There were many driving factors behind Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour’s decision on November 2, 1917, to write a letter to Britain’s most illustrious Jewish citizen, Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, expressing the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
On the one hand, British imperialism was a driving force; the British parliament hoped to establish a Zionist state under British protection between the crucial territories of India and Egypt to ensure its dominance in the region. On the other hand, amid World War I, without promise of a sizeable infusion of American troops to arrive and support Allied forces, British leaders hoped a formal declaration in favor of Zionism would help gain Jewish support for the Allies in countries like the U.S. and Russia.
However, according to historian and Deputy Minister Michael Oren, there was another equal factor: Christian Zionism.
Christian Zionism is a belief by Christians that the return of the Jews to their Holy Land and the restoration of the Land of Israel is a promise made by God and in accordance with Biblical prophecy.
“God promised to restore the Jewish people from their exile and good Christians need to help God fulfill his Biblical promise to the Jews,” Oren explained to Breaking Israel News. “The idea is that God does not lie.”
On paper, Christian Zionism preceded Zionism among both secular and rabbinic Jews. Oren said that while many purport Christian Zionism started as a formal movement only in the 1940s, in fact it had started as early as the 17th century in Britain and the United States.
America’s second president, John Adams, wrote a letter in 1808 to the Dutch Patriot leader and American immigrant François Adriaan van der Kemp on French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire’s description of the Jews: “They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth… The Romans and their Empire were but a Bauble in comparison of the Jews. They have given religion to three quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more, and more happily, than any other nation, ancient or modern.”
Adams, who made this first recorded pro-Zionist declaration by an American president, was raised in a Puritan household which used the Bible as its guide. The family observed Shabbat and giving its children Hebrew names.
In recent years, it surfaced that President Abraham Lincoln was also a Christian Zionist in some sense of the term, said Oren.
Lincoln would quote the Bible in his speeches, and he was known to treat the Jews with respect despite the rampant spread of anti-Semitism across Christian Europe and the New World during his time.
In his documentary “They Called Him Rabbi Abraham,” Gary Phillip Zola explained that shortly after Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that freed African-American slaves, the president learned of Jewish oppression in Russia and Turkey from a Canadian Christian Zionist named Henry Wentworth Monk. He responded that the rebirth of Israel as a nation-state was “a noble dream and one shared by many Americans.”
The most famous early Christian Zionist event occurred in 1881, when William Blackstone, author of “Jesus is Coming”, advocated for a Jewish state. He collected more than 400 signatures of prominent American leaders on a petition that was presented to then-President Benjamin Harrison. The petition called for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Holy Land.
“These were not people on the periphery,” said Oren. “There were critical thinkers and leaders and business people like William McKinley and J. P. Morgan.”
However, it was the Balfour Declaration that gave Christian Zionism the diplomatic traction it has today, said Rabbi Tuly Weisz, founder and director of Israel365 and expert on Jewish-Christian relations.
The Balfour Declaration was not obvious. Much of the British Parliament was against the declaration and the founding of a Jewish state in British-mandated Palestine, largely because of Britain’s dependence on Arab oil, said Oren.
To help get support at home, Balfour turned to then-President Woodrow Wilson. The belief was that if the Americans supported a Jewish home in Palestine, it would be easy to garner British backing. Wilson’s advisers were against the move for a Jewish state. However, Wilson went against his advisers and approved the Balfour Declaration.
“Wilson said his grandfather, his son, and his nephew were all Presbyterian ministers and Presbyterians are restorationists,” explained Oren. “Wilson saw his support of the Balfour Declaration as his part in restoring the Jewish people to the Holy Land.”
The Balfour Declaration is today the high watermark of Christian Zionist diplomacy.
“The Balfour Declaration is the singular, internationally confirmed, ratified document that recognizes the existence of the Jews as a people with the right to a homeland in the Land of Israel,” said Oren.
Since Balfour, despite the multitude of proposed peace agreement contracts, not one has recognized this same right.
“The conflict with the Palestinians is not about 1917 or 1967,” explained Oren. “It is about whether the Jewish people exist and if they have a right to self-determination in their homeland. The conflict is over the Balfour Declaration.”
Oren told Breaking Israel News that while many of the last 100 years have been spent “trying to get back to Balfour,” there have been other Christian Zionist highlights.
For example, in 1948, Christian Zionist and then President Harry Truman was the first to recognize the State of Israel. Until his final days, Truman considered his recognition of Israel as the single most important act he carried out as president of the United States.
“When people would ask Truman about this, he would say, ‘I am like Cyrus, the Persian King, who restored the Jews from exile,’” explained Oren.
Shortly before the 1967 Six Day War, Captain Orde Charles Wingate of the British army was sent to Palestine to organize a group of Jewish commandos. He was the first to educate Jewish soldiers about how to go out and meet their enemies in the field rather than wait for their attack in a defensive crouch, which proved instrumental in Israel’s prophetic victory.
In later years, the Rev. Jerry Falwell developed a close relationship with Israeli Premier Menachem Begin and helped him in the early 1980s to appeal directly to the American people for support of Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s nuclear plant. Likewise, President George W. Bush is an Evangelical Christian who stood solidly with Israel.
Finally, in 2006, the creation of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) was an important milestone in Christian Zionist history, said Oren.
CUFI founder Pastor John Hagee said he started the organization by inviting 400 of America’s foremost Evangelical leaders to join him in his mission to combat the “rising tide of anti-Semitism in America and around the world.
“Specifically, the threats of Iran’s [then-president] Ahmadinejad to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ was a warning signal that it was 1938 again, and this time Christians must unite and speak up in defense of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
The 400 leaders met Pastor Hagee at his Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, and unanimously agreed to form an activist organization that would combat anti-Semitism in every form and go to Washington D.C. once each year to speak out in defense of Israel and the Jewish people with every senator and congressman that would receive them.
“The righteous spark in that room that historic day started a pro-Israel blaze that swept America like a prairie fire,” Pastor Hagee described, noting that today CUFI has 3.8 million members. Before CUFI, Christian Zionists had little if any voice in politics.
Rabbi Weisz said that with the establishment of the current U.S. administration, including Christian Evangelicals like Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, “We are not seeing Christian Zionist diplomacy go downhill anymore. It may not be shooting up like a rocket ship, but it is certainly moving forward,” he told Breaking Israel News.
Pastor Hagee believes that “the best days of Christian Zionism are ahead of us,” as his movement continues to grow and spread. “We have waiting lists of pastors who would like to go to Israel with us. And we’re bringing our message abroad. We’ve done nights to honor Israel in Kenya and South Africa. And our TV show, The Watchman, is broadcast around the world and is now going to be translated into Spanish for broadcast throughout Latin America,” he has said. When Pastor Hagee comes to Israel, he has the ear of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Rabbi Weisz said he believes that despite Christian Zionists’ best intentions, the movement will plateau if the Jewish community does not get on board and recognize what he feels is the golden age of Jewish-Christian relations.
“If the Jewish community makes this a communal issue and puts it on the communal agenda, then absolutely we could look forward to another Balfour Declaration-level of support and a major tipping point,” said Rabbi Weisz. He called on the American and Israeli Jewish communities to form an international body that could collaborate on and build relations with Christians, specifically to strengthen their support for Israel.
“Christians played a large part in using diplomatic means to further God’s agenda – for Israel and for us to move further along in the redemptive or messianic process,” said Rabbi Weisz. “We are going to need more Christian Zionists like Balfour to stand up for Israel.”
Pastor Hagee said that Jews should know that Christian Zionists don’t come with an agenda or in search of a quid pro quo.
“If a line must be drawn, draw it around both Christians and Jews, because we will never leave our Jewish brethren’s side.”