The First Zionist
Nextbook Press author claims it’s poet Yehuda Halevi
One of Halkin’s most interesting arguments in the book is that Halevi may be considered a proto-Zionist: arguably the first, in fact (Halevi lived in the 11th and 12th centuries). He expounds on that here:
He’s one of the first, or the first figure in the Diaspora to call for Jewish return to the land of Eretz Yisroel on a pre-messianic basis.
The rabbinical and traditional position has always been waiting for the Moshiach and it was the very dominant position in Halevi’s time. He took the position and was the first one to articulate it that Jews need not and should not wait for the messiah to return to [Israel].
It’s a Jewish obligation to return, it’s a Jewish initiative and not a divine one.
Q&A with Hillel Halkin [Jewish Star]