Laurence Oliphant

Laurence Oliphant: Embedded in Israel’s National Anthem

Born August 3, 1829 in Cape Town, a colony of the British Empire (Cape Colony), Laurence Oliphant would be known for his authorship, diplomatic works and as a Christian Zionist.

In 1829, Laurence’s father, Sir Anthony Oliphant, was the Attorney General of Cape Colony and would soon be appointed the Chief Justice of Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka). The young Laurence Oliphant would spend his childhood in Colombo, the future capital of Sri Lanka. The Oliphant men would be credited in introducing tea to Ceylon, growing thirty tea plants that were brought from China.

Laurence Oliphant

Laurence Oliphant would spend the next few years setting out on adventure abroad. When he left the island off of the Indian subcontinent, he chose to tour Europe with his parents as well as Nepal with future leader of the country, Jung Bahadur. These travels provided Laurence with the material for his first book: A Journey to Katmandu (1852). When he decided on studying law in England, he quickly left to travel in Russia, giving him the subject matter for his next book: The Russian Shores of the Black Sea (1853).

After traveling enough to understand the world around him, he chose to take that expertise into the world of diplomacy. Between 1853 and 1861, he served as secretary to Lord Elgin in Washington D.C. during the negotiations of the Canada Reciprocity Treaty. He also served as a companion to the Duke of Newcastle on a voyage to the Circassian coast, around the time era of the Crimean War between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. In 1861, he was appointed to be First Secretary of the British Legation in Japan.

In 1879, Laurence Oliphant left for the Land of Israel, hoping to encourage Jewish agricultural communities. Oliphant was aware of the pogroms and mass anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and was inspired to assist the persecuted Jews. He visited Constantinople, looking to obtain Holy Land leases to help settle Jews there, all of which was prior to the first Jewish Aliyah in 1882. While Laurence was not successful in building a movement of Jewish Aliyah, he did succeed in helping persecuted Jews to purchase land in the Galilee region of Israel.

A few years later, Laurence and his wife Alice would make their mark on Israeli history. They settled in the German Colony in Haifa, close to the Druze village of Daliyat al-Karmel, though, Oliphant would hire a secretary who later be a famed writer. The secretary was Naftali Herz Imber, author of the poem HaTikvah (“The Hope”). The Oliphants were instrumental in providing the music to Imber’s poem, which would become the national anthem of the modern Jewish state of Israel.

The final years of the Oliphants were filled with novels and plays that would expand their legacy, but their fame was ultimately in the history of Zionism. The Oliphants, Laurence and Alice, are featured as “visionaries” of the modern State of Israel in the Friends of Zion Museum, assisting in her foundations especially concerning her inspiring national anthem. Though through the reconnaissance of Dr. Mike Evans, FOZ is able to spread their story and keep their “tikvah” (“hope”) alive.