Friday, November 12, 2010

Chile and Judeo-Christian Israel

Israel has invited the rescued Chilean miners to spend Christmas in Israel. "All expenses paid." The Israeli itinerary includes visits to Christian holy sites.

Israel enjoys strong ties to Christians around the world. This close relationship has marked the course of Zionism in Palestine. The Jewish Zionist movement developed alongside Christian ambitions for the Holy Land. It was the British victory over the Islamic Ottoman Empire in World War I that led to the creation of the State of Israel. In 1917, the Christian Zionist British Prime Minster Lloyd George authored the Balfour Declaration, the document that sanctioned Zionist, political aspirations in Palestine. Ironically, this Christian support for political Zionism was met with Jewish opposition:  Edwin Montague,  the only Jews in Lloyd George's Christian cabinet was the sole opponent of the Balfour Declaration.

Even earlier, Jewish Zionism existed and developed within the Christian Zionist world. British journalist, Victoria Clarke in her comprehensive history of Christian Zionism   Allies for Armageddon  documents the relationship between Christian- and Jewish-Zionism over a period of 350 years. Her fascinating  - and very readable  - history links contemporary Christian Zionism back to the mid-17th century to the re-admittance of Jews to England and to the beginnings American Exceptionalism.

American Zionism in Palestine started in the mid-19th century. One of the legacies of that period, the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, is the preferred accommodation of the international press corps in Jerusalem.

Beginning somewhat earlier in the 19th century, British Zionism was characterized by the influx of Christian missionaries, including former Jews. The beautiful convent (now including a wonderful Bed & Breakfast) of Notre Dame de Sion in the picturesque village of Ein Karem was founded by two French, Jewish brothers who converted to Catholicism.
Similarly, the neo-Gothic church inside of Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate was built by the Solomon Alexander,  the first Protestant Bishop of Jerusalem. This former Galitzianer Jew moved to England. became a provincial rabbi, then abandoned Judaism and converted to Christianity. He re-entered the clergy this time as an Anglican priest,  and was sent to Palestine to head the Christian mission in Jerusalem as its first bishop.

The foundational impact of the mid-19th century Christian settlement in Palestine is evident to this day. The German Templars helped turn the village of Haifa into the major city it is today. They shaped the city's architecture. In Jerusalem, the Templars' "German Colony" is the trendy, hotspot in West Jerusalem. The templars are credited with the famous, or, infamous depending on your point of view) Jaffa orange brand.

Political Zionism developed in Christian Europe and is guaranteed today by Christian America. Christian Evangelicals famously back Israel and, the Israeli settler movement in particular. Israel, her emissaries and representatives around in American, nurtures this image of Israel as the Christian ally in the Middle East.

The European-American Christian context for Jewish Zionism explains an anomaly in Israeli policy. If Israel is truly the ally of Christians in the face of perceived Islamic encroachment, why are Palestinian Christians subject to the same discrimination, humiliation and intimidation as their Muslim neighbors?
The answer lies in the kinship Israel feels, not with Christians as Christians but as extensions of the Western world which Israel longs to be a part of.

 A case in point, is Israel's harsh response - through the agency of American Jewish organizations - to the Palestinian Christian on human rights in Palestine. This Christian document was lambasted as anti-Semitic by such groups as the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

             High on the itinerary of the Chilean Christians will undoubtedly be the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. As Bethlehem is officially under Palestinian control, and the Old City of Jerusalem is internationally recognized as part of the Palestinian West Bank, the Palestinians, were understandably unhappy when Israel neglected to put their names on the Chilean invitation.

                                                      Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Old City of Jerusalem

I'd love to see the Chilean miners go to Israel, bid adieu to their official, Israeli minders and do a photo-op with the Palestinian custodians of Bethlehem and Jerusalem's holy Christian sites. The courtyard in front of the Church of the Holy Speluchre in the Old City of Jerusalem would make a great backdrop: representatives of all the churches that maintain a presence in the church, together with the Muslim family that holds the keys to he church, some Jewish clergy from Rabbis for Human Rights, and the 31 miners  - plus their families. 


  1. Cantor, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Keep it up!

  2. This is just the kind of talk that Jews don't need. We should applaud Israel's generosity. Can you imagine an Arab country being so generous to people of another faith?

  3. Cantor Michael DavisDecember 06, 2010

    The Saudis welcome people from all over the world to worship at their holy sites of Mecca and Medina. It's only natural that Israel should do the same. Israel exists as a covenant between Christians and Jews. The British Christian fundamentalists under Lloyd George opened the gates for Jewish Zionism. That covenant is just as essential today, as then.
    Unfortunately, the agreement leaves out the native Christians.
    The way to heal that is to include Palestinian Christians in the invitation.

    It's true that Christians are not doing well in the Middle East. Most notably, the Christians in Iraq have been targeted by Islamic gangs. But, in Israel's case the discrimination is state-run. I think that's an essential distinction.

    Anyway, even accepting that Israel's neighbors have persecuted minorities, how are Israel's interests served by such a comparison.

  4. JerusalemDudeDecember 09, 2010

    Saudi Arabia won't let you visit, because you are not a Muslim.
    Christians are fleeing Iraq in droves.
    When Jerusalem was controlled by the Jordanians, Jews could not visit the Western Wall.
    Israel is taking seriously its responsibility as custodian of Muslim and Christian holy places.
    Jews only have one country. We can do all the "Judeo-Christian" we want in America and everywhere else.
    Why can't you let Israel be Jewish?

  5. Susan JacksonDecember 09, 2010

    Thank you! Beautiful!!!

  6. AnonymousJune 10, 2012

    nice posting.. thanks for sharing.