Book Review: The Politics of Apocalypse—The History and Influence of Christian Zionism (Cohn-Sherbook)
By Yoginder Sikand
Name of the Book: The Politics of Apocalypse—The History and Influence of Christian Zionism
Author: Dan Cohn-Sherbook
Publisher: Oneworld Books, Oxford
Christian Zionism, a variant of Christian fundamentalism, is today a major global force to reckon with. Christian Zionists are a key player in American (and to a lesser extent, Western European) politics. Firm backers of Zionism, Israel and Israeli expansionism, they are also one of the principal fountainheads of Islamophobia on the global scence. The origins, development and politics of Christian Zionism are brought out in considerable detail in this well-researched, balanced and very timely book by the noted activist scholar Dan Cohn-Sherbook, himself a Jew, and Professor of Judaism at the University of Wales.
Approximately a tenth of the American population is a devoted member of the cult of Christian Zionism, the author observes. ‘It is the fastest growing religious movement in Christianity today’, he notes (p.xi). Many followers of the cult are from the middle and upper-middle classes, followers of televangelists who wield enormous political and economic clout. Christian Zionists are impelled by an imperialistic vision, of Jesus’ impending arrival on earth, when he shall, so they believe, wipe out all his enemies (all non-Christians, presumably) and establish his global dominion, with his capital at Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Christian Zionists believe that they, as allegedly God’s chosen people, will be spared the horrors of the global war that shall precede Jesus’ advent, and will be miraculously wafted up to heaven, where they shall watch the final destruction of the world.
Christian Zionists believe that Jesus can only return the world once the Jews colonise Palestine. This belief is based on the contentious claim that God had granted this land to the progeny of Abraham, through Isaac, that is the Jews, for eternity. This land is not restricted to the present borders of the state of Israel. Instead, Zionists, both Jewish and Christian, believe that a vast swathe of land, stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates, today inhabited by millions of Arab Muslims and Christians, belongs rightfully to the Jews, and so must be ethnically ‘cleansed’ of non-Jewish presence. Hence the justification they offer for their genocidal project aimed at the Arabs. Hence, too, their consistent backing to Israel, their generous funding of Jewish settlements in Palestine, and their enormous pressure on successive American governments to adopt rigorously pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian policies.
The author traces the origins of Christian Zionism to the changing attitude of Christian groups towards the Jews following the Protestant Revolution. The early Catholic Church justified the witch-hunt of the Jews, labeling them as alleged Christ-killers. However, numerous Protestant sects, while equally vehemently anti-Jewish, believed that the Jews needed to colonise Palestine before Jesus would re-appear in the world to save it. This was, and still is, by no means a generous acceptance of the Jews. Rather, they believed, as Christian Zionists today do, that only those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah would be saved. The rest would ally themselves with the Anti-Christ and would be defeted by Jesus and his forces and, consequently, would be sent off to eternal damnation in the fires of hell.
From the seventeenth century onwards, the author shows, numerous European, and, later American, Protestant churches began evolving schemes to settle the Jews in Palestine. This was also seen as a convenient way of getting rid of the Jewish presence in Europe. They petitioned various European powers to back this scheme. By the early nineteenth century, numerous British administrators had been won round to this idea, impelled, no doubt, also by a motive to undermine the Ottoman Empire, which at that time controlled Palestine, and by a deep-rooted aversion to Islam.
Increasingly, the author shows, Christian Zionists began to join hands with secular Jewish Zionists, whose plans to settling Jews in Israel had nothing to do with any messianic hopes, but, rather, arose as a response to the centuries’-old persecution of Jews by European Christians. (In contrast, the author rightly notes, ‘In Arab lands, Jews had flourished for centuries […] [while] in European countries Jewry had been subject to oppression and persecution’ (p.44).
Ties between secular Jewish Zionists and Christian Zionists to pursue the common project of Jewish colonization of Palestine, the author writes, were strengthened by the support given to Theodore Herzl (b.1860), the Hungarian Jew who is regarded as the father of modern-day Zionism. The author traces the course of this close collaboration down to the present-day, describing the strong political and financial links between Christian and Israeli/Jewish Zionists and also the enormous clout of the Zionist lobby in American political circles.
The author clearly indicates that Christian Zionism, based on a virulently anti-Islamic agenda, is a major hurdle to peace not just in West Asia but globally, too. Indeed, some Christian Zionists even ardently wish (and work for) a final global war, in the belief that this would accelerate their hoped-for wafting up to heaven and the subsequent arrival of Jesus. At the same time, and this gives some cause for hope, the author also discusses critiques of the Zionist imperialist project by progressive Christian and Jewish groups and also by orthodox Jewish Rabbis, who are opposed to Zionism on the grounds that, as the author puts it, ‘It [is] forbidden to accelerate divine redemption through human efforts’.