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Zionism: World Labor Zionist Movement

WORLD LABOR ZIONIST MOVEMENT, organizational framework encompassing the *Israel Labor Party and groups in the Diaspora actively supporting it. Until 1968, before the merger of *Mapai , *Aḥdut ha-Avodah (B), and *Rafi in Israel , this function was carried out mainly by "Iḥud Olami Po'alei Zion-Z.S. Hitaḥadut," which served as the world union of Mapai and its Diaspora supporters. From the earliest days of organized Zionism, there have been groups that combined a belief in Zionism with an attachment to the doctrines of socialism. The emphasis of these groups would sometimes be placed on one or another of the ideologies. Socialist Zionist circles criticized the Zionist movement in its early days because it concentrated on the political task of securing a National Home, disregarding the need to create a Jewish working class imbued with progressive ideas and a search for social justice. The Zionist socialist groups had their divisions and different trends. They had developed independently in various countries and were directly influenced by the revolutionary and social democratic movements of their respective countries. As far back as the First Zionist Congress (1897), an attempt was made to create an international union of Zionist socialists. In the early part of the 20th century, groups began to be established in the large Jewish centers of Russia, Poland, Austria, Galicia, and England. The publications of Ber *Borochov and Nachman *Syrkin , the former following Marxist reasoning and the latter a more idealistic approach, influenced the groups toward different ideological trends.

After World War I the differences crystallized. On one end was the Left Po'alei Zion, almost completely Marxist, which opposed cooperation with "bourgeois" Zionism; in the center the *Po'alei Zion , which sought to become the labor wing of the organized Zionist movement; and at the other end *Ẓe'irei Zion-Hitaḥadut , a moderate Jewish labor movement centered on the pioneering efforts in Ereẓ Israel. The two parties, Po'alei Zion and Hitaḥadut, were linked ideologically with the labor parties in Ereẓ Israel; Po'alei Zion with Aḥdut ha-Avodah and Ẓe'irei Zion – Hitaḥdut with *Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir . The contacts with parties in Ereẓ Israel had a decisive influence upon the development and the activities of the Zionist labor groups in the Diaspora. Thus when the two main labor parties in Palestine united and established the Mapai Party (1930) the merger prepared the ground for the union of the two parallel parties in the Diaspora.

In 1931–32 a number of consultations were held in the countries of the Diaspora and the conditions for attaining a complete union of the two parties were discussed. These discussions were successful to the degree that the decisive majority on both sides were won over to the idea, although there were smaller groups that did not accept the merger and broke away. It was not until 1932 that a world organization was established at a conference in Danzig, where organized labor movements from Palestine were also represented for the first time. The Palestine parties had themselves effected union, and the parties in the Diaspora followed their lead. The movements united in most European countries, notably Poland, Eastern Galicia, Germany, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania and Latvia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece, and in the United States and South America. In each case, however, there were groups which did not join the merges, especially the left Po'alei Zion groups, which broke away and later aligned with the internal Mapai opposition group, Si'ah Bet, later called Aḥdut ha-Avodah after it split from Mapai (see *Aḥdut ha-Avodah B ). The world organization centered on Mapai became known as the Iḥud Olami and its secretaries were Anselm Reiss and Aryeh *Tartakower .

The Iḥud Olami was not only an ideological movement. Although no obligation was placed upon its members to settle in Palestine, the atmosphere created encouraged aliyah and "self-realization." The movement extended the maximum help to the *He-Ḥalutz groups that had sprung up all over Europe. The parties affiliated with the Iḥud Olami organized professionals and artisans within the framework of Ha-Oved. The deteriorating economic position of the Jewish masses in Eastern Europe brought tens of thousands of people into the movement. In the course of time it became a valuable and large source for aliyah. The movement also took an active part in the struggle for Jewish rights in postwar Europe but its main emphasis was on building up Ereẓ Israel in accordance with pioneering labor ideology. Material that flowed from the nerve center in Ereẓ Israel was distributed, and emissaries, particularly from collective and cooperative labor settlements in Palestine, were encouraged to work in the Jewish communities in order to intensify their Zionism and promote Hebrew education and aliyah, pioneering, and settlement. The Iḥud Olami maintained contact with branches in Europe, the United States, South America, South Africa, and Australia. In North Africa there were well-organized groups in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.

The Iḥud Olami formed a united labor wing of the Zionist movement and played a leading role in the debates at the Zionist Congresses and in the manning of the various positions. For many years, the principal positions on the *Jewish Agency Executive were held by representatives of the Iḥud Olami. In 1936–37 the head office of the Iḥud Olami was transferred to Palestine, and a succession of leading members of Mapai acted as secretary-general: Melech Neustadt (Noy); Haim *Shurer ; Yiẓḥak Harkavy; and Meir Argov.

In 1968, following the creation of the Israel Labor Party by merging Aḥdutha-Avodah (B), Mapai, and Rafi, in Israel, a world conference was called to amalgamate the two supporting movements in the Diaspora (Rafi had no Diaspora organization). A single organization was created at this conference called the World Labor Zionist Movement. Yiẓḥak Korn, who had been serving as secretary-general of the Iḥud Olami, was elected secretary-general of the united movement. In the last years of the 1960s the united labor Zionist movement became an influential factor in the World Zionist movement. It was the initiator of the move to separate the functions of the Jewish Agency from those of the Zionist Organization in order that the latter might concentrate on the tasks of encouraging aliyah, Jewish education, and the mobilizing of the Jewish masses for Zionism. The creation of a special aliyah movement in the Western countries was largely the fruit of Labor Zionist movement initiative. The movement extended its activity to embrace work among students and the parents of children attending Jewish day schools. Its constituent parties were active among non-Jewish labor movements, notably the Labor Friends of Israel in Britain, which did much to combat anti-Israel propaganda. In the ensuing decades it continued to promote the Labor Zionism philosophy, supporting youth movements and other organizations abroad.


Be-Shaḥar ha-Tenu'a h: Shishim Shanah la-Tenu'ah ha-Ẓiyyonit-Soẓyalistit (1965); A. Tartakower, Tenu'at ha-Ovedim ha-Yehudit, 3 (1931).

[Moshe Rosetti]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.