Christian Zionism and Foreign Policy: Exploiting Religion | by William Mallinson

By William Mallinson


This article considers the phenomenon of what has become known as ‘Christian Zionism’, as manifested in particular in the United States of America, and its influence on foreign policy formulation. It suggests that there has always been an important element of religious moralising in US foreign policy, which has gone hand in hand with more down-to-earth business interests, but that recently the evangelical side of American Christianity has allied with active support for Israel and its policies. In the words of the British embassy in 1972, this can be labeled ‘American Zionism’. The paper compares the well-known Walt-Mearsheimer critique with a fascinating study produced by the British Embassy in Washington in 1972. It implies that Christian Zionism, subtle though it can be, has developed into  a new and unwelcome extremist tendency in foreign policy, and that it needs to be scrutinised at least as much as the phenomenon of Moslem fundamentalism.

Key Words: Christian Zionism, fundamentalism, Israel, evangelism, foreign policy.


Most religions have their minority of fanatics, including various Christian, Moslem and Jewish sects. A good deal has been written about religion and politics, particularly about the unsavoury aspects of Moslem extremism. Let us now consider the dangerous aspects of ‘Christian Zionism’, as it has come to be known, but in particular  ‘American Zionism’, in other words ‘active support for Israel and her policies’, in the words of the British Embassy in Washington in 1972. [1]

If hard-nosed national interest and a fascination with power are two important characteristics of the geopolitical mentality (and of power politics/political realism), religion can also play a role, and can indeed influence foreign policy. While there has  always been a certain evangelical spirit in US foreign policy, present since the very War of American Independence in Puritanism and in its constant references to the God of Israel[2], in recent years pre-millennialism (or dispensationalism) has made leaps and strides, mainly among the around 40% of Americans who belong to a Christian sect. Dispensationalists believe, in line with their interpretation of the Bible, that we are now living in the ‘end-time’, and that the true believers will be spared the horrors of the last moments. Thus, the disorder and wars which the world is currently experiencing are simply part of ‘God’s plan’, according to dispensationalists, and can therefore be justified. [3]Building Zion in America has now been supplanted with supporting the state of Israel. It is worthy of note that Osama bin Laden and his followers also believe that current ‘history will end in violence’ before a ‘new history’ comes about.[4] In this warped and Manichean sense, extremist Christian evangelists and fanatical Moslems are oddly similar. George Bush Junior and Osama Bin Laden are thus linked by a Manichean form of thinking that has no truck with moderation, tact and diplomacy. The broad picture, allegedly in line with their interpretation of God’s will, is all that counts. Although Barak Obama is hardly hewn from the same stone as the Bushes of this world, that does not mean that we have seen the last of the unilateral and extreme policies of recent years. Whether the change in presidents will prove to be one of substance or style, of replacing heroin with methodone, or red with white wine, is still not known. At any rate, there is no current reason why the enormous US emotional and business investment in Israel will suddenly diminish overnight.

The most significant recent development has been the strong bond that has developed between the more extreme evangelical and dispensationalist Americans on the one hand, and unbridled Zionists on the other. US evangelism as a factor in foreign policy has usually been of the benign, non-violent type: Wilson’s idealistic Fourteen Point Plan, the American Missionary Schools and the quasi-religious zeal of anti-colonialism in the aftermath of the Second World War (this latter zeal perhaps not entirely genuine, in that the US and the USSR had strong business motives in breaking British imperial preference). Now the dispensationalists have linked to the Zionists, in the form of Christian ‘Zionists’. Although, in the Sixties, many of the Christian fundamentalist cults were vehemently opposed by, ­inter alia, Jewish groups, there has since been a subtle yet radical modification in the relationship between Christian fundamentalism and Zionism. Simply put, Christian fundamentalists believe that God gave Israel to the Jews, and that at the Second Coming, many Jews will be converted to Christianity. Thus, Christian Zionists support the state of Israel even more fervently than the average American. A typical Christian Zionist gala can include, for example, the mayor of Jerusalem on the platform, surrounded by hundreds of Christian fundamentalists waving Israeli flags.[5] When, in April 2002, President Bush demanded that Israel withdraw its tanks from the West Bank, he received 100,000 angry e-mails from ‘Christian conservatives’. Ariel Sharon, the former right-wing (Likud) Israeli Prime Minister (also known as the ‘butcher’ for his rôle in the massacre of Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps) was greeted like a rock star by Christian evangelists in Jerusalem in September 2002.[6] Most Zionist leaders (but certainly not the large but often ignored number of moderate Jews who criticise Israeli behaviour, and sometimes even the state’s raison d’être) accept the Christian Zionists’ support and ‘let them whistle for their conversions’.[7] Various American Christian evangelical sects operate worldwide, often under the euphemistic guise of ‘interdenominational churches’, and sell Zionist and anti-Palestinian books through the social groups attached to these ‘churches’[8], sometimes quite lucratively. Derek Prince, a Christian Zionist par excellence, is one such writer. Another, John McArthur, pandering to the public emotion of ‘9/11’, brought out a book in which, apart from wrongly claiming that Saddam Hussein backed Osama Bin Laden, attempts to justify war through the Bible, quoting not only the Old Testament wars of the Jews, but even claiming that Christ himself justified war. He tries to achieve this by cherry-picking a small number of quotes from the Old Testament, entirely out of context. All this fitted well with Bush Junior’s perspective and with his emotional statement calling for a new crusade. Such is the stuff of religious fanaticism. Bush was of course very influenced by Christian Zionism, and was a prime example of how, in international relations, religion, emotion and politics can no longer be separated from what we can now term geopolitical fundamentalism.  The possibility that certain powerful interests are simply cynically manipulating the enormous emotional potential of the ‘masses’ to gain acceptance for hard-nosed power politics is also worthy of consideration. At any event, Christian Zionism can be considered as a serious factor in current US foreign policy vis-à-vis the Middle East.

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The question of Israeli involvement in US foreign policy, linked as it is to Zionism, is certainly fraught with tension and has caused some bitter spats in the US and Britain which are, after all, the countries most associated with the creation of the state of Israel and its perpetuation. A Democrat congressman was bitterly attacked for suggesting that Jews were behind the build-up towards the attack on Iraq.[9] In Britain, the Father of the House of Commons, Tam Dalyell, sparked anger among extremist Jewish groups when he said that the then Prime Minister, Blair, relied too much on Jewish figures, naming controversial Middle East adviser Lord Levy and former minister and then EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. Even more dangerously, Dalyell referred to a ‘cabal of Jewish advisers’ in the US, naming the controversial Paul Wolfowitz[10] (then Deputy Defense Secretary), Richard Perle (adviser) and Ari Fleischer (Bush’s then Press Secretary), among others. He alluded to the ‘neo-Christian fundamentalist co-operation with Zionists’, and decried the ‘extreme Likudnik agenda’.[11] He also made plain to this author his view that Mossad had been instrumental in drumming up false stories about the Iraqi regime trying to obtain uranium from Niger.[12]

It is hardly unreasonable to suppose that the US and Israel co-ordinate their policies on the Middle East. The world has seen the problems encountered when a political state is also a religious one, and connects religion and race to land as its very raison d’être.

The most recent well-known critique of the Zionist lobby was written by respected academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in 2006[13], causing a furious reaction among extremist Zionists. The article’s main argument was that the power of the Israeli lobby had led to one-sided US support for Israel, that was inconsistent with its own interests and those of other states in the region. The US had become the de facto enabler of Israeli expansion in the occupied territories, ‘making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians’; the article highlighted US hypocrisy in this complicity, given that it presses other states to respect human rights, and that it condones Israel’s nuclear arsenal, while insisting that Iran and others must not have a nuclear capability. Perhaps the most recent example of US connivance in unacceptable Israeli behaviour towards the Palestinians was the US Secretary of State, Clinton’s, comment that the building of settlements for Jews on occupied Palestinian territory was ‘unhelpful’, when it is in fact downright illegal, indeed criminal in terms of international law. In terms of euphemistic language, it reminds one of the phrase ‘collateral damage’ for killing civilians, or ‘awkward murder’ and’ naughty rape.’ This suggests that, Obama or no Obama, one can expect no serious US initiative on the Middle East in the near future. As usual, the latest alleged initiative is already running into the sand. The extremist land-grabbers in Israel know that they can count on US support, whatever the amount of tut-tutting.

The influence of the Israeli lobby has indeed contributed to the US devoting one sixth of its foreign aid budget to the sixteenth most wealthy nation on earth.[14] In addition to this, Israel receives 1.8 billion dollars a year in military aid. Clearly, the term ‘aid’ is in this context a euphemism for massive political, economic and military support. There is ‘little doubt that Israel and the lobby were key factors in the decision to go to war’, write Mearsheimer and Walt, who continue by demonstrating the power of the Israel lobby in pushing the US into attacking Iran, all with the full support of the ‘neo-conservatives’, as those Christian Zionists are also labelled. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) plays the leading coordinating role among the plethora of Jewish organisations in the US, and is a ‘de facto agent’ for Israel, with a ‘stranglehold on Congress’.[15]  Although the Israeli embassy in Washington takes great pains to claim that it has no official policy-making contacts with the Israel lobby, the authors make clear that American Jewish leaders often consult Israeli officials, to ensure that their actions advance Israeli goals. Those critical of Israel keep silent, however, because they fear that the lobby will damage their careers. If there were no AIPAC, Americans would have a more critical view of Israel, and US policy in the Middle East would be different.

Zionist organisations in the United States have always been powerful, and the phenomenon of the disproportionate influence they wield has been suspected, but rarely enunciated fully, for a long time. Many who wish to criticise the less positive side tend not to do so, for fear of being labelled ‘anti-semitic’, in itself an odd idea, since the semitic peoples include Arabs, among others, leading to suggestions that the term ‘anti-semitic’ has been hijacked.

Lest any of you readers are already smarting in fury and indignation at these daringly critical words, and preparing to apply your ‘conspiracy theorist’ label, consider that as early as 1972, the British embassy in Washington wrote a confidential paper on ‘Zionist Organisations in the United States’, part of a series for a proposed Foreign and Commonwealth Office paper on ‘the role and effectiveness of Zionist organizations in the United States and Western Europe’. A covering letter from the British ambassador in Tel Aviv stated:

I need hardly say that this is a subject on which the Israel Government is very sensitive, because the continuing support of the Diaspora is an important element in their national security. They might well be suspicious of our motives if it comes to their knowledge that we were preparing a study of this kind […].[16]

The paper can be considered as a – perhaps more subtle – version, in certain respects, of the recent Mearsheimer/Walt paper, remarkable in that it was written thirty four years earlier. Had it been published, it could well have produced a Zionist backlash, just as the recent Walt/Mearsheimer critique did. The paper equated for its purposes the term ‘American Zionism’ with active support for Israel and her policies. Extracts from the paper speak for themselves, requiring little if any interpretation:

‘The well-organised lobby of Jewish organisations concentrates its activities on influencing congress. There is very little activity in State Legislatures, mainly because few issues arise affecting Israel or the Jewish community in those bodies. The obvious point of pressure must be Congress and there is little doubt that much of the active output of the Zionist organisations is devoted to that end […] whenever an important event occurs in the world at large or in this country, or whenever there is any public threat to Israel, a flood of letters descends upon the offices of Senators and Representatives throughout the country. Some, no doubt, are spontaneous, but the majority show unmistakable evidence of a careful orchestration.’[17]

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The paper devoted some attention to Zionist activity in the press, ‘which are [sic] in any case responsive to pro-Israeli articles [sic][18], largely because a number of press magnates, editors and journalists are themselves of Jewish stock.’ An example of clearly illicit pressure is given:

‘A well-known columnist, who writes in the Christian Science Monitor, told us last year that, when he wrote an editorial which contained mild criticism about the intransigence of the Israeli government, he received a telephone call from the Israeli Embassy in Washington within the hour to express official Israeli displeasure. He was told that such judgements would not be well received by many of the big firms in the Boston area who bought advertising space in the paper and that the Israeli Embassy were confident that he would not wish to deprive his paper of much needed revenue. […] There can be little doubt that the Israeli Embassy discreetly passes on information to the Jewish organisations [my italics], but it would be difficult to point to a direct link’.

Other interesting observations emerge from the paper. For example, whereas Jews made up about 3% of the population, between 18 and 25% of faculty members at Ivy League universities were Jews, while 8% of the urban population of the US were Jewish, and 96% of Jews lived in towns. ‘There is little doubt that Zionist organisations and the Israeli lobby wield considerable political strength in this country, stated the paper, concluding that ‘support for Israel has a universal appeal, being quite distinct from the lobbying efforts of other ethnic minorities’. Today, the state of affairs has of course developed.

Perhaps, and to their credit, some of the most powerful and persuasive arguments against the activities of the Israel lobby and Zionism have come from Jews. Some Jews cannot ‘stomach zionism’. For those whose motives are purely spiritual, the Jewish state is at best an irritant, at worst a blasphemy[19], according to The Atlas of the Jewish World, published by Time Life Books in 1995. One of the most critical books about the excesses of Zionist fanatics against innocent Palestinians was recently written by an Israeli academic, Ilan Pappe. It details in precise terms the plan to expel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands, even before the war of 1948, including how and when particular murders of civilians were planned to achieve maximum effect.[20]

The disaster that befell Jews at the hands of, mainly, Germans, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians and Poles, but also various collaborators in France and the Netherlands, which was gradually named ‘the holocaust’ from the late fifties onwards, has proved to be a double-edged sword for Zionism. On the one hand, it provided Zionists, and a guilty Europe, with some justification for the establishment of a Jewish state. On the other, the over-exploitation by the Zionist public relations machine and by Hollywood of the whole horror has tended to irritate some Jews and non-Jews alike, worried that too much exaggerated attention over sixty-five years later focuses in turn too much attention on Israel, Jews and Zionism, reviving, therefore, the whole idea of Nazism, which is then connected to the fate of the Palestinians.[21] Exploiters of the wartime Jewish holocaust try to label anyone who criticises Israel’s quasi-destruction of Palestine as ‘anti-semitic’, clearly an erroneous accusation. Other groups who have suffered genocide, such as American Indians (many millions were murdered or starved to death), Tutsis, Germans, Japanese and Armenians, do not have the ‘advantage’ of a continuing widespread diaspora, lobby and religious aura of respectability, although the Armenians have certainly had some success in Europe and the US in getting their treatment at the hands of the Ottomans recognised as genocide. The almost constant reminders of the Jewish holocaust, to support the state of Israel, is seen by some as disrespect for those millions of murdered Jews, in other words as unwarranted politicisation of something that occurred over sixty years ago. If one adds to this the controversy over the exact numbers of murdered Jews, then one can see why using the Jewish holocaust as a political weapon – and Hollywood money-spinner par excellence – can be self-defeating. Does one believe the much bandied-about figure of six million, or accept that the figure lies between four and a half and six million, as stated by the eminent London School of Economics historian D.C. Watts?[22] And are there precise figures on the number of gypsies, communists, freemasons, homosexuals, non-German workers and others who died in concentration camps, and how many starved to death at the very end of the war, when there was simply no food? And to complicate the issue, there are the strange stories such as that of Rabbi Koretz of Thessaloniki, who provided the German occupiers with a list of the Jews of Thessaloniki, and encouraged them to obey the deportation orders and go to Poland[23]; and that of Hans Hirschfeld, the Jewish head of the Dutch Economics Ministry during the last war who, rather than be executed or  imprisoned at the Liberation, was merely ‘discharged with honour’ from the Dutch Civil Service, and subsequently went on to have a glittering career in the selfsame Civil Service.[24] Such stories have never been properly explained.

Debate about precision apart, another aspect to consider is that while the Christian Orthodox Serbs, for example, relate their wartime holocaust to the Croatian Roman Catholic Ustashe fanatics, and the Armenians theirs to a particular people, the Turks, and still publicise this fact strongly, even to the point of killing Turkish diplomats in the eighties, Zionists have long ceased emphasising the German connexion, but have, in a subtle transmogrification, equated Arabs and Palestinians with Nazis, appearing to many to turn their revenge on Palestinians, rather than on Germans, Poles, Balts, Ukrainians and Romanians. This has upset a large number of more moderate and honest Jews, since the Palestinians had no rôle in the abysmal treatment of the Jews in Europe.

To conclude, the time has perhaps arrived for more moderation and depth in our religious beliefs, rather than continuing with the exploitation of religion by fanatics, cynical and greedy politicians and selfish interest-groups, whether they be Moslem, Jewish or Christian. It is not easy to attempt to deal in a dispassionate manner with US and Israeli foreign policy within the context of Zionism, and this paper may well evoke howls of protest from Christian Zionists and other extremists. Whatever studied disagreements there are from time to time between the US and Israeli governments over arms deliveries or the treatment of the Palestinians, it is clear that the US and Israel are hand-in- glove. The most glaring example is that the US privately condones Israel’s illegal nuclear arsenal, but criticizes Iran’s nuclear programme, to the point of wishing to go to war. One respected academic has written that the Israel lobby ‘has worked assiduously and with extraordinary success to make sure that Israel’s enemies are seen by Americans as also being those of the US.’[25] To speak or write of a world-wide conspiracy involving Zionist and extreme Christian fundamentalists may appear off the mark and simplistic, just as Winston Churchill may have been when he wrote of ‘the schemes of the International Jew’, referring to a ‘sinister confederacy’, and calling the Jews ‘a world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society’.[26]  It is largely thanks to moderate Jews that I have felt able to write this.[27]  With Christian Zionism and Moslem fundamentalism as friends, peace needs no enemies. The time has arrived for open debate, without the shackles of political correctness to drag us down into semantic mediocrity and linguistic bulimia, from with so much current international relations debate, with its prison of so-called ‘conceptual frameworks’ and paradigms, suffers.

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Athens, November 2010.

* William Mallinson is a former Member of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service who left to study for, and was awarded, his Ph.D. at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Department of International History. He covered Dutch foreign policy, Dutch-German relations and German rearmament during the initial period of the building of European institutions and NATO, and the formative years of the Cold War. He is now Lecturer in British history, literature and culture at the Ionian University.  Since 1994, when he was awarded a Greek Government scholarship, he has been perusing British Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence, Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet archives, under the general rubric of Anglo-Greek relations during the Cold War, including Cyprus. He has also published several articles in the press, and spoken at numerous conferences. He is an occasional lecturer at the Greek National Defence School, particularly on Britain and Russia/ USSR. His books are :
Public Lies and Private Truths, Cassell, London and New York, 1996, and Leader Books, Athens, 2000.
Portrait of an Ambassador, Attica Tradition Educational Foundation, Athens, 1998.
Cyprus: A Modern History, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2005, updated in 2009 as a paperback. Also published in Greek in 2005 by Papazissis, Athens.
From Neutrality to Commitment: Dutch Foreign Policy, NATO and European Integration, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2010.
Partition through Foreign Aggression, University of Minnesota, 2010.
Cyprus, Diplomatic History and the Clash of Theory in International Relations, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2010. Also published in Greek by Estia, 2010.
Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents since World War Two, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, to be published in February 2011.
He has numerous articles and reviews in academic refereed journals, of which some recent ones are:
‘Enosis, Socio-Cultural Imperialism and Strategy: Difficult Bedfellows’, Middle Eastern Studies, vol.41, no. 4, July 2005.
‘US Interests, British Acquiescence and the Invasion of Cyprus’, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, vol.9, no. 3, August 2007.
‘Britain, Cyprus, Turkey, the USA and Greece in 1977: Critical Submission or Submissive Criticism?’, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 44, no. 4, October 2009.

[1] ‘Zionist Organisations in the United States’, paper prepared by bthe British Embassy in Washington, 16 March 1972, FCO 17/1763, file NER 18/7

[2] Northcott,Michael, An Angel Directs the Storm, I.B. Tauris, London and New York,2004, pp. 4 -5.

[3] Ibid., p. 44.

[4] Ibid., pp. 10 and 40.

[5] Clarke, Victoria, ‘The Christian Zionists’, Prospects, issue 88, London, July 2003.

[6] Engel, Mathew, ‘Meet the New Zionists’, The Guardian, 28 October 2002.

[7] Ibid.

[8] For example, the ‘interdenominational’ church of St. Andrews in Athens, Greece, catering mainly for non-Greeks (and a handful of disaffected Greek Christian Orthodox), is frequented by Christian fundamentalists.

[9] Firestone, David, ‘Outrage over remark on Jews’, International Herald Tribune, 13 March 2003.

[10] Wolfowitz was later sacked  from his then job as head of the International Monetary Fund, for allegedly giving a girlfriend a rather good job.

[11] White, Michael, ‘ Dalyell renews attack on Levy’, The Guardian, 6 May 2003. Levy, a bit of a seedy character, and close to discredited Prime Minister Anthony Blair, was later arrested and questioned by the police in the ‘ cash for honours’ scandal.

[12] Tam Dalyell, telephone interview with author, 17 July 2003.

[13] Mearsheimer, John and Walt, Stephen, ‘The Israel Lobby’, London Review of Books, 23 March 2006.

[14] Op. cit., Northcott, p. 34.

[15] Op. cit., Mearsheimer and Walt.

[16] Barnes to Evans, letter, 5 January 1972, FCO 17/1763, file NER 18/7.

[17] Op. cit., ‘Zionist Organisations in the United States’.

[18] The word ‘articles’ should presumably be ‘attitudes’. A near malapropism!

[19] De Lange, Nicholas, Atlas of the Jewish World, Time Life Books, Andromeda Oxford Limited, 1995, p. 132.

[20] Pappe, Ilan,  The Ethnic  Cleansing of Palestine, One World, Oxford, 2007.

[21] Laor, Yitzhak, ‘ Children of the State’, London Review of Books, 26 January 2006.

[22] In Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, D. C. Watts writes in his introduction (p. xii) :’ The [Jews] have between for and a half and six million reasons for their anxieties.’

[23] Lewkovitz, Bea, ‘ “ After the War We Were All Together”: Jewish Memories of Post-war Thessaloniki”, in Mazower, Mark (ed.), After the War Was Over, Princeton University Press,2000, pp. 255 and 264.

[24] Hirschfeld, Gerhard, Nazi Rule and Dutch Collaboration, Berg, Oxford, 1988, p. 325.

[25] Lieven, Anatol, ‘We do not deserve these people’, London Review of Books, 20 October 2005.

[26] Irving, David, Churchill’s War, vol. 1, Arrow Books, London, 1989, p. 20.

[27] For example, Richard Falk, UN Special Representative on humanitarian issues and Emeritus Professor at Princeton University. Israel refused him entry to Palestine in Decaenber 2008. He described the chapter of my latest book, Cyprus, Diplomatic History and the Clash of Theory in International Relations (I. B. Tauris) from which this chapter is extrapolated, as ‘stimulating and provocative’.