On 6 July 1897, at a restaurant in London's Piccadilly, Theodor Herzl outlined his grand Zionist vision before a mainly sceptical audience comprising members of a club for young Anglo-Jewish intellectuals and cultural figures. The most enthusiastic commentator present was an elderly non-Jewish guest, the pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt, a devout Christian who knew the Holy Land intimately, depicted real Jewish faces (of people he encountered during his sojourns there) on his biblical-themed canvases, and had put forward a scheme for Jewish settlement not unlike Herzl's own - and at virtually the same time.
He was one of a number of nineteenth-century figures in the English-speaking world dedicated to the restoration of Jews to Zion. While some of them were millenarians, believing that the ingathering of the exiles was a necessary prelude to the conversion of the Jews and thus to a new messianic age, some had no strong missionary agenda. Arguably the most remarkable of the latter type was the Protestant, anti-Roman Catholic novelist and editor Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, who died in 1846; she anticipated the well-known twentieth-century philosemite Rev Dr James Parkes in holding that Judaism constitutes an alternate path to redemption.
Nowadays, mention 'Christian Zionism' and the American Evangelical Christian Right most often springs to people's minds. In 'liberal intellectual' circles it is de rigueur to deride its adherents. But at a time when 'Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions' is becoming the slogan of certain denominations and faith groups, some of which are attempting to invalidate the Jewish People's historic attachment to Eretz Israel altogether, all well-wishers of the Jewish State should accord them the appreciation they deserve.
Other staunch supporters of Israel in Christian circles include the Roman Catholic Sisters of Sion, represented at the Solidarity with Israel rally held in Sydney last month (during the immediate fallout from the flotilla affair) under the auspices of the News South Wales State Zionist Council. As the name indicates they also include the Anglican Friends of Israel, founded in Britain in 2005; among its patrons is the Rev Dr Peter Mullen, rector of St Michael's, Cornhill, and chaplain to the London Stock Exchange.
As its website shows, the Anglican Friends of Israel are not slow, when occasion warrants, to counter injustices against Israel, be the latter in word or deed; among their more recent activities, for example, is a commendably articulate and robust letter to the BBC regarding its biased reportage, and a fine defence of Israel regarding the boarding of the Mavi Marmara - a defence which demonstrates a close knowledge of the issues involved and a sophisticated grasp of political realities. A more sophisticated grasp, it is tempting to add, than that of Foreign Secretary William Hague, who was quick to condemn Israel as soon as news of Israel's raid on the Mavi Marmara broke - overlooking the terrorist-links of the IHH which sponsored the 'aid convoy' as well as the defensive reasons for Israel's Gaza blockade and before all the information about the raid came to hand. (Justifiably, the Anglican Friends take him to task.)
Nor must we omit to mention Christian Friends of Israel (UK) who have joined with the Zionist Federation of Great Britain to denounce the recent resolution by the Methodist Conference to boycott produce from the disputed territories. The Anglican Friends have roundly condemned the Methodists too. So, to all Christian champions of Israel: heartfelt gratitude and praise.