Colonel George Gawler (1795-1865), a British soldier who served as governor of South Australia, 1838-41, was, as is well-known, a Christian Zionist. He wrote The Tranquillization of Syria and the East (1845) and in 1849 visited the Holy Land. With the Bohemian-born Anglo-Jewish scholar and editor Dr Abraham Benisch (1811-78) and others, he founded, in 1852, the Association for Promoting Jewish Settlement in Palestine. This body aimed at establishing a self-administering Jewish agricultural colony between the sacred cities of Safed and Tiberias, with cattle, sheep, horses, seeds, cuttings of useful vegetation, boats, fishing nets and building materials funded by public subscription. They hoped that the colony would eventually spread out to incorporate neighbouring lands, with "well-regulated rights of export at Acre and Haifa". In seeking public support, they remarked that “whilst Palestine has such significance in the eyes of the Christians, with how much greater interest must it be regarded by the Jew? … towards it he yet gravitates as to his natural centre”.
In 1853 Gawler's lecture in the English Midlands town of Derby regarding the Association's vision was printed as a pamphlet, heartily recommended in an editorial in the local newspaper, the Derbyshire Advertiser (22 April 1853): "The great subject which is its theme must have interest alike for Jew and Gentile; for the politician and the student of prophecy; and demands at the present day ... attentive consideration. Commencing with some striking remarks on the past history of Syria, Colonel Gawler exhibits, in forcible and graphic language, the destinies of the country in the immediate future."
The paper printed extracts from the pamphlet that showed what Jews had already achieved in their ancient homeland, and how their return to Zion was beneficial not only to themselves but to Great Britain.
Thus, first, a letter from a happy and enthusiastic agriculturalist, written in the summer of 1852:
"This year we had delightful latter rain at the end of April and beginning of May, a thing unknown for years before. Some there are who believe Palestine to be an accursed land, incapable of producing any crop but stones and salt and sulphur. Let them come and see two crops a year produced by the poorest land we have. Let them behold quince trees groaning under the burden of 400 quinces, each one larger than the largest apples of England; vines with a hundred bunches of grapes, each bunch three feet long, each grape three-and-a-quarter inches in circumference; a citron tree bearing 510 ibs. weight of fruit; half-grown broad beans ... the pod thirteen inches long, and six clustering stems from each plant: Indian corn, eleven feet high, on ground from which, four weeks before, a similar crop had been taken; water melons, twenty, thirty, and forty pounds weight."
"Divine Providence has placed Syria and Egypt in the very gap between England and the most important regions of her colonial and foreign trade. India, China, the Indian Archipelego, and Australia ̶ England and Syria stand in intimate connection. A foreign hostile power, mighty in either, would soon endanger British trade and communications through the other. Hence the loud providential call upon her to exert herself energetically for the amelioration of the condition of both these provinces. Egypt has improved greatly by British influence, and it is now for England to set her hand to the renovation of Syria through the only people whose energies will be extensively and permanently in the work ̶ the real children of the soil, the sons of Israel."
Also involved in the founding of the Association for Jewish Settlement in Palestine were two remarkable Welshmen.
One was a London-based Welsh Calvinist minister, the Reverend John Mills (1812-73), from the little rural town of Llanidloes. He went to London to convert Jews, based at the appropriately-named Jewin Chapel. But it seems that the more he came into contact with Jews the more he grew to respect them for themselves. Under his Welsh bardic name, Ieuan Glan Alarch, he wrote, in his native language, Iuweddon Prydain ('The Jews of Britain'), published in 1852. His follow-up work in English, The British Jews: Their Religion, Social Conditions, Domestic Habits, Literature, Political Statistics (1862) was the pioneering work of its kind, and still remarkably useful to scholars today. To a Welsh audience in London in 1854, Mills declared: “To speak my whole heart, I believe Palestine belongs to the Jews. The Almighty promised it to Abraham of old … and have it they shall.”
The other was (Sir) Hugh Owen (1804-81), born on the Welsh-speaking isle of Anglesey, who became a clerk in London and, always true to his Welsh roots and to his love of education, lived to see his dream fulfilled, the establishment of the University College (later University) of Wales.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, that famous, albeit Manchester-born, Welshman David Lloyd George, famously said that he knew the names of the kings of Israel before he knew the names of the kings of his own country, and he identified with Jews as fellow-members of a small but ancient people. His pro-Zionism was strengthened through his close friendship with his solicitor, Morris Wartski, a Welsh Jew, and of course it was when he was British prime minister that the Balfour Declaration was promulgated.
There has been a strong steak of philosemitism in Wales. Identification with Jews and with the Children of Israel thrived in many of the nonconformist chapels. Moreover, the translation of the Bible into Welsh during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries is what saved the Welsh language from extinction, and so closely did the Welsh chapel-goers read the Old Testament that the names of many Welsh people – the Welsh took hereditary surnames later than the English – are identical to Jewish names: Aaron, Emanuel, Joel, Samuel ... the list goes on.
Indeed, Wales is about the same size as Israel.
Today, however, it is the anti-Zionists who make the loudest noise in Wales. The philosemitic tradition has been betrayed, the sense of fellow feeling for another small people maintaining its cultural identity and fulfilling its purpose suborned for the sake of cultivating ties with the growing Muslim community and, in not a few cases on the political left, owing to an unhealthy dollop of "rich man antisemitism," as one historian dubbed the perception of Jews as plutocrats and exploiters of labour.
The hostility of Dr Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales (and former Bishop of Llandaff), towards Israel is a matter of public record. He has made notorious statements over the years. As I have pointed out elsewhere, when the (Anglican) Church in Wales’s Welsh-language magazine carried a cartoon offensive to Muslims, Morgan personally rounded up all available copies and made a televised apology to Muslims. Yet when the same magazine printed a dodgy spoof concerning Jews no such action was forthcoming. In 2004, on learning that Arafat had died, Morgan declared that his "initial reaction was to pray that in death Yasser Arafat will find that peace which only God can give and which was denied him in life" and that he would remember Arafat for his perseverance and resolve. During Operation Cast Lead, a mobile dental health clinic paid for by the Church in Wales and supporters including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign was accidentally hit by the IDF. “We find it incomprehensible and tragic that any armed forces anywhere in the world would want to destroy such a building, let alone the State of Israel with all its historic memories of oppression and genocide," stated Morgan. " It does raise questions about the credibility of Israel’s values and purposes."
By then, an anti-Israel bias within the Church in Wales was clearly discernible. In a series of short films made in Wales and the Holy Land in 2009 by St David’s Diocese for use in a teaching course, there is a sole isolated mention of the word “Israel”. Arabs – not Jews – are prominently featured, and major Biblical figures, including prophets and disciples, are not identified as Jews. Declared Dominic Walker, Bishop of Monmouth: “God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to be born in Palestine”. The church's Canon Robin Morrison asserted, inter alia: "If Israel asserts its rights to prevent arms getting to Gaza, then the international community and the Palestinians should assert their rights to blockade Israel to prevent American arms arriving there... If the West objects to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons capability, they must equally object to Israel’s." (Western Mail, 4 August 2010).
Recent Lent appeals by John Davies, Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, include among the four charities chosen as beneficiaries the Bethlehem-based Holy Land Trust (http://www.holylandtrust.org/). As NGO Monitor reveals, this body, based in Bethlehem, supports BDS and academic boycott, and 'Conducts highly politicized tours promoting the Palestinian narrative and targeting church leaders and the international community, claiming to provide “cross cultural and experimental learning opportunities in both Palestine and Israel.” Suggests that its participants “limit information” given to Israeli airport security and hide the reason for their visits.' Moreover, Sami Awad, its founder and executive director, 'has stated that non-violent demonstrations are “not a substitute for the armed struggle.”' Awad, we also learn, 'has also minimized Israel’s legitimate security needs as a “manipulation” of the fear of another Jewish Holocaust'. And so on.
It's not only the Church in Wales that is hostile Israel. The Welsh Nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, which wants Wales to be "an independent socialist Republic" seems, like the Welsh Greens, to be dominated by anti-Israel radical ratbags, a high proportion of them female.
Take, for example, the attitude of Jill Evans MEP (Member of the European Parliament), who chaired Plaid Cymru from 1994-96, has served as vice-president of the Green/European Free Alliance (EFA), and deputises on the parliamentary delegation for relations with the Palestine Legislative Council. She is on record accusing Israel of mounting '"deliberate attacks on paramedics, emergency medical staff and patients in ambulances ̶ in clear breach of the Geneva Conventions" and adding "We can't imagine the desperation of young men and women who turn themselves into human bombs because they see no other way of defending their families and communities."
Then there's the leader of the party, Leanne Wood, who once served as Jill Evans's political researcher. The far leftist credentials of this ridiculous firebrand include membership of feminist and anti-war groups and, inevitably, of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Not forgetting Plaid Cymru politician and Baptist minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas, who in blithe disregard of the reality on board the Mavi Marmara, stated on a party website set up for Muslims: “It is frightening to think of the horrific ordeal that humanitarian activists – delivering aid to the region – had to endure during Israel’s unprovoked attack, for which the Israeli Government must face sanctions.”
The Welsh Liberal Democrats seem also to be disproportionately infused with anti-Israel sentiment.
As a writer in the Jerusalem Post memorably recalled of his Cardiff childhood during the 1960s: "[W]ith every feat of Israeli audacity, from the raid on Entebbe to Eurovision victories, I was the toast of the school. My pride in Israel was boosted by my non-Jewish classmates." (http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Would-we-say-it-in-public )
That was before the hegemonic emergence of leftwing media bias posing as the truth, and of the ascendancy of brand Palestine, which has warped lazy minds and poisoned political discourse by promoting the outrageous fiction that the Jews of Israel are usurpers in what was a sovereign entity belonging to a sovereign people called the "Palestinians". More fool Israel for adopting the term pressed so successfully by the murderous old rogue Arafat, instead of the traditional "Arabs".
But for the coterie of Welsh Christians who used to travel to London (and perhaps still do) especially to stand with Jews counter-protesting anti-Israel demonstrations, and to such pro-Israel congregations as the Rev. Mike Fryer's "Father's House" in Flintshire, All Praise.
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