Of politics, preconceptions and history

Apr 17, 2016No Comments »

On the evening of 16 September 2014 there was an interesting event hosted in Adelaide by the State Library of South Australia. It was the local launch of Gallipoli – The Road to Jerusalem by Kelvin Crombie. Mr Crombie is a personable, plausible Christian Zionist liable to convince anyone lacking an historical education and specific knowledge of the case for Palestine that Australia has a special spiritual and political relationship with the State of Israel, and has done so since well before its creation in 1948.

He was previously invited to speak at the SLSA in 2012 regarding a book arguing that the function of El Alamein was to prevent the extension of the Shoah, or holocaust of European Jewry, to the Middle East. No doubt it did so but the II AIF did not fight with this purpose in mind. The purpose of Montgomery’s attack was to protect the Suez Canal and prosecute Churchill’s strategy of encircling the Axis. This is typical of Crombie’s flawed historical method. He usually argues that ultimate consequences represent the historical function and purpose of prior events. This logical fallacy is known to historians as the Whig theory of history, after the proto-liberal Whig historians who propagandised the notion that the British oligarchical constitution represented the perfection of British not to say human history.

With specific reference to the project of attaching the socio-political cachet of the Anzac legend to the Israeli chariot he argues that Jerusalem lay on the natural main road from Gallipoli. There is some truth in his contention in so far as the Anzac landing involved us in the Eastern Question of the fate of the Ottoman empire. Moreover the Battle of Beersheba in 1917 opened the road to the city holy to the three Abrahamic religions. But as I pointed out to him in my comments, which he fielded with practiced civility, the Light Horse did not ride for Zion. They rode for their mates and King and country, namely the Empire, to conquer Palestine, not `liberate’ Eretz Israel. To say otherwise is anachronistic, another historical sin. Moreover the main Anzac infantry force proceeded after Gallipoli to the more strategic Western front (as opposed to the secondary front in the Middle East), where they eventually broke the Siegfried line under Monash (a Melbourne Jew and civil engineer) and helped end the war. Monash too was objectively fighting for the empire, not Zion. Crombie’s main road was in fact a sideshow, howsoever imperially and historically significant. This is characteristic of how he allows his religious pre-occupations to distort his not uninformed historical judgement. This consistently undermines his concern with the `geopolitical dynamics’ of `the bigger picture’ or context, which leads him for instance to speculate that Gallipoli `was bound to happen’.

His asides and the Heritage Resources foundation literature which he brought along reveal these pre-occupations. He consistently anachronistically referred to Palestine pre-1948 as Israel or the land of Israel and on one occasion as Eretz Israel, meaning `historic’ or Greater Israel. Modernisation in Palestine he attributed to American Christians, implicitly downplaying the Arab Awakening which flourished before the Great War. As Ilan Pappe` has shown, Zionism and Palestinian nationalism were in fact contemporary modernist movements. He represented the region as a theatre of millennial imperial conflict with `Israel’ as a major cockpit and ancestral buffer zone, thus explaining away the destabilising role of Zionism. Gaza was likewise explained away as a locus of ancient conflict. The conflict between Jews and `Arabs’ was likewise misrepresented as ancestral, with like effect. The Zionist claim to all of historic Palestine was represented as being a modest one to only 3% of the region, and thus not to the detriment of the indigenous `Arabs’, to whom Sykes and Picot reserved `their own’ states, from which Jews were expelled. To a question from the floor as to whether Palestinian nationalism is a recent invention, he declined at first to pretend expertise but then opined that internal tribalism and divisions were features of the Arab world. He didn’t mention the Palestinian Unity Government but implied that the distinction between Fatah and Hamas was a case in point.

Crombie has the decorum to decline the title of historian in favour of that of enthusiast. Indeed his preconceptions and prior concern with our supposed national and Zionist `covenant with Jesus’ render his approach sub-historical and liable to scientific historical criticism. This is to propose an historical antidote to this very well cashed up and well connected propagandist. He numbers a former military man and Governor General among his patrons. All State Governors and all politicians State and Federal received a copy of one of his earlier Christian Zionist attempts to co-opt the Anzac legend. The production values of his books are expensive and visually speak volumes for his foundation’s backers. It is unlikely that they reflect the resources of evangelical Anglicans alone.

Dr David Faber, Visiting Research Fellow University of Adelaide, 19 April 2015.

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