By Victor Sharpe
Zionism, simply put, is the Jewish people’s national liberation movement. Put in Biblical terms, it is the return from exile of the Jews to Zion – to that very special land promised by God to the first Jew, Abraham, and through his descendants, Isaac and Jacob, to the Jewish people forever.
The Hebrew Scriptures equate Zion with the holiest city in Judaism, Israel’s capital of Jerusalem. You can read numerous references in the Bible and the Psalms to the word Zion, such as in Psalm 135:21, II Samuel 5:7 and Isaiah 24:23.
The Biblical yearning of the ancient Jews to return to their ancestral homeland is mirrored in the modern political usage of the term Zionism, first employed in 1890 by the Jewish author and poet, Nathan Birnbaum.
Theodore Herzl, an assimilated Jewish journalist from Vienna, became the father of modern Zionism in the late nineteenth century. He had been so moved by the hopelessness of the lives of the Jews in Europe, that he helped create the political movement calling for the return of the Jews to the ancient homeland, which resulted finally in the rebirth of Israel in 1948. Herzl himself wrote in 1898. “One thing is to me certain, high above any doubt: the movement will continue. I know not when I shall die, but Zionism will never die.” Herzl died young, his heart unable to withstand his feverish restlessness and the enormous strain he placed upon it.
But this article deals with the Christians who found within their faith the Biblical signposts, which showed them the imperative need to support the return of the Jews to ancient Zion and the Land of Israel. Who were some of these Christians and what did they find in the Scriptures that moved them so profoundly?
Perhaps the first Christians to reject the belief – found among the majority of Catholics and Protestants – that the Church is the “new Israel” and that Christians are the “new Jews” occurred some 500 years ago as a result of the printing of the King James Version of the Bible. They realized that such an old and pernicious belief held by the Church was the fuel that fed the fires of the Catholic Inquisition and of the massacres of Jewish populations throughout much of Europe during the Crusades. That idea is known today primarily as “Replacement Theology” and is employed chiefly as a weapon against the reconstitution of the Jewish State of Israel in its ancestral and Biblical homeland.
In about 1560, Henry Finch, an Englishman who was a jurist, legal writer, member of the British Parliament and Hebraist, encouraged the Jews in Europe to assert their claim to the Promised Land. He spoke and wrote in Hebrew but could not speak to Jews directly for they had been driven out of England in 1290 by Edward I, after the barons and the kings had repeatedly exploited, impoverished and massacred them. It was not until 1657 that they were to return during the time of Oliver Cromwell, who himself was moved to support the rights of the Jews to live again in England and to return to Zion.
Finch was moved by the words of the Jewish prophet Isaiah, and particularly by Chapter 43:4-7 in which the Lord God of Israel declares that he will “bring back His people from the East, the West, the North and the South.” Henry Finch was thus one of the early Christian Zionists. Many Christians have been moved to embrace the return of the Jews to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, by what the Jewish prophet Jeremiah wrote in chapter 31:10-12. “Hear the Word of the Lord, O ye nations. Declare it and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him: therefore, they shall come and sing again in the heights of Zion.”
In 1910, a young British Army officer with the unlikely name, Richard Meinertzhagen, was dining with the British Consul in Odessa when a pogrom broke out in the streets outside. Meinertzhagen watched with growing but impotent rage as Jewish shops and businesses erupted in flames and Jewish men, women and children were hunted down, beaten, murdered and left to lie in the gutter while the police stood by and watched. He wrote in his journal, “I am deeply moved by these terrible deeds and have resolved that whenever or where I can help the Jews, I shall do so to the best of my ability.” Young Richard Meinertzhagen became a lifelong Zionist and, though a nominal Christian, wrote that he was much influenced by the “Divine Promise that the Holy Land will forever remain Israel’s inheritance.”
Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen went on to become a great fighter for the Zionist cause at a time when many members of the British Government and military, such as Prime Ministers Lord Arthur Balfour and Lloyd George were Christian Zionists.
Meinertzhagen, perhaps, played an even more fundamental role in helping the British and Anzac (Australian and New Zealand) forces defeat the Ottoman Turks than Colonel T. E. Lawrence the famed Lawrence of Arabia – ever did. Meinertzhagen’s espousal of the Jewish cause and of the rights of the Jews to return to their homeland led him to visit Adolph Hitler and Joachim Von Ribbentrop in Berlin just three months before the Second World War began on September 3, 1939..
With a loaded revolver in his pocket, he had gone to seek assurances from Hitler that the Jews of Germany would be safeguarded. The fuehrer had thrown up his hand in the Nazi salute and shouted “Heil Hitler.” Meinertzhagen, thinking he was being polite, raised his own hand and replied, “Heil Meinertzhagen.” It was the wrong thing to do and Hitler launched into a forty-minute tirade, translated by Von Ribbentrop. Needless to say, Hitler did not give the assurances that Richard Meinertzhagen sought and to the end of his days Meinertzhagen regretted not using the revolver. Indeed he wrote in his diary. “If the war breaks out, as I feel sure it will, then I shall feel very much to blame for not killing these two.”
There were many Christians who were inspired by the Bible to become Zionists. In 1714, John Toland of Ireland, published his book, Reasons for Naturalizing the Jews in Great Britain and Ireland on the Same Footing with all Other Nations. He knew about the appalling incarceration of the Jews in ghettos throughout Europe from which they could not escape. His work helped to finally allow the Jews in 1866 to enter Parliament, which led the most famous nineteenth century English Jew, Benjamin Disraeli, to serve two terms as Prime Minister.
In Denmark, Holeger Paulli (1644-1714) published books and pamphlets, which he sent to the kings of France and England urging them to help fulfill the desire and yearnings of the Jews to return and regain their statehood.
In the nineteenth century there was a flowering of support by Christians for the Jewish yearning to return home. The French author Emile Zola had been horrified and outraged at the trumped up charges that led to the imprisonment on Devil’s Island of the Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Such anti-Semitism as existed in the French officer corps led Zola to publish his withering attack on the French army and on anti-Semitism in his book J’Accuse. William Blake began the first lines of one of his greatest poems, “England, awake, awake, awake! Jerusalem thy sister calls. Why wilt thou sleep the sleep of death, and close her from thy ancient walls? Thy gates beheld sweet Zion’s ways: Then was a time of joy and love.”
Lord Palmerston, British Foreign Secretary, wrote in 1840: “There exists at the present time among the Jews dispersed over Europe a strong notion that the time is approaching when their nation is to return to Palestine. It would be of manifest importance to Turkey to encourage the Jews to return and settle in Palestine… ”
Disraeli wrote some years later, and well before Israel was reborn as an independent State, that “A people that persists in celebrating their vintage, although they have no fruits to gather, will regain their vineyards.”
Leo Tolstoy, Gorky, Rousseau, Sir Walter Scott, Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Lord Shaftesbury, J.C. Smuts, Winston Churchill and hundreds and thousands of other Christians found the same signposts in the Bible, which led them to support the Zionist cause and the redemption of Israel.
In the United States, President Abraham Lincoln overruled some of the anti-Jewish sentiments of General Ulysses S. Grant. President Woodrow Wilson was in favor of the Zionist ideal and President Harry Truman described himself as the “modern day Cyrus” because he had refused to accept the State Department’s preference not to recognize the independence of the newly reborn Jewish State in 1948. In doing so, he repeated what his ancient Persian counterpart, King Cyrus, had done millennia before in recognizing the Jewish people’s eternal attachment to its ancestral homeland.
Today many millions of Christians support Israel even as it becomes increasingly isolated in a hostile world. Organizations such as the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, Bridges for Peace, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and The Jerusalem Connection International, among others, help refute the relentless anti-Israel propaganda campaign against Israel by its Arab and pro-Arab enemies. They educate their fellow Christians about Israel’s cause, while at the same time providing material assistance and moral support to the beleaguered citizens of the Jewish State.
The second President of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, was moved by the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies and by the support of many Christian supporters of Israel’s rebirth. He commented as follows: “We are witnessing today the wondrous process of the joining of the tribes of Israel, bone to bone and flesh to flesh; the merging of them into one nation. I pray that the Rock and Redeemer of Israel may prosper our ways and that in our days Judah may be saved and Israel dwell securely.”
Now in the first decade of the 21st century, the continued survival of the reconstituted Land of Israel is being tested by an infernal coalition of enemies. Never has the blessed help and support of individual Christians and Christian Zionist organizations been more needed by the Zionist cause and by the embattled men, women and children of Israel. And never has it been so appreciated by them as now when the world is turning its cold face against Zion.
Copyright © Victor Sharpe 2009. Victor Sharpe writes about Jewish history and the Israel-Islamist conflict. He is the author of several books including: Politicide – The attempted murder of the Jewish state. Both books available from publisher (www.lulu.com)