By Rudy Barnes,Jr., October 28, 2023
Zionism is a form of Jewish nationalism shared by some American Christians--most notably President Biden. Religious nationalism in any religion is problematic since it mixes loyalty to country with loyalty to God, and questions the supremacy of God with various forms of patriotism. Biden’s admission that he’s a Zionist raises questions about his political priorities.
Christian nationalism in America has promoted America First policies as a form of exceptionalism that considers America’s political objectives as the will of God. In Russia the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has sanctified Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as God’s will to restore the Russian empire of Peter the Great.
Zionism sanctifies Israel as God’s homeland for his chosen people, and it has Christian adherents in both parties, with more Republicans than Democrats. It includes the third temple movement to restore the Jewish temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock Mosque is located. Destruction of that mosque would likely produce a new Holy War.
Joshua’s battle at Jericho in 1400 BC (Jericho is now Tell es-Sultan on the West Bank) was a precedent for holy war and religious genocide in the Holy Land. The ban of Hebrew law required exterminating all non-Hebrews in the Holy Land. (see the Biblical account in Joshua 6). Only the prostitute Rahab and her family were spared from the slaughter as Joshua’s spies.
In modern times, Netanyahu, as a Zionist, has advocated replacing Palestinians with Jews in Israel’s democracy; and following the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, President Biden assured Netanyahu that he could rely on America’s support. After returning to the U.S. Biden affirmed his support for a two-state policy in Israel, which Netanyahu will likely oppose.
Some forms of nationalism are consistent with our loyalty to God. The obligation to support and defend the Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag are compatible with our loyalty to God; but putting party loyalty ahead of providing for the common good is divisive and polarizing, and inconsistent with loyalty to both God and country.
Religious nationalism is compatible with loyalty to God when it doesn’t assert God’s preference for one nation over others and doesn’t violate the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves. That commandment is a universal common word of faith and politics for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
As a political priority Zionism means one thing for Netanyahu, and quite another for Biden. If America were to support aggressive war by Israel against non-Jews in Israel, it would violate the Law of War and America would become an accomplice in war crimes. Holy wars and ethnic cleansing have continued unabated throughout history, but God’s will is to prevent them..
The first Biblical precedent for Holy War was in 1400 BC with Josua’s Battle at Jericho. Then and now holy war was a struggle between the forces of good and evil. The ancient Jewish law of war codified in the Book of Deuteronomy made no meaningful distinction between combatants and noncombatants; in holy war ethnic and religious background distinguished friend from foe.
The commitment of the early Jews to the rule of law was more a matter of religious faith than political philosophy. Unlike the founding fathers who wrote the U.S. Constitution and took special pains to separate the church from the state, ancient Jews saw God as the source of their law and inseparable from military and political events. War was God's way of delivering the Promised Land to His chosen people. For Old Testament Jews, God's wars were just wars,
and anyone between them and the Promised Land was an enemy that deserved no quarter. The holy end clearly justified any means. With God on their side, might made right.
Chapter 20 of the Book of Deuteronomy sets forth the Hebrew law of war regarding treatment of women and children in besieged towns. It makes a distinction between those in far distant towns and those nearby: the former might be taken as slaves as the booty of war,1 but in the latter the ban dictated that all men, women and children were to be slaughtered without mercy.2 Only fruit trees were to be spared the sword, simply because they were not human.3
The story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho, reported in Chapter 6 of the Book of Joshua, is an application of the ancient Jewish law of war. After barricading and laying siege to Jericho, "Yahweh [God] said to Joshua, 'Now I am delivering Jericho and its King into your hands.'"4
After quietly marching around Jericho for six days, on the seventh day a blast of trumpets and a war cry brought down the walls and the victorious Jewish Army rushed into the town. "They enforced the ban on everything in the town: men and women, young and old, even the oxen and sheep and donkeys, massacring them all."5
The mixture of religion and law which characterized Old Testament warfare may seem brutally archaic, but the same Middle East where God first became a warrior over 3,000 years ago remains a hotbed of militant religious conflict. The spread of Islamic fundamentalism and the cry for Islamic holy war (Jihad) is based on the same premise as Zionism and Jewish holy war that has continued unabated from the time of Moses to the present day.
That premise is that aggressive war is God's way of rewarding His chosen people--a means of divine justice. But that premise is entirely at odds with Just War, the Law of War and human rights. The merciless dictates of Jewish and Islamic law illustrate the danger of a rule of law without human rights. Christianity provided, in theory at least, a moral alternative. The teachings of Christ, based on agape love, required respect for human dignity and compassion for the suffering, even one's enemy.
See Rudolph C. Barnes, Jr., Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium, Frank Cass, 1966, at page 6.
On how the Law of War applies to the Israeli response to the Hamas attack, see Musings on War as the End of Ambiguity in Foreign Policy at