Historian: 19th Century European Rivalry Boosted Zionism

Did rivalry between two competing European states in the early part of the 19th century ultimately pave the way for Zionism to take root in the land of Israel?

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Scott Shiloh, | updated: 16:57

David Meir Levy, a historian interviewed by Israel National Radio’s Tovia Singer, says that competition between Catholic France and Protestant Britain for influence in the Middle East, beginning around the time of Napoleon, ultimately gave Zionism a foothold in Israel that led to the creation of the Jewish State.

Listen to the related interview on Israel National Radio

Levy explains how each state attempted to carve out spheres of political and cultural influence in the Middle East by attempting to spread its own brand of Christianity among the Moslem Arab population.

France for example, set up Catholic churches and sent priest throughout the Arab world to spread its version of Christianity among the Arab population and gain influence. The French Catholic priests (perhaps due to Vatican influence) were very much opposed to the emerging Zionist movement in the late 19th century. They worked to rally the Arabs against Zionism, claiming it was designed to weaken Arab control of the Middle East.

On the other hand, a number of British Protestants, including some in the British government, began adopting a sympathetic approach to Zionism, in reaction to French antagonism. Some even began to work on behalf of the Zionist cause.

As history would have it, Britain, not France eventually got the upper hand in the Middle East. Britain took Palestine from the Moslem Turks in World War I. British government sympathy for the Zionist movement created by Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl at the end of the 19th century led to the 1917 Balfour Declaration calling for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in the land of Israel.

Thirty-one years later, of course, only after waging a bitter war against British rule, did Israel become an independent state.

The entire interview with David Meir Levy can be heard by by clicking here .