“The bride is beautiful but she is married to another man.”
Zionism is a multifaceted ideology, making definition difficult. Generally, it may be defined as ‘the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel.’ The term ‘Zionism’ was first coined as late as 1892 by Nathan Birnbaum, and expressed in his published paper ‘The National Rebirth of the Jewish People in Its Homeland as a Means of Solving the Jewish Problem’ in 1893. The term ‘Christian Zionism’ was probably first used by Theodore Herzl, as he described the convictions of the Christian founder of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant. It can be defined as ‘Christian support for Zionism and the state of Israel and, by implication, opposition to people and groups deemed hostile to Israel.’
However, Zionist thought can be traced back hundreds of years through a complex and diverse history. This essay will seek to outline the significant junctures, highlighting key characters and the legacy of the Zionist narrative, especially in the light of the continuing political conflict today.
The second section to be added later, will exegete Old and New Testament texts on the theme of ‘Land’, which consistently remains the ideological, political and religious centre point of the entire debate, precisely because of the way history is interpreted. In attempting to hear both sides, this essay will demonstrate that the historical complexity and the biblical exegesis is coupled with extremely high emotions on both sides of what is arguably a theological problem that requires a theological solution. The leading British opponent of [Christian] Zionism, Stephen Sizer, is right to highlight the tension among Evangelicals, as they are ‘increasingly polarized as to whether Christian Zionism is biblical and orthodox or heretical and cultic.’
Therefore, any conclusions offered will be tempered with caution, despite arguing that [Christian] Zionism is an erroneous doctrine, based on a careless Scriptural and historical hermeneutic. Moreover, the worldwide Church can no longer afford to remain silent or ignorant about the sheer scale of the injustices committed against the Palestinian people, especially since they even breach United Nations Charters and international law.
Zionism – A Brief Historical Overview
Towards the First Zionist Milestone
Inasmuch as anti-Western anger from the Middle East is today largely directed specifically towards Britain and America, so too [Christian] Zionism is almost exclusively an American, and to a lesser degree, British, phenomenon.
If the ancient Zionist seed is British, the full-grown tree today is American. The British seeds can be traced to two very early writers, both of whose writings betray an attitude of racial superiority seen through the lens of religion.
That the British viewed themselves as “the new Israel” and “God’s chosen people”, is demonstrated in the Epistle of Gildas (c. sixth century) and the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History (735). Both writers interpreted British battles with invading armies in the context of Israel’s battles against the Philistines, Babylonians and others. Fore-tellingly, Bede echoes the Arab-Israeli conflict in his account of a similar problem faced by the Picts and the Scots, “The Picts….. arriving in this island by sea, desired to have a place granted them in which they might settle. The Scots answered that the island could not contain them both.”
It is not until the early seventeenth century that two influential writings of early ‘proto’ Christian Zionism are published. Of significance are the two authors’ differing backgrounds and professions and therefore, different audiences and motives. This substantiates the extent across society to which an idea can be shared. Sir Henry Finch, a lawyer and MP from a wealthy family had initially alarmed Charles I with his talk of a worldwide empire of the Jews, upon which Charles imprisoned him. Upon recanting, Finch was released. Thomas Brightman, a Puritan clergyman and biblical scholar, was not only critical of the church establishment, but revealed his eccentricity by convincing himself that his historicist commentary on Revelation (1611) was inspired, calling it ‘A Revelation of the Revelation’, a title viewed as ‘impertinent’ by some contemporaries, and ‘stupendous’ by others!
Both these writings were influenced by the Jewish Lurianic Kabbala, a theological system of prediction and hope in the face of the devastating brutality in the Jewish expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century. Its founder, Isaac Luria, expressed ideas of hope in adversity that resonated with the Jewish diaspora because of his confident predictions for restoration to Palestine. Brightman and Finch used Luria’s system to make their own predictions, choosing 1650 as a significant year. During the Protectorate of Cromwell, the year of 1656 became a popular prophetic prediction shared by Cromwell, in the hope of inaugurating Christ’s’ thousand year reign. This was a decisive factor in Cromwell re-admitting the Jews to England following their 1290 expulsion. Both dates came to nought, but using the same system with a different basis for date setting, Isaac Newton astonishingly predicted the Jews would return to Palestine in 1948.
Significant for Zionism today, was Finch’s preposition based on Genesis 12:3, that God would bless those nations who supported the Jews: “I will bless those that bless you, and I will curse those that curse you.” Although this idea was not strongly supported at the time, it has become today a central tenet of Christian Zionist ideology. Thus, not to support a Jewish homeland not only brings a curse from God based on the plain reading of the text, but also the more sinister charge of anti-Semitism. Philosopher Zizek rightly counters the illogicality of this charge by stating, ‘Zionism itself, as embodied in the State of Israel’s predominant politics, is already “anti-Semitic”, that is to say, it relies on anti-Semitic ideological mapping…. Zionism is a species of anti-Semitism.’ He arrived at this conclusion by linking the attempted visit of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann to Palestine, with the Hagana, a secret Zionist organization. Between them, plans were made for the mass deportation of Jews to Palestine. The Germans wanted Jews out of Western Europe, and the Zionists wanted them in Palestine to outnumber the Arabs as quickly as possible. Therefore, Zizek can say Zionism is a species of anti-Semitism because not only has it collaborated with Nazism, but in this collaboration, the common interest was a kind of ethnic cleansing, from Europe to Palestine, and then within Palestine. This way, the Nazi ‘final solution’ i.e. getting rid of the Jews, has been realised from a European standpoint, in the creation of the State of Israel.
In a personal account of his own expulsion by Israeli forces in 1948, Elias Chacour humourously reminds those who quote the promises given to Abraham that Abraham himself was a Gentile from a foreign land. Moreover, Finch entirely misses the point, since as Wright accentuates, ‘the specific call of Abraham must be seen as God’s remedy for the sin of all humankind: election involves the use of particular means, but for a universal goal.’ This brief overview based on biblical promises, is a religious Zionist approach.
Consequently, the ideas about restoration to the Holy Land contained with them the seeds of anti-Semitism, as did post-Reformation, especially from the 17th century onwards, following a renewed interest in the Old Testament and God’s dealings with the Jewish people. Significantly, the Reformers themselves were divided on the issue: Where Calvin and Luther understood the word “Israel” in Romans 11:26 to refer to the church of Jewish and Gentile believers, as did the Roman Catholic Church; Beza and Bucer applied the word to unbelieving Jews and Judaism.
Persecution of Jews in Europe and in the Russian pogroms heightened what was becoming a logical necessity for a Jewish homeland. Insecurity across Europe was compounded by the American and French revolutions. German Romanticism, which gave birth to the modern idea of nationalism, shaped the political aspirations of Theodore Herzl (1860-1904), the so-called ‘Father of Zionism’.
The complexity of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment can be found in the different yet sometimes merging cultures of France and Germany. French cultural assumptions about human universalism, science and the victory of reason over custom and prejudice shaped their identity (one form of liberal 19th century nationalism); German nationalism on the other hand, was a reaction against French liberalism, and viewed the state as belonging to a particular ethnicity giving members privileges that non-members could not have. The after-effect was to develop a moral and spiritual superiority that masked Germanic insecurity in lacking any perceived significant contribution to European/world culture (at least up to this point in history). Young German thinkers added a ‘vision of national destiny’ as they saw it, and a ‘nostalgic and romanticized evocation of the Teutonic past and its folk heroes.’ Herzl’s political ideology was formed in this context, as was German nationalism’s ultimate expression – Nazism, the consummate anti-Semitic movement; and may be a factor in explaining why Israel today, in the words of Avraham Burg, a liberal Jew, ‘cannot sustain itself without resorting to enormous acts of violence.’
These cultural shifts meant that assimilation for Jews in Western Europe was now possible on the proviso they give up their commitment to retaining any distinctiveness as a separate community, which included religious obligations. Jews would also have to relinquish hope of any ideas of the centuries old longing of a return to Eretz Israel, the biblical designation for the territory ‘promised’ to the ‘Children of Israel’. In return, assimilated Jews would in every way become just like non-Jews, earning their fortunes and enjoying the advantages of Western civilisation, whilst internally resenting the objective fact that they were still Jewish. This attitude encapsulates Herzl’s own, who considered Western Gentile sophistication the best culture humanity could create.
Eastern European Jewry did not have such opportunity. Persecution and increasing hostility dominated the scene, especially within Polish and Russian society. Peasant unrest during the reign of Alexander III in Russia, directed towards the government was diverted by encouraging attacks on Jewish communities. This sustained persecution, including looting, rape and killing, became the catalyst for the decision of some Jews to seek a homeland where they would be afforded protection by the state.
Consequently, many Eastern European Jews fled to safety in America, whilst a few fled to Palestine, working on agricultural settlements. The general attitude of Jewish labour and Jewish agriculture helped shape ideas of a Jewish state, an attitude that mirrors American views of their own struggle for survival. Although not Zionists, they were minimally motivated by religious ideals, but were essentially the pioneers of ‘practical Zionism’. Late nineteenth, early twentieth century political activity saw a dividing line between European Jews. The wealthy, assimilated and comfortable bourgeois Western Jews, in their reluctance to settle in Palestine, financed their poorer brethren from persecuted backgrounds. Mansfield notes there were about 80,000 Jews (including the indigenous communities) in Palestine, compared with between 650-700,000 Arabs. They were able to overcome this numerical discrepancy because the Palestinian inhabitants were simply viewed as ‘outsiders and interlopers’, ‘strangers living on our land,’ and not as claimants to the land they had lived on, despite Palestinians having an almost 2,000 year lineage. From the 1850’s on, interest in Palestine grew exponentially, due to successive ‘archaeological discoveries, military adventurism and travelogues’ which fired the popular imagination. Sizer highlights the first tour group to Jerusalem led by the Christian, Thomas Cook. By the end of the 19th century, Cook’s travel company had taken 12,000 people to Palestine. Today, of the two million who travel to Palestine/Israel every year as tourists or pilgrims, it is estimated that about 95 per cent do not meet any indigenous Christians, a community that is 99 per cent Palestinian, something Sizer calls ‘a perversion of what pilgrimage could and should be about.’
For Herzl, his mission was self-imposed. With all the assurance of his privileged upbringing, made all the more urgent, as he saw it, by the persistent failures of his first passion as a playwright, he set about turning Palestine into a national Jewish state. Mary Grey in her article ‘Theology and the Unfolding Tragedy of Palestinians’ rightly points out that support for Zionism and anti-Semitism went hand in hand. This is embodied in Herzl. His own diaries bearing testimony to his desire to convert Jews to Christianity and his public admission that he did not circumcise his son [i.e. to speed the return to Palestine], simply demonstrates Herzl’s disregard for Judaism. Furthermore, he writes, ‘An excellent idea enters my mind, to attract outright anti-Semitism and make them destroyers of Jewish wealth.’ In a survey for a TV documentary this entry was read out and every interviewee ascribed the extract to Hitler. So while Grey is making the point that Western powers both persecuted Jews and supported the idea of a state for Israel, it is also the case with Herzl, since he himself demonstrates disregard for his own ethnic people including the ancient Hebrew religion. Although Goldberg is ‘tired of the repetitive polemic’ of the debate, he strives to hold Zionism up to some scrutiny. His definition however does not fit with Herzl’s ideology at all when he writes, ‘Zionism is a unique national movement, in that it emerged among a scattered and disparate people who had little in common apart from religion and had not lived in what they regarded as their homeland for nearly 2,000 years.’ Herzl wasn’t religious and didn’t consider himself scattered or disparate, he loved European culture, as did many of his bourgeois compatriots.
Herzl’s motivation was the degrading spectacle of a serving Jew in the French Army in what became known as the ‘Dreyfus Affair’ of 1894. This event convinced Herzl that the world would not embrace Jews like himself – an enlightened Jewish-Gentile. His ‘political Zionism’ was expounded in his 1896 book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State: An attempt at a modern Solution to the Jewish Question), and was as important to Zionism as Marx’s Communist Manifesto was to socialism. It was also an attempt to establish his credentials as the ‘sober, judicious Doctor of Law rather than the author of drawing room comedies.’ Himself an assimilated Jew, he maintained that assimilation had not worked, so he argued against assimilation, and for separation, using what was described as ‘the hyperbole of vague generalisation’ which became his trademark. The Jewish question up to this point was neither social nor religious, but national.
After founding the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in 1897, Herzl set about seeking the goal of a homeland. Herzl’s political connections were established by the help of an Anglican Chaplain in Vienna during the 1880’s, William Hechler, whose contacts paved the way for access to the former Prime Minister and the then Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour. Concurrently, the Ottoman Turks were allowing a small but regular flow of immigration to Palestine because most Jewish immigrants posed no threat, being mere farmers. Jewish social status and economic potential had not necessarily increased only their safety and security. Synchronously, the British offered territory in Uganda and Argentina, both of which were dismissed by the WZO, as they increasingly focused upon Palestine.
Just as the moral justification for Zionism was never questioned, the ‘hidden question’ of indigenous Arab was never asked. Expressing this point succinctly, Herzl popularized a phrase used famously by the influential Lord Shaftsbury some fifty years previously, saying the Jews were ‘a people with no country for a country with no people’, what Palestinian liberationist Jean Zaru calls a ‘violation’ and a ‘cruel myth.’ That the Arabs outnumbered the Jews in Palestine by approximately nine to one had no bearing on Herzl’s sloganeering. Moreover, this is evidenced by Liberation theologian Prior who documented Herzl’s own attitude to the Palestinians when he wrote, ‘we shall endevour to expel the poor population across the border unnoticed – the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.’ Indeed, Shaftesbury’s influence was behemothic, translating as he did the theological positions of Brightman and Finch from religious/national ideals, into political strategy, paving the way for Herzl to merge the two.
Herzl’s slogan soon gained wider acceptance in British society. Britain was able to use this Zionist dictum as a mask for their imperial designs, especially after the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It was Herbert Samuel, a member of the British government, who in 1915 first proposed the idea to the Cabinet the idea of a Jewish Palestine ‘which would be annexed to the British Empire.’
The ratification of the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 saw the Middle East territory allocated between the British, French, Russians and Italians. Palestine itself was internationalised, pending agreement on how it was to be administered.
However, despite the Sykes-Picot agreement, by 1917 Britain was already looking for ways to remain in control of ‘internationalised’ Palestine and thus began veering away from the agreement. Betraying a cultural superiority, Prime Minister Lloyd George had said to a Gentile Zionist editor of a regional newspaper in Manchester, ‘Britain could take care of the Holy Places better than anyone else.’
In a letter to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, through whom the news would be transmitted to Jews everywhere, Balfour wrote what is known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine,
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use its best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in other countries.
This amounted to what historian Monroe called ‘one of the worst mistakes in [British] imperial history’, and what novelist Koestler succinctly described as ‘one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third nation.’ Moreover, the only Jew in the Cabinet, Edwin Montagu objected on the grounds that the Jews were a culture, not a nation. He refers to Zionism, with deft political understatement, as ‘a mischievous political creed’, even calling the declaration ‘anti-Semitic’, a deftness ignored by Prior who calls Zionism ‘pernicious’ and a ‘canonical’ ideology on a par with sacred texts.
Nevertheless, the declaration became the first major milestone in Zionist history. Its minimalist content achieving maximum impact for the Allies as nation states determined where their loyalties would lie. The partition plans for post-War Middle East would significantly favour British interest whilst affording them the authority to carry it out. On the aspirations of a return to Zion, two views were distinguished and both were achieved at this juncture: the hope of a return and constructing a program to achieve it.
Towards the Second Zionist Milestone
The declaration alarmed the Arab world not only by its wording, but because the political apparatus was now in place to achieve it, and this despite the promise that Palestinian residents, who formed ninety percent of the people on the land, would have their civil and religious rights protected. By 1918, Arab consensus believed the Zionists aimed to take over the country and place them in subjection. They perceived that civil and religious rights may be protected, but political rights were blatantly omitted, since the territory formerly belonged to a defeated enemy, the Ottomans. The Arabs were right to be alarmed, for as Sizer demonstrates, not only was the Declaration itself penned by the Zionist Organization on Balfour’s behalf, the author was the same man in the British government who also drafted its response, a Jew – Leopold Amery. Additionally, as Assistant Secretary to the British War Cabinet, Amery was responsible for establishing the Jewish Legion, ‘the first organized Jewish army for 2,000 years and forerunner of the Israeli Defence Force.’ Sizer then quotes historian Rubinstein who comments that this was ‘possibly the most remarkable example of identity concealment in 20th Century British political history’ because he misled officials as to his sympathy for the Jews.
Goldman points out the ignorance of almost everyone, by highlighting the view that many understood Palestine to be uninhabited, and it should therefore be inhabited by Jews, ‘the descendants of the lands’ ancient biblical inhabitants.’ This grave oversight, fostered by idealised notions of a Jewish return contradicted the reports of many visitors to Palestine, who witnessed first-hand the hundreds of thousands of Arab dwellers. The phrase ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’ was now used to claim that the Arabs of Palestine, despite their massive numbers, had no distinct “Palestinian identity”. But this is a moot point. Palestine was not empty, be it demographically or politically, as was attested by two unnamed Rabbi’s from Vienna, who visited Palestine in 1898, and reported, ‘The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.’ These two Rabbis knew only too well that Palestine was not only occupied by its indigenous people, but that this also meant that to deny them their national identity would be the first stage of de-humanisation that would allow the Western powers and the Zionist movement to ignore their rights. It would be colonisation and ethnic cleansing of the most nefarious kind (as the map in Appendix A reveals).
From the British perspective, although Zionist objectives were to some degree factored in, two vital aspects were overlooked. First, Britain was ignorant of the real situation in Palestine, and thus, second, the sentiments of its people. These sentiments are evident today in a sixty year conflict that continues to make international headlines. The failure to honour the Balfour Declaration and safe-guard Arab rights has created one of the most urgent and complex political problems of the twentieth/twenty first century.
Despite news of Arab frustration intensifying through violence, James Balfour wrote with astonishing arrogance, to Lord Curzon, his successor as Foreign Secretary in 1919, ‘The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far greater import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the land.’ These words go some way to explaining Balfour’s nickname in Office as “Bloody Balfour,” probably given after his responses to the sectarian problems he faced in Ireland. Curzon, the most travelled man in the British Cabinet had been to Palestine whereas Balfour had not (what is striking is that someone who was Foreign Secretary had never travelled internationally). He knew Zionism could only be implemented with a combination of oppression and expulsion of the inhabitants. At every juncture regarding the Middle East, Balfour’s views prevailed within the Cabinet, even when his reasoning, it seems, failed him.
Among the very few other challenges to Balfour, Lord Sydenham of the House of Lords replied,
‘… the harm done by dumping down an alien population upon an Arab country – Arab all around in the hinterland – may never be remedied … what we have done is, by concessions, not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, to start a running sore in the East, and no one can tell how far that sore will extend.’ Similarly, Edward House, United States aid to President Wilson wrote, ‘It is all bad, and I told Balfour so. They are making [the Middle East] a breeding place for future war.’
So at the point at which the Arab population is acknowledged, by the author who guaranteed their protection, comes a statement of such incredible arrogance as to defy all logic and compassion. Even as early as 1907, after twenty years of living in Palestine, the Zionist settler Isaac Epstein perceived the conflict when he called the Arab presence in Palestine “The Hidden Question”, and that facing it would confront a painful reality. He continues, ‘There resides in our treasured land an entire people which has clung to it for hundreds of years … the Arab, like all other men, is strongly attached to his homeland.’ Epstein urged that the Jews do no harm to any nation, concluding, ‘certainly not to a numerous people, whose enmity is very dangerous.’ Goldberg suggests Epstein is exaggerating to make his point, but in fact it seems that as a Jew with twenty years living in Palestine, Epstein is not only qualified to comment, but also that his comment if anything, bears understated testimony to the global forces of empire and conquest that resonate with mankind’s general sense of justice.
Epstein’s perception is the polar opposite of Herzl who referred to Palestine as ‘an outpost of civilization against barbarism.’ Herzl’s influence outstripped Epstein’s. As Herzl expressed his Zionist yearnings in progressively political terms, he departed from all previously expressed yearnings, be they religious, nationalist or utopian. Influenced by the writings of Nietzsche and the anti-Semitic Wagner, who in turn were shaped by the zeitgeist of nineteenth century German thought, Herzl dismissed secular liberalism and imbibed the idea of the Nietzschean superman: The Jewish people demanded a state; the Jewish fighters would establish one. ‘The Maccabees will rise again … The Jews who will it shall achieve their state.’ Their will-to-power through determination and superior technological know-how would ensure the Jews become masters of their own destiny. This then marks the reversal of the stereotypical Jewish as victim, to an all powerful and dominant Jewish state. In a very short time, the minority in a shared land would become the majority in a land-grab, and so the persecuted would become the persecutors.
An American government commission set up in 1919 to examine the wishes of the inhabitants in both Syria and Palestine regarding self-determination, further exposed the reality on the ground and the hypocrisy and unwillingness of British and French compliance. The King-Crane commission found that the inhabitants of Syria/Palestine were overwhelmingly opposed to the suggested idea of coming under foreign mandates, even though grateful for freedom from Ottoman rule. Although Zionism was viewed favourably before the commission, it concluded that many modifications would have to be made to accommodate the Balfour Declaration’s promises. Finally, after talks with Zionists in Jerusalem, they were left in no doubt that the ‘Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine.’ With this they concluded that the way forward was impossible and America consequently abandoned support for a Jewish homeland.
Thus, the ‘dangerous enmity’ of Epstein’s warning is ignored whilst Herzl’s Nietzschean superman is expected. The commission coincided with the Third Aliyah, of which there were notable contributing factors to compound these realities. The First Aliyah (1882-1903) composed of extremely poor Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms, allegedly brought about by Jewish involvement in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The Second Aliyah (1905-1914) witnessed 35,000 immigrants to Palestine, varying in class and occupation. The demographics were changing, never with more impact than the Third Aliyah (1919-1923). 35,000 new immigrants, many of whom were veterans of the Bolshevik revolution, radically left-wing and looking to create a socialist blueprint of the ideal society. There was also a Zionist youth group whose members were middle-class, well educated and steeped in the ideals and symbols of the Free German Youth movement and the philosophy of Buber and the theories of Marx and Freud. With this intake, a “complete dispossession” of the land looked highly likely at some point in the future. This group (though it is not limited to them) were referred to as Ma’apilim, because they went to Palestine in defiance of British policy that tried to limit political agitators and revolutionaries.
Despite the influence Zionism exerted on international affairs, it was still not part of the Jewish mainstream. It took the Second World War and its aftermath to bring this about. With Nazism in the 1930’s and the worsening situation of European Jewry, the implementation of Zionist aims were increasingly urgent.
Among the rallying cry for a Jewish state at this time was Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote, ‘The Jews have a right to a homeland.’ The Jews do indeed have this ‘right’ but Niebuhr’s reaction comes direct from Western guilt for the holocaust. As the Kairos document states, ‘the West sought to make amends for what Jews had endured in Europe, but it made amends on our account and in our land. They tried to correct an injustice and the result was a new injustice.’ A surge in American public support subsequently came with the revelations of the Jewish holocaust in Europe, especially among the fundamentalist evangelical community, who viewed the restoration of Israel as prophetic fulfilment according to the schematic of Darby’s Dispensationalism and Schofield’s account of this view in his Reference Bible. With the ‘Right of Return’ seeing thousands of Jews from Europe and Russia entering Palestine, and the British unwilling to continue its governing mandate, the UN passed a Resolution (29 November 1947) to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
In fact, not only did the ‘Right of Return’ for Jews ignore the ‘Right to Stay’ for Palestinians, Zionists fought against the British military from October 1945, whilst procuring military hardware from American donations and ironically, Communist Russia, to further the Zionist ’cause,’ as Russia sought to capitalise on the demise of British and European influence in the region. Zionists welcomed the UN Resolution, referring to it in their Declaration as ‘irrevocable’ (Smith: 221), chiefly because of a significant advantage: fifty five per cent of the country now amounted to less than eight per cent of the total Zionist landholdings. Despite the Arabs outnumbering the Jews with a two-to-one ratio, this disproportionate favouritism by the UN outraged the Arabs and civil war erupted (see Appendix B). Zionist zealots initiated ‘Plan Dalet’, that would attempt to seize most of Palestine by violence, a course of action that blatantly ignored Israel’s Declaration, which states,
We appeal … to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.
Palestinian resistance was no match for the vastly superior Jewish forces. Naim Ateek likens this to a Greek tragedy, as 75% of the land was lost and ‘over 750,000 Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) were ethnically cleansed’. The ‘ethnic cleansing’ Ateek refers to includes both war crimes and emigration from the land. The re-gathering of the Jewish diaspora had simply created a Palestinian diaspora. In claiming to stand in the Prophetic tradition, the Declaration falls on its own sword as Nathan’s rebuke of David is recalled (2 Samuel 12:1-15). The rich man (Israel) was slaughtering the poor man’s (Palestine) lamb (land) all over again.
Furthermore, Zaru critiques the Exodus framework of liberation theology as naive, since it not only ‘embraces violence against indigenous people’, but demands their genocide. It is naive in her view because the Exodus cannot be separated from the Eisodus (entrance) into Canaan, which means the Exodus account is ‘not a paradigm for liberation’, but one that simply transfers power from one group to another, without leading to the transformation of society. She concludes, ‘violence is at the heart of the Exodus’ and thus cannot be used as a theological paradigm when talking of Palestine. As a Palestinian Quaker, Zaru possibly overstates her case, for she does not have a view at all of God as Divine Warrior, as outlined by Longmann and Reid, nor does she integrate a view of sin and judgement with regard to Israelite destruction of Canaan (Genesis 15:16). However, she is correct to challenge the Exodus motif, because liberation theologians should really be drawing on the NT for a distinctly Christian view.
When the British mandate formally ended on 14th May 1948, Zionists proclaimed the State of Israel, being immediately recognised by America and Russia. This event is known in the Arab world as al–Nakba (‘The Catastrophe’ in Arabic), and is commemorated annually on 15th May. The announcement, expressed in a document of the Israeli Information Service, (Smith, p 220-222) subsumes within it past historical links with ancient Israel, the trauma of the Holocaust (‘The Shoah’ is the equivalent Hebrew term and preferred Israeli word), and the promise of a future liberal democratic state. The language expressed towards the Arab inhabitants was aggravated by Israel’s expulsion of many of them to gain control of their crops and lands during the ensuing Arab-Israeli wars, and only served to exacerbate the catastrophe.
Furthermore, we can now see the inter-relatedness of the three claims to ‘catastrophe.’ The catastrophe of the fall of the Ottoman Empire that led to the possibility of a Jewish state. The catastrophe of the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany on Jews, that made statehood inevitable; and the catastrophe of the Palestinians who lost almost everything when statehood was achieved. This declaration of independence by Israel was the second major milestone in Zionist history.
Unlikely Twins: Israel and Christian Zionism are Born-Again
Towards the Third Zionist Milestone
The next day (16th May 1948) a coalition of five Arab League countries attempted to restore Palestine to the Arabs, but were easily defeated by Israel, almost entirely because of inter-Arab mistrust and disorganisation. Israel in turn gained even more land, whist Arab states only gained the shame of defeat and additional 750,000 Palestinian refugees between them. By the end of the war in January 1949, only twenty one per cent of land remained in Arab hands. All across the Middle East and North Africa, Muslim states expelled their Jewish communities in reactionary protest. Where else but Israel could they go? This only served to strengthen Israel’s cause and swell their numbers. Unlike displaced Palestinians, Jews now had somewhere to go. Meanwhile, the evangelical fundamentalists declared these events as prophecy fulfilment and from this moment on, Christian Zionism entered the mainstream political and religious arena, so much so that American foreign policy today in the Middle East is shaped by these voices, especially with regard to the Republican Party. Sizer calls Christian Zionism ‘the fastest growing cult in America’, while John Stott is less tactful, calling it ‘biblically anathema.”
Although the term ‘Christian Zionist’ was rarely used prior to the 1990’s, its ideology and hermeneutic had been shaping generations of people. Growing out of a theological system called Premillenial Dispensationalism, which emerged in England during the 19th century during an outpouring of millennial doctrines, and systematized by the disenfranchised John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). It is of significance that Darby renounced Anglican and dissenting churches as apostate; viewed the contemporary church scene as under judgement and sectarian; and was often heard repeating pessimistically, ‘the church is in ruins.’ His bleak outlook was also based in his reaction to German Higher Criticism, and so his theory became a response to it. It is no surprise then to see, as Burge perceives, ‘that Dispensationalists embraced a pessimistic view of history, thinking that the world was coming to an end and judgement was near. Furthermore, his preaching between 1859-72, reinforced by the trauma of the Civil War, gave credence to his views about a failing church and a revived Israel, and so as Sizer suggests, Darby’s views ‘had a profound and increasing influence upon American Evangelicalism.’
Premillenialism has its roots in Jewish apocalyptic thought and thus is arguably as old as Christianity itself, and refers to the idea that Christ must return before the dawning of a thousand years of peace. Darby’s contribution was his distinctive view of the Rapture of all ‘true Christians,’ and interpreted all the major prophecies as having predictive value and a literal fulfilment. There is also an emphasis on the Antichrist, the Battle of Armageddon and the central role of Israel during the last days. He divided world history into “dispensations” of which we are in the penultimate.
Thus, Dispensational Premillenialists argued Jews would return to the land before or after their conversion and remain distinctly separate from the Church. This continues to be the dominant American position. Historic or Covenantal Premillenialism believed Jews would be incorporated into the Church and return to Palestine a converted nation. This formed the Restoration Movement and early British Christian Zionism. Sizer highlights a reversal of priorities at this point. Where covenantal premillenialism viewed evangelism of the Jews as priority and support for restoration as secondary, dispensational premillenialism reversed this order. Darby claimed all this on the basis of his own “inspired” reading of Scripture.
This hermeneutic became a central feature in many influential preachers of the 1880-1900 period, including especially Cyrus Scofield. Scofield, whose hugely influential Reference Bible (1909) imposed the dispensational framework onto the biblical text by commentary at every point, ‘with handy notes on the same page as the text to which they referred [which] meant that the word of Scofield and the Word of God easily merged into one supremely authoritative whole.’ This Bible became the only version used by evangelical fundamentalist Christians for the next ninety five years, thus Scofield ‘canonized Zionism,’ ensuring that premillenial dispensationalism ‘spread so deep and wide that it could never be uprooted.’
Wilkinson, a contemporary British apologist for Christian Zionism, labels his opponents “Palestinianists” who engage in biblical revisionism, a derogatory term since he refutes even the notion of “Palestine” and more incredibly, “Palestinian people”. He suggests Christian Palestinianism (i.e. not Christian Zionism) is a political not biblical movement that seeks support from the theological community and validation through academia, all the while attaching calumnious summaries labelling it ‘a reactionary movement’; a ‘para-church movement’; a veneer of biblical respectability’; and ‘a one-issue coalition of strange bed-fellows’.
One such “Palestinianist”, Michael Prior, died in a tragic accident shortly after giving a speech at the 5th International Sabeel Conference in 2004. Wilkinson appears to associate Prior’s death as a direct result of his ‘blasphemous statements’, and seems pleased about it! This kind of relational dissonance among Christians is unhelpful and unwelcome in an already heated debate.
Both characters, Scofield and Darby (not to mention Wilkinson) reveal an alarming capacity for life’s darker side. This is significant because it is reflected in their ideology that has influenced millions. To complete this unholy trinity of pessimism, Goldberg points out that medical evidence suggests Herzl himself was going through a ‘psychosomatic crisis’ at the time of writing Der Judenstaat. It is no coincidence that fundamentalists would rather see the Middle East destroyed in war and bloodshed, as their ‘theo-political, war theology’ suggests, than support a two-state solution, which would be viewed as a denial of God’s promises and provision.
With a theology that was reassuringly coherent to the American public that opposed the liberal theologians, coupled with the immanency of the world’s end and the need to evangelise and save souls, premillenial dispensational fundamentalism offered a way to see the world that bought into notions of American identity as an agent of and for God and his plans in the world. ‘With the wrecked vessel of the world growing darker and darker, and people taking to the lifeboat [Moody] was offering them, there was no time to lose. The race was on to save as many souls as possible before the moment when God came in judgement to ‘burn up this world’. Mass evangelism was all that counted’ so Moody challenged the postmillenialists who struggled to build the Kingdom of God on earth, by saying, ‘Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?”
This inventive phrase captures both the urgency for evangelism and their depressing worldview: What of social justice? Stewardship of earth’s resources? Discipleship and pastoral care?
This worldview is scrutinised by Stan Moody in his paper delivered in 2008. Aiming to create an intifada (protest) from within the Evangelical Right against Christian Zionism, he claims the problem in the [American] churches is that Christ has been replaced by ‘a god who acts as a whimsical estate agent,’ what he calls Dominion Theology, which is a form of “Christian Atheism.” This kind of Christianity prefers dogma over doctrine; power over weakness; works over faith; law over grace and ease over suffering, amounting to no more than theological exiguousness. Christian Zionists need to have a Kantian moment and wake up from their dogmatic slumbers!
Following the findings of psychologist Eric Fromm, Moody linked the pathology of Christian Zionism to a culture of fear that gives rise to, as we have seen, idealist nationalism. This is the logical end-game of a Diaspora Christian community that has lost sight of Jesus’ inauguration of the Kingdom of God as a homeland – the heavenly Promised Land. Thus when a Christian movement loses sight of Jesus, religion becomes an identity to be protected rather than a victory to be lived, and security is sought within geographical and ideological boundaries rather than within the boundless presence of God with his people. This kind of myopic nationalism can only result in a paranoia of self-defence and self-promotion, something Fromm calls a ‘Pathology of Narcissism’, whereby theological study becomes superficial; core biblical doctrines give way to idiom; love of country trumps love of humanity and belief becomes secondary to the language of belief.
This astonishing reduction of faith allows for the supremacy of nationalism over eschatology through the ‘ingenious strategy of reviving physical Zion in order to inaugurate spiritual Zion.’ Moody then quotes Posner, as she comments on the general culture of the Christian Right, that despite their continued expansion, respectability and influence, they are ‘Money-grubbing, authoritarian, and plagued by scandal, they nevertheless seem invulnerable to doubt. Their followers live in a strange subculture of “Hebraic Christianity,” end times prophecy and constant pressure to send in more money … they dismiss negative news reports concerning the lavish lifestyles and dubious conduct of their preachers as works of Satan.’
However, despite these worldview over-sights, Dispensational Christian Zionism grew in popularity and watched the international scene unfolding as Jews steadily returned to Palestine. Additionally with its commitment to biblical literalism, the movement increasingly came to realise that restoration was being achieved, but in unbelief, and biblical verses were found to validate it. This all changed with Israel’s international recognition in 1948, but it was the Six Day War of 1967 that launched a plethora of Christian Zionist publications, prophecies and predictions. There are not many on all sides who fail to describe Israel’s swift victory as miraculous, which is why the 1967 Six-Day War was the third and final (so far), milestone in Zionist history.
Nelson Bell, editor of Christianity Today and father-in-law of Billy Graham, wrote after the 1967 War, ‘That for the first time in more than 2,000 years Jerusalem is now in the hands of the Jews gives the students of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible.’ No greater sense of urgency and no greater proof of prophetic fulfilment was needed, this War catapulted Christian Zionism into overdrive as the movement sought to capitalise on Israel’s ‘miraculous’ victory.
However, from this point on, liberal Protestants and organisations such as the World Council of Churches began to distance themselves from Zionism, and the schism grows ever wider today.
1967 opened wide the fanciful but creative writing that is today a multi-billion dollar industry in America. The question to ask is how did the current leading Christian Zionist, John Hagee, allow his theology to defend Israel politically, and permit him to call for military strikes against Iran? There are two theological markers that allow for this possibility. The first is eschatology. A passion for seeing the Second Coming of Christ comes before a passion for fairness and justice. In this regard, Scripture has been hijacked by selectivity and in so doing, Hagee’s eschatological view, always subordinate to nationalism, becomes the primary hermeneutic. Secondly, fidelity to Israel in all circumstances is the marker by which a Zionist passes God’s own litmus test – the re-birth of Israel as prophetic fulfilment in 1948. This is the reasoning behind the oft repeated mantra, ‘God blesses those who bless Israel’ and we add, ‘even if it contradicts God’s revealed character or any reasonable sense of fairness and justice.’ Clark is surely correct to summarise Christian Zionism as ‘the ideology of empire, colonisation and militarism.’
This brief historical survey has attempted to demonstrate Zionism’s complexity. It is clear that Zionism is not only religious, but multifarious in expression. This is not so for Christian Zionism, since this concerns an active and believing community, albeit with a peculiar eschatological and hermeneutical bent. It is often the case that within this community it is virtually impossible to raise objections or question belief structures, since to do so would be ‘Zionist-theological’ suicide.
As we approach an exegetical study on the issue of ‘Land’, we highlight the danger of an unquestioning Christian Zionist approach in that the cosmic significance of the redemptive work of Christ is downgraded. Christ is too easily downgraded by an overt emphasis on the Jewish people and ‘their’ land. Key questions at this juncture are: what difference did the coming of the Kingdom of God, in Jesus, make to Jewish hopes about land and the people of God? Did Jesus’ coming simply signal a deferment of hopes for restoration of the Jewish people, or were these hopes fulfilled in the Messiah and his new Kingdom?
There is a peculiarly resistant reluctance among many Christian Zionists to accept that land, which is a particular focus of God’s redemptive purposes in the OT, no longer holds that role, because God’s redemptive work in the NT is on a global stage and includes all people. The consequences for confusing this issue have created the ‘perfect storm’ on a global stage, and created a sixty year exile or open prison, (not to mention, in Zaru’s words, a ‘vast cemetery) for the majority of Palestinians.
Unconditional support in the Zionist schematic is viewed as faithfulness to God. This kind of spiritual backing from largely Western Churches is closely allied to a view of Israel as the gutsy little western-style democracy, fighting for survival, David-like, among the Goliaths and dictators of the Arab world. In such a political climate, and with powerful and influential voices for Israel heard in the corridors of power, especially and almost uniquely in America, the pressure on the Palestinian Christian community is immense, especially as radical Islam views Christians as Western conspirators, and therefore, de facto Zionist supporters
Zionist support is given without qualms, willing to condone and justify continued military occupation of territory contrary to international law, the confiscation of land owned by one family for many generations, detention without trial and discriminatory measures in education, welfare and housing. As Kenneth Cragg writes, ‘The sense of what Palestinians are up against in the massive yet elusive sanction Israel enjoys is no small part of their travail.’ Indeed, the situation resembles more the futile labour of the mythical Sisyphus than anything else.
Within this whole debate, justice is a key theme, as are the values of the Kingdom of God. Certainly the land has an absolute political significance for Palestinians as their homeland, but it has only a relative claim for Palestinian Christians as Christians. In contrast to Judaism and Islam, specific places and territory are, for Christians, of secondary importance to the belief that they have no earthly promised land. A theological and exegetical study of ‘Land’ will follow in due course.
(c) Gralefrit Theology
Feel free to quote and use, but please abide by all the usual rules when doing so.
 http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/zionism.html [accessed 15th July 2010]
 Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon? 19
 Wagner, Christians and Zion: British Stirrings, 1 [I found no evidence that other nations viewed themselves in the same manner].
 Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, translator not clearly indicated (But it seems to be L.C. Jane’s . 1903 Temple Classics translation), introduction by Vida D. Scudder, (London: J.M. Dent; New York E.P. Dutton, 1910) Prepared for the Internet Medieval Sourcebook by Alexander Pyle, firstname.lastname@example.org Colorado State University.
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/bede-book1.html [accessed 22 July 2010]
 Two publications of note: The World’s Great Restauration by Sir Henry Finch in 1608; and A Revelation of the Revelation by Thomas Brightman in 1609. As is maintained today, Brightman persuasively announced that Jews would convert to Christianity and return to Palestine.
 Lamont, Puritanism and Historical Controversy, 152
 Paul, The Lord Protector – Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell, 322-349
 Clark, Allies for Armageddon, 36
 Zizek, the Parallax View, 256
 Chacour, We Belong to the Land, chapter 1
 Wright in Walker, Jerusalem: At the Centre of God’s Plans? 302
 Sizer, 27
 Goldberg, The Promised Land: A History of Zionist Thought, 5
 Burge, Why I am not a Christian Zionist, Academically Speaking, 5
 Whether Eastern European Jews are genetically linked to a Middle Eastern origin, as genetic studies have recently shown, or whether Koestler’s claims (cf. The Thirteenth Tribe, 1976) that they are Jews by conversion and not ethnically descended from Semitic stock is for my purposes extraneous. Opponents of Zionism claim that if there is no physical connection to biblical Israel, then these Jews have no right to inhabit the Land based on Covenant Promise. Only a debate that relies on the ideologies of a pure race, such as Nazi Aryanism would benefit from this line of enquiry.
 Mansfield, A History of the Middle East, 160
 Goldman, 280
 Sizer, 33
 Zionism and Herzl: The Anti-Semitic Side of Zionism:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=9024068972366598651# [accessed 15th September 2010]
 Sizer, Responsible Tourism: The Ethical Challenges of Managing Tours to the Holy Land:
http://www.cc-vw.org/articles/dphilexplication.htm [accessed 30 September 2010]
 Grey, Cornerstone, Issue 56, Spring 2010, 5
 Goldman, x
 Ibid., ix
 Dreyfus was convicted of treason and given a life sentence, as the crowd shouted, “Death to Jews.”
 Goldberg, 31-33
 Goldberg, 36
 Goldberg, 40
 Wagner, 2
 Zaru Theologising, Truth and Peacemaking in the Palestinian Experience, in Speaking the Truth, (Ed. Michael Prior), 166
 Quoted from Michael Prior’s obituary, http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2004/aug/06/guardianobituaries.religion [accessed 28 July 2010]
 Ibid., 162
 Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict – A History with Documents, 68
 Mansfield, 162
 Balfour Declaration in Smith, 75
 Adams, What Went Wrong in Palestine? In Journal of Palestine Studies, 72
 Ibid., 75
 Prior, Zionism and the Challenge of Historical Truth and Morality, in Speaking the Truth (Ed. Prior), 14
 Goldman, Zeal for Zion, 3
 Mansfield, 164
 Amery even changed his name from Moritz to Maurice in order to disguise his origins, Sizer, Christian Zionism, 64
 Sizer, 64
 Goldman, 22
 Shlaim, The Iron Wall, 3
 Sizer, 65
 [Internet], United Nations: The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem, section IV, http://unispal.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/aeac80e740c782e4852561150071fdb0?OpenDocument, [Accessed July 26 2010.]
 Morris, Righteous Victims, 73
 Goldman, 23-4
 Goldberg, 158
 Goldberg, 39
 Goldberg, 40
 Henry King (theologian and educator) and Charles Crane (a wealthy Democrat party contributor) and Arabist.
 Mansfield, 180-1
 Sizer, 149
 ‘Aliyah’ is a Hebrew word meaning ‘ascent’ which refers to Jewish immigration to Israel.
 Goldberg, 149
 Goldman, 27
 Kairos Palestine Document, 2.3.2 [a document prepared by Palestinian Christian leaders]
http://www.oikoumene.org/fileadmin/files/wcc-main/2009pdfs/Kairos%20Palestine_En.pdf [accessed July 30th 2010]
 [Internet], United Nations: The U.N. & Palestine, April 1947 – April 1948, http://unispal.un.org/unispal.nsf/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/97501c56730958d485256a5700664731?OpenDocument&Highlight=0,UN,resolution,Palestine,partition [Accessed July 30th 2010.]
 Smith, 184
 Catherwood, 196
 Mansfield, 235
 Declaration of the Establishment of Israel, in Smith, 221
 Ateek, Cornerstone, Issue 56, Spring 2010, 1
 Zaru Theologising, Truth and Peacemaking in the Palestinian Experience, in Speaking the Truth, (Ed. Michael Prior), 165
 Longmann III & Reid, God is a Warrior.
 Catherwood, The Middle East, 194
 Mansfield, 237
 Sizer, 21
 Wagner, 2
 A view that divides God’s dealings with humanity into seven dispensations, and believe a rapture of the saints will occur before the tribulation.
 Ibid., 50
 Burge, 1
 Sizer, 66
 Wagner, 2
 Sizer, 35
 Ibid., 41
 Clark, 91-92
 Wagner, 2
 Sizer, 74
 Clark, 90
 Wilkinson, 41-42
 Ibid., 116
 Wilkinson, 64
 Ibid., 57
 Goldberg, 40
 Even the term “Middle East” is a Western perspective!
 Expressions used by Wagner at a Sabeel Conference in 2004.
 Postmillennialism views the millennium as lying in the future and precedes the return of Jesus.
 Clark, 88
 Moody, The Pathology of Christian Zionism, an address to the 10th International Conference of Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation.
 Wagner, 4
 Though this view is not limited to him.
 Burge, 2
 Clark, 226
 Zaru Theologising, Truth and Peacemaking in the Palestinian Experience, in Speaking the Truth, (Ed. Michael Prior), 167
 An aide to the former Israeli PM, the late Menachem Begin, is reported to have described America’s 40 million evangelical Christians as ‘a pillar that Israel has in the United States. They number ten times the Jews in America, and they are outspoken. Naturally, we look kindly on what they are doing …’ (From a Washington Post article, quoted in Chapman, 1992, Whose Promised Land, 1992, 222.
 Examples of this can be found in many places, notably through the work of Sabeel, and the account given by Chacour in We Belong to the Land.
 Cragg, Palestine: The Prize and Price of Zion, 235