Recovering Evangelicalism – Seeking a Justice-based peace in the Middle East –

Is Zionism Judaism?

Pro-Zionists, Christian Zionists, and others pro-Israel will answer “Yes”.  Those who, for various reasons, wish to critique the State of Israel, will respond “No” because they believe that to answer “yes” closes down discussion and criticism of Israel’s actions. My view is that equating Zionism with Judaism is intended to define all such criticism as anti-Semitic. (Despite its claim that it may be legitimate to criticize Israel the Board of Deputies of British Jews rarely, if ever, does: see e.g. http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/news/1.642908 ). None of the above actually answers the question. And we can’t begin to answer until we have an idea of what is meant by those terms.

So, what is Judaism?  The answer, “it’s what Jews do” doesn’t help: Jews are as diverse in what they do as is any large group. From non-observant secular Jews, through culturally observant but non-believing to the varieties of orthodox who strive as far as they are able to be Torah observant, Jews are as different, (and as argumentative) as are Christian and Muslim sects. Some of these groups vigorously oppose Zionism: this alone should make us wary of an easy definition. But there are clues…

We can surely agree that Judaism has its roots in the Hebrew scriptures. Second-temple Judaism (4th BC – 1st AD approx.) had a nationalistic-imperialistic hope rooted in their expectation of the coming of the ‘messiah’. In other words, their nationalism depended on a future event. Rabbinic Judaism (mid 2nd century AD – on) held on to the same ‘messianic hope’ but placed this in the framework of diaspora. It was not assimilationist and any nationalism was, for practical purposes, out of sight.  In post-enlightenment Europe there developed a ‘cultural Judaism’ – a reasonable, but impossibly broad, category – which tended toward either ghettoization or assimilation. And it was in Northen Europe, where both ghettoization and assimilation were problematic that Zionism grew as a response to persecution and oppression.

The common feature of observant, believing Judaism, whatever forms they take, is ‘hope in the messiah’. Their ‘nationalism’, such as it is, depends on the future event, the coming of messiah. Not only is it ‘Not yet’, since this hope is grounded in scripture, when messiah comes the event will be righteous, reflecting the holiness of God. That does not mean anything goes. God is righteous and therefore will be just. (see e.g. Psalm 82; Mic. 6).

What of Zionism?  From its earliest writings it was nationalist and colonialist, and in that sense, imperialist. Being secular it had no hope in a God-ordained messiah, only in its own efforts. Zionisms creators and leaders understood the necessity of, what today we call,  ‘ethnic cleansing’. How else could European Jews create a state in Arab populated Ottoman Turkish Palestine? Even the tiny population of Jews were ‘Arab Jews’.

Would Zionists wait for a messiah most did not believe in, even while they attended Synagogue? No, they would be their own messiah with the aid of whatever imperial power they could convince. Herzl tried France, Germany, Turkey with little success. In the context of WW1 Weizmann settled on Britain. Nothing here is ‘messianic’, nothing of Judaism, it is all too human.  During its first half-century Zionism was rejected by the majority of world Jewry’s Rabbis. They recognised that Zionism would cause immense damage to Jewry and Judaism. They were not wrong.

So, No, Zionism is not Judaism. The one seeks to honour God and to follow Torah, the other honours power and cares little for God.

It is  99 years since Arthur Balfour, then Britain’s Foreign Secretary, wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild. Regarded as the foundational document for the modern state of Israel it has become known as ‘the Balfour Declaration’.

Imperialism has changed shape throughout the ages yet there are two constants, power and wealth. In 1917 Britain still had something of both and remained the greatest imperial power, although not for much longer.  American Independence following France’s revolution suggested the death of imperialism.But imperialism is a tough weed, good at finding new ways to impose its will. If Balfour’s letter was a late act in Britain’s imperialism, the fundamentals haven’t changed, power and wealth still rule, and the weak and powerless suffer. Balfour generously offered one people land belonging to another people over 1000 miles distant from Britain’s borders. Such was the impact of socialist-secularist Zionism.

Many Jews and Jewish groups will celebrate next years 100th anniversary of ‘Balfour’. Given their history we should understand, even sympathise, but should we join them? I think not. To celebrate Balfour is to celebrate imperialism, the exercise of power and wealth to the advantage of some at the expense of others.  To celebrate the ‘safe homeland for Jews’ is to celebrate the loss of homeland of Palestinians. We should rather celebrate when there is real, sustainable peace based on justice.

Some suggest we British should apologise, I don’t agree. But we can repent if by that we mean that we try to put right the wrong.

How do we do that?  Certainly not by celebrating Britain’s imperialist folly. One think we can do is to contribute to it being fully remembered. British support in 1917 for a ‘Jewish homeland’ must be seen in the context of conflicting imperialist promises made to Arabs, the French and the Americans in the broader context of a Europe-based imperial war. From the subsequent peace conferences and British and Zionist actions it is evident that neither was particularly interested in democracy unless it furthered their own agenda. When the British, belatedly, proposed some form of limited democratic representation in Palestine they hoped to limit inter-community conflict. The Zionist’s refused, despite an undeserved parity of representation, because it was a step too soon. They were, at the time, less than 25% of the populace. The Arab’s were unsupportive because it was less than they’d been promised and less than their superior numbers deserved.

Fully remembering must include that history and the stories people have shared and believed and the challenges those stories face when confronted by other, conflicting stories. No one story will ever be adequate but through sharing their stories the peoples of the land may come to better mutual understanding and that may lead to better solutions than are available at present. This is not a job for career politicians; their agenda is power and, if possible, wealth. It is a task for the polity, you and I. Primarily, it is a task for the peoples of the land, but in our global village we must lend a hand. We can start by demanding of our governments that they cease funding and arming war.

A second step would be to recognise both Israel and Palestine as nation states with the borders of ‘Mandate Palestine’.  Many will respond that this is impractical, how can two states occupy the same land?  Others will point out the impracticality of the ‘two-state solution’ given the expansion of illegal settlements. Two nations already occupy the same land, the question is how they do so in peace and justice.

In reply to Colin Austin Barnes.

Hi Colin,

Frankly, this is getting boring. You agree these are important questions but you only address the first, and there you are both partial and inconsistent. Even when you address the issues, you start from your own presuppositions, ignoring my para 2 and 3. Fair enough, but do it on your own blog.

You spend most of your 5 page response ‘proving’ that the Jews of Jesus day are Israel, answering your question, (whilst ignoring mine) “does the NT consider that the Jewish people of that time are the literal and spiritual descendants of Biblical Israel, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?” That Jewish people of the time of Jesus were descendants of Abraham-Jacob is not, so far as I know, in dispute. But your ‘question’ muddies the ground. In it you have four people groups and two undefined terms. Having conflated that lot you then go into a lot of detail that, again, is not in dispute.

So, some truth, but, as I pointed out, ‘not true enough’, and, since it is not true enough it is misleading, (and I’m holding back here). John the Baptist, you note ‘appeared publicly to Israel’. You are surely not claiming that he was seen by every Israelite, including those in the diaspora, or that he simultaneously stood on every piece of ‘eretz Israel’. That would be absurd: but we know what was meant and it isn’t what you imply. Once again you have failed to engage with the questions I’ve raised and  pursued your own propaganda issues. I am sure you mean well, but this does not serve faith or justice.

What must be questioned is whether they, the Jews of the time, represent the whole of Israel or even ‘Biblical Israel’. (It is highly questionable whether many Jews today have significant or even any of Jacob’s DNA. Thats another debate). By lumping all these categories together you fail to understand what it means to be ‘Biblical Israel’ that is to say to be ‘God’s people’. You’ll have to wait for my book.

You correctly note Paul’s reference to the remnant in every generation and it is clear from the prophets that the restoration cannot apply to every Israelite. (Even dispensationalists can’t agree on what ‘all Israel’ means.) But, as with so many commentators on Romans, you seem to regard chapters 9-11 as somewhat distinct from the rest. (I do find it irritating when Christian Zionists claim that these chapters cannot be lifted out of the ‘ever-flowing stream’ of Romans, but then do precisely that)!

We will not understand Romans 9, for example, if we don’t follow the argument from chapter 8 and chapter 7. Of course, Paul’s actual argument, of which this is the culmination, begins at chapter 1 verse 16. The kin to which Paul refers in 9:3 are ‘my kinsmen according to flesh’ and if we want to know what he means by ‘kata sarka’ we need to read chapter 7 and 8. Paul here identifies two groups of Israel, those who please God and those who don’t. And the pathos of 9:1-5 depends on chapter 8, ‘who can separate us from the love of Christ?’ No-one, nothing, nothing … But, what about …’

I will not convince you, you are too heavily committed to your own version of the truth. I respect your integrity but not your arguments or your theology. When I came to this nearly 10 years ago I vowed that I would re-read the whole of the scripture and go where the story took me, keeping in mind my own pre-supposition that Jesus was and is the Jewish Messiah. I have also read Christian Zionist writings and those who oppose Christian Zionism. Without exception the Christian Zionist writers depend on selective and non-contextual readings of the Bible, stringing together verses gathered from all over the place. The story worked OK just so long as you didn’t look closely at the context and the contradictions, for, as Don Carson has pointed out, remove one element and the whole edifice collapses.

And none of them, the question you failed to address, made sense of The Cross.

If, just for a few hours, Christian Zionists were to set aside their theology and consider only the history it is impossible that they could conclude other than that the Palestinians have been greatly wronged. I’m assuming that many Christian Zionists are otherwise reasonable and generous people. Starting simply with the history there is no other possibility. A right to a land based on being there 2000 years ago must be rejected, and the actual claim of having lived there seriously questioned. So, if history tells us that the Palestinians have suffered injustice why do Christian Zionists trump it with the suffering of a different group, or ignore it completely?

It looks different if you start from the presupposition that God gave the land to the Jews and that God is bringing them back to it. And that rather depends on how we read scripture and which bits we prefer to ignore. Because, if we are honest, there are some bits that are confusing and appear to be contradictory. In those cases we have two options; ignore the bits that don’t fit ‘our story’, or keep working till we find a coherent story that acommodates all the ‘bits’.

However, there are some ‘bits’ of some stories that we should reject out of hand, like the claim that ‘God gave the land to the Jews’.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to reject it because it isn’t true but because it isn’t true enough. Here’s where to start, where in the Hebrew Bible does it tell us that God promised the land of Canaan (Palestine) to ‘the Jews’? Answer, nowhere. Assuming that the Jews, even those of Ezra-Nehemiah, equal Israel of the promises, goes way beyond what the Bible says. It doesn’t take seriously the promises and covenants, the conditions attached that brought about the Deuteronomic punishments, or the reality of broken covenant. It also puts the New Covenant unhappily alongside the old broken Covenant in ways that have produced the hate and antisemitism of the past 1800 years. It’s no use us saying that the church needs to repent of its past if we compound the errors by repeating them.

But, second, doesn’t the Bible tell us of some important conditions associated with the return to the land? And the Bible clearly tells us that both the exiles and the returns were partial. As for we who are Christians, doesn’t the actual appearance of the Jewish Messiah change pretty much everything, or was the cross only a partial solution? Answers, why don’t you go do the work I’ve done over the last few years, just read your Bible with an open mind and pay close attention to the history. Oh, and start by recognising and putting to one side, your presuppositions.

Be Blessed

Especially for Colin,

Hagai El-Ad’s address in a special discussion about settlements at the United Nations Security Council  HERE

I think I might have seen a flying saucer — and Chuka Umunna thinks Labour has a problem with antisemitism. I don’t know anything about UFO’s but here’s my definition of antisemitism: antisemitism is hatred of Jews because they are Jews; simple. Islamophobia is hatred of Muslims simply because they are Muslim and the same test may be applied to any distinctive ethnic or religious or political group. Hatred, even dislike, of a person because of what they are, race, culture, creed, is quite simply, stupid. Criticism of people (of whatever race, creed or culture) because of what they believe or what they do is a totally other matter.

So:

  • Criticism of Jews because they support Israel’s illegal occupation,
  • Criticism of Jews because they support Zionism,
  • Criticism of Jews because they hate Palestinians,
  • Criticism of Jews because they support Chelsea FC

These are NOT antisemitic.Neither, surprisingly (?), is criticism of Christians because they support Israel’s illegal occupation. (When Christians support oppression anywhere they are playing dangerously with fire)

When anti-Zionism is equated to antisemitism the effect — and it is intentional — is to close down discussion of the impact of Zionism on the peoples of the Middle East, most notably, of course, the Palestinians. So, the Israeli government can put out lies about the Palestinians, and our governments say nothing. Israel breaks international agreements and ignore international law and our governments say little and do less.

But when some of us point out that these are lies and double standards we are accused of antisemitism. We are hearing all too frequently across the globe reminders of the 1930’s, of the East German Stasi, of the ‘McCarthy’ inquisition, of police state language.

The equation we are expected to make, subliminally, is that of  Judaism and Zionism. We are being taught — brain-washed — that they are one and the same. Here’s the contradiction our political leaders want to ignore. Semites, (the term ‘semitic’ was originally coined to define a group of languages), in this context taken to be Jews, have been around for about 2500 years. Antisemitism has been present, mainly in Europe and not necessarily so-described, for about 1700 years. Zionism was invented as a political doctrine  in 1896 so less than 150 years ago.

You like contradictions? Here’s another — Zionism, a response to European antisemitism, based its nationalistic demand for a nation state in Palestine on a religious history it rejected. Thus, “secular zionism has an inalienable right to possess the land of Palestiine because 3500 years ago a god we don’t believe in gave it to a tribe there’s a chance we may be loosely related to”. Which to me sounds more like an imperialistic justification than faithful Judaism. (And it certainly aint Christian!)

Flying Saucers? Well, if I thought I saw one, or wanted to believe I saw one and reported I saw one, it must be true, mustn’t it? And since you ask, no I did not. And what we should be asking is why so many of the ‘antisemitism’ reports to CST don’t get reported to the police, and why reports investigated don’t result in prosecution. Why, for instance, have none of the recent allegations resulted, so far as I can gather, in even a police caution?

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