BACKGROUNDER : Christians and Zionism

"For the man whose knowledge is not in order, the more he has of it, the greater will be his confusion." -- Herbert Spencer (1820-1923)

In these pages we have attempted to highlight the true face of Islam, and thus expose the fallacy of calls for Christian-Muslim co-operation. Indeed, it is Christians and Jews who should seek alliances. The situation in southern Lebanon--Jews and Christians together facing off an Islamic onslaught against both--is possibly the best current example of such an alliance. But there have been earlier precedents:

The saga of the Jewish return from exile to their ancient homeland in Eretz Israel is among the most compelling of this past century. The struggles and successes of the Zionist movement, fostered by Theodore Herzl 100 years ago, are unprecedented in human history as nearly 2,000 years of Jewish wandering and suffering gave way to the rebirth of Israel.

One of the major keys to Herzl's thinking and success was the influence of his Christian friends. When Herzl was debating where to find a haven for Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, the Rev William E Blackstone sent him a copy of the Old Testament with prophetic references to the Jews' return to the Land of Israel marked throughout. And William Hechler, a British chaplain and tutor to German royalty, was instrumental in helping Herzl gain access to Kaiser Wilhelm II, thereby bringing the Zionist cause into the mainstream of European geo-political discussion.

The influence of these Christian figures evidences an undeniable truth: the origins of the Zionist movement are much older than Herzl, being laid down in the Bible and the millennial hope of Jewish return to the Land of Israel as promised by the Hebrew prophets. And indeed, Christians often proved to be the most sincere believers in these prophetic verses and the strongest advocates for restoration of the Jews to Zion.

Following the Reformation and its emphasis on the authority of Scripture, different Protestant sects fleeing religious persecution identified with the sufferings of Jewish peoples and modeled their communities on the concept of God's covenant with the Hebrews. As they read the promises in the biblical prophets concerning the regathering of a scattered Israel, the Puritans in particular showed great interest in the idea of restoration of Jews to their land.

During the tremendous revivals that swept England and America in the 18th and 19th centuries, Christian ministers preached that the regathering of the Jews to Israel was an imminent sign of the "last days" and Messiah's soon return. Such British church and political leaders as Lord Palmerston and Lord Shaftesbury proclaimed that England in particular was divinely positioned to assist with Jewish settlement in the Middle East. In 1891, six years before the First Zionist Congress, Blackstone presented a petition to US President Benjamin Harrison calling for reinstatement of the Jews to Israel; among the signatories were Cardinal Gibbons, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and morethan 400 other leading Americans.

In due time, these efforts bore fruit. The "Restorationists" were to impact the policies and decisions of Great Britain when the government of David Lloyd George issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917 in support of "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people". After decades of Christian advocacy for Jewish return to the Holy Land, the prevailing view among those western decision-makers at the Versailles Peace Conference was that they simply were recognizing pre-existing national rights and the biblical connection of the Jews with the land of their fathers in approving the British Mandate in Palestine.

In the Land of Israel itself, devout Christians were instrumental in aiding the Zionist cause. Colonel John Henry Patterson first commanded the Zion Mule Corps and then the Jewish Legion, which fought with the British armies to drive the Turks from Palestine in 1917. Thus he helped fulfill a goal of many Zionists (including a young Ze'ev Jabotinsky who served under Patterson) of a Jewish combat force and the revival of their ancient fighting spirit. Major-General Orde Wingate, a British intelligence officer in Mandate Palestine, risked his military career by secretly training special "night squads" (the Palmach) to carry out missions against Arab raiders and thus deter attacks on the Yishuv. Inspired by biblical figures like David and Gideon, Wingate helped shape the Israel Defence Forces' core military doctrines of deterrence and independent initiative.

The story of Jewish restoration to the Land of Israel is replete with many more examples of Christians who, sensing the prophetic significance of the return of the Jewish exiles and the rebirth of Israel, have played significant roles in nurturing the Zionist dream, persuading key political figures, influencing momentous historic events, saving Jews from peril, and enhancing the security and well-being of the modern state of Israel.

Suggested further reading on the role of Christian Zionists in the rebirth of Israel:

A Place Among The Nations, Binyamin Netanyahu (New York: Bantam Books, 1993)

Faith and Fulfillment, Michael Pragai (London: Vallentine, Mitchell, 1985)

For the Love of Zion, Kelvin Crombie (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1991)

The Zionism of God, Claude Duvernoy (Jerusalem: Ahva Press, 1985)

Also On This Site:
The Role of Gentile Christians in The Rebirth of The State of Israel

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