The first international gathering of Zionists took place in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 and was dedicated to reestablishing a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. There was, however, sharp dissension among the early adherents of the movement. "Political Zionists" were focused exclusively on the acquisition of an internationally recognized charter; "Cultural Zionists" championed a spiritual revival focused on Jewish culture in the Land of Israel; and "Practical Zionists" emphasized the more concrete methods of attaining Zionist goals: aliyah (immigration), rural settlement, and the founding of educational institutions in Palestine.

Despite these wide ideological gaps among the Zionist factions, the initial article of the "Basel Program," the manifesto adopted at the First Zionist Congress, called for the settlement in Palestine of Jewish artisans and tradesmen. Though Schatz was greatly inspired by the position of the Cultural Zionists, in the end it was Otto Warburg, Theodor Herzl's successor and a Practical Zionist, who stated in 1905 that "craftsmanship and home industry would thrive in Eretz Israel, if a national museum and a Jewish academy would be established." The support of the Zionist movement paved the way for the bold attempt to link economic self-reliance with the creation of a national Jewish artistic identity.

Cultural Zionism (Hebrew: צִיּוֹנוּת רוּחָנִית‎, translit. Tsiyonut ruchanit) is a strain of the concept of Zionism that values creating a Jewish state with its own secular Jewish culture and history, including language and historical roots, rather than other Zionist ideas such as political Zionism.