About Socialist Zionism

What is Zionism?

Zionism is the attempt to create an independent state in which Jewish culture is primary. Zionism means this and no more. After that one begins to argue about what kind of state it should be – a democracy or otherwise; religious or secular; socialist or capitalist; what its borders should be; what principles should govern its relations with its neighbours; and where it should stand in international politics. Hence we have Socialist Zionism, Revisionist Zionism, Religious Zionism etc., each with its own answers to these questions.

What is the Habonim Dror Socialist Zionist Movement?

Like other movements, Habonim Dror is founded on a set of ideological principles which its members ideally hold in common and strive towards. Although each branch of the movement around the world composes and reviews its own set of principles, Habonim internationally is based on some mix of Judaism, Zionism, and Socialism. Each country describes each of these a bit differently.

Habonim was founded in London in 1929. It was modeled after the Wandervogel movements in Germany. Its aim was to found and inhabit Kibbutzim in Mandatory Palestine, later Israel. The idea soon spread to other English speaking countries and finally throughout the Jewish world. The movement was responsible for founding, amongst others, Kfar Blum, Kfar Hanasi, Beit Haemek, Mevo Hama, Tuval and Gesher Haziv. The ideals of Habonim were promoted through weekly activities and summer camps. As the kibbutz movement ideals find themselves in decline Habonim has sought to redefine its aims towards settlement in urban communes (kvutsot) in Israel. In the 1980s it amalgameted with a similar group and is now known as Habonim-Dror. Famous graduates include Golda Meir, Mike Leigh, Mordechai Richler, Jonathan Freedland, Stanley Fischer, Chaim Herzog, Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G, Borat), Dan Patterson and Mark Levison, producers of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Mark Regev, and Guy Spigelman.

Dror was founded in Poland in 1915 out of a wing of the Tze’irei Tziyon (Zion Youth) study circle – the majority of Tze’irei Tziyon had merged with a group called Hashomer in 1913 to form Hashomer Hatzair – those who remained outside of the new group formed Dror. The group was influenced by the teachings of the Russian Narodniks.

Dror went on to become a driving force behind the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Mordechai Tennenbaum, a Dror member, rallied two underground factions in the Bialystok Ghetto to take up arms. Zivia Lubetkin and Yitzchak Zuckerman were also Dror members. The Dror movement (Yael’s note: the movement I grew up in) was always the most flexible of the socialist zionist movements, being the first to adapt and take charge in the face of changing circumstances. For instance, as mentioned above, Dror was the driving force behind the Warsaw Ghetto uprising –the first of the movements to take action regarding moves for self-defense, the first to call for putting aside the ideological differences, and the first to effectively bring about a joining forces with the other youth movements of the time. Immediately following the Second World War the Dror movement was the driving force behind the organization and implementation of the Bricha (bringing of the survivors to then Mandate Palestine) at a time when many of the other movements were throwing their energies into trying to regroup and revitalize the shattered remnants of their own movements, Dror placed its emphasis on getting Jews to Palestine regardless of their ideological affiliation.

Dror was aligned with the Kibbutz Me’Uchad network while Habonim was aligned with the Ichud kibbutzim. When the two kibbutz movements merged in 1980 to form the United Kibbutz Movement (TaKa”M), so did their respective youth movements.

Habonim Dror today:

Today, Habonim Dror exists in twenty-one countries worldwide, and continues to promote Socialist-Zionism by supporting and building both rural and urban communes in Israel dedicated to improving Israeli society. It is aligned with the United Kibbutz Israel which recently merged with the Kibbutz Artzi Federation aligned with the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. As a result of this merger, the two youth movements have increased their level of co-operation where previously they had been rivals. Traditionally, Hashomer Hatzair is the more left-wing of the two and has been aligned with left wing Zionist parties such as Mapam and Meretz where Habonim has been aligned with Mapai and the Labour Party. Hashomer Hatzair has also been more aggressively secular than Habonim.

In 1996/7 (at the ‘Emergency Asepha’ in December, and then at ‘Veida in Israel’ at Pesach) a struggle for the reinterpretation and renewal of the Hagshama concept within Habonim Dror began in the United Kingdom. Such discussions also began in North America (1998) and then spread to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in 1999–2000. The redefinition of Hagshama involved a methodological shift towards “urban kibbutz” or irbutz, which replaced physical settlement with social activism as a new, more relevant, version of the Socialist-Zionist pioneering in Israel.

This shift was influenced by Habonim Dror’s new contact with the urban kibbutz Tamuz in Beit Shemesh, and by the renewal of ties with the new graduate movement kvutzot of Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed in Israel. These theoretical debates, which took place in the democratic forums of the youth movement around the world, have since resulted in the actual creation of new socialist Kvutsot in Israel, built by graduates of the Habonim Dror youth movement:

***Kvutsat Yovel began in 1999, and comprises graduates of Habonim Dror from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Canada. They live in a kibbutz of 7 communes in Migdal Ha’Emek and Upper Nazareth in the Galilee, totalling about 70 members.

*** Three additional kvutsot (Kvutsat Gal Bniya, Kvutsat Hemshech and Kvutsat Zeeq) that were all founded in 2004 merged in May 2006 to form an 9-member group in Hadera.

Collectively these communes form the basis of the Habonim Dror Tnuat Bogrim (Graduates’ Movement) network in Israel, together with other new immigrants from Habonim Dror around the world who live in traditional city and kibbutz communities.

Basic guiding principles:
* Progressive Labour Zionism – the belief in the State of Israel and the return to it
* Cultural Judaism
* Socialism – working for collective good through communal living; equality and social justice
* Actualization (Hagshama) – acting on one’s beliefs
* Social Justice – acting in the a new social order based on the principals of self-determination, individual freedom, political democracy, and cooperative economics, the equality of all people and the equality of human value

Links for more information:

Habonim Dror Bogrim in Israel

Habonim Dror international.

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