DEMOCRATIC FRACTION, radical opposition faction in the Zionist movement between the years 1901 and 1904 that demanded the democratization of Zionist institutions, the organization of cultural activities by the Zionist Organization, and immediate settlement in Ereẓ Israel. Its leaders were
. Their demand that the Zionist Organization conduct cultural activities sharply contradicted the stand of the religious wing, which violently opposed such programs, fearing that they would be used for the dissemination of "secular" culture. During the Fourth
(1900) it was decided at a Zionist student meeting to establish a democratic-progressive faction or party. A conference was held in Basle, a few days before the Fifth Zionist Congress (1901), attended by about 40 delegates, most of
whom were Russian Zionist students from German, Swiss, and French universities. The conference decided to establish the Democratic Fraction, which would remain within the Zionist Organization but would have separate headquarters and independent cultural activities. It was also decided to create a Jewish statistical bureau and to conduct research into suitable ways of settling Ereẓ Israel, preferring the cooperative method. The conference also recommended the democratization of philanthropic organizations in the Diaspora and the establishment of cooperatives to provide economic self-help for workers, stressing the need to form a trade union for Jewish workers. Finally, it demanded the separation of Zionism and religion and condemned the Zionist movement's submission to its Orthodox wing. The Democratic Fraction, which appeared for the first time as an organized bloc at the Fifth Zionist Congress (1901), prompted the unification of those who opposed, for religious reasons, any cultural activities by the Zionist Organization.
An Information Bureau in Geneva headed by Chaim Weizmann served as the secretariat for the Democratic Fraction. Its activities centered around the development of the publishing house
, the establishment of the statistical bureau, and the creation of a fund to found a Jewish university in Ereẓ Israel.
The organization of the Fraction was weak, and it did not even hold the planned annual conference. Only a consultation of 11 men (including Weizmann, Feiwel, and
) was held in January 1904. When they decided to join the emerging opposition to the
scheme, the Fraction practically ceased to exist. Thereafter, its members worked individually for the overall Zionist Organization.
Sources:A. Bein, Sefer Motzkin (1939), 56–66; Ch. Weizmann, Trial and Error (1966), index; I. Klausner, Oppozizyah le-Herzl (1960); B. Feiwel, in: Ost und West (1902), 687–94.
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