British Colonialism and the Restoration of Jews to Zion

Bonaparte, Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the French Republic in Africa and Asia, to the Rightful Heirs of Palestine. Israelites, unique nation, whom, in thousands of years, lust of conquest and tyranny were able to deprive of the ancestral lands only, but not of name and national existence... She [France] offers to you at this very time, and contrary to all expectations, Israel's patrimony... Rightful heirs of Palestine... Hasten! Now is the moment which may not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of your rights among the population of the universe which had shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years, your political existence as a nation among the nations, and the unlimited natural right to worship Yehovah in accordance with your faith, publicly and in likelihood for ever (Joel 4:20).128

In the Spring of 1799, during the Syrian campaign of his Oriental expedition, Napoleon became the first statesman to propose a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine. Napoleon believed that with sympathetic Jews controlling the territory between Acre, Lower Egypt and the Red Sea, French imperial and commercial interests in India, Arabia and Africa could be secured.129 Neither Napoleon nor the Jews were able to deliver. Nevertheless his proclamation, '...is a barometer of the extent to which the European atmosphere was charged with these messianic expectations.'^ As Sharif observes,

The idea of a Jewish national Restoration to Palestine had resurfaced in Western European culture at a politically most opportune time. During the course of the 19th Century, a Jewish presence in Palestine, apart from its previous religious-prophetical, benevolent or philo-Semitic connotations, now came to be a political issue for the secular European powers that aspired to overseas expansion and empires. Religious and philanthropic ideas were now skilfully combined with the hard-headed Realpolitik of acquiring or strengthening spheres of influence in the Near East... Secular authorities, as well as religious ones, were now toying with Zionist ideas for their potential usefulness... Palestine suddenly found itself within the orbit of European power politics and under the contending influences of all the major powers: France, Britain and Russia... Britain's interest in the Near East, and of course Palestine, had been stirred by the Napoleonic expedition of 1799. The area's strategic importance to the British Empire had already been fully recognized. The vital necessity of preventing French control over the area had not only resulted in the battles of the Nile and Acre, but also spawned a British military expedition eastwards. Soon Britain's main concern was to hold back Russia by maintaining Turkish sovereignty at all costs.131

Just as Napoleon's motives behind his call to arms directed at Jews across Europe were complex, so it is difficult to separate 19th Century British foreign policy regarding Palestine from the religious beliefs of her own political leaders, notably Lord Shaftesbury, Lord Palmerston and later Lord Balfour.132 Other leading figures in British society who were known to sympathise with Jewish restorationism included the Duke of Kent, Bishop Manning and Gladstone.

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