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

Posts tagged ‘Balfour’

Balfour ‘celebration’ reflection

Last evening, Nov. 7th 2017,  people gathered at London’s Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the Balfour Declaration of 2nd Nov. 1917, as ‘Partners in this great Enterprise’. Christians and Jews together celebrating the creation of modern Israel and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population. Maybe some of my readers will be upset by that description but if we are honest it is difficult to put any other interpretation of the facts.

Gathering inside, a mighty congregation; well, actually not so mighty. One member of ‘Raised Voices’ commented that there didn’t seem to be many people going in. I’d calculate no more than 2000 including performers, (a 600 member choir from Denmark?), in a venue that can hold over 5,000.

Outside? A very mixed bunch. Handing our leaflets was difficult, especially when RAH security backed by a massive police presence insisted we could not hand out leaflets on private property. When I was able, most people refused, were not interested in a Palestinian Christian viewpoint. Some, did take leaflets and some, a very few, seemed genuinely interested in a different perspective; they were mostly younger people.

There were pro-Israel demonstrators outside as well, including the couple from Ireland who’d ‘entertained’ us on Saturday, (not sure whether they’re sectionable, but probably harmless). One woman and her friend became quite aggressivly verbally angry when she read the banner I was carrying. The text ran as follows: ‘Biblical Christians reject imperialist, exceptionalist, Zionism. Exceptionalism is racism, “There is no distinction …” If God will not, we must not.’

What infuriated her, I believe, is that I was, ‘standing on her ground’ – ‘Bible-believing’ Christians take all God’s word seriously, and that means Zionism, the rest of us must be ‘liberals’ who don’t really believe anything and can’t really be Christian. So when I say I am a bible-believing Christian she refuses to believe it, I must really be a ‘toy’ of the ‘Muslim extremists’ who were chantinf ‘Free Palestine’ just a few metres away. More to say maybe, later, but now it’s time for a little relaxation and a coffee.

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Deceit, Terror, Racism – and hope?

The State of Israel was founded and has been sustained on deceit, terror and racism, (I expect many will disagree but the facts are well established). With ‘Balfour’ round the corner, what is there to celebrate?

Are Jews safer? Than what – Bergen-Belsen? Of course they are; but, if their own reports are to be believed, they are not safe. They don’t seem to feel safe; in London, Paris, not even in Jerusalem. That they are better protected than 80 to 150 years ago is beyond question and is right. But, in establishing a Jewish state on another people’s land, in the process killing many, expelling a multitude and producing the largest and longest refugee crisis in modern times, ‘Jewsishness’ lost its soul. In becoming Zionism, as Zionists insist, Judaism became a contradiction.

Atheistic men used a promise from a god in whom they didn’t believe to justify Judaism’s right to land occupied and possessed by Arabs, the Palestinians. They claimed a messianic ‘right of return’ in the absence of the ‘messiah’ contrary to Rabbinic teaching that had sustained the community for over 1700 years.

The part played by Christians in this disaster cannot be under-stated. Evangelical Christian support for Zionism and Zionists was crucial in moving it from being a tiny and rejected minority view to becoming what is now the centre ground. Many Jews at the time suspected that what has happened would happen. That Jews outside of Israel would be suspected of favouring the ‘Jewish’ state over their own home nation. Oddly too, considering that Christians are supposedly ‘Gospel’ (good news) people, a version of Zionism is now ‘mainstream’ for many Christians. Criticize Israel and you are likely to land in hot water with the leadership.

What is to be done?

Despite the seeming negative tone above, let’s look at the positives.  Whatever we may think about its beginnings, the state of Israel exists. Similarly, many of our modern nation states seem to have been put together rather in the manner of a three-year old playing with his older brothers’ left-over Lego bricks.

What we need is a more just, a more even-handed approach, and that cannot be left to our leaders, whether in government or church. A solution is needed that brings justice for Palestinians, including the many millions of refugees, without creating further injustice for innocent Jews. There will be some; there are; who claim that there are “no innocents on the other side”. That won’t do. It will be wiser, more generous, more hopeful, more truthful, more just, for all to accept some of the blame. There are some, no doubt, who must be held to account, although how that should happen must be carefully thought through. There is no point laying up more trouble for the future.

And it does mean that we should demand from the media and from our leaders, whether in church or government, that they be less one-sidedly strident in criticism of Palestinians, and more functionally critical of Israel, which is by far the more powerful agency in the situation. By ‘functional’ I mean not just talking the talk. We have been quick enough to punish the weaker party when they seem to support terror, but we have done nothing when the stronger party acts provocatively.

Hearteningly there are people of peace on both, (or is it all) sides, and their voices need to be heard. Let us find them, make space for them, and give them the support they need. The centenary of Balfour should be a time for reflection, not celebration, a time to determine to work with what is best in Judaism, in Christianity, in Humanity, for peace with justice.

Herzl, Weizmann, Jews and Faith

Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann took a dim view of some of their fellow Jews; that is apparent from their writings.

Herzl and Weizmann may be regarded as key architects of Zionism, without them it may not have happened; would not have happened at the time and in the way it did. Herzl, in his writing and lobbying for ‘the Jewish State’ could be said to be substantially responsible for bringing form to a fairly vague hope. Even so, his ‘centre of gravity’ seems to have changed depending on which national leader he had been speaking to or was about to meet: the Kaiser, the Sultan, the French Prime Minister. Later, following Herzl’s early death,  it was Weizmann use of his wartime contacts with members of the British Cabinet who brought ‘the dream’ closer to reality with the declaration that has gone down in history associated with the name of Arthur Balfour.

There was much that Herzl and Weizmann disagreed about, but we don’t have to read between the lines to work out one area of agreement that ought to be quite worrying. Discounting ‘assimilated Jews’ who, for Weizmann at least, were either not ‘real Jews’ or were close to being traitrous, both seem to believe that Jews were incapable of living in harmony with any other group of people for any length of time. (In this regard it should be noted they seemed entirely ignorant of the experience of that body of Jewry that existed in the Middle East.)  Herzl was more upfront about this -in his diary he records that he and Max Nordau agreed that Jews were the cause of antisemitism, (this could, of course, be a circular argument), more background in my 100 day blog

Weizmann may have been more nuanced, recognising the contribution of such powerful advocates and financial supporters as Justice Brandeis in America and Samuel and Rothschild in Britain. Nevertheless it is there implicitly in his counter arguments to anti-zionist Jews who were concerned that Zionism put them in the position of ‘serving two masters’.  It is also there, almost explicitly, in the positions taken by successive Israeli governments, and especially in the language of Ben Netanyahu, who, following the Paris attacks, visited France and told the Jewish community in effect, ‘you can only be safe in Israel’. And the financial and political support given to Israel by Jews in Britain and America looks rather like ‘hedging their bets’.

Is there a theological perspective on this? One such might be the Ezra-Nehemiah-Haggai restoration ‘angle’, which is so anxious about assimilation that even talking to neighbours looks like treachery. Cooperation is impossible, and intermarriage is a cause for community remorse and penitence. Not much has changed in two-and-a-half thousand years. We are wise to notice that many of those neighbours would have had as good right to call themselves ‘Israelite’ as did the returnees.  But the message from the patriarchs was not so much ‘beware of foreigners’ as ‘beware those foreign gods’. Ancient Israel was not the only people to falter in making the distinction, it persists today. Israel’s ethnic mix is certain evidence that God is not concerned with ‘pure DNA’, (which we know today to be impossible).

The message to the patriarchs also contained indications often ignored, “and you shall spread abroad …” (Gen 28). Couple this with the covenanted expectation that, “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession … you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Ex 19), and we face an interesting and vital question: what could it, must it, mean to be a kingdom of priests? Word given to Jacob-Israel and to Moses must be taken seriously by God’s people; of any era. Surely a kingdom of priests is a mediating kingdom, since priests function as intermediaries between God and humankind. It is equally surely impossible to act as mediator whilst remaining utterly separated. The ‘separatedness’ of the Levitical priesthood did not cut them off from their fellow Israelites.

Jews, if they truly are inheritors of the promises to Abraham and Israel, must be dispersed, at least until their messiah comes. How can they fulfill this commission while they live in physical and spiritual ghettos. And a nationalistic ghetto can have no place in God’s ‘creation-economy’. This is an insurmountable problem for Zionism and its Christian manifestation. Not only do they misunderstand the prophets, not only do they, almost certainly unintentionally, sidestep the gospel; they fail to function according to the mandate to which they claim heritage. The genuinely religious Jews at least see the point and reject Zionism. They continue to wait for the Messiah who, for Christians, has already come.

The politically religious make selective use of the faith to justify a political outcome that suits their purpose; Jews are, or appear to be, safer. They have a point. Secular Jews make a claim, that logically should be rejected, based on a gift from a god in which they don’t believe.

The Christian Zionist claim is as disturbing as is Herzl’s belief that Jews are the cause of antisemitism. Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, Christian Zionists believe that the presence of large numbers of Jews outside Israel delays the ‘Second Coming’, a term that has to be qualified because many of them seem to believe that the 2nd will actually be a Third. It seems that God’s timetable is subject to the travel arrangements of several million Jews who show little inclination to leave their homes and jobs in Britain and America to go the Palestine.

Strangely, especially for the Christian version of Zionism, the Jews at the time of Jesus had no difficulty in accepting dispersion, although it took the leadership, the Rabbis, a hundred years to catch up. Once the early church, almost wholly Jewish, got into its stride, it accepted the challenge to ‘go’, and went and told the world the good news of Jesus.  That good news was of righteousness and justice for all, especially the poor, the weak, the powerless, and this was exactly the mandate given to Abraham and to Jacob. It was exactly as anticipated by Israel’s prophets, although previously poorly understood. If religious Jews want to build a temple, Christian Zionism wants to help them – so that it can be destroyed.

Have they not understood that the temple was Messiah, and that his body was destroyed on a cross and was rebuilt after three days, exactly as Jesus prophecied, (John 2:13-22, cp Mk 9;31). If the Jerusalem temple, modelled on the tabernacle, was a teaching aid to earth the faith of Israel in the certainty of God’s presence, so the new temple of Jesus Christ exists to earth His Spirit through His people throughout the whole earth as testimony to God’s Great Love. That temple cannot be destroyed.

Zionism thinks that Jews cannot live alongside others and survive. God said, ‘spread out, sing the songs of zion, teach the world’. Christian Zionism is equally out of step with God’s timetable and plan. It is a Macabbean response two millennia after the failure of the first attempt. It was mistaken then and more of a mistake today since the Messiah has come and shown us the different way, the ‘Way of The Lord’. Both Zionisms are redundant, worse, they are counter-productive and undermine the gospel.

Inspired by God

‘Malc’ commented on an earlier post that I ought to be ashamed for suggesting we (evangelical Christians) need to repent for the Balfour Declaration. I asked him what evidence he had to justify his claim that Balfour was inspired by God.I’ve heard none because there is none.

The shame I have, as I put in my reply, is for the evangelical church’s  complicity in evil and in undermining the message and the mission of Jesus. I’ll be following through some of those themes on a separate 100 day blog leading up to the centenary of the letter (2nd November) You can follow that blog here

If you live anywhere near the Midlands UK you might be interested in another date. On 28th October 2017, Claudia Prestel will be speaking at an event organised by Kairos Leicester. Her title,

‘From Balfour to the Present: 100 years of conflict’

Remembering 100

Why are centenaries so important?  Few remember what happened 100 years ago; some of us have difficulty recalling what we were doing 100 minutes ago, let alone 100 days or years. Even those who years exceed 100 were probably too young to notice much that was happening in 1917.  So, why remember?

For every family, community, people; memory is important. Our relationships are constructed from memories – good or bad. Whether as a family, a nation or a faith group it is memories that form our history and it is our shared history that binds each to the other. Most written history has been that which the rich and powerful wish to be remembered. The weak and powerless have been ‘dust’ swept aside to make space for the strong.

Ours may be the first generation in which the voice of ordinary people has been heard and, to a limited degree, noted. It’s only a limited degree. Children are still abused, enslaved to provide cheap goods, or trafficked as cheap bodies. Women in too many places, even in supposedly modern civilised nations, are still regarded as second-class, subservient, available playthings. And those with disabilities are praised for a month and ignored for 47, until the next Olympics.

So, why remember 1917; why would the UK government want to ‘celebrate’; why count down to November 2nd; why focus attention on a letter of fewer than 70 words?

Alongside the ‘good’ memories, the bad ones we remember most easily are those that hurt us most: when we are lied to, made promises that are broken, when we are treated ‘like dirt’. The letter from Alfred James Balfour to Lord Rothschild (the ‘Balfour Declaration’), dated 2nd November 1917 broke promises already made in secret to Sharif Hussein and to the French. (Subsequently further incompatible promises were made to the US and to the League of Nations).  Broken promises have a habit of coming back and hurting us. That is the case in the Middle East today. Ask why Britain and the US are not trusted by the nations of that region and you need look no further than the promise of democracy. One Hundred Years on from those broken promises, the only democracies we in the ‘moral West’ are prepared to tolerate are those who kow-tow to our commercial wishes. Whether in South America, Asia or the Orient, it is only acceptable if it fits our capitalist-militarist model.

So, Yes, I will be remembering, and I’ll be counting down to 2nd November; to the opportunities lost for peace with justice in Palestine and the Middle East. I will be mourning the moral failure of church and state in providing Zionism with a nation state at the expense of the people who were already there. I shall be sad at the ongoing persecution of a people whose only wrong-doing was to be at home, in the place where another, stronger and more violent people, wanted to be.

But, I shall also be celebrating. I will cheer for those Jews – some of whom I am privileged to count as friends – who stand up for the historic values of Judaism and who confront Zionism with passion and intellect. And I shall celebrate the Palestinian Church, the ‘Living Stones’, who refuse to be moved. I shall also hope. Hope that more and more Christians in UK and US will become aware of the evils that have been done in our name and in the name of our Lord, and who will stand up and speak out.

Not Quite Balfour

The Balfour declaration was a disappointment for the Zionist organisation in London, as will be seen from the formula which their Political Committee agreed and submitted on July 18 1917.

The text can be found in Weizmann’s autobiography (trial and error, page 256) see below:

‘His Majesty’s Government, after considering the aims of the Zionist Organization, accept the principle of recognizing Palestine as the National Home of the Jewish people and the right of the Jewish people to build up its national life in Palestine under a protection to be established at the conclusion of peace,following upon the successful issue of the war.

His Majesty’s Government regard as essential for the realization of this principle the grant of internal autonomy to the Jewish nationality in Palestine, freedom of immigration for Jews, and the establishment of a Jewish National Colonizing Corporation for the re-establishment and economic development of the country.

The conditions and forms of the internal autonomy and a Charter for the Jewish National Colonizing Corporation should, in the view of His Majesty’s Government, be elaborated in detail and determined with the representatives of the Zionist Organization.’

This is the same Chain Weizmann who wrote of the Jewish settlement, ‘whose loyalty to the democratic cause was not merely verbal, but expressed itself in action’. That the colonization of Palestine was in fact an undemocratic invasion is beyond contradiction. Elsewhere Weizmann shows himself to be contemptuous of the Arabs. but, for those unclear about Zionism’s motivations the above text is crystal; not a mention, not a reference, to the 93% of the population who were not Jewish. It was to be a ‘colonizing’ project, without regard for the indigenous peoples. This draft was submitted to ‘Mr. Balfour’ on July 18th 1917.  When, in 2/3 days time there is celebration for the ‘independence’ of israel, we will be wise to reflect, not merely on the cost of Balfour, but on the anti-democratic essence of Zionism.

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