. Furthermore, it was set that the Zionist movement will work through the Congress which will convene once a year (from 1901 onwards the Congress itself convened every two years). After the World Zionist Organization was established, it was joined by 260 groups of Hovevei Zion from Russia and Eastern Europe.

The role of the Zionist Congress was to resolve political issues stemming from the actions executed by the World Zionist Organization, to determine its budget, and to elect its president and its institutions: The Zionist Executive Committee and its executive Presidium. The number of delegates sent by the Jewish communities to the Congress was relative to the number of community members that purchased the Zionist Shekel. The Zionist Shekel was introduced towards the elections to the Second Zionist Congress, indicating that the person had bought a certification of membership with the World Zionist Organization, given to every person who paid the annual fee. The number of shekels sold in every country was an indicator of the number of delegates to be sent from there.

In its first years, the World Zionist Organization worked at establishing settlements in Eretz Yisrael. It formed institutions to help fulfill its goals: The Jewish Colonial Trust was founded in 1899 for financing Herzl’s plan of purchasing a franchise of Jewish settlements in Eretz Yisrael from the Ottoman Empire. The Anglo-Palestine Bank was established in 1902 within the Jewish Colonial Trust. It was a commercial bank and investments institute. Prior to it, in 1901, the Jewish National Fund was established to buy and develop lands in Eretz Yisrael. The Israel Land Development Company was established in 1909 for similar intents. These were all assisted by the Eretz Yisrael Bureau, founded in Jaffa in 1907 and headed by Arthur Ruppin. The Bureau aimed at representing the World Zionist Organization in Eretz Yisrael and helped carry out the plans of settlement. The Bureau was replaced by the Delegates Commission and in 1921 it became the Zionist Executive in Eretz Yisrael. The United Israel Appeal was established in 1920 for raising funds to finance welfare, health, education and the continuation of settlement.

Herzl presided over the debates of the First Zionist Congress and was elected to serve as President of the World Zionist Organization, a position in which he remained until his passing in 1904. He envisioned the problems of the Jewish people as an international issue that needed to be dealt with on a global scale. Herzl worked to achieve two main causes: The first - establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael, with the consent of the great nations and implemented through a "charter" of political rights that will be reached in diplomatic negotiations as set in the Basel Program; the second – strengthening and developing the World Zionist Organization in order for it to become a significant party in future political negotiations and later head the settlement process. The World Zionist Organization worked through diplomatic means, mainly in Germany and the Ottoman Empire, but Herzl’s direct political efforts did not bring the results he had hoped for.

Herzl attempted to gain Zionism the sympathy of statesmen and positive public opinion in Great Britain. For this reason, the Fourth Zionist Congress convened in 1900 in London. He had negotiated with the British Government on franchises of the settlement in Cyprus, the Sinai Peninsula and in the region near Wadi al-Arish, but his attempts to reach an agreement on Jewish settlements in these areas were in vain. Herzl continued negotiating with the British Government for possibilities of settlement in Uganda, as he thought it may serve as a temporary land for the refugees of Eastern Europe. The Uganda Program aroused fierce objection to it during the Sixth Zionist Congress, held in Basel in 1903.

Herzl’s passing, the following year, caused great shock to the Zionist movement and brought a change in its political policy. David Wolffsohn was appointed in his place as President of the World Zionist Organization, and he continued negotiations with the Turks. Meanwhile, practical work was continued in Eretz Yisrael: Members of the Second Aliyah strengthened the settlement in Eretz Yisrael. The Turks showed hostility toward the Zionists in Eretz Yisrael during the First World War, who were rescued from possible danger only due to the involvement of the American ambassador and the diplomatic delegation of Germany in Constantinople. It was eventually Chaim Weizmann who convinced the British Government that it will benefit by supporting the Zionist cause. On November 2nd 1917, the Balfour Declaration was made, stating that: "His Majesty's Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object…"

In 1920, the Allied Forces Council (preceding the League of Nations) approved the British Mandate on Palestine based on the Balfour Declaration and establish that in order to fulfill the declaration’s promises, a "Jewish Agency" shall also be formed to "advise the Government of Palestine on economic and social issues, as well as other matters." Therefore, the World Zionist Executive was established in 1920, acting as a "Jewish agency" as called for by the Mandate. The Zionist Executive was divided into the following departments: Political, Labor and Immigration, Settlement (including a section for Industry and Trade), and Education and Health. It operated through the financial institutions of the World Zionist Organization.

The Jewish Agency for Eretz Yisrael was established in 1929 to act on behalf of the World Zionist Organization in relation to the British Government, the administration in Palestine, and the League of Nations. In its first convention, held in Zurich, half of the delegates represented the World Zionist Organization while the others represented various non-Zionist organizations. The President of the World Zionist Organization, Chaim Weizmann was also elected as President of the Jewish Agency. In later years, the participation of the non-Zionist bodies in the work of the Jewish Agency decreased significantly.

The official aim of the World Zionist Organization was defined in 1942 as the aspiration to establish a "Jewish Community." The Biltmore Program stated that "Eretz Yisrael will be based as a Jewish community, to be integrated into a new democratic world." This was the first official demand of the Zionist movement for a Jewish state to be established in Eretz Yisrael (though the word "State" was not specifically mentioned), long after it was agreed upon between Zionists that their goal is to aspire for an independent sovereign state. From this point onwards, the demand for a state became the proclaimed goal of the Zionist movement.

In the pre-State years, the Jewish Agency served as an executive body, dealing with the organization of Aliyah, Aliyah Bet, and immigrants’ absorption. "Youth Aliyah" was also established, working alongside the Jewish Agency’s departments for Labor, Settlement and Industry and taking part in establishing the defense force of the Yishuv and the "tower and stockade settlements." Furthermore, the Jewish Agency took part in representing the Yishuv before the mandate government and other bodies. David Ben Gurion served as its Chairman between the years 1935–1948, while the political department was headed by Chaim Arlosoroff (1931–1933) and Moshe Shertok (later Moshe Sharett).

The flag and anthem used by the World Zionist Organization were adopted by the State of Israel in 1948. The establishment of the state concluded the main goal set forth by the World Zionist Organization, prompting questions on its future necessity. A majority of the Zionist and Israeli leadership did not agree with Prime Minister David Ben Gurion that it should be dissolved. At the 23rd Zionist Congress, held in Jerusalem in 1951 for the first time following the establishment of the state, new missions were defined for the Zionist movement. These were known as the "Jerusalem Program," and they promoted the following goals: "Reinforcement of the State of Israel, gathering of the Diaspora in Eretz Yisrael, and guaranteeing the unity of the Jewish people." This new status for the World Zionist Organization within the State of Israel was defined in the World Zionist Organization – Jewish Agency (Status) Law-1952, in which the State of Israel recognized the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency as authorized bodies aimed at the development of Israel, its settlement, immigrants’ absorption, and the coordination among Israeli institutions which handle these issues. The law also expressed hope that the Jewish people will be involved in the development of the State, and that the World Zionist Organization will work towards unity between all sections of world Jewry. In 1954 the Israeli government and the Zionist Executive signed a treaty defining the procedures for cooperation between them, providing the World Zionist Organization with an official status of representing world Jewry and continuing to be involved in Aliyah and immigrant absorption and settlement. Membership in the World Zionist Organization was no longer dependent on single donors, but on collective Zionist authorities.

The Zionist Movement had lost much of its influence and prestige during the 1950’s. It did not have the power to bring together all of the Jewish communities outside of Israel. However, the Diaspora’s support of Israel during the time preceding the Six Day War brought new life into the involvement of the Israeli government in matters relating to the Diaspora. At the 27th Zionist Congress, held in 1968, a second "Jerusalem Program" was formulated, expressing the solidarity of the Jewish people with the State of Israel at times of crisis and the central part of the State in the lives of the Jewish people. It also redefined the goals of Zionism as: "The solidarity of the Jewish people and the central part of the State Israel in the lives of the Jewish people; gathering of the Jewish people in their historical homeland – Eretz Yisrael – by promoting Aliyah from all states; reinforcement of the State of Israel …. Promotion of Jewish and Hebraic education and encouragement of cultural and spiritual Jewish values, as well as protection of the Jewish people’s rights worldwide." Membership in the World Zionist Organization was opened to all Jewish bodies, both national and international, who accept the Jerusalem Program. This brought five bodies to join the Organization: The World Federation of Sephardic Communities, the World Union of Maccabi, the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the International Synagogues Council, and the International Committee of Synagogues and Communities.

The renewed identification of the Diaspora with the State of Israel increased the acknowledgment of Jewish world leaders in sharing the matters of the State of Israel with the world Jewry. For this reason it was decided to expand the Jewish Agency’s organizational structure and join it with fundraising organizations. An agreement was signed in 1970 and authorized in a convention in Jerusalem in 1971 to change the structure of the Jewish Agency: 50% of its representation will be comprised of the World Zionist Organization; 30% will be the United Jewish Appeal and 20% will be organizations identified with the United Israel Appeal. As part of this change, the World Zionist Organization was separated from the Jewish Agency, while both bodies remained under the leadership of one chairman, director general and treasurer. It was also determined that the World Zionist Organization will continue to handle the organization, propaganda, education, immigrant absorption from industrialized countries, settlement beyond the "Green Line," and supervision over the Jewish National Fund. The Jewish Agency was appointed to be in charge of immigrant absorption from developing countries, housing, settlement within the "Green Line," immigrant absorption of agricultural settlements, youth education, economic development, and welfare services. In accordance with this change, two new agreements were signed in 1979 between the two bodies and the Israeli government.

The World Zionist Organization’s Executive is elected at the Zionist Congress, which convenes since 1960 every 4-5 years. Delegates to the Congress are elected on behalf of their organizations in the Diaspora and on behalf of the Zionist political parties, represented in accordance with their relative representation at the Knesset. Most delegates are from Israel and the United States. The Zionist Executive operates on behalf of the Congress, gathering on a yearly basis.

The executive body of the Jewish Agency is the executive, and it runs four departments: Department for Aliyah and immigrant absorption, department for agricultural settlement, department for youth Aliyah, and the treasury. A board of directors oversees its actions. The Jewish Agency does not engage in tasks that would conflict with the authority of the Israeli government or with the World Zionist Organization. Its activity behind the "Green Line" has been suspended due to political limitations. Its actions are financed by the United Israel Appeal, the United Jewish Appeal and the Israeli government.

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