• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

    Previously at:
    blogs.salon.com/0003494
    barthsnotes.wordpress.com

    Email me
    (Non-commercial only)

  • Archives

  • Twitter

  • Supporting

  • Recent comments

Christians Battle over Zionism

The battle over Christian Zionism is heating up. A the start of June, Tony Campolo criticised some of his fellow evangelicals, complaining they had

gotten caught up in the theology that before Christ can return, the Holy Land must belong to the Jews. They’re really advocating ethnic cleansing. There’s no justification for that in Scripture.

Joseph Farah quoted these exact words a month later (in an article brought to my attention by The Dark Window), then followed with somewhat of a nonsequitur:

This charge of Israeli ethnic cleansing is the 21st century version of the blood libel. Worse, perhaps. In effect, the Jews are being charged with the crime perpetrated against them.

Farah realised his attack on Campolo would be more effective if he could smear him as an anti-Semite, and guessed that his credulous readers wouldn’t notice that Campolo’s quote doesn’t mention or imply Israelis at all.

Christianity Today, as ever, provided more nuanced commentary, noting that Campolo’s

remarks to the [Birmingham] News suggest he was using the “expulsion” sense of “ethnic cleansing” and not accusing evangelicals of advocating the mass murder of Palestinians. What he meant was probably closer to the phrase “ethnic purity,”

In this sense, some conservative Christians and Israelis certainly do support ethnic cleansing, as relayed via the American Council for Judaism:

At a Washington rally in October, The Forward (Oct. 18, 2002) notes that, “Thousands of Evangelical Christians waving Israeli flags cheered as Knesset member Benny Elon called for the ‘relocation’ of Palestinians from the West Bank into Jordan…Elon, whose Moledet Party advocates the ‘transfer’ of Palestinians to Arab countries, said that a ‘resettlement’ of the Palestinians is prescribed by the Bible…Pat Robertson was the main speaker during the pro-Israel rally…Dismissing the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ claim to the land, and particularly to Jerusalem, Robertson said that ‘the Palestinians are really Arabs who moved there a few decades ago.’

In 2002 then-House Majority leader Rep. Richard Armey of Texas also announced his support for the “transfer” plan, as The Christian Science Monitor this week reminds us in an article on Christian Zionism. And although this does not amount to advocacy of mass murder, no intelligent human being can imagine anything other than carnage attending such an expulsion. Interviewed in the same Monitor article, Jerusalem Report editor Gershom Gorenberg observes:

In Israel, this position is regarded as somewhat like that of the Ku Klux Klan in the US…These American figures are taking positions way to the right of the Israeli mainstream.

However, other churches are rejecting the theology of Christian Zionism. Last week in the UK, both Anglican Archbishops signed a letter representing all the C of E bishops that contained the following:

Within the wider Christian community we also have theological work to do to counter those interpretations of Scripture from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land.

At the same time, the Presbyterian Church (USA) Assembly

voted by large margins to condemn Israel’s construction of a “security wall” across the West Bank; disavow Christian Zionism as a legitimate theological stance and direct the denomination’s Middle East and Interfaith Relations offices to develop resources on differences between fundamental Zionism and Reformed theology

On the other hand, today’s Ha’aretz reports that:

The Catholic Church condemned anti-Zionism as a cover for anti-Semitism by means of a joint statement issued by a forum of Catholic-Jewish intellectuals this week.

The announcement was made at a gathering of religious, academic and other leading Jewish and Catholic figures in Buenos Aires

“We oppose anti-Semitism in any way and form, including anti-Zionism that has become of late a manifestation of anti-Semitism,” the statement said.

Well, it’s certainly true that anti-Semites sometimes hide their racism behind attacks on Israel, and Israel and Jews are horribly conflated in much of the Islamic world. But perhaps the “Catholic figures” could have consulted Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace block, and Uri Avnery’s short essay that addresses the issue.

UPDATE (13 July): This Charles Glass article from the June 24 London Review of Books notes:

In public statements to the Arabs, the British and later the UN, Zionist leaders protested that they had no intention of driving out indeigenous Arabs…The minutes of Jewish Agency meetings, however, are full of proposals for the ‘transfer’ of the native population to other countries in order to make the land available to Jewish settlers and create a Jewish majority. The term used for ‘transfer’ then, as now, was the Hebrew word tihur, which is closer in meaning to ‘purification’ or ‘cleansing’ of the land.