King Solomon said it first: “The cast lot puts an end to quarrels and decides between the mighty ones” (Proverbs 18:18). Yet modern political developments indicate that elections don’t always put an end to quarrels. Another Solomonic gem wryly notes that “the first to plead his case seems right until another comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). Both the USA and Brazil have recently been walking through difficult days regarding election-related matters.
Israel, the Jewish state, has just completed its fifth quarrelsome round of elections in three and a half years. The clash of the two electoral titans (leftists/centrists vs. rightists/religious) has just ended. A third proverb from Solomon remains, but not everyone would want to agree with its message: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from YHVH” (Proverbs 16:33).
Some of our friends are overjoyed at the incoming election results from Israel, while others are very concerned. How can we achieve clear focus, accurate appraisal and biblical balance? This newsletter is an attempt to shed more light than heat on the present political predicament in Zion.
Roots and shoots
In 1920 during the times of the British Mandate, the Jewish community (or Yishuv) established the Assembly of Representatives. After May 1948 when Israel became a modern state, the first Knesset was elected in January 1949 and sworn in on February 1949, with a total of 21 parties vying for seats in the April elections. The founding fathers of the Jewish state tended to be socialist and secularist, so it was no surprise that the leftist Labor party led by David Ben-Gurion held the reins of Israeli political influence and development for nearly 30 years, from 1948 until 1977. The Jewish leaders of the state came from European (Ashkenazi) background. Jewish newcomers from North African (Sephardic) and Middle Eastern (Mizrahi) countries found themselves lower down on the food chain in the new Jewish state.
From the beginning in 1948, religious parties (mostly Ashkenazi-led) played a significant role in influencing coalition politics, far beyond their actual numbers. Their goals were to incrementally enshrine rabbinic laws (halacha) within the secular corpus of Israeli law – which meant increased coercion regarding Sabbath observance in the areas of government, army and public transport; withholding permits to non-kosher restaurants and hotels; draft exemptions for yeshiva students – all these were areas of theopolitical activism. Whereas the original socialist leaders of Israel tolerated these fledgling Orthodox attempts to carve out their own ‘territory,’ they never imagined that rabbinic influence would increase to today’s present proportions.
In another area, over a thirty year period political corruption grew by leaps and bounds among the socialist Ashkenazi nomenklatura, while European Jewish prejudice against Jews from Arab countries fed into a smoldering time-bomb of burning resentment. This finally exploded in the ‘mahapach’ of 1977 – the astounding ‘overthrow’ of socialist-Ashkenazi Labor party (led by Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, Ehud Barak, etc.) by the more right-wing Likud/Middle-Eastern Jewish coalition led by Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. The religious parties (who had been long-time allies of the leftist Labor party, the only game in town) crossed the aisle to join the right-wingers in a marriage (if not made in heaven) at least consummated on earth.
The Israeli political see-saw
From its very beginning, the Knesset was the embodiment of the famous Yiddish saying, “Two Jews; three opinions.” With 120 potential Knesset seats up for grabs, and the two major parties unable to wield decisive majorities, the strategic role and influence of the smaller blocs in cobbling together successful coalition compromises became a source of weakness and instability in parliament. A measure of corruption and blackmail became de rigeur, and backroom deals which adulterated accepted democratic civil liberties were now considered the price for keeping political machines running smoothly – on both sides of the aisle. These factors led to an increasing malaise in Israel’s body politic, with top leaders changing their spots and even starting new political parties when outvoted by their constituencies.
These dynamics have eaten away the public’s trust in what have been the pillars of society. The latest 2021 survey published by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) reveals how much public trust has dropped in governmental institutions over the past few years:
Israel Defense Forces 90% in 2019 to 78% in 2021
Supreme Court 42% in 2020 to 41% in 2021
Israel Police 41% in 2020 to 33.5% in 2021
The media 32% in 2020 to 25% in 2021
Knesset 32% in 2020 to 21% in 2021
Political parties 17% in 2020 to 10% in 2021
The nature of Israeli discourse is intense, and the ‘two Jews, three opinions’ dynamic makes for lively and heated discussion among Israelis on a daily basis. The debate among Jews here involves deep polarization: many consider their political rivals to definitely be enemies, and most probably evil personified. A specifically Yiddish turn of phrase is used to describe this dynamic – ‘the gevalt campaign’ (from the Yiddish word for ‘a cry of impending doom’). Even Israeli Arab parties today use similar tactics, shouting out with alarm when political opponents seem to be gaining on them. This worldview is very Middle Eastern, and these strident tones play out well in the news media, where lurid colors predominate.
‘Whose blood is redder’?
This above-asked rabbinic saying raises a question about moral equivalencies. For example: should one attempt to free a captive in your immediate family from murderous kidnappers, knowing all the time that his release will lead to the death of another captive, from someone else’s family? Such a zero-sum game seems to be all too common in Israel’s present political scenario.
Here are some examples of this zero-sum game choice: One political party is known for its strong posture of military deterrence and daring intelligence operations, yet it is linked by coalition politics to ultra-Orthodox and strongly-anti-Messianic Jewish parties. A second party advocates helping tens of thousands of Israelis living below the poverty line, yet simultaneously actively attacks Conservative, Reform and Messianic Jews. Only two Israeli political parties are pro-life – one is ultra-Orthodox and strongly anti-Messianic Jewish; the other most closely reflects Messianic Jewish values in some areas. This last party garnered less than 500 votes in the present elections. Some parties are rabidly against Orthodox Judaism while being stridently pro-secular. Other parties are zealously pro-rabbinic Judaism while simultaneously anti-Conservative, anti-Reform and anti-Messianic Jews. Some parties home in on special interests, appealing to new Russian-speaking immigrants, or to Ethiopian and Yemenite communities. And again, other parties are strongly pro-abortion and feminist. The stunning array of choices here insures that inherent fault-lines in the Israeli body politic will continue for some time yet.
The most recent roller-coaster ride in Israeli politics began in June 2021, when coalition horse-trading led to the party with the most votes (Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud) failing to cement a stable coalition. This led to Naftali Bennett’s small party of 6-7 members being propped up as the Prime Ministerial front-man for a consortium of centrist, leftist and anti-Zionist Arab parties. For the first time in Israel’s short political history, the Jewish state’s political stability depended upon Arab anti-Israeli parties. This disconcerting reality was bolstered by another development: five potential Likud leaders who had been sidelined, badly humiliated and burned by Bibi, ended up establishing new and smaller parties in their attempt to bring Bibi down. This dynamic has all the pathos of a Greek tragedy, and it has led to the lurching Knesset dynamics of the past two years.
A house divided against itself
‘And knowing their thoughts, Yeshua said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and no city or house divided against itself will stand”’ (Matthew 12:25). The people of Israel are divided. The bonds holding their political coalitions together are fragile and can come unglued in the fraction of a second. Whatever the dream is that binds the Jewish people together, it is also jarringly fragmented. People are asking: Is the Return to Zion an act of God? Will the Jewish people’s return to Jerusalem result in all Israel becoming Orthodox Jews? Is Israel to become a Light to the Nations through secular ethics and scientific technology and military cutting-edge armaments? Will the country end up being the exclusively Jewish homeland envisioned by the Hebrew Prophets, or will it be a bi-national secular state, sort of like Lebanon prior to its murderous Civil War of 1975-1982? How will the nation relate to moral issues that the Bible declares to be abominable sins?
Messianic Jewish options?
Jewish Messianic believers in Israel can be found involved in and advocating for many of the available political configurations. In this latest election, two new parties are presenting some new options.
The first party is the Bible Bloc (Gush Tanachi), a fairly new party founded by Avi Lipkin, a traditional Jew. Lipkin sees this bloc as “a Judeo-Christian political party in Israel” whose ideology is “Judeo-Christian Western Civilization and Democracy.” It appeals to Christians, Messianic Jews and those Russian-speakers and Arabs who identify with this message, especially its pro-life platform. This party received 425 votes (0.01%) in the current election.
The second party is a two-month old party called OMETZ (‘Courage’ in Hebrew). It was founded by some of Israel’s top doctors and medical researchers, including Dr. Amir Shahar (Founder and former head of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Sheba Hospital, former deputy director of Meir Hospital and currently ER director at Laniado Hospital) and Prof. Zvika Granot, Professor of Immunology in the Faculty of Medicine at the Hebrew University. The leadership team includes doctors, lawyers, scientists, social activists, security personnel and media personalities.
Part of OMETZ’s six-point program includes seeking justice for the significant amount of Israelis injured during the country’s extensive inoculation campaigns. Another focus involves challenging and overturning the recent rushed-through cabinet executive order (‘The Authorities Law’ – Hoq ha-samchuyot; passed on July 23, 2020) which removes oversight and legislative authority from the Knesset in areas defined and declared by the cabinet to be national or medical emergencies. This law has striking similarities to the Enabling Act of 1933 (Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich; lit. ‘Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich’). This Nazi law gave the German Cabinet or the Chancellor himself, the power to bypass the system of checks and balances in the government, as well as the powers to make and enforce laws without the involvement of the Reichstag or Weimar President. This included the power to create and enforce laws that explicitly violated individual rights prescribed in the German constitution – essentially establishing legal grounds for totalitarian dictatorship. The present Israeli law, combined with Israel’s continuing legal state of emergency, has the ability to lead to the establishment of legal dictatorship in Israel.
OMETZ received 14,781 votes in the current election (0.31%).
Provided that coalition negotiations do not encounter unforeseen bumps in the road (which is unlikely), the incoming government will have a stronger military deterrent posture (which can be helpful in a region surrounded by genocidal enemies (like Iran) and unstable peace-partners (like the Gulf States, Jordan and Egypt). As a result, some of the favor granted by Western governments to Israel’s recent left-leaning government may evaporate, and UN pressures may increase for the establishing of a terrorist-ruled Arab state in Judea and Samaria (the biblical names for what is generally referred to as the West Bank). The Abraham Accords (a tenuous agreement built on shifting sands) may go through some shuddering moments as well.
The horse-trading necessary to ensure the loyalty of the religious parties will rack up greater financial stress on Israel’s economy, and will quite likely involve a freeze on greater freedoms in the area of religious pluralism. This would conceivably have chilling effects on the Conservative and Reform Judaism movements in Israel, as well as on Messianic Jews. One of the religious Zionist streams which will be a solid linchpin of the new coalition is led by people who have been associated with Rabbi Meir Kahane, who are outspoken in their anti-Arab words and actions, and who have actively supported persecution of Messianic Jews.
- For Evangelicals who want a ringside seat at the arena of ‘coming prophetic events’ but don’t care that much about the remnant of Israel (the Messianic Jews), a word of warning here: there is real potential for some ungodly things to happen in these spheres in the next short while. It would be good to temper ‘prophetic excitement’ with increased godly intercession.
I will raise my eyes to the mountains. From where will my help come? (Psalm 121:1)
Solomon saw much in his day. His court was full of people begging for favors and, occasionally, for justice. Here is the summation of his thoughts on that matter: “Many seek the ruler’s favor, but justice for mankind comes from YHVH” (Proverbs 29:26). Though justice is not always advocated or actuated by human courts and governments, by lawyers and kings, we would all do well to remember the divine perspective: “Many are the plans in the heart of man, but the counsel of YHVH – that will stand!” (Proverbs 19:21).
“Return, you faithless sons, declares YHVH, for I am a master to you. And I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:14-15).
How should we then pray?
- Pray for YHVH to reveal the secrets of men’s and women’s hearts, be they Prime Ministers, Presidents, oligarchs or technocrats
- Pray for God to impart razor-sharp discernment and courage about these issues to His children in the body of Messiah
- Pray for God to restore to the Jewish people shepherds and rulers after God’s own heart
- 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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