History Ph.D. Dissertations


"A Land without a People for a People without a Land": Civilizing Mission and American Support for Zionism, 1880s-1929

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Gary Hess (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Timothy Messer-Kruse (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Beth Griech-Polelle (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Tiffany Trimmer (Committee Chair)


This dissertation explores the origins of the "special relationship" between the United States and Israel and documents the early American support for the Zionist project in Palestine from the late nineteenth century through the Arab uprising in August 1929 and illustrates how the West privileged the Zionist narrative over arguments emphasizing the Palestinian Arab right to self-determination. The question central to this dissertation is how and why the United States came to identify with the Zionist movement during the first half century of Jewish colonization in Palestine. This dissertation focuses on how the Zionists presented their arguments for the Jewish colonization of Palestine to the West in pamphlets, books, speeches, petitions, interviews, and meetings with officials. In the early stages, Zionists and their supporters presented their colonial movement to the Western powers as an extension of the Western civilizing mission, adopting the idealistic rhetoric of benevolent imperialism and the Biblical justifications of earlier settler colonies such as the United States. Zionists presented their movement as congruent with the history of white Americans, essentially characterizing Jewish pioneers and the Jewish colonization of Palestine in such a way so as to remind white Americans of how they understood themselves and their history of settlement, conquest, and expansion. Consequently, Zionists and white Americans understood the indigenous population of Palestine as congruous with Native Americans, which simply compounded the already negative attitude Americans often exhibited toward Islam and the peoples of the Orient. The Jewish colonization of Palestine began during the final stage of the U.S. conquest of Native Americans, and white Americans justified the removal, expropriation, and extermination of the natives on the prevailing ideologies of civilization and race. Zionists would adopt a similar ideology and strategy of conquest regarding the Palestinian Arabs, whose possession of the land and existence represented an obstacle to Zionist goals, primarily the establishment of a Jewish state.