By Alison Weir
While some individuals, both Jewish and Christian, have talked about a Jewish “return” to Palestine throughout past centuries, today’s version of Christian Zionism was largely invented in the 19th century; adherents of political Zionism, a movement to create a Jewish state, were a major factor in how and why it grew.
As I write in my article on the history of US-Israel Relations, the precursor to today’s pro-Israel lobbying groups, the “American Zionist Emergency Council” (AZEC), played a significant role in creating Christian support for Zionism. Below is an excerpt from my piece:
Secret Zionist funds [by AZEC], eventually reaching $150,000 in 1946, were used to revive an elitist Protestant group, the American Palestine Committee. This group had originally been founded in 1932 by Emanuel Neumann, a member of the Executive of the Zionist Organization. The objective was to organize a group of prominent (mainly non-Jewish) Americans in moral and political support of Zionism.
[AZEC head] Rabbi Abba Silver’s headquarters issued a directive saying, “In every community an American Christian Palestine Committee must be immediately organized.”
The Christian committee’s operations were hardly autonomous. Zionist headquarters thought nothing of placing newspaper advertisements on the clergymen’s behalf without bothering to consult them in advance, until one of the committee’s leaders meekly asked at least for prior notice before public statements were made in their name.”
AZEC formed another group among clergymen, the Christian Council on Palestine. An internal AZEC memo stated that the aim of both groups was to “crystallize the sympathy of Christian America for our cause.”
By the end of World War II the Christian Council on Palestine had grown to 3,000 members and the American Palestine Committee boasted a membership of 6,500 public figures, including senators, congressmen, cabinet members, governors, state officers, mayors, jurists, clergymen, educators, writers, publishers, and civic and industrial leaders.
[For citations, and additional information on the Scofield Annotated Bible – a significant source of Christian Zionist beliefs – see my article.)
In the 1970s the Israeli government gave Jerry Falwell a jet plane, helping him to spread his version of theology.
Numerous Christians, including a great many evangelical pastors and theologians, have long opposed the Christian Zionist interpretation of the Bible.
Among this large and extremely diverse group have been Philip Mauro writing in the 1920s and Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick and Rev. Henry Sloane Coffin, two of the most celebrated pastors of their day (’20s through the ’50s); William Sloan Coffin in the 1970s; and today’s Gary Burge, Rev. Stephen Sizer, Carl Medearis, members of Sabeel, the organizers of Christ at the Checkpoint, and numerous others. The list could go on and on.
A number of people have made a wide range of documentaries on this topic. Some are specifically from a fundamentalist, evangelical perspective and are particularly intended to reach Christians who hold Christian Zionist beliefs; one, “Christian Zionism, the Tragedy and the Turning,” contains interesting information about the Scofield Bible; another, “With God On Our Side,” has been shown with considerable effect in many churches.
However, none of the above individuals have the jet planes and massive funding of a Jerry Falwell or John Hagee to deliver their views and information to American Christians.
Two final notes: many of the politicians who support Israel do so for the simple reason that the pro-Israel influence in Congress and the media is extremely significant to their chances for re-election rather than out of religious motivation.
North Carolina’s Jesse Helms was an example: he demanded that Palestinians receive a “just settlement of their grievances” until he learned that such a stance would hurt his coverage by the media, at which point he changed it.
While there is a growing focus on Christian Zionism, which leaves out virtually all of the information above, there is a simultaneous coverup on the nature of Jewish fundamentalism and its role in Israel. I discuss this a bit in my article “What Our Taxes to Israel are Funding.”
Israeli author Israel Shahak’s books are esssential reading on this. Both are available online:
Jewish Fundamentalism In Israel, co-authored with Norton Mezvinsky.
Alison Weir is the founder of If Americans Knew, an organization that provides information on topics of importance that are substantially misreported or unreported in the US media; our primary focus is on Israel-Palestine. In particular, we analyze media coverage of this issue, and have conducted a number of statistical studies. alisonweir.org