We define Christian Zionism as Christian theological support for the establishment and maintenance of the modern state of Israel, along Zionist ideological lines. Christian Zionism is therefore just one aspect of the wider Zionist movement, which has its own versions of left and right, religious and secular, peaceful and militant. Christian Zionism is a standard position among the evangelical Protestant religious right, especially in the United States of America. In a nutshell, evangelical Christian Zionism holds that the key events of the end of history will take place in and around the modern state of Israel, sooner rather than later. Essential aspects of this vision of the end include the rise of the Anti-Christ, the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the destruction of the forces of evil in the fi nal battle of Armageddon, culminating in Christ’s reign upon the earth. A crucial factor here is that during these events a certain number of Jews will be converted to Christianity while the remainder are annihilated.
First Contradiction: Religion and Politics
When asked, Christian Zionists often deny any explicit link between their theology and their political actions, and until the mid-90s, they were by-andlarge taken on their word. Indeed, when Christian Zionists would dismiss the material consequences of their beliefs, as ‘just politics’, that was accepted, more often than not. However with the near-total integration of Christian Zionism into mainstream political Zionism, and the flexing of political muscles within compliant administrations, the division between theological and political rhetoric has largely been abandoned. But this is a long way from fully accepting the ethical and political accountability that should accompany political rhetoric, albeit religiously-inspired political rhetoric. Indeed, the key question in Christian Zionism is how God will use the Jews to fulfi l Christian prophecy. Not only is there an abandonment of individual discretion and ethics, but also a bad-faith denial of political agency.
Second Contradiction: Realpolitik
The second contradiction is that mainstream Zionism wants Christian Zionist support, without actually being infl uenced by, or too closely connected to, Christian Zionism itself. We agree with journalist Bob Simon’s accusation that ‘Israel is in such dire straits that [it] need[s] to get support from whatever quarter.’34 Mainstream Zionists are happy to take the support (tourists, money, votes) of the Christian Zionists, but they want to maintain an ironic distance from the actual ideology behind it. It is not diffi cult to fi nd a whole series of clever quotes from mainstream Zionist leaders laughing off the theology of their Christian comrades. Th is mainstream (State) Zionist response is best summed up by the comment of Ariel Sharon, that ‘[w]hen the Messiah appears, we can ask him if this is His fi rst time or His second time on earth. Until then, we can be thankful for the support of our Christian friends.’ As this comment indicates, mainstream Zionists are well aware of the apocalyptic nature of Christian Zionist ideology. We will argue, however, that the tensions present cannot simply be dismissed with a witty retort. Rather, Israel’s State Zionism cannot but help being infl uenced by the religious beliefs of its supporters, and there will come a point when the contradictions become unbearable.
Third Contradiction: Anti-Semitism
Quite simply, Christian Zionism is the most complete and brutal realisation of anti-Semitism still acceptable in mainstream political discourse. Naturally enough, this anti-Semitism further shows up the contradictions inherent in Christian Zionist rhetoric. It wishes to obliterate both Arabs and Jews, keeping only fundamentalist Christians alive. Indeed, the infl uential author of Israel in Prophecy, John Walvoord predicts that the battle of Armageddon will be ‘a holocaust in which at least 750 million people will perish.’ Whilst we cannot be certain the precise mathematical equation behind this figure, there can be little doubt about who will comprise that number. This tension has several features to it. To begin with, Christian Zionism is an explicitly anti-Jewish anti-Semitism, which appears through their professing of, according to Strozier, ‘a great love for Jews while talking numbly of their annihilation’. We therefore fi nd it interesting just how many of the Christian Zionist organisations use the word ‘friendship’ in their name: The Christian Friends of Israel; The Christian Friends of Israeli Communities; The America-Israel Friendship House; The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries, etc. That friendship, or indeed passionate love, is expressed in the desire for the conversion of the Jews to Christianity.
Fourth Contradiction: Biblical Literalism
In this final contradiction, we argue that Christian Zionism is a brutal outcome of reading the Bible ‘literally’ - that is, in a highly selective fashion. Since it must hold the whole Bible to be inerrant, it is bound to read both ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Testaments at the same level. Ultimately, the tension between the two texts is impossible to maintain and so the only rhetorical solution is to wipe out one side of the tension. Specifi cally, those who claim just one part of the Bible as sacred scriptures are eliminated. This is a little like a poorly plotted Hollywood film that can only resolve the plot holes with a bloodbath.
Let us say a little more about this contradiction. Christian Zionists combine absolute devotion to Christ (Greek Bible/New Testament), but they do not want to be seen to be replacing Yahweh’s promises to Abraham and Israel (Hebrew Bible / Old Testament). So the only way to combine the two is to hold them together in tension for a while - hence absolute support for ‘literal’ readings of the Old Testament, giving the Jews all the land between Egypt and the Euphrates (1 Kgs. 4:21 (Hebrew text 5:1)).
Despite the tradition of dispensationalism with its attendant supersessionism (wherein the Christian Church takes the place of the Israel of the Hebrew Bible, with a strong sense of the punishment of the Jews for rejecting Christ) among Christian Zionists, superficially literal readings of the Hebrew scriptures abound in the reintegration of Jews into the realm of divine favour, specifi cally as the apocalyptic agents of change. Thus, Christian Zionists take the passages from the Hebrew Bible, especially those concerning the promise of a full occupation of the land of Canaan (Lev. 26:44-5, Deut. 7:7-8) as referring to the present day ‘return’. It matters not whether these texts refer to the story of the escape from Egypt, wandering the wilderness and invasion of the land, or if they refer to the account of the exile to Babylon after the destruction of the temple.
Rather, they read these texts as the need to solidify, here and now, Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem’s Old City, especially through the move of the USA’s Embassy there, as well as supporting the Knesset’s internationally-ignored resolution declaring sovereignty over the undivided city. However, such an approach can only be maintained up to a point - which, conveniently enough, is the end of the world. The catch is that the scenario of the end of the world is also constructed around ‘literal’ readings of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, which enables them to ‘solve’ the contradiction by having Jews become Christians, or die. Th is is where we find a strangely coherent narrative that strings together a whole series of biblical texts drawn equally from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.
In understanding Christian Zionist rhetoric, it is just as important to acknowledge what it is not trying to do, as it is important to understand what it is trying to do. Thus, Christian Zionism is but one part of broader Zionist discourse, geared towards a particular audience. It is not rhetoric intended for everyone, so if the reader finds it a little outlandish, wondering how anyone could possibly believe it, please ponder that upon next encountering a different variety of Zionist rhetoric that, rather than placing Israel at the centre of an apocalypse-seeking fundamentalist theology, positions it as a cultural oasis in a sea of barbarism, or the embattled frontline in the war for ‘Western’ civilisation. Each variety of Zionist discourse employs diff erent rhetorical strategies to the same immediate political end: the continuation the policies of the government of the state of Israel in its ongoing opposition to the human rights of the Palestinians.
Thus, for all the contradictions that lie at the heart of Christian Zionism, it is the unintentional truth value of Christian Zionist rhetoric that is perhaps most signifi cant. For liberals, Christian Zionism is unfortunate - and often merely that - insofar as it gets in the way of secular, moderate support for mainstream Zionism. It is simply embarrassing. However, insofar as Christian Zionism is predicated, however fancifully, on the inevitable denial of the presence of rival cultures, it reminds us that Zionism, of whatever adjective, is also predicated on the violent refusal of the presence of its others. Christian Zionism solves its central contradictions through the violent expulsion and/or death of Arabs, as well as the death or conversion of Jews, while mainstream Zionism solved its central tension through the removal, denial or death of the Palestinians. Thus, as repugnant as the theological moves Christian Zionism makes inevitably are, it’s as much the fault of the latter as the former, for the rhetorical yearning for Armageddon would itself be far less consequential were it not wedded to an existing, violent, and thoroughly material political ideology.
The Contradictions of Christian Zionism
Ibrahim Abrahama & Roland Boer