100 years ago this coming November British Evangelical Christians helped to promote what would become one of the worst, but least recognised injustices in our imperial history. With the arrogance of power the leading statesmen of Britain allowed themselves to be seduced and pressured into agreeing that Palestine and the Palestinians would become subject to the desire of Zionist Jewry. Chaim Weizmann’s political pressure on those statesmen and the consequent letter from Robert Balfour to Lord Rothschild on 3rd November 1917 created the present catastrophe that is the Middle East. Aided by a little-known and recent theological invention, Jewish desires for safety and security – mainly aimed at the ‘new world’ of America – were diverted to the Zionist dream of a secular, socialist utopian nation state: for Jews.
No doubt that first paragraph will produce cries of ‘antisemitism’, but aside from those simpler attempts to limit freedom of analysis there will be some who say that the situation in the ME today cannot be blamed on Israel. Were that criticism to be qualified by the word ‘only’ I’d agree; but Israel, in the guise of Zionism, is where it began. Might Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia etc. be in a similar mess had Israel never come into existence? Possibly, but that kind of speculation solves nothing; we are where we are because of where we have come from.
Israel today bears significant responsibility for the divisions and violence in the region, and those Jews who have chosen to remain outside Israel but who offer political and economic shelter are equally culpable. Neither may we absolve Arab leaders who have consistently failed their people.
But it is evangelical Christianity that must stand in the dock, in the spotlight, under judgement. We have given credence to a theology cobbled together from ‘proof texts’ that ignores great chunks of the Bible and lent credibility to supposedly biblical claims that secular Zionism has manipulated for its colonialist agenda. Is there an evangelical theologian who is willing to justify a ‘coming’ of Jesus before his ‘second coming’, (logically making it a third coming)? Is there an evangelical preacher who is prepared to support the creation of an oppressive nation state rather than living and preaching the kingdom of God? Sadly, the answer to that second question is ‘yes’.
Some people are saying our government (UK) should apologise for the Balfour Declaration. I understand, but I don’t agree. An apology would change nothing, it would be meaningless. What is needed, from church leaders, Christians, and the governments of UK and USA is repentance. We must ‘change direction’ – the meaning of the Greek word. The church is called to preach, teach and live the kingdom message of righteousness, justice and peace; just as were Abraham and Jacob. That requires us to cease unquestioning support for Israel, (as well as other unjust regimes in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan etc.) and to apply pressure to all parties to work together with people of goodwill in their communities to bring about the changes essential for peace. The sequence – righteousness – justice – peace, is correct, it can be no other way.