Trump’s Syrian Policy Undermines Israel’s Security

For end-time prophecy followers, last week was a big week. Many end-time prophecy scenarios forecast an alliance of Russia, Iran and other “northern” countries against Israel and a renewed Roman Empire (the European Union?). President Trump’s surprise announcement of withdrawing America’s military forces from Syria hands Russia and Iran carte blanche in Syria and essentially seals her fate as a Russian/Iranian puppet regime in the Middle East.

While Israel is most concerned by the spread of Iranian influence, Russia’s strengthening position in the Middle East does not bode well for Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu artfully has triangulated Russian and American interests in the region, but with the exception of a period of support for Israel at the founding of the State, Russia historically has bolstered Israel’s enemies. The alliance between Russia and Iran in Syria, absent a US presence, spells trouble, especially with Putin as President, who has grand designs for a greater Russia.

Many believers enthusiastically support President Trump, especially because of his “pro-Israel” policies, best exemplified by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. But this is an example of elevating symbol over substance. Simply put, Trump policies are increasing Israel’s security risks. One of his early foreign policy positions was to withdraw the US from the nuclear agreement with Iran. While the Iranian agreement, fashioned under the Obama Administration, had many drawbacks, the reality was that the US maintained clout with Iran, and an effective leader probably could have curbed Iranian aggression in the Middle East. By withdrawing from the treaty, the US forfeited any role in influencing Iranian behavior, and further thrust Iran into the hands of Russia and China. While the Trump Administration strengthened sanctions against Iran, Russia and China continually ignore them and assist Iran in circumventing them. This was not true during the Obama years when most countries abided by the sanctions against Iran, ultimately forcing her to the negotiating table.

Now, the one stabilizing force in the region, the US, is pulling out. With the help of Russia and Iran, Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s butcher of a president, should easily be able to retake territory currently under US and Kurdish control, thereby solidifying his position over the entire country. It’s almost certain that weapons transfers from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon will only increase, leading to a likely conflagration with Israel in the not too distant future.

As I said at the beginning, for Armageddon watchers this was a big week. For those who live in Israel, nerves are fraying.

The Good and Bad of Israel's New Nationality Law

In a contested vote earlier this week, Israel’s Knesset passed a new Basic Law, enshrining the Jewish character of the state into Israel’s constitutional framework. While the idea of the law is straightforward – it’s hard to argue that Israel is a Jewish state – the actual provisions are controversial, discriminatory and possibly racist.

The gist of the new law provides that Israel is a nation state of the Jewish people, adopts certain Jewish symbols and holidays as national symbols, promotes immigration and settlement of Jews into the nation and encourages outreach to the Jews living outside of Israel. The biggest problem of the law is what is absent. Israel’s Declaration of Independence formulated the vision for the nation, i.e. a Jewish state that would provide equal rights to all of its inhabitants, which includes a sizable number of Arab citizens. The new nationality law is silent on equal treatment of its citizens, and the question becomes whether the provisions emphasizing the Jewish national character will trump the democratic values upon which the state was founded.

The good news of the law was that some its earlier more onerous renditions were changed. This included permitting settlements that could exclude others and mandating the use of Jewish law in the court system. The bad news is that all laws have unintended consequences. Since the founding of the state, Israel has been known as and acted as the nation state of the Jewish people. At the same time, it has built a thriving and prosperous democratic country, where there is a vibrant free press and an independent and active judiciary. In recent years more right wing political parties became upset with Israeli Supreme Court rulings that struck down laws that violated democratic principles embodied into other Basic Laws. These parties have been lobbying for a new Basic Law – to assert Jewish nationality over and above other values. The result was the passage of the new nationality law.

How this new law will affect the democratic character of the country remains to be seen. However, one egregious action occurred the day after the bill’s passage. A provision added to the law by the ultra-Orthodox ensured that Orthodox Judaism will be the sole representative of Jewish values disseminating from Israel to other Jewish communities around the world. Orthodox Judaism has a religious monopoly in Israel, whereas the vast majority of Jews living outside of Israel belong to more progressive branches of Judaism.

In a show case of their power, a rabbi of the Conservative movement was just arrested in Israel for performing an “unauthorized” wedding ceremony the other day. Only Orthodox rabbis are permitted to officiate at weddings. In this case the ceremony was never considered official. Rather, the rabbi was performing the ceremony in an unofficial capacity. It didn’t matter – at the insistence of the ultra-Orthodox, he was arrested. This is an extremely bad sign and signals that the motivation behind the nationality bill is to undermine freedoms throughout the country.

For Messianic Jews this new law could prove highly problematic. Messianic Jews are already discriminated against with respect to immigration. With the adoption of the new law, this could conceivably be extended to housing, jobs, access to the courts, meeting places, rights to build congregations and more. This current government is the most right wing government in Israel’s history. It is not a friend of Messianic Jews, and its outreach to the Christian world is highly hypocritical.


Should Believers be Involved in Politics

I grew up in a political home. My family moved from New York to the Washington, DC area when I was two. My father first worked for a Congresswoman from Ohio, then a Senator from Pennsylvania, then President Nixon and finally became a vice president with ABC, head of government relations. Along the way, he participated in numerous campaigns to which I also joined. During the summers when many teenagers were cutting lawns for pay, I was working in the US Senate and government offices as an intern. As a child I was at the Kennedy inauguration, as a teenager at the Republican National Convention and as a young adult was the chief counsel to a US Senate Subcommittee.

I became a follower of Yeshua when I was a senior in high school. Prior to that time, I had planned for a future in politics. Afterwards, my values changed. While I still followed and enjoyed politics, it was no longer my center. During the years I served in the US Congress, I began a popular Bible study for Congressional staff. Staff from both parties came. One of the rules was that upon entering the room, politics was left at the door. Now was the time to study God’s Word and to pray.

It was during those years that the Moral Majority got its start. Evangelical Christians became a political force for the first time and aligned themselves with the conservative and largely Republican political agenda. I became increasingly concerned, because now the power of the gospel was being associated with a particular political agenda, thus potentially excluding one-half of the population from ever seriously considering the life changing words of the Messiah. It was then that I heard God’s call to enter the ministry full time. I went to seminary and eventually became the rabbi of Tikvat Israel Congregation in Richmond, Virginia.

Early on in the ministry I noticed the phenomenon that while I and most of the congregation were politically conservative, the Jewish community was liberal and Democrat. I recognized that views and positions that we held were actually a barrier to the Jewish community seriously considering the claims of Yeshua. The issue came to a head during the 2008 US Presidential campaign. Barak Obama became the lightning rod for outrageous claims, many of them instigated and perpetuated by so-called believers. I was appalled by the blatantly ungodly speech and behavior of so many Yeshua followers, including a number in our own congregation. It was then that I gave a message entitled, “Religion and Politics,” where I laid out the principles that I understood from Scripture regarding the role of the believer in politics. You can listen to it at

The gist of my views is the following: I believe that followers of Yeshua should be involved in politics, like every other vocation, in order to bring the light of Yeshua into every realm of life. We are called to be ambassadors of Yeshua in speech and behavior. We are to model godliness, integrity, kindness, generosity and care for the less fortunate. We scrupulously should follow the Apostle Peter’s instructions: “But in your hearts set apart Messiah as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

I also strongly believe that religious leaders should avoid associating themselves and/or their ministries with any political party. Religious leaders should represent God and His righteousness. They should act as prophetic agents of God, calling political leaders to account for wrong doing, mistreatment of others and to promote justice in society. In many respects, the prophets of old acted as the social conscience of ancient Israel. This becomes impossible when religious groups are seen as branches of a particular political party. This especially is seen now in the current US Presidential campaign where many Evangelical Christian leaders, who loyally have aligned themselves with the Republican party for decades, find themselves supporting the most ungodly candidate ever nominated by any major party. It’s also true in Israel, where religion and politics are inextricably linked, leading to religious parties that discredit the Jewish faith and pollute the nation’s values.

When my wife and I moved to Israel just under five years ago, I had decided to leave full time ministry and instead to practice law and get involved again politically. As a Messianic Jew in Israel, there are tremendous challenges to break the unease of society towards Messianic Jews. Once again, I’m reminded of Peter’s words above, to be prepared to share the hope within us when asked. In the meantime, I try to model the life of Yeshua to those with whom I work and volunteer. To the younger generation, consider getting involved politically. You can make a difference, but the biggest difference to be made is when you allow the light of Yeshua to flow out of you, so that others see a life that is attractive and compelling.

The Jezreel Valley Train Rises Again

In the late 19th century some British politicians concocted the idea of constructing a train from Baghdad to Haifa. Its purpose was to connect British interests in the region. With starts and stops the Ottoman Empire assumed control of all plans, and in the early 20th century built a famous railway known as the Hejaz Railway, running from Damascus to Medina/Mecca. Their goal was to further mesh the Arab communities and particularly Muslim holy places with Ottoman rule. The Ottomans also took over the planned Damascus-Haifa route, already under partial construction by British investors, and converted it to an extension of the Hejaz Railway. The rail line running from Haifa to the main artery of the Hejaz Railway, running through Jordan, became known as the Jezreel Valley Railway. Essentially, the line ran through the heart of the Jezreel Valley, a valley famous for numerous Biblical references. The valley was part of one of the major trading routes in the ancient world and the avenue for numerous invading armies from the north. It’s also known in Biblical terminology as the Valley of Armageddon.

Overtime the Jezreel Valley Railway became quite popular and profitable, both for tourism and commerce. This was particularly true during the British Mandate period, 1917-1948. However, as the Jewish settlements in the Mandate moved towards nation hood to which the British was blocking, Jewish resistance fighters attacked various parts of the railroad to disrupt British commercial and military interests. Finally, during the War of Independence the Hagganah (predecessor to the Israel Defense Force), destroyed most of the bridges carrying the rail lines to prevent invading Arab armies from using it. Thus, usage of the railroad ended.

For sixty-five years the Jezreel Valley Train was a footnote in history until just a few days ago. On October 16, 2016, the Jezreel Valley Railway rose again. The Israeli government had discussed resurrecting the rail line for many years, and finally started reconstruction several years ago. When we moved to Kibbutz Merchavia (which abuts the city of Afula), we eard about the railway plans. After our first year here, the open fields behind our house, which had been filled with wildlife, were suddenly under construction. Massive apartment buildings sprang up, just beyond our backyard, and then construction began along the main road between Beit Shean (near the Jordan border) and Afula. This was the pathway for the new/old railroad.

For the past three years, massive mounds of dirt were moved and erected, creating huge swirling dust storms through and around our property. And then suddenly the announcement was made that the new Jezreel Valley Railway had resumed service. For the first month rides were free. So, my wife, Stacy, and I decided to take advantage and ride to the Haifa beach on the Mediterranean Sea. There’s a station in Afula, about a mile from our house.  The train essentially follows the route of the earlier one with stations in similar places. We pulled into the large parking lot (rare for Israel) and proceeded to the station. I intended to get there early since we didn’t know the layout, but I didn’t expect the crowds.

Even though these early rides were free, we still needed to “purchase” a ticket. As we entered there was bedlam in the station with folks encircling the few ticket machines, trying to figure out how to get a ticket. We were starting to run out of time to catch the train – the next one was in an hour.  I was worrying about figuring out the machine in Hebrew, especially with anxious people behind us, vying for a ticket. Fortunately, the machines offered an English option. We grabbed our tickets and rushed to the platform. Shortly thereafter, the train arrived. But oh-oh, it was packed. The platform also was filled with folks. The doors opened. People tried to exit while the crowd on the platform surged forward. I grabbed Stacy by the hand and plunged in. We made it, but standing room only.

There were two stops before Haifa. The trip to Haifa center took about 35 minutes, but we were heading further to the beach to meet a good friend for lunch. Except for standing, it was a pleasant trip. We passed alongside the Carmel Mountain range, comparable to the route of the ancient traders. Clearly, all the building in our city was due to commuters’ plans to use the train for working in Haifa.

The Haifa station also connects to trains running north and south, leading to Tel Aviv, Beersheva and Modi’in. People have asked if I can use the train for work, and the answer is no unless I have a meeting in Tel Aviv. Petach Tikvah, where I work, while also on a train line, would mean transferring trains twice and taking me twice as long to get to work.

After a pleasant lunch on the beach, I assumed grabbing the train in the other direction would be less crowded, especially because it was only mid-afternoon. Sure enough, the train arrived with plenty of seats. It reminded me of the days when we lived in the Washington, DC area, and I took the Amtrak train to work every day. We were just enjoying the comfortable, scenic ride. A couple of stops later I noticed very few people in our car, and I thought that strange. Wait a minute, the sign said Nahariya, far north of Israel, near the Lebanese border. I looked outside – sure enough, we were heading north – wrong train. No wonder the train was empty – who goes to Lebanon these days? I’m sure Hezbollah would have welcomed us with open arms – not sure what kind though.

We got off at the next stop (nowhere near Lebanon) and headed back. By the time we arrived at the Haifa station, we now had to wait almost an hour for the next train. The place was filling up. It is generally vacation time now in Israel due to the seven-day holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), and I think every family in Israel with thousands of children were using the railroad, especially due to the free rides.  When the next train arrived, it was also packed, and there were tons of people on the platform. Again, I grabbed Stacy and pushed forward. It’s hard to believe everyone got in. Sardines in a can have more room. Once again we were crushed into a corner, standing room only. To top it off, the last person on was a religious guy who had enough luggage with him for a month long trip. He slammed in and then erected a wall of luggage against the door, of course making it easy for ingress and egress at the next station. I think someone could have died standing there, and no one would have noticed until the crowd departed the train and the dead person would have fallen off somewhere in the station.

We finally arrived back in Afula. Stacy and I were exhausted from the trip. But it was still fun to ride on a historic train. The train is not only for commuters and vacationers but also for commerce to and from Jordan and into the larger Arab world. I’m sure we’ll use the train often to go to Haifa, but hopefully charging for tickets will limit the crowds.

Is It Time to Reassess Women’s Roles in the Body of Messiah?

The head of one of the world’s most significant powers, Germany, has been led by a woman for many years. A woman, Golda Meir, was Israel’s Prime Minister in the 1970’s. One of England’s greatest leaders was a woman, Margaret Thatcher. In a few months, the US likely will elect to the Presidency, the most powerful position in the world, the first woman President.  In fact, throughout history, women have been very influential world leaders, e.g. Queen Elizabeth – England, 16th century, Catherine the Great – Russia, 18th century, Benazir Bhutto – Pakistan, 20th century.

Despite the above, until recently in most societies women’s roles were limited either by law or through social norms. Today, in most Western countries, women share with men leadership roles in business, law, science, medicine, government, finance, media and entertainment. The one sector where women’s roles remain limited are in Evangelical and Messianic Jewish communities. The argument against women leadership primarily arises from certain Biblical texts. While I do not intend to exhaustively explicate those texts, I will make some remarks. But first, I begin with my own journey.

When I joined the Messianic Jewish community as a leader twenty-five years ago, I was part of an organization that limited women to non-governing roles in the community. In addition, another organization I joined recognized women leaders who were appointed as such in a local congregation but refused to ordain women leadership. For years I accepted this as the norm, and justified my position through the Biblical texts I mentioned above. Until 2008 our leadership was comprised solely of men. Over time, though, I began to question the wisdom of this practice. One, as a leader I knew and worked with many godly women. I realized that women often have different views and needs than men. Assuming that one half of the congregation was comprised of women, how could we as men make decisions without women’s direct input? Two, with women increasingly focused on building careers, how could our congregation appeal to intelligent and working women, who rise to the top of their professions, while their roles in congregational life are limited?

By the early 2000’s, I began reading books on women in leadership and on the Biblical texts that seemingly limited their roles. I became convinced that my view was simply incorrect, invalid and potentially destructive. Our congregation rewrote our by-laws, creating a Board of Elders and an Executive Committee. The Board of Elders would be limited to spiritual matters. The Executive Committee would handle administrative matters. To the Executive Committee we appointed several women. I was interested in also appointing a woman to the elder board, but realized since I would be moving to Israel within the next few years, this was not the time to make such a significant and potentially controversial move. Upon immigrating to Israel, I have witnessed that most congregations continue to put serious restraints on women in leadership. For the younger generation, particularly for the women, this is highly problematic.

As I have noted, there are a few Biblical texts that seemingly limit what women can do in a religious community; almost all of them exist within the New Testament. When we seek to interpret the Bible, we must try and understand to whom was the original letter or prophecy intended and what was the underlying historical events that led to the writing of the letter or the uttering of the prophecy. Once we have determined the above, we can then extrapolate the Biblical principle and seek to apply it to today’s world. We also should seek to understand the historic views of these passages by both the Jewish and Christian worlds and whether such worlds are wrestling with a re-interpretation of the selected passages.

We must never be so arrogant to assume that we categorically know the final truth on a particular passage of Scripture. Sometimes intervening historic events cause a genuine reconsideration of the traditional interpretation. As an example, take the well-established historic view of replacement theology. This theology formed in the second century around the idea that the church had replaced the Jewish people in God’s economy. Eventually, this view led to the perpetration of atrocities against Jews by so-called Christians. This theology was the predominant Christian theology until the latter part of the twentieth century. Following the Holocaust, many Christian denominations recognized that this theology was an underpinning of the rise and popularity of the Nazi regime. As a result, many denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, renounced this theology. In addition, with the establishment of the modern nation of Israel and the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, many churches, especially in the Evangelical world, saw these events as direct fulfillment of numerous Biblical passages, particularly from the Hebrew Scriptures. Previously, most considered these passages either allegorical or fulfilled in the ancient world. In other words, intervening historic events caused a wholesale change in understanding various Biblical passages.

There are a few Biblical texts that seem to limit women’s roles in congregational leadership, and in particular, two problematic passages: I Cor. 14, calling for women to be silent in the churches; I Tim. 2, forbidding women to teach or have authority over men.  That seems pretty clear except when it’s matched with various Biblical narratives. The most well-known is the story of Deborah the Judge from Judges 4 and 5. It’s possible she ruled over Israel for up to 40 years, including Israel’s leading general. Another story is that of Huldah the prophetess, who lived during the time Josiah was king over Judah. Upon finding a heretofore lost Biblical book in the Temple (likely Deuteronomy), the king requested the views of Huldah. She prophesied about the coming destruction of Judah. As a result, Josiah called for national repentance, and Judah was spared destruction during his reign. In the New Testament, the recipient of the letter of II John was a woman, who may have been leading a small church. The Books of Acts, Romans and Corinthians all mention Priscilla, wife of Aquila, who instructed the apostle Apollos and who led a church in Corinth. In most of Paul’s letters, despite his admonition mentioned above about women’s limited roles, he specifically highlighted women’s roles in the ministry as co-leaders and helpers with him. In a couple of cases, he likely considered them apostles.

So, how do the few passages about limited women’s roles comport with various narratives, showing the opposite? There is no question that throughout history women have played subordinate roles to men. In fact, that is seen today in most of the underdeveloped and even developing world. The Bible simply reflects the norms of society at the time. That doesn’t mean as society changes, Biblical interpretation should change. But it does mean that accepted norms in congregational life should be reviewed in the context of the entire Bible and the society in which it’s being lived out. Certainly, most congregations today find pernicious the I Cor. 14 apparent mandate for women to be silent. Typically, women share testimonies, sing and even prophesy in congregations where that is accepted. Quite frankly, almost all congregations simply ignore the I Cor. 14 apparent prohibition.

As Bob Dylan wrote fifty years ago, “the times they are a changing.” Women’s roles in modern society have undergone nothing short of a revolution. Most women today do not want to be relegated to lesser (or in spiritual vernacular “different”) roles than men. If our congregations want to be just, effective and appealing, we need to reassess the roles women can assume in congregational life.

Can We Be Zionists and Not Racists

Sadly, much of the world makes Zionism synonymous with racism. In fact, one of the many UN resolutions condemning Israel made that association in Resolution 3379, adopted on November 10, 1975.

Zionism has been defined in numerous ways, but it’s essentially the longing of and actualization of the Jewish people’s return to their ancestral homeland. This overtime meant the mass migration of Jews from all over the world to first Palestine and then Israel, beginning 125 years ago. Without doubt, it is by far the most successful re-unification and nationalization of a people in world history. Israel now holds the largest Jewish community in the world. If demographic trends continue, the majority of world Jewry will live in Israel within twenty years, for the first time since the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE.

Numerous Biblical passages, including portions of most of the Prophets, portend the return of Jews to their homeland. In my view, it’s the most visible example of God’s existence and activity in the world today. Nevertheless, many Zionists inadvertently contribute to racism.

When statements are made that few, if any, Arabs lived in then Palestine during the early Aliyah movements (end of the 19th century), it shows ignorance, at best, and a form of racial devaluation, at worst. There were at least 400,000 Arabs living in Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century, with maybe 50,000 Jews. By 1920, there were over 600,000 Arabs, with 80,000 Jews. Rather than strengthening the cause of Zionism, false statements utilized to support the Zionist cause actually undermine it.

Another common claim is that prior to Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 most of the Arabs living in the area fled at the behest of invading Arab national armies. While this may be partially true, the reality is that many, if not most of the fleeing Arabs, were displaced due to the war itself, as Israel successfully defended its borders and captured areas not originally given to Israel as part of the UN Partition Plan. Because most Arabs were deemed enemies of the State, many were forcibly displaced by Israel’s armies. This is not to suggest that the displaced peoples should be entitled to return. Rather, for the sake of fairness, a clear conscience and to further undergird a “righteous” Zionism, the historic record needs acknowledgment.

Today, there are 1.6 million Arabs in Israel proper, most of whom are Israeli citizens. Another 1.7 million live in Gaza and another 2.5 million in the West Bank. Those living in Israel have equal legal rights with Jews, although there is clear discrimination against them and their communities. Those in Gaza live under a terrorist regime. Those in the West Bank live under a joint arrangement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

As more Jews immigrate to Israel, and Jews continue to build settlements in the West Bank, a real question arises as to what will happen to the Arabs living there. As I’ve written before, I don’t see a viable solution other than two states, but the current situation is intolerable.

Another unhelpful statement to the Zionist cause is that Palestinians never existed as a separate people or nation. Thus, their claim to a national homeland called Palestine on the lands of the West Bank and/or Gaza have no historic basis. Yet, the same argument can be made about Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the smaller Gulf states. Before World War I most of these countries were part of the Ottoman Empire, and before that, the Islamic Empire. With the rise of nation-states in the 19th century, many ethnic groups formed their own nations or collaborated with other groups to establish a nation. The reign of most empires ended in the 19th and 20th centuries.  When World War I ended, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and the Americans, British and French divvied up the Middle East, and at the request of leaders from various regions, recognized the establishment of new nations.

One of those nations they recognized was the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. While the borders of the future Jewish homeland were constantly changing, the reality is that Arabs lived within the borders of whatever homeland would be created for the Jews. In the 1947 UN sponsored Partition Plan, an agreement was reached to provide for a state for Arabs living in Palestine, alongside a Jewish state. We all know the history, but it doesn’t change the facts on the ground. There are still millions of Arabs who live in a stateless condition. Quite frankly, what they want to call themselves or any future state that is established is up to them. But it’s a form of racial discrimination to claim an ethnic group has no right to its own nation, especially when it’s not part of another nation nor does it want to be part of another nation.

I believe we can be fervent Zionists and still care for the Palestinian people and seek a solution for their and our well-being. To devalue and delegitimize another group is racist and, quite frankly, ungodly. While blame for a political quagmire certainly can be laid at the feet of Palestinian leadership, what good does it do to constantly raise the issue without also seeking a just and fair solution? Let’s be a people who fervently support the Jewish state, but who also call for ultimate justice for all people, including Arabs living under Israeli rule.

A Light to the Nations in Government?

Israel is called to be a light to the nations. In many respects, it is becoming that. It’s the one truly democratic state in a region becoming more and more chaotic. It’s a technological powerhouse, rivaling Silicon Valley in the US. It typically provides first responders to international humanitarian crises. But one area of serious dysfunction is the government. The government’s structure is problematic with Knesset members (MK) solely representing party interests instead of constituents.  Unlike the US and many parliamentary systems, an MK is not elected from a particular geographic district. Rather, he or she is elected to the Knesset by the number of votes a particular party receives nationwide. Consequently, constituents don’t have a Congressman (MK) to whom they can turn nor is the MK accountable to any constituency.

Worse, however, is government and political corruption. There is no ideal government, and every governmental system is susceptible to corruption. Yet, in the Scriptures, God usually judges Israel by the behavior of the king or the rulers. Recently, three notorious cases have come to light. The oldest case is that of Moshe Katsav, the former President of Israel, who presently is serving a seven year sentence in prison for raping former female employees. This past week the Israeli Supreme Court upheld a conviction for bribery and a prison sentence for former Prime Minister, Ehud Ohmert. He is to begin serving his time in February. Israel will have the distinction of a former President and a former Prime Minister simultaneously serving prison sentences.

Now, ultra-Orthodox rabbi and head of the Shas party, Aryeh Deri, is about to become the Minister of the Interior Department, which handles among other things, immigration to Israel. Deri was convicted of bribery in 1999, while interestingly serving as the Minister of Interior, and sentenced to three years in prison. He completed two years in 2002, when he was granted early release. Here’s a quote from the judge in the case:

"The picture of bribery that the evidence revealed is a difficult one. This is not the case of a singular failure of a young person who has been exposed to the temptations of governing, but rather someone who consistently bases his way of life on bribery. The bribe taking occurred over the entire five year period in which the accused held public roles. The five years can be characterized by the desire of the accused to personally enrich himself quickly from his public positions."

The fact that the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, actually will appoint a convicted felon to a senior ministerial position is a national disgrace.  Making matters worse is that Deri is a religious leader, theoretically representing God and the Jewish people. This is hypocrisy at the highest level, and is the type of thing Yeshua railed against during his era on earth.

Israel is in desperate need of a political and government overhaul. God will not continue to bless a nation in whose leaders rape, pillage and steal. As a warning to our fellow believers in the country, when you vote in elections, you should be aware of what parties likely will be included in a government coalition. When it’s clear that corrupt politicians will join a government, it’s incumbent upon us to take a stand for righteousness and vote another way. Otherwise, we too become culpable in national corruption.


A Two State Solution - Are There Other Alternatives

A Two State Solution – Are There Other Alternatives?

I recognize that I hold a minority view with respect to the Two State Solution among Israeli Messianic Jews as well as the world’s Messianic Jewish community and the Evangelical Church. The current situation where Israel controls a group of people (Palestinian Arabs) with limited rights is intolerable and is not a long term solution. Then, what is?

The more common Messianic Jewish view is that God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people. Relinquishing even small portions of such land is an abomination towards God, resulting in His executing judgment upon His people. For example, some believe former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to abandon Gaza was an act of gross disobedience towards God, leading to his stroke and ultimate death. These views are based upon numerous Biblical texts that promise the land of Israel to the people of Israel. In fact, exile from the land is the most common judgment for disobedience to God.

However, when examining the Biblical material, it appears the boundaries of Israel change. In a few places, there is a promise of Greater Israel, whose boundaries extend to the Euphrates River in Iraq, through parts of Jordan to some place in the Sinai Peninsula. It’s unclear if Israel ever occupied the full extent of such land. It’s possible she did during the reign of Solomon – 950 BCE – and again during the late Maccabean era – 80 – 100 BCE. However, through the period of Joshua’s reign 1200 BCE through the First and Second Temple periods, Israel occupied far less. Of course, today Israel also occupies far less.

There is a huge difference between God’s promise to ancient Israel to conquer and settle the land then and now. God’s directive was to destroy the inhabitants of the land. This related to their abominable practices and seemed connected to God’s original curse against Canaan. Thus, the judgment of God was to fall upon the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, generically referred to as the Canaanites, but in reality comprised of multiple people groups. Contrast these texts to later Biblical texts where Israel is to embrace and protect the alien, “because we too were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Today’s situation is incomparable to the ancient one. The most recent prior occupants of the modern nation of Israel, then Palestine, are Arabs, sons of Ishmael. Not only is there no judgment forecast against the descendants of Ishmael, there are promises of blessing to them, aka, Isaiah 19, Psalm 87. When the Zionist movement grew in earnest in the late 19th and early 20th century, the land in Israel was occupied by hundreds of thousands of Arabs. Even following the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, there were 500,000 Arabs in the land and 100,000 Jews.

In the early stages of the Zionist movement, most of the Zionist leadership was actually in favor of a one state solution, where Jews and Arabs would live together under a joint government. Only after the Arab Revolts of the 1930’s did the Zionist leadership realize the one state solution was a pipe dream. Most, if not all, gradually acknowledged the only just and safe solution was to bifurcate the people and the land into two parts – separate nations for separate peoples. This was codified in the UN Partition Plan of 1947, where two states would be created in the land of Palestine, the homeland of the Jewish people to be known as the State of Israel and a homeland for the Arab occupants, presumably the land of Palestine.

The Zionist leadership fully supported the Two State Solution; their only complaint was the boundaries of the Jewish State, especially with respect to the city of Jerusalem. Following the War of Independence, where Israel gained about one-third more land and thousands of Arabs fled or were forcibly relocated that Israel became a nation of predominantly Jewish people with a sizable Arab minority. Early legislation granted Arab occupants Israeli citizenship and making them at least equal to Jews under the law. Most of the land designated for a separate Palestinian State was conquered by Jordan during the War of Independence. Importantly, Jordan refused to allow most of these Arab occupants to relocate farther into Jordan.

Two events arose that greatly exacerbated the situation, the 1967 War, where Israel conquered the territory originally designated as an independent Arab State and the refusal of the surrounding Arab nations to absorb the Arabs who had fled Israel during the War of Independence. Until 1967 Israel occupied land granted to it by the UN Charter and/or as a result of the territorial gains made during the War. Most, if not, all Arabs were Israeli citizens. Following the 1967 War, Israel now occupied lands comprising 2.5 million Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza. These individuals now had a quasi-legal status where they had certain rights under military occupation but certainly not rights of citizens or even legal residents. Their situation changed somewhat following the Oslo Accords of the 1990’s, whereby the Palestinian Authority was established, granting it significant civil and even security autonomy over the Arab population.

The refusal of the surrounding Arab nations to absorb the fleeing Arabs from Palestine continues to exacerbate the current situation. These so-called Palestinian refugees claim a right to return to their original residences. This despite the fact that most who fled are no longer alive. Thus, the claim of the right to return are for people who never lived in such residences – a dubious claim. However, such claims further complicate any decision to create two separate states.

Prior to the 1967 War, there was no settler movement. The transplantation of Jews from around the world to the nation of Israel was the epitome of Zionism. The goal was to transform the land – swamps of the Galilee into highly productive and fertile land, the Negev into blooming fields and the building of major cities and industry. The 1967 War changed the equation. Now, the ideal of a Greater Israel came to the forefront. Ancient Israelite towns, such as Hebron or Nablus – site of Jacob’s well – became centers of Jewish/Israel migration and interest. In 1972 there were 1000 settlers in the West Bank. Today, there are 300,000. This group tremendously complicates plans for two states and rubs salt into the wounds of Palestinian Arabs.

So, what are the alternatives to a Two State Solution?

1) Forcibly remove or create significant monetary incentives for Arab migration from the West Bank to elsewhere, thus creating the possibility of a Greater Israel, inhabited by a significant majority of Jews. It’s hard to believe in this day and age anyone would seriously consider this option. However, Israel’s former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, actually proposed something similar to this several months ago. If Israel thinks the movements like BDS are threats, such a move to forcibly relocate Palestinian Arabs out of their lands would likely end up something comparable to the pressure applied to South Africa at the height of the Apartheid movement. Israel, more than many, is dependent upon trade and tourism. Israel’s economy would collapse, and in the end they would reverse course.

2) The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three areas, known as Areas A, B and C. Area A is where the Palestinian authority has full civil and security control. It is limited to the major cities of the West Bank and comprises about 3% of the land area. Area B grants the Palestinian Authority full civil control and joint Palestinian/Israeli security. About 25% of the West Bank is under Area B. Area C is where Israel has full civil and security control. It comprises 72% of the West Bank. This is where the vast majority of settlers live. It includes the rich Jordan Valley. Palestinians have been frozen out of building in Area C.

One proposal is for Israel to assert permanent authority over Area C and allow resident Arabs to pledge allegiance to Israel, becoming first permanent residents and later citizens. Areas A and B would be returned to Jordanian authority, and the Arabs there would become Jordanian citizens.  There are numerous problems with such a proposal. One, few, if any Arabs, including Jordan, are in favor of it. Two, it once again undermines Palestinian national identity, and the Palestinian Authority will never agree to such a proposal.

3) Establish a true One State Solution where Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank, and presumably, in the future, Gaza, would be given the option to pledge allegiance to Israel, becoming first permanent residents and later citizens. This is the most radical and dangerous proposal of all. It is essentially national suicide. Assuming there are 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, this number would be added to the 1.5 million Israeli Arabs, making the Arab population of Israel 4 million. The Jewish population is currently 6 million. The Jewish majority in the State of Israel ranges from between 75-80%, guaranteeing a true Jewish State. If suddenly millions of more Arabs were added to the population, the Jewish majority would shrink immediately to 60%. After one generation of the higher than normal Arab birth rate, Arabs would comprise 50% or more of the population. Because by then, they would have equal status under the law and otherwise, there would be tremendous pressure to change the nature and character of the nation of Israel. Israel, as we know it, would cease to exist.

The original Zionist leaders correctly understood that a One State Solution, while idealistically pleasant, is completely unworkable. Arab culture, language and history are totally different than Jewish. They cannot co-exist amicably within one state.

4) Gradually establish a Two State Solution. Because of the present turmoil in the Arab world, it is nonsense to think Israel will suddenly sign off on a Two State Solution, whereby a radical terrorist organization could co-opt the West Bank, and then terrorist organizations surround Israel on multiple sides. However, a multi-year plan, whereby Israel begins investing heavily into West Bank infrastructure and industry, raising the standards of living for all, and building a responsible Arab leadership to gradually assume more and more authority over the population is certainly a possibility. The current Palestinian Authority would balk at such an approach, but the population would immediately benefit, pressuring the Authority to concede. Sadly, the BDS movement pressure to move Soda Stream out of the West Bank was incredibly short-sighted. These types of ventures provide good jobs to Palestinians and raise the standard of living for the population. The goal should be to establish these companies as Israeli companies with know-how and experience but gradually turn over ownership to responsible Arab business owners. It’s a win-win for all sides.

It’s fun and nice to view the world through a purely Biblical lens, to try and mold Scripture written thousands of years ago into present day geo-politics. But the world is completely different. The issues faced by the different generations are completely different. It’s wrong headed to assume we know exactly what the Biblical authors meant during their age and then wildly presumptuous to assume we know how it applies in a completely different age. Rather, we should take Biblical principles of justice, mercy and fairness and attempt to apply them in a righteous and humble way, acknowledging changes will likely need to be made because of our own short-sightedness. This, I believe, is the Biblical way.

Obama's Middle East

The modern Middle East was the creation of three heads of state following in the aftermath of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson (USA), Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau(France) and Prime Minister Lloyd George (UK) gathered in Paris in 1919 and essentially redrew many of the world's borders. Both the French and the British had long standing interests in the Middle East, and once the Middle East power, the Ottoman Empire, collapsed, both countries saw opportunities. Coupled with these blatant political aspirations was President Wilson's insistence upon implementing his vision for world peace, encapsulated in his 14 points for world peace. One of these, the right of self-determination, became and continues to be a driving force in modern national development. 

The problem arose in the Middle East and elsewhere that borders that were ultimately drawn creating new nations covered different and often very competitive ethnic groups. As an example, the new nation of Iraq included three major ethnic/religious groups, Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Kurds, all of whom had their unique histories and identities. Following the creation of most of the new Middle Eastern countries, the democratic ideals embodied in other sections of Wilson's 14 points were ignored, and the new countries were ultimately taken over by autocrats.

Throughout the years US and European policy towards Middle East governments were harmonious as autocrats were placated to ensure free flowing and cheap oil. That began to change with the frequent Israeli/Arab wars as Arab countries ultimately used their combined clout following the 1973 Yom Kippur War to pressure US policy by limiting oil production and embargoing US imports, dramatically driving up oil prices. 

Two unrelated events in 1979-80, however, sparked changes in the Middle East that have reverberated since: 1) 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran (overthrowing an important US ally) and 2) the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan to quell rising Islamic unrest in the southern Soviet republics. In the case of Iran, for the first time in the modern era one of the Middle Eastern countries was now led by Islamic fundamentalists, whose goal, in part, was to spread that fundamentalism far and wide. The US now became the "Great Satan" with Israel dubbed the "Little Satan." Suffice it to say, US influence with Iran was now minimal.

With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US saw an opportunity to undermine Soviet ambitions by arming and training Afghan resistance groups. On the surface the US efforts were successful, and the Soviet Union got bogged down in Afghanistan. However, one of the Afghan resistant groups later morphed into Al Qaida, a sad example of the law of unintended consequences. In the vacuum of post Soviet war effort, another radical Afghani Islamic ethnic group arose to conquer the country, the Taliban, which granted sanctuary to the more radical Al Qaida operatives.

Also, during the 1980's Iran and Iraq fought a long and bloody war. US policy supported Iraq. In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, later pushed back by a quick US led coalition of forces invasion. The world altering event, however, occurred on September 11, 2001, when Al Qaida operatives attacked critical US institutions on her homeland, killing more Americans on US soil than anytime since Pearl Harbor, 1941. The response by the US was overwhelming. Quickly, the Afghan government (Taliban) was confronted by the US with relinquishing the Al Qaida network. The government refused, so the US invaded. US forces combined with other Afghani resistance groups to quickly smash the Taliban and put Al Qaida on the run. Many Al Qaida operatives were killed or captured. Some escaped, including the leader Osama Bin Laden, and were later hunted down.

Unfortunately, the attack on US soil put the US on a war footing, ultimately leading to relying on poor intelligence and strategic planning. Iraq was now seen as another fomenter of terror and the destruction of the world order, especially with the false claim that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Consequently, the US again led a coalition of forces to attack and ultimately overthrow the Iraqi regime. The result was the unleashing of ethnic forces in Iraq bottled up for decades by the brutal regime of former dictator Sadaam Hussein. The US cobbled together a "democratic" government, brought some semblance of civil order, trained a new and "enlightened" Iraqi military and gradually began to reduce forces. However, with the US withdrawal came an increasing Iranian influence, using its connections to the large Iraqi Shiite Muslim community, previously severely persecuted by Sadaam Hussein.

The 2008 US Presidential election was a watershed election. US citizens were sick of war and the then collapsing economy and voted for a young, inexperienced African-American US Senator from Illinois to be the new President, Barak Obama. Obama promised early on to change international perceptions of US power and "exceptionalism," including its perception in the Muslim world. Obama's father was an African Muslim, and although some claimed the President himself is one, he was raised and identifies as a Christian.

In a famous 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt, Obama proclaimed the beginning of a new relationship and outreach to Muslim nations, including overtures to Iran. Coincidentally, at about the same time arose the political/social phenomenon known as the Arab Spring, throughout the Arab Islamic world. At first the Arab Spring seemed to embody the best of what Obama hoped for, a longing for freedom and democracy in previously autocratic states. It's apparent and greatest success was in Egypt where dictator, President Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown by the masses. A constitution was cobbled together, an election held and the Muslim Brotherhood (a previously outlawed Islamacist group) won the election. Obama welcomed the new leader, Mohammed Morsi.

However, quickly things spiraled out of control there and in other countries where the Arab Spring arose. Rather than democratic groups taking control, Islamic fundamentalist groups began gaining the upper hand. In Libya the masses began rebelling against the dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi responded with overwhelming force. Obama, under pressure from European allies, agreed to limited US involvement to protect the civilian population. Gaddafi was eventually overthrown by a combination of European forces and Libyan rebel groups. Obama refused further US involvement. The result today is a completely failed state, controlled in various places by competing rebel groups, including Islamic fundamentalists.

In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood solidified its control with Islamacists, which proved unpopular with the masses and with the Egyptian military, including President Morsi's hand picked military chief of staff, Abdel el-Sisi. El-sisi ultimately led a military overthrow of the Brotherhood regime, jailed most of its members and rules the country today. The Obama administration has a strained relationship with el-Sisi.

In Iraq, Iran's influence had increased with the election of former Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite leader in 2006. Governing coalitions with Sunni and Kurd groups proved unsuccessful, as Maliki, with Iranian support, sidelined the Sunnis, which US forces had fought to win over several years before. Disaffected Sunnis became the basis for the later developing ISIS organization.

The greatest tragedy and failing, however, was in Syria. Beginning in 2011, the Arab Spring sought reforms to the dictatorial state. Bashar Assad, the leader and Western trained doctor, responded to the then peaceful protests with overwhelming force. As force continued, various rebel groups formed around the country. Assad responded with ever increasing violence, leading to approximately 250,000 deaths and millions of refugees. Pressure was applied to the Obama administration to do something. While promises were made, actions were never taken. The use of barrel bombs, slaughter of civilian populations, the dissemination of chemical weapons led to minimal or no US involvement. According to many reports, many within the Obama administration supported some military action, such as the institution of protected no fly zones, where refugees could be relocated. In the end, the Obama administration refused.

Where the possibility existed of assisting some moderate rebel groups, because of the lack of support, more radical Islamacist groups associated with Al Qaida gained strength and popularity. Into this quagmire arose the latest and deadliest Islamacist group, ISIS. Finding fertile ground in disaffected Iraqi Sunni Muslims, including some military leaders from the Hussein era, and the unpopulated areas of Syria, ISIS formed as a sudden viable government and successful military force, quickly conquering large swaths of under populated areas. Proclaiming itself a new Caliphate in the Middle East, it sophistically used social media to spread its message and gain thousands of recruits from around the world. Its message and warning was incomprehensible violence. Iraqi military forces were overrun. Suddenly, Iraq looked vulnerable to this crazed group, and finally the Obama administration responded with limited air strikes but no ground forces. At this point ISIS appears somewhat degraded but continues as an effective and deadly fighting force. In the meantime, Iran and now Russia have intervened on the side of Assad in Syria with little or no push back from the Obama administration. They seem content with US concentration against ISIS.

There are probably many reasons why Obama has been reticent to involve US forces in the Middle East, but certainly a big one was the Iran nuclear negotiations. As stated earlier, Obama made outreach to Iran one of his early priorities. In the latter Bush and through much of the Obama years, Iran's nuclear activities increased, despite ever increasing and punishing international economic sanctions. Finally, in 2013 Iran elected a so-called moderate as president, Hassan Rouhani, who immediately indicated interest in nuclear negotiations. The negotiations were "completed" in June and signed by the various parties, Iran, the US and five European nations. The deal halts further Iranian nuclear development for at least 10 years and subjects Iran to intrusive international inspections. In turn, the economic sanctions are gradually removed.

Sadly, the deal is fraught with numerous holes. The vast majority of the US public opposes the deal as does a majority of the Congress. The only ones happy about it are the Obama administration and Iran. Iran has made clear that it will expand its influence over Middle Eastern affairs and appears willing to challenge US power everywhere, again most openly in Syria, propping up the murderous Assad regime.

Furthering adding to the woes of these scenarios is the massive refugee crisis descending upon Europe. With no place to go and no end in sight to the relentless violence and destruction, hundreds of thousands and potentially millions of Syrian/Iraqi refugees are now migrating to Europe, thus creating another massive international crisis. This is unprecedented in European history. The world seems hand strung; the Obama administration oblivious to its culpability in all of these affairs.

History of Russian Immigration Services

In the Spring, 1993, I attended a conference where I heard a friend of mine describe an amazing event he participated in St. Petersburg, Russia. A former rabbi of a Messianic Jewish congregation in New York, Jonathan Bernis, had organized a musical outreach to the Jews of St. Petersburg. This was just two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Thousands of Jewish people came to faith in Yeshua the Messiah over a three day period. As I heard my friend speak of this, the Lord spoke to me that our congregation in Richmond would be involved with Russian Jews. The problem, however, was that I didn’t know any Russian Jews.

The following Shabbat I told our congregation what I felt the Lord spoke to me. Several months went by before one day meeting a Russian locksmith. I asked him about the Russian community. He explained about it, which was still fairly new to our city. In February, 1994, we organized a Sunday bagel brunch at a local hotel, inviting the Russian community. Just a few days prior to the event an arsonist set fire to our synagogue, causing significant damage. As a result, we couldn’t do much advertising, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We planned for lox and bagels, fruit and vegetable platters and the like. We invited the Judah Dancers, our congregation’s dance troupe to perform. We prepared a few remarks. We weren’t sure if anyone would show up.

As the hour of the bagel brunch arrived, Russians started pouring into the room, probably 25-30, far more than we imagined. We got to meet them. We introduced ourselves and said we wanted to assist their community. We hastily organized a Bible study discussion for the following week. While most of the Russians were highly educated, few knew much about Judaism, the Messiah or religion in general due to being under the atheistic Soviet system. Some of them from that first meeting remain friends to this day, 20 years later, and one of them served as our Russian attorney for many years.

After a few meetings we realized that many of the Russians had never participated in a Passover Seder. The problem was the fire in our synagogue was set and did the most damage in our fellowship area, where we would hold annual community Seders. We asked the contractors to repair that area first since the Seder would be held only two months after the fire. The contractors didn’t fully complete the room until the day of the Seder itself! We could hold up to 250 people for Passover. This time we had a whole section devoted to the Russian community. At least 30 attended. We used a Russian translator, which made the Seder especially long. Yet, it was an amazing event, as many of these Russian Jews participated in their first Seder, and a Messianic one at that.

Over the following months we organized ourselves into a separate organization called Russian Immigration Services. Our goal was to provide a whole array of social and legal services to the Russian community. We sought for and received grant funding from two very generous foundations, God’s Grace International and the Parker Foundation. From there we began to build. We opened a food bank, clothing and furniture warehouse, a Russian library (the largest in Central Virginia), Russian TV, English language classes, computer classes, job placement service, translation service, legal service, citizenship classes. We established a Russian cultural center where various musical performances were held. We were able to hire some of the Russians to fill the positions. It was amazing.

Our still fairly young congregation (Stacy, the family and I had only arrived in Richmond four years earlier) enthusiastically supported the work, and many of our members mentored the new Russian immigrants. We eventually started three separate weekly services for the Russian community where the Bible was taught, and Yeshua was presented as the Messiah. About 10% of the community attended the services.

Our outreach to the Russian community caused significant opposition within the mainstream Jewish community. But the event that won the hearts of the Russians was Victory Day, 1995. Victory Day was the most celebrated holiday in the Soviet Union and marked the victory over the Nazis in World War II where up to 27 million Soviet citizens were killed. It was annually held on May 9, and 1995 was the 50th anniversary of the Soviet victory over the Nazis. Some of the Russians had asked the Jewish Community Center to hold a special ceremony, but they refused. So, one of the Russians close to us asked if we could hold an event. Honestly, I didn’t know anything about it, but I said sure. I did some quick research and found out about how significant this day was, and now it was to be the 50th anniversary.

We decided to replicate what most of the Russians experienced in their homeland. Primarily, the day was to honor Russian World War II veterans. First, we prepared special wedding like invitations sent to all the Russian homes. Then, we discovered the Jewish Community decided to hold its own celebration, mainly in response to what we were trying to do. We didn’t want to compete with them and cause a split in the Russian community. I called a local rabbi, who had become friendly with me and our work. We met, and I asked for advice. I explained we didn’t intend to create an uproar, and maybe there was a way to work together with the larger Jewish community. He said the mainstream community would never work with us on this, and then he spoke almost prophetically when he said, “you need to do your own, only bigger and better.” That became the theme.

We changed the day in order to avoid the conflict with the mainstream community celebration. We had special uniform medals made with a small American flag, declaring in English and Russian, the 50th anniversary of Russian Victory Day. We invited some of our congregation’s military members to dress up in their military studs to be able to pin the medals on the Russian veterans and give them gifts. We invited in a bugle player to play taps in honor of the moment of silence for all the fallen. We helped to organize a Russian band that could play music from the War period. We prepared a couple of short speeches and had a few of the Russians share some reflections.

Then, afterwards we had everyone move downstairs for refreshments, dancing and partying led by the Russian band. It was an amazing and life changing event. 300-350 Russians attended. Of those there were 35-40 Russian veterans, all arrayed in their medals from the War. Interestingly, in subsequent Russian Victory celebrations, many of the veterans wore the medal we gave them at the 50th anniversary. We heard from many that it was one of the most moving and special celebrations of their lives. I would say that of all the things we did at Tikvat Israel over the 22 years I was rabbi, this was the most significant.

After that the Russian community considered us close friends, and many came to our defense when our congregation was criticized and condemned by Jewish communal leaders. In later years the Jewish community began referring Russians to us for help. By the early 2000’s the immigration of Russians into the US waned. The Russian community assimilated more into the American mainstream and didn’t need our services as much. Finally, in 2008, we formally closed Russian Immigration Services. I have always been a firm believer in hearing and responding to the voice of the Lord. I can say without a doubt that God called Russian Immigration Services into being. Many people assisted this work from within and from without our congregation. I thank God that He allowed me to participate and witness this great event. I believe it helped to change our city.

Arrested for the Lord

This past December 2008 my wife Stacy and I approached Israeli passport control, appreciating the absence of a line unlike the past summer when we waited for an hour in long lines.  The clerk took our passports, scanned them and then placed a telephone call.  We knew something was up when the clerk told us to go with the approaching person, and then were alarmed when she said in Hebrew - Misrad Hapanim - Ministry of Interior.  This meant trouble.  We were escorted to a room in the airport, and Stacy was called in by herself.  I moved as close to the door as possible to overhear the conversation.  The officer began to interrogate Stacy as to why we wanted to enter Israel.  She told him to visit our children.  He then accused her of being a missionary.  I jumped up and went in and confronted the officer.  I said, “I’m an American immigration lawyer, and we are here to visit our children.”  He replied, “the Ministry of Interior has barred your entry due to missionizing activity when you were here this past summer.”  I said that’s ridiculous.

 So began an eight hour ordeal where we were trucked to a detention center outside the airport for the purpose of deportation.  Fortunately, I have an Israeli phone, and prior to detention was able to make numerous phone calls to our Israeli lawyers and political connections.  When we arrived at the detention center, all of our possessions were confiscated, including the phone and a tape recorder I was using to record everything.  Stacy and I were placed in a cell together.  Two hours later our lawyer, Calev Myers, and head of the Jerusalem Institute for Justice arrived, and we were permitted to confer with him in a waiting area.  He told us our daughter, Jennifer, was now on the radio on Israel’s major morning news show being interviewed about what was happening to her parents.  He also informed us that they were using both political and legal means to extricate us from jail and to halt the deportation. 

Possibly due to his visit, the guards retaliated against us and would no longer allow Stacy and me to be in the same cell.  She was moved to the women’s cell, and I to the men’s.  For the first time I became worried about what would happen to her, although she was perfectly fine. In my cell there were five or six guys from different countries.  They all wanted to know why I was detained.  I explained that I’m a Messianic Jew.  A man from Holland interrupted and said, “You’re a Jew! What are you doing in here?  You should be a citizen.”  I explained the dilemma.  He continued by saying the craziest thing would be if I were a Cohen (from the priestly class).  I said I am.  At first he wouldn’t believe it, but then declared this was insane.  I agreed. 

Two hours later I was called by the guards to take a phone call from the Ministry of Interior who told me if we signed a document saying we wouldn’t seek to convert minors or bribe people into conversion, the government would permit our entry into the country.  I argued with her for a while, but on the advice of counsel, I signed it.  We were then driven back to the airport and released into the country. 

While our situation was temporarily traumatic, it is only the tip of the ice berg for what Messianic Jews in Israel deal with.  Probably because of extensive publicity regarding Messianic Jews in the past year, small ultra-Orthodox factions who have connections to the government have begun a campaign against Messianic Jews.  Some Messianic leaders are now being subjected to attempts to revoke their citizenship.  Applications for building permits for Messianic Jewish congregations are blocked.  But we do have some recourse.  Stacy and I are suing the Ministry of Interior for both violations of international protocols and unlawful detainer.  In addition, we are getting some Congressional assistance to begin to pressure the Israeli government.  We see the whole experience like Joseph’s who saw that what the enemy meant for evil, God will turn into good. 

The Untold Story

The Role of Christian Zionists in the Establishment of Modern‐day Israel

The church is rightly criticized for centuries of Christian anti‐Semitism, but what
is overlooked is the pivotal role British Christian Zionists played in the
establishment of modern‐day Israel. Almost all books written about the Zionist
movement focus on the early Jewish leaders, their creativity and courage in
making the impossible a reality, i.e., the restoration of a Jewish state in the land.
But Jewish involvement in modern Zionism did not begin until the mid to late
1800ʹs, whereas British Christian leaders were advocating the restoration of a
Jewish state in the land for the prior 200 years. The theology of British Puritans
with regard to Godʹs plan for the Jewish people so influenced British public
opinion that governmental leaders in the 19th century began maneuvering
international events towards the re‐establishment of a Jewish Israel, culminating,
of course, in the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 establishing Palestine
as the homeland for the Jews.

Jews lived in England as early as the 11th century. But the perpetuation of
medieval anti‐Semitic myths caused the expulsion of the Jews from England in
1290. Following King Henry VIIIʹs decision to sever ties with the Roman church
and the increasing availability of the Scriptures, the Puritan movement took hold
in England. The Puritans were known to take the Scripture literally, but also
believed that civil government should be based on the Biblical model, largely
that of ancient Israelʹs. As they scoured the Scriptures, beginning in the 1580ʹs the
Puritans authored various treatises on Jewish salvation and Godʹs plan to restore
the Jews back to their land. The height of Puritan involvement in government
came during the Cromwell Republic of the mid‐1600ʹs. The Puritans had
overthrown the monarchy and attempted to establish a Puritan state in England.

This same period coincided with the horrible slaughters of Jews in Eastern
Europe following the end of the Thirty Yearsʹ War. The chief Rabbi of
Amsterdam, Holland, Manesseh Ben Israel, concluded that Jews were not safe in
Eastern Europe, but rather safety lie with the West, and particularly with the
Puritans. He discovered in the Scriptures that the coming of the Messiah was
linked to the Jews being scattered to the ends of the earth, and in Hebrew the
word for ʺendʺ was the same as that for ʺEngland.ʺ Consequently, he wrote a
pamphlet called, ʺHope of Israel,ʺ proposing that the Jews be invited into
England in fulfillment of prophecy. Ben Israel knew that the Puritans were very

interested in Biblical prophecy and the plight of the Jews, so he successfully
made an appointment with Cromwell and convinced him to support the
immigration of Jews into his country. Thus, the banishment of Jews from
England ended and with it began a series of articles and books from renowned
British, including John Milton and John Locke, supporting a Jewish state.

In 1733 Sir Isaac Newton suggested an interpretation of the prophet Daniel
necessitated another nation assist the Jews to return to their land. By the late
1700ʹs Englandʹs major papers began discussing the issue. In 1799 Joseph Priestly,
a well‐known British scientist wrote a book addressing the Jews and said,
referring to Israel, ʺthe land is uncultivated and ready to receive you, but the
Turks control it. Their power must first fall. Therefore, I earnestly pray for its
dissolution. But it may not happen for sometime.ʺ This was followed by another
book, The Restoration of the Jews ‐ the Crisis of All Nations, by Thomas Witherby
who proposed England would be ʺa new Cyrusʺ and be Godʹs instrument to
restore the land to the Jews. In 1819 another book, Call to the Christians and the
Hebrews, by Theaetetus, proposed Jews and Christians combine efforts for reestablishment
of the nation of Israel.

By now the proliferation of both theological and philosophical works proposing
the return of land to the Jews was so widespread that politics was effected. In
1838 at the urging of a Christian Zionist, Lord Shaftesbury, Britain established a
consulate in Jerusalem, the first diplomatic appointment in the land of Israel.
This was followed by the appointment of Michael Solomon Alexander as
Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, the first Jewish bishop of Jerusalem since 135 C.E.
In 1853 the Crimean War erupted between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. The
British and the French both sided with the Turks, assisting them in the defeat of
the Russians. The Paris Treaty of 1858, concluding the war, granted Jews and
Christians the right to settle in Palestine, forced upon the Ottoman Turks by the
British for their assistance in the war effort. This decision opened the doors for
Jewish immigration to Palestine.

A pivotal event occurred in 1868 with the election of Benjamin Disraeli as British
Prime Minister. Disraeli, a Jewish Christian who strongly regarded his Jewish
heritage, wrote in an 1877 article entitled, ʺThe Jewish Question is the Oriental
Quest,ʺ that within 50 years a nation of one million Jews would reside in
Palestine under the guidance of the British. Around the same time George Eliot,
the great British novelist wrote her book, Daniel Deronda, about the struggle of a
Jewish person to retain his identity. She propounded the idea that Israel become
a nation of vision for the Jewish people. The book was translated and read by a

Russian Jew named Yehuda Perlman who became convinced that a modern state
of Israel was the ultimate answer for the Jewish people. He later changed his
name to Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew and an early Zionist.

Up to this point the idea of a resurrected Israel resided only in the hearts of most
Jews. But things radically changed with the appearance of Theodore Herzl, who
in his pamphlet the Jewish State began to turn the far‐fetched idea of a Jewish
land in Palestine to a believable reality for many Jews. What is little known about
Herzlʹs work was the critical role played by another British Christian Zionist,
William Hechler. In 1897 following an ultimately disappointing meeting with the
Sultan of Turkey, Herzl became distraught about the future of Zionism.
Somehow Hechler found a copy of Herzlʹs Jewish State and became so excited
that he searched Herzl down around the world. Herzl found Hechler to be a
religious zealot but became interested when Hechler could provide Herzl entré
to the German Kaiser and later the British Prime Minister.

In an extremely humorous story as related by Herzl, he tells of the meeting with the Kaiser. Herzl
had been preparing for weeks for the meeting, intending to show the Kaiser the
political advantages to Germany to declare Palestine a future homeland for the
Jews. When the meeting day arrived, Hechler accompanied Herzl into the
meeting because he knew the Kaiser personally. Before Herzl could say a word,
Hechler whipped open his Bible and began discussing Biblical prophecy with the
Kaiser. Herzl was appalled, seeing this as another lost opportunity. But to his
amazement the Kaiser is convinced by the Scriptures to support the concept.

Later Hechler also provided open doors for Herzl to meet with the British
leadership, the relationship that bore ultimate fruit, although at the beginning
the Zionist story took a bizarre twist. Britain did not want to upset the delicate
balance of relationshhips in the Middle East, so as a short‐term solution, the
British offered Herzl and the Jews the land of Uganda as a respite. Herzl
reluctantly accepted the offer, but at the next Zionist Congress the offer was
resoundingly rejected. The following year Herzl died. A new Zionist leader
emerged ‐ Chaim Weitzman. The British government continued to apply
pressure on the Zionists to accept Uganda as a temporary shelter, but things
changed in a pivotal meeting between Weitzman and another Christian Zionist,
Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary. Balfour asked Weitzman why was
Uganda rejected and why were the Jews hung up on Palestine. Weitzman
responded by suggesting the tables be turned and he offer to Balfour, Paris
instead of London. Balfour replied that the British currently had London but the
Jews do not have Jerusalem. Weitzman said, ʺWe had Jerusalem when London

was a swamp.ʺ That was enough to persuade Balfour to begin to argue for
Palestine for the Jews.

Of course, all of these discussions and arrangements were restrained by the fact
of the Ottoman Empireʹs continued control of Palestine. This changed in World
War I. The Ottoman Turks sided with Germany. Germany and the Allied powers
bogged down along the German/French borders. Millions perished. The British
were in desperate need to enhance the power of their explosives in order to win
the war. The person who discovered the chemical processes to do just that was
the chemist, Chaim Weitzman. Near the end of the war the British Prime
Minister, Lloyd George (another Christian Zionist), called for Weitzman to offer
him an award for his assistance in the war effort. In a classic statement,
Weitzman declared, ʺI want nothing for myself but rather a homeland for my
people.ʺ As a result Lloyd George directed his Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour,
to issue what became known as the Balfour Declaration, proposing Palestine
become a homeland for the Jewish people. A month later a British military force
led by General Allenby overthrew Ottoman rule in Palestine, and Britain now
became the ruling sovereign in the area.

Isaiah prophesied that the Gentiles would bring the Jewish people back to their
land (Is. 49). The remarkable story of the British Christian Zionists was, I believe,
a fulfillment of that prophecy. The establishment of the modern state of Israel is
directly related to God awakening and then directing a certain people to
cooperate with Him in His plan for the restoration of the Jewish people to their

Copyright © 1998 Jamie Cowen. Used by permission of the author.