- Cross on the Star of David: The Christian World in Israel's Foreign Policy 1948–1967
In recent years religion has played an increasingly important role in Middle Eastern foreign policy. On the one hand, since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, a radical interpretation of Islam has been a motivating factor in Iran's foreign policy, leading the Islamist regime to take a bitterly anti-Israeli stance. On the other hand, Evangelical Christianity has been a significant factor behind the Bush Administration's pro-Israeli policy from 2001 to 2007. While both Iran's Islamists and America's Evangelical Christians became politically influential after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, religious issues were also important in Israeli foreign policy well before that conflict, as Uri Bialer demonstrates in this very well researched and very well written book. Indeed, Bialer highlights a neglected topic in Israeli foreign policy as he outlines the often troubled relations between Israel and the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches on such topics as the possible internationalization of Jerusalem, the future of Church property, and Christian missionary work in Israel. In considering these issues, Bialer shows the dilemmas facing Israeli decisionmakers as they weighed different options in dealing with the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches and their backers in Europe, the Soviet Union, and the United States.
In the early years of the State of Israel, the main problem was the Catholic Church and its Pope. Israeli policymakers were deeply suspicious of the Catholic Church, often seeing its refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist as reflecting nearly 2,000 years of, if not downright religious bigotry, then at least the fear that the rebirth of Israel would raise major questions about Catholic doctrine which, before 1965, saw the destruction of the Second Temple in [End Page 168] 70 CE by the Romans as proof that God's grace had shifted from the Jews to the Christians. Indeed, as Bialer points out (p. 4), L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published a Vatican statement that asserted, "Modern Zionism is not the true heir of Biblical Israel . . . therefore, the Holy Land and its sacred sites belong to Christianity which is the true Israel."
At first, however, recognition was not the central issue between Israel and the Vatican but rather the internationalization of Jerusalem, which the Vatican was energetically advocating. Bialer describes in detail how Israeli policymakers, having been caught by surprise by the Vatican's success in pushing through the United Nations in December 1949 a declaration for the internationalization of Jerusalem, worked, in tacit cooperation with Jordan, which then occupied East Jerusalem, to thwart the Vatican-led declaration. In this Israel was ultimately successful, as the issue of the internationalization of Jerusalem became a dead letter—at least as far as the UN was concerned.
Israel also had problems with the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. In the Russian case, while the Soviet Union had recognized Israel and provided it with diplomatic support and military assistance (via Czechoslovakia) during Israel's war of Independence, there was the vexing problem of Russian Orthodox ecclesiastical property in Israel. Complicating the issue, as Bialer notes, were the various claimants to that property, which included the Soviet government, the Russian Ecclesiastical mission, and the Palestine Orthodox Society. Initially, Israel favored Soviet claimants, but after relations between Israel and the USSR chilled when Moscow switched its backing to the Arabs, negotiations slowed, and a partial agreement was not reached until May 1964.
One of the most interesting aspects of Bialer's book is his discussion of how the Israeli government handled missionary activity. While on the one hand Christians feel the duty to propagate their faith, on the other hand, for centuries Jews have been on the receiving end of forced conversions. With the establishment of the State of Israel, its Jewish leadership had to balance its abhorrence of Christian missionary activity with the desire not to alienate the countries from which the missionaries came, a dilemma...