Christian Zionism and the birth of Modern Israel

July 7, 2015

by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director

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Lord Arthur Balfour (Simbos/shutterstock)

As Zionism continues to be the focus of a worldwide smear campaign by those who would delegitimize the state of Israel, it becomes increasingly important for Israel’s Christian friends to understand the history and foundations of this important and prophetic movement. In the last issue of this magazine, we looked at the broader picture, from Zionism’s earliest beginnings to today. But as I conducted an unofficial poll among committed Christians who are Israel supporters, the need to dig a little deeper became very clear.

An Act of Reparation

For instance, most Christians who would self-identify as Zionists are aware of the important role the Balfour Declaration served in the eventual establishment of the modern state of Israel. However, many don’t realize that, although it would become an official document, it appeared on the scene in the form of a personal letter written from Lord Arthur Balfour, Britain’s foreign secretary, to Jewish leader Lord Lionel Walter de Rothschild. Although the reasons for Balfour’s support of the rebirth of the state of Israel have been hotly contested in recent years, he made no secret of his love for the Bible and his personal feelings of embarrassment and disgrace at the treatment the Jewish people had received from Christians throughout the centuries. Balfour considered the establishment of a Jewish national home as an act of reparation and reconciliation.

Commitment to the Zionist movement remained a tradition throughout the Balfour family. His nephew, Robert Arthur Lytton, 3rd Earl of Balfour, supported Youth Aliyah (immigration to Israel) and in 1939, offered his family property and house as a center for the education of Jewish refugee children from Germany. Balfour’s niece, Blanche Dugdale (“Baffy”), worked in the Political Department of the London office of the Jewish Agency, alongside Chaim Weizmann.

In 1925, Balfour agreed to be a guest of honor at the opening of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and visited what was then called Palestine. There, the Jewish population greeted him enthusiastically. The Arabs, however, welcomed him with black flags. Balfour was impressed by flourishing Jewish settlements that dotted the hillsides of the tiny country, which he felt demonstrated the strength and vigor of the growing Jewish national home. In 1928, his anthology of speeches on Zionism was translated into Hebrew. Today, streets and parks throughout Israel bear his name in recognition of the critical role he played in the history of the modern state.

An Extraordinary Document

Although the British government would eventually retreat from active support of its pledge, the Balfour Declaration is considered by some political experts to be one of the most extraordinary documents ever produced by any government in world history. It read simply:

Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, which has been submitted to and approved by, the Cabinet.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their 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 any other country.”

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation. (Signed Lord Arthur Balfour)

The Keeping of a Vow

General Jan Smuts (wikipedia.org)

Strong support for the modern Zionist cause also came from the nation of South Africa through one of its foremost leaders of the time. Jan Christiaan Smuts was a prominent South African and British military leader, statesman and philosopher who led his nation in standing with the Jewish people in their struggle for a homeland. Smuts served as prime minister of the Union of South Africa for two separate terms as well as holding various cabinet posts in that government. In addition to other military exploits, he led the armies of South Africa against Germany and was one of the members of the British War Cabinet from 1917 to 1919. Among other accomplishments, he was instrumental in the founding of the Royal Air Force, served in the Imperial War Cabinet under Winston Churchill, played an important role in the founding of both the League of Nations and the United Nations, and was the only man to sign both peace treaties ending the First and Second World Wars. Perhaps, however, his most significant contribution to history came through his involvement in the creation of and ongoing support for the Balfour Declaration.

 

Smuts was a member of the British War Cabinet that approved the declaration, and describing it later, he said, “As we were involved in the darkest hours of history, our thoughts turned to the Jewish people and we made a vow…one of the greatest vows in history, and it shall be kept.”

One of the Greatest Acts of History

His was also one of the loudest voices to be heard against the British government’s retreat from the promises of the Balfour Declaration. In a broadcast made shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Smuts said the following:

“The Allies promised to the Jewish people, after an exile of almost 2,000 years, that a national home would be founded for them in their ancient homeland. Was it a vow made in an hour of sore trial? Was it an act of faith such as made Abraham willing to sacrifice his only son? Whatever it was, the step was taken. The document was signed with the approval of the British, French and American governments. And finally, it was embodied in the peace treaty…and the promise to Abraham had at last become a part of international law. The Balfour Declaration was not a mere eccentricity of the Great War, but in its large historic setting is one of the greatest acts of history.”

That same commitment to biblical Zionism burns in the hearts of countless Christians today. And Smut’s closing words, spoken as the horrors of Nazi persecution of the Jewish people spread across Europe, are as true and relevant today as they were then:

“Instead of the horror of new ghettos in the twentieth century, let us carry out our promise and support the National Home for the Jewish people. The case has become one not merely of promises and international law, but for the conscience of all mankind.”

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