Jewish Studies Jewish Territorialism (in Relation to Jewish Studies)
Laura Almagor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0159


The Jewish Territorialist movement was first organized in 1905 when, at the Seventh Zionist Congress, a group of some fifty Zionists left the Zionist movement to form the Jewish Territorialist Organization (ITO). This secession, under the leadership of the famous Anglo-Jewish writer and playwright Israel Zangwill (b. 1864–d. 1926), was a reaction to the Zionist rejection of the British offer of the so-called Guas Ngishu Plateau in Kenya for the establishment of a Jewish settlement, erroneously recorded as the Uganda Proposal. From that moment onward, the Jewish Territorialists searched for areas outside Palestine in which to create settlements of Jews. Zangwill and his collaborators considered numerous locations, most importantly in Mesopotamia, Cyrenaica (Libya), Angola, and Honduras. Moreover, between 1907 and 1914 the ITO functioned as the European partner in Jewish-American philanthropist Jacob Schiff’s Galveston movement, which aimed at diverting Eastern European Jewish immigrants from New York City to the smaller cities in the American Midwest via the Texan port city of Galveston. During the war years (1914–1918), and especially after the issuing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Territorialist activity slowed down significantly. Zangwill eventually disbanded the ITO in 1925, but a second “wave” of organized Territorialism followed with the establishment in 1934 of the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization, eventually under the leadership of the Russian socialist-revolutionary émigré Isaac N. Steinberg (b. 1888–d. 1957) and headquartered in New York City. Until the outbreak of World War II, the Freeland League explored settlement options in French and British Guiana, Madagascar, New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, and Australia. After the war, the Freeland League’s most developed project was targeted at the establishment of an agro-industrial settlement for 30,000 Jews in Dutch Guiana (Suriname). The plan was explicitly “sold” as a partial solution to the European displaced persons problem, and it demonstrates the remarkable shift the Territorialist movement went through from being strictly colonial to voicing explicitly anticolonial ideas. Moreover, the ideological and programmatic differences between the Territorialists and other non-Zionist Jewish groups and movements grew smaller from the 1930s onward. Like several of these groups, the Territorialists became increasingly interested in shifting from the realm of pure politics to also including a more cultural or explicitly Yiddishist set of aims and ambitions. The history of the movement thus helps to shed light both on the story of (non-Zionist) Jewish political behavior during the first half of the twentieth century and on the development of a larger geopolitical narrative connected to peoplehood, population politics, and (post)colonialism.

General Overviews

The term territorialism, even when applied to a specifically Jewish context, has been used in relation to several aspects of Jewish political behavior dating back to long before the creation of both the Zionist and the Territorialist movements. After 1897, Zionism became increasingly territorially focused, and early Zionists used “territorialism” to describe the nature of their movement. It is therefore understandable that even recent scholars have resorted to the word in connection to movements that had nothing to do with actual organized Territorialism. However, ever since the Zangwill-headed secession from the Zionist movement in 1905, “Territorialism” can refer only to the ITO and its sympathizers and later incarnations, first and foremost the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization. This section deals with those works that discuss the more general history of the movement. During the decades leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, as well as during the years following it, Zionist historians preferred to downplay the importance of Territorialism in an attempt to create a historiographical understanding of Jewish political history that describes Zionism as the main, if not the only, path available. It is therefore no surprise that the first comprehensive study of Territorialism is Astour 1967, undertaken by a scholar from the ranks of the Territorialist movement itself, albeit some years after the Freeland League ceased to be of political importance. After Astour, it took almost half a century for Alroey 2004, Alroey 2011, and Alroey 2016 to offer analyses of the ITO phase of the movement’s history. Both Rovner 2014 and Almagor 2022 (partially based on Almagor 2015), moreover, include the second wave of Territorialism within their scope and form additional proof of a renewed recent scholarly interest in Territorialism. Almagor 2018 places the Freeland League’s outlooks and activities in a wider geopolitical framework.

  • Almagor, Laura. “Forgotten Alternatives: Jewish Territorialism as a Movement of Political Action and Ideology, 1905–1965.” PhD diss, European University Institute, 2015.

    This doctoral dissertation offers the first integrated study of Territorialist activity and ideology in both phases of the movement’s existence. One chapter is devoted to Zangwill’s ITO, but the emphasis lies with the Freeland League during the interwar and postwar years. The study shows Territorialism both as part of a larger narrative of Jewish political behavior and as a product and reflection of broader geopolitical trends and discourses.

  • Almagor, Laura. “Fitting the Zeitgeist: Jewish Territorialism and Geopolitics (1943–1960).” Contemporary European History 27.3 (August 2018): 351–369.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0960777318000206

    This article argues for a connection between the Freeland League’s activities and employed discourses and wider geopolitical trends during the 1930s to the 1950s. Highlighted themes are population politics, agro-industry, colonialism, and decolonization.

  • Almagor, Laura. Beyond Zion: The Jewish Territorialist Movement. London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2022.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv2kcwnvp

    This revised and expanded version of Almagor 2015, offers the first comprehensive study of the Territorialist movement’s history. The book analyzes the Territorialists’ ideology and activities in the Jewish context of the time, but it also connects their thought and discourse to geopolitical concerns related to peoplehood, territory, and space. One chapter is devoted to Zangwill’s ITO, with subsequent chapters dealing with the Freeland League’s connection to wider Jewish politics, Zionism, and geopolitics, respectively.

  • Alroey, Gur. ‘ארץ לעם ולא עם לארץ’: ההסתדרות הטריטוריאליסטית היהודית (יט”א), התנועה הציונית וההגירה “‘היהודית בראשית המאה העשרי” [“‘Eretz le-Am U-Lo Am le-Eretz’: Ha-Histadrut Ha-Territorialistit Ha-Yehudit (ITO), Ha-Tnuah Ha-Tsionit, Ve-Ha-Hagurah Ha-Yehudit Be-Reshit Ha-Meyah Ha-Isrey”]. Iyunim Bitkumat Israel 14 (2004): 537–564.

    This article, in Hebrew (the English translation of the title is: “People to land and not land to people: The Jewish Territorialist Organization (ITO), and the Jewish emigration at the beginning of the twentieth century.”), presents Alroey’s initial research findings regarding the ITO and its early activities, with a special focus on the Galveston endeavor. The conclusions of this article are further elaborated in Alroey 2011 and Alroey 2016.

  • Alroey, Gur. “‘Zionism without Zion’? Territorialist Ideology and the Zionist Movement, 1882–1956.” Jewish Social Studies 18.1 (2011): 1–32.

    DOI: 10.2979/jewisocistud.18.1.1

    This article lays out some of Alroey’s main arguments, namely that Territorialism was, in fact, the “alter ego” of Zionism, with a “catastrophic worldview” leading to a negation of exile at its ideological core, as well as to a critical stance toward the “Arab Question” in Palestine.

  • Alroey, Gur. Zionism without Zion. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2016.

    This mostly factual history of the ITO is a slightly updated version of Alroey 2011. Alroey describes the most important events in the history of the movement between 1905 and 1925, and he provides a very brief epilogue about the Freeland League.

  • Astour, Michael C. Geshikhte Fun der Frayland-Lige. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Frayland-lige, 1967.

    This first comprehensive study of Territorialist history was only published in Yiddish. Astour, the son of Joseph Czernichow, one of the central prewar Polish Territorialists, cofounded the Polish Freeland League, and he resurfaced in 1957 from the USSR, after which he became a professor at Brandeis University. At times biased in favor of Territorialism’s merits, this work nonetheless offers detailed accounts of numerous episodes in the movement’s history.

  • Rovner, Adam. In the Shadow of Zion: Promised Lands before Israel. New York: New York University Press, 2014.

    Rovner personally traveled to different places that were at one point or another considered for Jewish settlement. Most, but not all, of these areas were indeed Freeland League initiatives. Rovner approaches his subject mostly as a literary scholar, but he also offers a valuable analysis of the basic tenets of “second wave” Territorialist ideology.

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