“Christian Zionism” comes to Britain

December 26, 2009 at 5:34 pm (israel, palestine, religious right, voltairespriest)

PhotobucketOne of the most generally accepted political “truths” here in the UK, is that there is a big difference between how we and people in the USA look at the Israel-Palestine issue. Whilst there are individual politicians here obviously do have pro-Israel views, and specific groups (Labour Friends of Israel being one) which lobby for pro-Israeli political positions, the broad mass of the UK population are taken to be broadly sympathetic to the Palestinians’ plight, whilst it is also taken as a given that US opinion tilts much further towards Israel. For instance, even during the 2008 Gaza attacks, polls such as this one from Rasmussen showed a plurality of Americans – or better – favouring Israel and blaming the Palestinians for the situation in which they found themselves. By contrast, most Britons were outraged by “Operation Cast Lead”, and viewed Israel as the aggressor. Media coverage of any conflict in Israel-Palestine also differs wildly between many outlets in the UK and others in the USA, as readers here will be aware.

There are many reasons for the disparity in views, not all of which have anything at all to do with the two protagonists in the conflict. Whilst it is true that US foreign policy is often craven towards Israel, and that US presidential candidates (including Barack Obama) appear to view the trip to AIPAC’s annual convention as though it were vital to their election prospects, the fact is that the “Israel Lobby” has very little to do with the views of Jewish people in the USA. US Jews not only represent a tiny fraction of the voting population, they have voted solidly Democratic throughout living electoral memory and, such that they have uniform views, are one of the most liberal communities in the United States. They are no more represented by AIPAC than are most people in the UK represented by UKIP.

However, there is another political force which aims to influence US policy towards Israel, which most certainly does represent a serious mass of people. That force is “Christian Zionism”, the product of US Evangelical churches and their rather eccentric (often unpleasant) theological roots. Christians United For Israel brings together a rogue’s gallery of the US religious right. This includes such luminaries as John Hagee, whose 2009 Presidential endorsement was rejected by Arizona Republican senator John McCain when it emerged that Hagee had said that Hitler was sent by God to help push history along towards the establishment of the state of Israel. Small wonder those Jews keep stubbornly voting Democrat. Another is Stephen Strang, owner of Charisma magazine. Still another is that ex-Reagan staffer and veteran of the religious right, Gary Bauer, the director of American Values, an organisation whose web page carries an exhortation to its readers to “defeat Islamofascism”. Articles throughout the site ring with paranoia about Islam and Muslims, along with the same old racially-tinted asides about how President Obama “says he’s a Christian”, but that there have been rumours to the contrary.

Suffice it to say that these people are not motivated to support Israel out of ecumenical or humanitarian concern for the welfare of the Jewish people living there. They support the mass migration of Jews to Israel (and indeed spend massive quantities of money on media supporting the idea) because they believe that the Jews have to return to Israel in order for the apocalypse to be fulfilled. There are various spins on this tale of the end of the world amongst US evangelical right-wingers, but essentially they believe that once this is done either they will be raptured to heaven whilst the Jews and the rest of us face the seven year rule of the Anti-Christ, or else they believe that non-Messianic Jews will be sent down along with the rest of us sinners (whose numbers include mainline Christians and non-wacko Evangelicals, incidentally), whilst they live with Jesus in the new Israel once he returns.

In short, these people are really, really nuts. What may surprise you though, is just how popular they are in certain Israeli government circles. Rachel Tabachnik of Talk2Action.org has an excellent article in the latest edition of the Public Eye magazine, entitled “The New Christian Zionism and the Jews: a love-hate relationship”. In the course of the incisive analysis of the US Christian Zionist movement – not least its similarities to the 19th and 20th century British-Israelite infestation of much US Protestant theology – she mentions CUFI on several occasions. Such is the organisation’s real-world sway now that the Israeli ambassador to the USA attended CUFI’s annual conference last July whilst rejecting an invitation to the annual conference of moderate Jewish lobbying group J Street in October. At the same CUFI event were Jewish Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman. Hagee in particular appears able to get audiences with very broad spectrums of the US and Israeli political classes, thus enabling him to reach beyond areas of the USA with large Evangelical populations.

All of this seems bizarre and possibly frightening to a public in the UK who are unused to such literal translation of religious belief into political reality, let alone on such a grand scale. We also tend to sneer, believing that somehow this shows up large numbers of Americans for the straw-chewing hilbillies that we always suspected they were (underneath all the being-a-superpower, the political behemoth stuff, etc). However perhaps we should not feel so secure in our contempt.

In the first instance, to view the phenomenon of Christian Zionism as being a creature of the US Bible Belt, is to lose one’s sense of history. In actual fact, Christian Zionism has its roots in the UK, with the Puritans who originally fled to the USA. It was their literalism and their eccentric interpretation of scripture (as against what they saw as the impurity of the Church of England), which gave rise to the fervour from which Christian Zionism and its specific manifestations such as Plymouth Bretheren founder John Nelson Darby’s Dispensationalism, could arise. To give an idea of the ideological coherence of a movement which can often appear bewilderingly diverse, contemporary and recent figures whose ideas could broadly be called Dispensationalist include Hagee, the late Jerry Falwell, and “Left Behind” author Tim LaHaye. Yes, it was a UK-rooted movement which gave them their ideological roots.

For the reason mentioned above, it may be that I have slightly mislead the reader by entitling this article “Christian Zionism comes to Britain” rather than “Christian Zionism returns home”, however I think it is the case that we are witnessing a re-importation of the contemporary US version of Christian Zionism to the UK, rather than an indigenous revival. This is not something which anyone who moves within any of the sorts of political or social circles familiar to much of the left-of-centre would have noticed. Christian Zionists are not much in evidence either at cheerful organic cafes in Hackney or Islington, at working men’s clubs and local pubs in my adopted home of Birmingham, or among the hustle and bustle of Manchester or Sheffield. They are there, though, and they are growing in number.

Next time you are passing a Christian bookshop, walk in and take a look at the magazine rack. Two magazines that you are virtually guaranteed to find, are Israel Today and Prophetic Witness. Both, as you would expect, show an obviously pro-Israel bias: the former is owned by billionaire Republican and neoconservative Sheldon Adelson who claims to have opposed a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine because it would be a “betrayal of principle”, and who it is claimed heavily supported Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party against previous prime minister (and two state supporter) Ehud Olmert’s Kadima administration. The latter is the organ of the Prophetic Witness Movement International, a dispensationalist movement begun in 1917 with branches in the UK, and whose website’s “what we believe” section says this:

“We believe that the signs of the time point exclusively toward the close of ‘the times of the Gentiles’, that the return of the Lord is imminent, that the completed Church will be translated to meet the Lord in the air to be ‘forever with the Lord’, that Israel will be restored to her own land in unbelief and will be afterwards converted as she repents, recognises Christ as Messiah, that the Lord Jesus Christ will reign for a thousand years upon the earth during which time there will be a further outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, that the message of the imminent return of Christ is the greatest motivation to prayer, holiness of life and evangelism.”

The bold type is my emphasis.

These are just two of the most obvious manifestations of Christian Zionism in the UK. There are more, just as it’s the case that political religion in general is becoming more assertive in this country. The problem, of course, is that at the moment (as in the US) the main means via which this growth is facilitated is through the burgeoning networks of Evangelical churches. The only mainstream political party to have made a new attempt to engage with the Evangelical communities in recent years has been the Conservatives, and that was largely by way of ham-fisted attempts to play “bloc politics”, looking for cheap inner-city BME votes with which to offset Labour/Lib Dem dominance amongst Asian Muslims. Needless to say, the Caribbean and African Pentecostals who formed most of the target demographic still don’t vote Tory.  As for the unions or the left, forget it: the Labour Party gave up its historical roots in the non-conformist churches many years ago, and the unions steer clear of matters religious as a general rule. But of course, most people in contemporary Britain are not in contemporary political discourse, and the vast majority of workers are not in a union. This is happening under our radar.

PhotobucketChristian Friends of Israel is one such group. It has existed in the UK since 1985 and was founded by one Derek White (who still features on the CfI front page video), along with others. The organisation is very overtly friendly, saying it is seeking to build friendships and understanding between the UK and Israel, as well as seeking atonement for the anti-semitic histories of many churches. Of course, that isn’t the whole story.

CfI’s links page carries two links to contemporary Israeli print news media: the first is to the mainstream daily Ha’aretz, which it describes as having a “left of centre viewpoint, and wide coverage”. The other is to Sheldon Adelson’s Likudnik vehicle Israel Today, which the CfI site describes as “Latest news from israel, which aims to provide a truthful and balanced perspective on Israel”. I daresay Adelson is delighted with the accolade – Ha’aretz’ editorial and journalistic staff may not be quite so overwhelmed.

Another link from the site, incidentally, goes to the Zionist Federation.

Further, when you really dig around the site, you’ll see the following under CfI’s Foundation Principles document:

“3: We believe that the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is in accordance with the promises contained in the Old and New Testaments, and that God’s time to ‘Favour Zion’ has begun.” 

For all of White and his colleagues’ smiling and paternal demeanours, their politics and their theology has the same root as Hagee’s or Bauer’s. If they believe in all this, then they most certainly believe in furthering it in the real world, hence their formation of an organisation to actively further their goals.

Another obviously Christian Zionist organisation in the UK is Derek Prince Ministries whose late founder was known for (apart from being a Christian Zionist) suffering outright denunciation at the hands of that old hippy Pat Robertson after Prince signed up as a leader of the Shepherding Movement, a tremendously authoritarian and abusive movement within the Charismatic churches. Derek himself eventually repented from all this – but stuck with the Zionism – and retired to Israel where he continued to try to further the apocalypse.

All of these organisations are small at present: they have little traction on mainstream politics, and few politicians would individually pay them any heed. But look at the sheer numbers now teeming through the doors of Evangelical churches in this country, as against mainstream Anglican, non-conformist and Catholic churches. Just as mainstream evangelical Premier Christian Radio is now accessible to hundreds of thousands of households via digital TV, so you can fully expect Christian Zionist organisations to follow suit. After all, if Kenyan fruitbat Gilbert Deya (he of the multiple indictments for trafficking, after producing “miracle babies” that shared no DNA with their mothers) can have his own TV channel, then so can anyone. You can watch Gilbert on Sky, by way of an aside. Most amusing after an evening in the pub.

Don’t look over the Atlantic and mock too hard. The growing encroachment of religious lobbying upon the legislative political sphere is not likely to decrease over the next 10 years. Furthermore, as Evangelical churches boom, so you can expect their voices (and in many cases their US-backed cheque books) to dominate even the more traditional religious conservatives out of the discourse. Israel-Palestine policy is not the only issue where this is likely to happen, but it is certainly one such. It is time for progressives, religious and non-religious alike, to take note.

35 Comments

  1. Seismic said,

    Fair enough, but there are plenty of anti-Zionists with an end-times agenda – equally motivated by their theological position that God has rejected the Jews and so they have no right to a homeland until Messiah comes. They too are well-connected politically, as evident in Stephen Sizer & Dr Anthony McRoy’s trips to Iran to meet the ayatollahs:

    http://www.hurryupharry.org/2009/02/07/ahmadinejad%e2%80%99s-christian-soldiers/

    I accept that Y doesn’t cancel out X, but there are some pretty disturbing anti-Zionist Christian teachings out there too!

  2. Mark said,

    I think Christian “anti-zionists” such as Stephen Sizer are more of a danger at the moment.

    http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/03/21/if-i-was-stephen-sizer-christian-antizionist-james-mendelsohn/

  3. Voltaire's Priest said,

    You think Stephen Sizer is “more of a danger” than John Hagee or Gary Bauer? Pray explaineth to me.

  4. Mark said,

    We’re talking about the current situation in the UK VP and Sizer and his “anti-zionist” comrades are far more active and established in the UK. Sizer posts to antisemites and Ben White writes how he understands why some people are antisemitic and has written saying that Ahmadinelad wasn’t denying the holocaust.

    That’s the reality VP and i don’t see a similar reactionary bunch of shits on the other side. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be aware incase it happens but for now it’s far more dangerous from the “anti-zionist” side of Sizer and co.

  5. Mark said,

    And having met and heard CFI people i’m not sure they fit your description.

  6. voltairespriest said,

    Indulge me one more question, Mark. Perhaps if you could explain a little of your own politics and what you see as the role of religion within politics, then it might be easier for me to work out whether we have the same definition of “reactionary”.

    And as for CfI, all of my quotes about them are from their own material.

  7. Mark said,

    VP – I would class myself as an old fashioned Bennite (before he lost the plot). I prefer to keep religion out of politics myself. I’m not against religion as such but i believe that there should be a strong separation between church and state. But i’m all for Xmas if it means time off work !

  8. chris said,

    Mark

    “Ben White writes how he understands why some people are antisemitic and has written saying that Ahmadinelad wasn’t denying the holocaust”

    What are you actually saying here – that White is antisemitic? From what I can tell on the internet, his views are pretty clear. He’s certainly a harsh critic of Israeli policies (views you could of course disagree with), but it seems like you’re trying to smear him beyond simply his palestine solidarity stance.

  9. Mark said,

    Why am i smearing him. Here’s the two articles where he firstly says he understands why some people are anti-semitic and where he defends Ahmadinejad’s holocaust denial. I don’t see what either has to do with Palestine solidarity.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/white0617.html

    http://modernityblog.wordpress.com/2009/07/12/one-final-one/

    So please let’s stick to what White says and leave the old excuse of trying to smear.

    Do you not think these are dangerous views to hold Chris ?

  10. Mark said,

    And Chris – don’t you think that Sizer’s views are also dangerous. You can see his views here.

    http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/03/21/if-i-was-stephen-sizer-christian-antizionist-james-mendelsohn/

    What’s your opinion on somebody who acts like Sizer ? Do you think it’s just solidarity with the Palestinian people ?

  11. chris said,

    I know which articles you’re talking about mark – but presumably you found these the same way i was able to – through sites that can hardly be described as ‘neutral’.

    And if you’re trying to fairly discuss white’s opinions, and even the two issues you specifically raise, surely you should be aware of his own response?

    “The article was trying to look at causes for contemporary anti-semitism. Funnily enough, whenever the smear-merchants cite this piece, they miss out one of the reasons I propose, namely the “history of anti-Semitism” in European culture “that has been, and probably still is, embedded in collective consciousness”. I note that “its roots can be traced, at least to some extent, to the shameful teachings of many in the Church”.

    But decontextualisation is what it is all about, as this particular case demonstrates. If someone seriously wanted to know what I thought about anti-semitism, they could look at other examples from my published writing. Then they would find when I condemned seeing Jews in general as complicit with Israeli actions as “inexcusably hateful and stupid”, affirming that there is no “contradiction between opposing anti-Semitism and supporting equal rights for Palestinians”.

    They might also read the ‘JustPeace60’ declaration, which I co-wrote and organised with my friend and film-maker Philip Rizk for the anniversary of Israel’s creation last year, and its recognition that “for many, this landmark powerfully symbolises the Jewish people’s ability to defy the power of hatred so destructively embodied in the Nazi Holocaust”.”

    http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2009/07/17/smearing-opponents-as-anti-semitic/

    it’s clear that he sees antisemitism as racism, even in that rather poor article from 2002.

    As you say, let’s stick to what White says!

    so, are you saying that he is antisemitic?

  12. voltairespriest said,

    Mark and Seismic;

    I’m perfectly prepared to accept the fact that Sizer gets visits to Tehran, etc. He is viewed as a useful idiot by the regime, as for that matter are the 200-odd weirdies of Neturei Karta. That doesn’t mean that either they or he have any political clout whatsoever.

    That simply isn’t the case with Christian Zionists. Hagee, Bauer et al command big organisations with serious human and financial resources, as well as having a number of sympathetic legislators in place in Congress. That’s not to mention the scores of other US political figures (especially in the GOP) who may or may not agree with the wacky specifics of Dispensationalist theology, but who certainly find themselves held by the short and curlies when it comes to money and door knockers, or the thread of the superchurches witholding either.

    What is more, the Christian Right as a whole (of which organisations like CUFI are a part) have serious enough resources to reach out beyond national borders, hence the increasing encroachment of US organising models on UK evangelical churches, and those same US organisations’ mis-use of their disproportionate clout in the debate over, say, HIV prevention programmes in Africa.

    None of this is unfamiliar territory for the Israeli left – they’re well aware of the active threat to peace that is posed by Christian Zionists funding maniacal settlers and backing any reactionary cause to the hilt, all in the name (ultimately) of salvation for people who aren’t Jewish. I think it’s time we recognised the same. Sizer just doesn’t measure up as a counter-example.

    Incidentally Seismic I think your HP article slightly misunderstands the difference between Christian Zionism (a political movement driven by a particular end-times theology) and Christians who happen to support Israel’s right to exist. Most Christians would fall into the latter category, including by the way those whose primary sympathies lie with the Palestinians. The former are a theologically fairly specific, highly politicised group with disproportionate financial and political power, whose “support for Israel” actually has, in their own eyes, an ulterior motive far beyond humanitarian concerns. It is that group which concerns me here.

  13. Mark said,

    Chris.

    Firstly your comment about getting White’s articles from websites which aren’t neutral is just an idiotic comment to make. There’s no such thing as neutral in politics.

    Chris – White took over seven years to come up with an excuse for writing his piece.

    I’ve not called White and anti-semite. he may be an anti-semite but i’d prefer to concentrate on what he writes and what he says. He certainly holds dangerous views.

    Chris – face it , you are an apologist for reactionary attitudes to Jews. In this way you’re pretty similar to a long line of examples when people have tried to contextualise hostile attitudes towards Jews or have objected when Jews have fought back against these attitudes.

  14. Mark said,

    And please Chris , if you reply , try writing something instead of just cut and pasting.

    BTW – Do you agree with White’s articles ? If not then what don’t you agree with in the articles.

    And Chris – what do you think about Sizer ?

  15. Mark said,

    Fair comment VP.

  16. Mark said,

    Just one thing though VP and i haven’t time to look for links but Sizer and those with views like him are not so small in certain sections of Christianity. So you need to study their actions in order to be confident of dismissing them so easily. I’m sure Seismic can provide you with details from his / her own writings.

  17. chris said,

    mark

    I haven’t got time to write much on this thread, but i think it’s sad – and fairly revealing – that your response is to launch into further accusations – saying i am “an apologist for reactionary attitudes to Jews”.

    interestingly, you have no response to the evidence that contradicts your assertions about White (from his own ‘mouth’ as it were).

    As for the fact that you say white “took over seven years to come up with an excuse for writing his piece” – well that could be because it was only years afterwards that he had to respond to a (clearly feebly-constructed) smear.

    your reaction to both me, as well as the inability to actually look at what White himself has said, is disappointing. Ah well, I guess that means you can go ahead and make the same remarks about white in other places and to other people, without the risk of having your prejudices challenged.

  18. voltairespriest said,

    Mark;

    Sizer’s an Anglican, isn’t he? Most Anglicans I know would not want to see the Israeli people driven into the sea.

    • seismicshock said,

      I know, whatever happened to carols, afternoon tea, jumble sales & church bazaars :)

      Well, if you can stomach it, here’s Sizer saying that Jesus is coming back to throw Israel, the bad vine, into the fires of Hell: http://www.cc-vw.org/audio/john15.mp3

      Quite often these guys are two sides of the same coin to be honest

  19. Mark said,

    Chris – I see nothing that excuses White’s original disgusting comment. And Chris i do think you’re part of the problem. Your attempt at trying to contextualise White’s disgusting comments are dangerous. And then let’s not forget WHite’s apology for defending Ahmadinejad over his holocaust denial – moidernity sums it up pretty well

    http://modernityblog.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/ben-white-stop-digging/

    It’s a shame that apologists such as yourself exist Chris. It does nothing to help the Palestinian peoples legitimate aspirations for statehood and an end to the occupation.

    You follow a long tradition Chris that existed long before the modern Israeli state.

  20. Mark said,

    VP- yes i think Sizer is Anglican but there’s quite a lot written about his involvement with various Christian organisations which hold similar views to his own and they are pretty active. He’s always going off to various conferences and meetings. So let’s not discount his views or how far they influence sections of Christianity.

  21. Mark said,

    Chris – again what do you think of Stephen Sizer’s views ? Do you think they are dangerous ?

    http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/03/21/if-i-was-stephen-sizer-christian-antizionist-james-mendelsohn/

  22. voltairespriest said,

    His views don’t run “sections of Christianity” with much in the way of clout or reach, let alone ones which concern major governments though, Mark. And he himself certainly doesn’t.

  23. voltairespriest said,

    Hagee Still Sells Controversial 2005 ‘God Sent Hitler’ Sermon, Apologizes To ADL For Wrong Sermon

    Again, Hagee shows what he really thinks about Israel and the Jewish people.

  24. Mark said,

    VP. I have no time for Hagee. But do keep an eye on Sizer and his actions in the UK.

  25. johng said,

    Voltaire are you going to challenge Marks ridiculous smear campaign against leftists or are you going to continue having a polite conversation with him about christian zionism? Just asking like.

  26. Mark said,

    I see John G has sobered up since he made a fool of himself yesterday while commenting pissed.

    http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/12/25/david-hirsh-on-the-global-forum-for-combating-antisemitism/#comments

  27. Mark said,

    John G uses the same tactic as the far right do – claiming that they’re being smeared by Jews. He even uses the same code-word “zionists”.

    John G is happy to defend the antisemitism in Venezuala as he did yesterday on Engage.
    Real scum and should be treated the same as the EDL and other far right organisations.

  28. Mark said,

    ACtually there’s very little difference in John G’s debating whether he’s pissed out of his mind or not. I detest him in the same way as i detest Griffin and the BNP. Pure right wing filth.

  29. Mark said,

    Calling Sizer and White leftists is bizarre. Lay off the Kedem John and stick to grape juice.

    http://www.kosher-wines.net/kosher-wine/kedem.html

  30. Jim Denham said,

    AH! Johnny Gameboy pops up again, as he does whenever there’s an opportunity to have a pop at Israel: That ‘s the John Game who approves of the idea of “having some fun with anti-semitism”, isn’t it?

  31. shug said,

    I was enjoying this blog ,man you gentelmen, you certainly do not pull your punches.Must admit some humorous digs though.Lightens the gravity of the topic.

  32. voltairespriest said,

    Mark and JG; play nice kids, it’s Kwanzaa weekend. In answer to the points, John I don’t think Mark is running a smear campaign unless I’ve missed something other than a few blog comments with which I didn’t agree. My post is about Christian Zionism, so I think he and I are legitimately entitled to have a conversation about that. Mark, I think it’s more than harsh to compare JG to the BNP or Griffin. I hardly agree with a bloody word he says but I do believe that his intent is good. Furthermore if he has indeed had a few too many glasses of the good stuff over the past few days then more power to his elbow as far as I’m concerned, we’ve all written daft shit in a comments box before!

    Jim: lovely to see you for a couple of beers earlier on! Post was a result of taking advantage of momentary access to a PC other than a crappy disintegrating laptop!

  33. Rosie said,

    Good piece, VP. So what with Saudi money disseminating Wahhabi Islam in mosques, and the Rapture types financing Last Days propaganda in churches, we may be in for some interesting times. That kind of politics to further God’s plans sounds as barmy as Dan Brown, or astrology, or creationism – all of which have a substantial amount of believers in this country.

  34. voltairespriest said,

    Quite, Rosie – the worrying thing of course is that the megachurches have rather more resources than your average bunch of wackos, hence their ability to outreach beyond national borders..

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