Rev Dr David Schmidt in a London lecture marking the centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration claimed that the evangelical Christian faith of the then war cabinet was a major influence which motivated them to make the Declaration.
As a Bible-believing academic, Dr Schmidt is convinced that, the Balfour Declaration was part of God’s plan and Israel’s destiny, as foretold by the Old Testament prophets.
Various theories have been put forward for the motivation of David Lloyd George’s ten-strong War Cabinet of 1917 – such as empire expansion, remorse over Jewish persecution and even gratitude for the war efforts of Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, a top biochemist who had developed an important chemical ingredient for gunpowder.
But Dr Schmidt is convinced that Christian Zionism was, at its heart, defining Zionism as the belief that Jews remain God’s chosen people and that they have a right to live in the land of Israel.
Though from different social backgrounds and representing all contemporary political parties, these magnificent ten were, for the most part, non-Conformist evangelical Christians – there were no Anglicans – who were familiar with the Old Testament and aware of biblical prophecy. Ironically, the only Jewish member strongly opposed the policy. Many Jews at the time saw it as being herded into a ‘ghetto’. But their opposition gradually faded as the Zionist movement gained momentum.
Lloyd George was the main figure behind the declaration, said Dr Schmidt. Though “ethically challenged” – he had a mistress, for one thing – the Manchester born, Welshspeaking Liberal Prime Minister was raised on the Bible and retained a sentimental attachment to biblical values while not always living up to its high ideals.
Balfour too was steeped in the Bible from his Scottish Presbyterian childhood, believing that Christian civilization owed an immeasurable debt to Judaism. He was motivated by what he called “the desire to give the Jews their rightful place in the world” and even gave theological lectures at Cambridge University. He was highly accomplished, having already served as Prime Minister, and declared on his deathbed that aiding Jewish restoration was possibly the most worthwhile thing he had done.
Also in the cabinet was Jan Christian Smuts, a Boer general in the South African War. Raised in the Reform Church, his early life was filled with Bible teaching and he predicted that, in generations to come, a great Jewish state would arise once more. In fact, Smuts argued for the biblical restoration of Israel all his life. He was the only Cabinet member who lived to see the re-born state when, as South African Prime Minister, he was the first to recognise the new country after the United States.
Edward Carson, a fiery criminal lawyer from Ulster, opposed Lloyd George on many other issues, but not this one.
Andrew Bonar Law, a Canadian raised by a Presbyterian minister, became Prime Minister in 1922, but died of cancer soon afterwards.
Labour politician Arthur Henderson was converted to Christ through the famed evangelist Gypsy Smith and was also a wholehearted supporter of the Balfour Declaration, as was fellow Labour member George Barnes, who loved the Jewish people.
Support also came from Alfred Milner (brought up in Germany) but George Nathaniel Curzon raised early objections. As a former Viceroy of India, he understood how the Muslims could rise up in opposition and believed the Jews would struggle to live in such “a desolate place”.
Edwin Montague, meanwhile, was opposed both to the declaration and to Zionism in general despite being a Jew himself because it would force a nationality on people who had nothing in common, and become a Jewish ghetto.
In answer to questions, Dr Schmidt suggested that the failure of British foreign policy was not in supporting the Jews with their Zionist cause but, in having done so, trying to appease the Arabs as well so that in the end they pleased no-one.
Charles Gardner, author of Israel the Chosen and Peace in Jerusalem.