I published an article in July 2003, "[Christian Zionism:] Israel's Best Weapon?" in which I argued that "other than the Israel Defense Forces, America's Christian Zionists may be the Jewish state's ultimate strategic asset." But there is another view, one articulated by such analysts as Gershom Gorenberg, which sees Evangelical support for the Jewish state more fraught with dangers than opportunities for the latter.
Perhaps the deepest thinker along these lines is Richard Landes, a medieval historian who teaches at Boston University and keeps an eye on current developments. (He is also someone I have known since high school.) Landes and I have discussed this issue for some years and now a brief version of his views is available in an interview with him conducted by Manfred Gerstenfeld and published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:
A major change in perception occurred, however, when Christians - mostly Anglo-Christians - adopted a millennial scenario in which the Jews had to return to Zion in order for the apocalypse to come. As a result some Christians did not see the Jewish messianic desire to return to Israel as an act of the anti-Christ, but rather as one that promoted the second coming of Jesus. Christian Zionists looked favorably, even encouraged Jewish messianism. Balfour was such a millennial believer - called pre-millennial dispensationalist - with views similar to those current in today's Protestant Zionist circles.
Israeli independence triggered an extraordinary messianic reaction among some Christians. They saw Israel's birth, later followed by the conquest of the territories - and Jerusalem! - in the Six Day War, as the ‘dawn of redemption,' which would come in the days of those who witnessed these world-changing events. The vast ‘fundamentalist' support for Israel comes ideologically (if not emotionally) from this (temporarily) philo-Judaic apocalyptic scenario.
This shift in Christian millennial theology represents a degree of philo-Judaism never before seen among Christians at so popular a level, and has been reinforced in the last half century by guilt and remorse over the Holocaust, leading to the longest sustained period of Gentile philo-Judaism in history (1945-2000). Unfortunately, the historical record suggests that such philo-Judaism often triggers violent anti-Judaism as well. It may be that 2000 has marked the tipping point at which the forces of anti-Judaism have begun to gain the ascendant over the dominant philo-Judaic forces of the last half-century.
Landes devoted more space to these ideas in a summer 1999 piece; while skeptical of the change he is predicting, I look forward to reading his full thesis on this important and delicate subject. (September 1, 2004)
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