- “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and possess the land which YHVH your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:20)
- “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17)
Israel is once again making world headlines. Over the past weeks, tens of thousands of protestors have filled streets, blocking highways and even surrounding the Knesset parliament buildings. The demonstrations target the new government coalition’s moves to restructure aspects of the Israeli Supreme Court’s powers, with special emphasis on curbing its present ability to override legislative decisions taken by the Knesset (Israel’s parliament).
These recent demonstrations have been guided and spearheaded by the same political parties who recently lost the November 2022 elections (e.g. Zehava Gal-On’s son Nadav; also https://davidstent.org/the-israeli-elections-casting-lots-and-ballots/). The new laws limiting the powers of the Supreme Court are being steered through the Knesset by the Likud-led coalition which won a comfortable majority in those same elections.
In political science the term corporatocracy refers to an economic, political and judicial system controlled by corporations or corporate interests. In Israel (as in many other countries) corporate tycoons fund and influence the major political parties, often holding sway over political decisions and actualizing legislation into directions advantageous to their own economic interests and political power (see https://davidstent.org/the-netanyahu-charges-character-hypocrisy-and-a-million-paper-cuts/). Such support was visible over the past weeks in the anti-government ‘spontaneous’ media campaigns (well-designed billboards, highway banners, protest signs and t-shirts; cookie-cutter slogans), in the fleets of buses suddenly showing up to ferry protestors to sites in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in the nearly military precision and organizational discipline evident, and in the massive press-report blitzes slanted against government moves.
The foundations of these present tensions hearken back to the socialist heyday of the 1930’s and 1940’s. They reflect a one hundred year old struggle of Israel’s leftist founding fathers against conservatives, right-wingers, the religious and Jewish immigrants from Arabic-speaking countries. This newsletter reveals some of these historical foundations, as well as a brief consideration of strategies involved. May this help the reader to cut through the mists of propaganda, and to focus with greater accuracy and passion on intercession for God’s beloved ‘lost sheep of the House of Israel’ (Jeremiah 50:5-7).
Conservatives outside the camp
The secular Zionist movement’s original leaders grew up pickled in a European socialist worldview. The founding fathers of the Jewish state were nearly uniformly Ashkenazi (Eastern or Central European) Jews, staunchly socialist and secularist. The socialist movement led by David Ben-Gurion held the reins of Jewish political influence from the 1930’s until 1977. Ben-Gurion (B-G; the leader of this movement and Israel’s first Prime Minister) despised politicians who were to his right, especially Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menahem Begin (leader of the right-wing Etzel/Irgun anti-colonialist underground, and later Israel’s sixth Prime Minister). The following quotes reveal the deep-seated animus that B-G and his supporters had for their opponents on the right side of the political plenum. That bitterness still influences much of the political culture in today’s Knesset.
- In 1933 at a People’s Meeting in Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion described Ze’ev Jabotinsky as “Vladimir Hitler.”
- In 1933 Ben-Gurion penned a book ‘The Labor Movement and Revisionism’ (Tenuat ha-Poalim v’ha-Revisionismus). One of the chapters was titled, ‘Jabotinsky in the Footsteps of Hitler.’ For B-G, Jabotinsky and his friends were “false Messiahs sucking up the refuse of history and its worthless dross, prophesying in the name of the powers of darkness and social uncleanliness, who have attached themselves to the Zionist Organization and try to divert this national movement from its goal of human liberation towards ‘a regime of blood, mire and slavery’ and place their hopes on external forces from the past which no longer exist” (in ‘Political Theologies in the Holy Land: Israeli Messianism and Its Critics;’ David Ohana, Routledge, 2009; p. 41).
- During Israel’s first elections in 1949, B-G coined a term which effectively reflected his removing the possibility of right wing or far-left political parties entering the government as coalition partners: B-G’s triumphant Labor government would be “bli HERUT v’MAKI” – without the participation of conservative rightists (the HERUT party of Begin) or of MAKI (the Communist Party of Israel).
- On December 2, 1948, a list of Jewish notables including Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt wrote an open letter to the Editors of the New York Times, protesting the ‘visit of Menachem Begin and aims of political movement discussed:’ “Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the ‘Freedom Party’ (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties . . . The … Freedom Party[’s] … immigration endeavors [are] devoted mainly to bringing in Fascist compatriots . . . Begin and his party . . . bear . . . the unmistakable stamp of a Fascist party . . . The undersigned therefore take this means of publicly presenting a few salient facts concerning Begin and his party; and of urging all concerned not to support this latest manifestation of fascism.”
- In January 1949 a propaganda leaflet titled ‘Niv Hahayal’ (‘The Soldier’s Expression’) was distributed by Ben-Gurion’s MAPAI party featuring juxtapositioned pictures of Begin and Mussolini raising their arms under the heading “The same shape – the same content.” Captions under the pictures said “Il Duce” and “The Leader Begin,” and in the Yiddish version, the parallel terms were ‘Der Dutche’ and “Der Führer” (‘Israel Goes to the Polls: The Road to Elections for the Constituent Assembly, 1948–1949;’ Meir Chazan).
- According to a July 29, 1949, Jewish Telegraph Agency report, 10 members of the socialist Kibbutz youth movement Hashomer Hatza’ir were arrested for handing out leaflets in Buenos Aires which described Begin as a “fascist and murderer.”
- In a 1963 letter to poet/journalist Haim Guri, Ben-Gurion wrote that “Begin is a distinct Hitlerist type” and predicted that, if he would ever come to power, he would replace the army and police headquarters with his goons, and rule as Hitler did in Germany.
- Mordecai Namir, former Mayor of Tel Aviv, wrote about Begin’s Herut Revisionist movement, “Before us we have a clearly fascist organization, not only externally, but also at its political core and in its spiritual qualities.”
- When Begin’s Likud Party won the elections and defeated the Labor Party in 1977, leftist Israeli Professor Ze’ev Sternhall stated in the Israeli Labor Party associated Davar newspaper, “Democracy must be defended and the emerging fascism must be stopped.”
- When Begin’s Likud party won the Israeli elections in May 1977 (having defeated the Labor Party), Yitzhak Ben-Aharon spoke for the ‘Ben-Gurion’ political establishment, declaring on television that, “If this is the will of the people, we have to replace the people.”
In the Encyclopedia Hebraica (the Hebrew version of Encyclopedia Judaica known in Hebrew as Encyclopedia Ivrit) the entry for ‘Fascism’ states: “Among the Left, the custom to defame any opponent as a fascist is common.” This demonizing aimed at the conservative/right wing of the Israeli body politic has been part and parcel of the Left’s decades-long political culture. Today that same charge is being repeated to world media by leftist political talking heads as they oppose the right-wing coalition’s attempts to bring balance to judicial overreach and thus preserve legislative authority:
- On Israeli Channel 13 News of January 7, 2023, former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak termed the ruling Likud-led coalition’s proposals as an invalid act that is “the beginning of the destruction of the Third Commonwealth… a revolution [led by] tanks . . . [They are a] clear and tangible danger to Israeli democracy.”
- On December 27, 2022 the leftist Ha’aretz newspaper reported that the Black Flags group which seeks to undermine the government’s legitimacy, stated on Facebook hours before the Tel Aviv rally that “through Levin, [Benjamin Netanyahu] announced a regime coup . . . All our nightmares may come about and there’s but one way to stop them: to go out to the streets.”
- Another group ‘Mehazkim’ (‘Fighting for a Progressive Israel’) sloganized, “The government declared war on the public; the public responds with war.”
- Arik Carmon, of the Israel Democracy Institute, stated in Ha’aretz on January 6, 2023 “This is comparable to the Weimar atmosphere before Hitler came to power when there was a weak democracy.”
- Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, on December 1, 2022 called for a million people to take to the streets against the new government.
- Another former COS Benny Gantz, threatened on Twitter on January 9, 2023 that Netanyahu would be responsible for civil war in Israeli society. He declared that “this is the time go out en masse and to demonstrate, the time to make the country tremble… against the demolition of democracy and this unbridled, destructive move.”
Eithan Orkibi of Ariel University, writing in Israel Affairs (vol. 28, #6), points out that, during the period of 2015-2019, Israel’s Left sought to revive its flagging relevance and marginalization by rebranding its message. Rather than pushing renewed peace efforts with a Palestinian community which avidly supported terrorism, the Left morphed its main message into “the Right is a danger to democracy.” “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they remain the same.
A reason for the season
At the outbreak of World War II the Yishuv (the Jewish leadership in Mandatory Palestine) found itself in a cat-and-mouse war with British occupying forces who refused to allow Jews fleeing Hitler to find refuge in Israel. Yet at the same time both left and right-wing Jewish forces fought alongside British forces against Nazi Germany. In 1943, as the tide was shifting in favor of the Allies, Ben-Gurion threw his movement’s weight behind the British forces, hoping to gain political benefits after the war. But Begin’s Irgun and Yitzchak Shamir’s Lehi opposed that decision.
In February 1944, the Irgun and Lehi began an insurrection against the British – a ‘Revolt’ against the British Mandate. They stated that the denial of Jewish immigration was a heinous crime, and that they would fight to drive the British out of Israel. But Ben-Gurion applied pressure on the Irgun and Lehi between February and September 1944 to stand down.
In September 1944, Begin (the Irgun commander) met with Haganah leaders Moshe Sneh and Eliyahu Golomb. Sneh declared. “To expand your activities requires control of the souls and the property of the public. And it is we who control the public. We do not intend to renounce that control, because it is we who have received a mandate from the Jewish people . . . If you continue your activities, a clash will result.” Golumb added: “We demand that you cease immediately [your activities against the British]… We do not want a civil war . . . but we will be ready for that as well. We will be forced to adopt our own measures to prevent your activities. The police, in our opinion, will not be able to liquidate you, but if the Yishuv rebels, it could come to that. It is clear that we are not speaking of your physical liquidation, but the developments could lead to that as well – they could lead to your destruction. And then it will not matter who started – it is a question of propaganda and information.”
On October 29, 1944 Ben-Gurion, the Haganah, the Histadrut Labor Union and the Shai (fledgling Jewish intelligence agency) declared ‘Le Saison’ – the hunting season – a full blown attack to crush Begin’s Irgun as well as the Lehi group. Public declarations were circulated:
- Jewish youth must fight terror and its perpetrators! The perpetrators of terror, who call themselves the ‘Irgun Zvai Le’umi’ and ‘Lohamei Herut Israel’ are traitors! They must be removed from our classrooms, banished from our workshops! Their propaganda, whether written or spoken, must not be permitted. No refuge must be given to these malefactors in the homes of your parents, relatives and acquaintances! The incorrigible despoilers must be isolated and abandoned, until they are spewed out of the ranks of the Yishuv, until terror ceases and its organization is eradicated . . . The Jewish Agency proposes herewith that all persons who are acquainted with any of the terrorists, should immediately inform the police by word of mouth, in writing or by telephone and observe the injunction: ‘And thou shalt root out the evil from thy midst.’ Fathers who have sons in these organizations should, in the same fashion, inform the police and observe thereby the injunction: ‘If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, he must take him out to the elders and say to them: This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice. And all the men of the city shall stone him with stones’ . . . It is time to act for the sake of the Jewish people and the homeland.
In response the Irgun published a pamphlet in 1944 pamphlet titled “There will be no fraternal war!” It proclaimed a policy of non-retaliation against Jewish socialist forces.
Over 250 of Ben-Gurion’s Palmach elite troops were delegated to arrest, torture and hand over to British forces members of the rightist underground. Close to 1,000 people were betrayed to the British and most were imprisoned at Latrun detention camp, though several hundred were deported to Africa. The Haganah imprisoned dozens in prison cells on various kibbutzim, where they were interrogated and even severely tortured.
“The Season left its mark on the Israeli political discourse in the following decades. It is sometimes linked to the tension between Herut and Mapai, specifically between their respective leaders, Begin and Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion would address Begin as ‘The Member of Knesset sitting to the right of MK Bader’ and mention ‘the sacred cannon’ which opened fire on the Altalena.” Echoes of this were seen during the 2005 Gaza Disengagement, when leftist Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan declared that PM Arik Sharon would have to run roughshod over the Jewish inhabitants of Gaza in the same manner as Ben-Gurion had when he ordered Commander of the Harel Brigade Yitzchak Rabin to shell the Irgun arms supply ship Altalena: “Arik Sharon will have to make a Ben-Gurion-like decision. He will not be able to go on juggling all the balls in the air. It’s an Altalena situation . . . The government has to make it clear that it has cannons. And rifles. And that it is ready to use them . . . The security cabinet will be ready to make the same tough decision that Ben-Gurion made in the face of the Altalena.”
These historical dynamics loiter in the wings of Israel’s political consciousness, rhetoric and strategies. The present screaming headlines and political pressures bubbling up today are playing out a very similar script to the one which transpired back in the days before Israel became a state.
“The best of all possible worlds?” (Voltaire, Candide)
One thing can be clearly noted: at this point in the Israeli political debate, trust is in the gutter. The tone on both sides of the debate has grown nasty and pugnacious.
A powerful intercessory article has recently been authored by former UN Commander in Bosnia, Colonel Richard Kemp (a strong advocate for Israel), and Rafael Bardaji (former national security adviser to the Spanish government) titled ‘Israel: Don’t Give Your Enemies More Ammo!’ They appeal to Israel’s leaders to step back from the brink, to accept the results of the elections, and to engage in constructive dialogue. Here are a few excerpts from this excellent appeal for your prayerful consideration:
- After a recent visit to Israel, we’re deeply concerned by the unprecedented degree of tension and sheer animosity permeating the political arena. As friends of Israel rather than Israeli citizens, we do not seek to intervene on any partisan basis, but to sound the alarm about the very real potential for Israel’s enemies to exploit the current rhetoric and do harm to the country as a whole . . . But our experience fighting successive attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel shows us that this country simply cannot afford the level of domestic political tensions that other democracies can go through. For Israel to be strong, to prosper, to be a force for good in the region and the world, and to fend off incessant political warfare campaigns, it needs to be united in the basic questions . . . That national unity is being eroded by the tone and conduct of the debate on reforms to the judiciary presented by the coalition government . . . We have heard Israeli voices telling us that what is at stake is the survival of democracy in the country, if not dead already. We have been told that it is better not to make even a single concession than to try to reach an agreement. Such extremist attitudes are far from producing a better reform and come dangerously close to emboldening and even inciting Israel’s many international enemies . . . Trying to harm the government with apocalyptic rhetoric may or may not succeed, but will for sure undermine any such defense and harm the security of Israel and its citizens. Amidst predictions of doom and disaster, it is worth bearing in mind that nations like the UK, Spain, Italy and Canada, among many other liberal democracies, have systems to appoint the highest judicial posts that are much more intrusive by the executive power than anything proposed by this Israeli government, and nobody will dare to say that they are not democratic. The decision to go to the extreme, the willingness to demonize the political adversary, and the delegitimization of the results of the electoral process, can only be interpreted as a weakened Israel . . . As defenders of Israel in the international arena, we plead that you revert to moderation and compromise in the national interest.
We encourage you to pray for the leaders and people of Israel, who are right now in a national and political cul-de-sac. We need your prayers and intercession for sanity, discernment and God’s wisdom.
More than meets the eye
A full analysis of the current situation would have to touch on issues that would turn this humble newsletter into a Ph.D. dissertation. They would include:
- The history of Basic Laws in Israel and a comparison with other systems (such as the US Constitution, British Common Law, the Napoleonic Code or rabbinic halacha)
- The present relationship between the legislative and judicial powers in Israel – weaknesses, strengths and possible helpful changes
- The interaction of Western secular values (and their rapid decline) and the uniqueness of a Jewish state – cooperation or kulturkampf?
- The role of extreme right activists in influencing Israeli society and government
- The festering resentment of Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews (Jews from Arab or Muslim lands) toward Ashkenazi power structures in Israeli society and politics
Unfortunately, the constraints of time and space require that this newsletter draw to a close. We encourage you to stand with us in earnest prayer and appeal for God’s solutions.
How should we then pray?
- Pray for God to grant clear vision, humble hearts and divine strategies to Israeli leaders and people at this trying time
- Pray for YHVH to stir up increased intercession among believers worldwide for these issues
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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