Close, but No Cigar

As many know from past updates, I’ve been involved with the Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) political party for the past few years. It is a centrist party, built on numerous principles, including, among other things, advocacy for religious plurality. Over a year ago the party was running neck and neck in polls with Likud, Bibi Netanyahu’s party.

When the government collapsed last Fall (a common occurrence here in Israel), elections were called. Over forty political parties were vying for Knesset seats. To enter the Knesset, a party must garner 3.25% of the votes or around 135,000 votes. This grants a party four seats. Each additional seat needs another 35,000 votes. There are 120 seats in the Knesset. No one party has ever achieved a majority, necessitating the formation of coalition governments, which often include smaller, narrow-interest parties.

One of the newly formed parties was led by Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israeli military. His candidacy immediately drew excitement as a serious contender to Netanyahu. Eventually, his party merged with Yesh Atid (above) and another party, to form the Blue and White party.

The merger created quite an upheaval for Yesh Atid. Yesh Atid had been planning for new elections for years, had organized a large and effective field operation and had written an extensive political platform. Suddenly, everything changed. I had built some good relationships within Yesh Atid. The leaders knew I was a Messianic Jew, and I had already discussed with some of them what we as Messianic Jews were hoping for, i.e., an end to discrimination, particularly with respect to immigrating to Israel. While I supported the formation of the Blue and White party, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic because I was uncertain about the new party’s commitment to some of the issues I felt were important.

Just before the election, the polls showed Blue and White neck and neck with Likud. We were trained to work the polling stations. I was sent to Zichron Ya’akov, just south of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast and inhabited by large numbers of Anglos. I spoke with and handed out leaflets to hundreds of voters. I estimated about 50% of the voters were supportive of Blue and White. In fact, one group that arrived at our polling station was a fully dressed wedding party. Now, that’s commitment. I gave the bride a flyer.

For our party to be able to form the next government, we needed 4-5 more seats than Likud, because of the proliferation of right wing parties that would naturally ally with Likud and thus give them a majority of seats. In the end, Likud and Blue and White virtually tied, each gaining 35 seats. For both parties it was a major accomplishment.

Prior to the election, Blue and White declared its intention to try and form a unity government with Likud, absent Netanyahu as the leader. A unity government, comprised of the major parties, is the hope for the nation, enabling it to address some of the critical issues facing the country without being held hostage by ultra-Orthodox parties and extremist nationalistic factions. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Blue and White refuses to join a Netanyahu-led government due to corruption charges hanging over him and his constant undermining of the democratic principles of the country.

The newly forming government likely will be even more right wing than the last, which was the most extremist government since the nation’s founding. I believe the plight of Messianic Jews will worsen. The Ministry of Interior had already begun to target Messianic Jewish citizens of Israel, refusing to issue new passports to some and challenging the right to citizenship of others. Up to now these attempts have been thwarted in the courts, but the courts are being transformed by the appointment of nationalist-leaning judges, who already are re-interpreting earlier decisions and blocking Messianic Jews from immigrating.

What’s particularly frustrating for us is the Evangelical Christian fawning over Netanyahu when Messianic Jews – the actual brethren of the Evangelicals – are subjected to increasing pressure from his government. Making matters worse was the passage of the Nationality Law last year, potentially making Jewish nationality superior to democratic principles. This law could be used to further target Messianic Jews, among many other minorities.

The one hope is the likely collapse of the newly forming government. Netanyahu’s indictments will be formalized in a few months, putting pressure on some of the coalitions parties, including Likud itself, to withdraw support from Netanyahu. This could cause the government to collapse, or force Netanyahu to resign. At the same time, a crisis is looming with the ultra-Orthodox community. Under a Supreme Court ruling, all ultra-Orthodox young adults will be subject to military draft beginning in July unless the Knesset can pass a reasonable alternative for this community. The ultra-Orthodox parties want full exemptions for their increasingly large communities. Up to now, they have blocked compromise solutions. It’s possible this conflict will lead to a government collapse. Honestly, one of these outcomes is my hope and prayer.

In so many ways Israel is a miraculous nation. Her future is now threatened from within. Please pray.

Election Time Again

Unlike the US electoral system, there is no set election schedule for Israel’s national elections. Technically, the Knesset serves a four-year term, but rarely does; the last one was 30 years ago. Rather, the government can call for new elections at almost any time. This is usually precipitated by one of the coalition parties dropping out of the governing coalition, thus causing the government to be unable to pass legislation. In the most recent case, the party headed up by the former Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned from the coalition due to dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the continuing crisis at the Gaza border. With their resignation, the governing coalition was left with a one seat majority. At the same time, the government was under a Supreme Court mandate to address the military drafting of the ultra-Orthodox, who oppose the mandatory draft for its young people, claiming the study of Jewish religious texts protects the country from its enemies more so than military service. Since a new draft law had to be passed this month due to the Supreme Court decree, the government realized that without the support of its ultra-Orthodox governing partners, the law could not pass, and the governing coalition could not survive.

Also unlike US politics, Israel’s election campaigns last just a few months, not two years, and most campaign funding comes from public coffers, not private ones. While many in the US feel the two party system does not represent them adequately, the huge amounts of money required to fund alternative parties makes it almost impossible to form new national parties. This is not the case in Israel. From before the founding of the State, there have been numerous parties. Today, the Knesset has ten/eleven political parties, ranging in size from five seats to thirty seats out of a total of 120. The largest party is Likud, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, also the Prime Minister.

The next election is set for April 4. As of now, the generally unreliable Israeli polls have Netanyahu and Likud well ahead of their opponents and likely leading the next government. This could change with the expected indictment of the Prime Minister for corruption. He is currently under four separate criminal investigations. The police have recommended indictments in three of the cases. The state attorney is recommending at least two of them move forward. The final decision on an indictment rests with the Attorney General. Assuming indictments are leveled against the Prime Minister, the timing becomes important. If they are done prior to the election, they could have a dramatic impact upon the election’s outcome. If done following the election, assuming Netanyahu’s party does well, the Prime Minister could argue that he should not be removed from office when he just won a resounding victory at the polls. As of now, Netanyahu claims that he will not resign if indicted (he’s not required to), and the actual legal cases against him could take years. On the other hand, a Prime Minister under criminal indictment would be politically handicapped and probably be forced from office by other parties who had joined the new coalition government.

Adding to the election chaos is the recent formation of brand new parties, which have the potential to strip voters from existing parties. The three most significant changes are the formation of Israel’s Resilience, a party led by General Benny Gantz, the former chief of staff of Israel’s military; the departure from the Jewish Home party of Neftali Bennett (Education Minister) and Ayelet Shaked (Justice Minister) and their formation of another party, the New Right; and the split in the Labor Party of the current party leader, Avi Gabbay, from Tzipi Livni, who heads the Hatnuah (Movement) party that joined with Labor in the last election. I’m even thinking of forming a party – the Hebrew Illiterate party. Anyway, expect more changes before Election Day.

As many know who read my newsletters, I am active with Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”) headed by Yair Lapid. The party currently has eleven seats, is a centrist party and is generally associated with leading the opposition to the current government. According to polling last year at this time, Yesh Atid was running neck and neck with Likud, and Lapid was considered the main contender to Netanyahu. More recent polls show the party dropping back, especially with the proliferation of newer parties. The most recent poll shows Yesh Atid with 17 seats, compared to Likud with 26, putting them within striking distance of prevailing, especially with the looming indictments of the Prime Minister.

Interestingly, many, if not most, Israelis do not like Netanyahu, but don’t see an adequate replacement. The Israeli economy is strong and growing, and as James Carville, former campaign manager for Bill Clinton, famously said, “it’s the economy, stupid.” Additionally, particularly in the past year, Netanyahu has been traveling the globe, making deals with “moderate” Arab states and strangely welcoming far right political leaders from various countries. This creates an image of a strong leader. Nevertheless, if Yesh Atid does well in this election, it could position itself to take over if the next Netanyahu-led government falls due to corruption charges.

While I don’t agree with everything Yesh Atid stands for, there are three positions that I find compelling. 1) The party stands for religious plurality. It argues that the ultra-Orthodox should not hold the monopoly in Israel on religious matters, especially when they represent around 10% of population here, and far less outside of Israel. This position could ultimately redound to the benefit of Messianic Jews. 2) The party stands for personal integrity. The last Prime Minister recently was released from jail. The former President of Israel is still in jail, and the current Prime Minister easily could end up in jail. Yesh Atid vets all of its members who are on the Knesset lists. In fact, two of its former MKs (Knesset Members) were removed by the party in the past year due to corruption. 3) The party stands for a final resolution with the Palestinians. More than anything, the Palestinian situation in the territories is the albatross around the neck of the country. Israel basically controls a people group with few rights. The party believes a regional conference with “moderate” Arab nations, the Palestinians, and the US could fashion a reasonable solution, thus eroding constant international criticism of the country and further enabling Israel to become a light to the nations.  

Next Sunday, Yair Lapid will be presenting in English to an audience in Tel Aviv. He had a similar presentation in Jerusalem several months ago that was very well attended. I will be involved again in the event’s organization. The next few months will be increasingly busy with electioneering. Please pray for the upcoming election and that corruption in high places be exposed.

The Nationality Bill

This coming week the Israeli government is attempting to pass controversial legislation called the Nationality Bill. In its most simplistic form the bill attempts to enshrine into law the fact that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, not a particularly radical idea since Israel’s Declaration of Independence already states that. The idea behind the legislation is to codify it into a Basic Law, which is a type of constitutional law in Israel. But why it’s necessary is anybody’s guess, and it has stirred up tremendous opposition because of different provisions within the statute.

There are two competing legal and social philosophies that make up the character of the nation of Israel. One, it is considered the nation state of the Jewish people. Two, its government is based upon democratic principles. This tension is embodied in the text of Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

“We . . . hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. . . The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

In recent years, this tension has surfaced continuously with the Israeli Supreme Court’s assertion of authority to strike down legislation it considers violative of democratic principles enshrined in some of Israel’s Basic Laws. Consequently, more right wing political parties have called for restraining the Court’s authority to review laws passed by the Knesset and actually requiring court rulings to also consider Rabbinic law as well as civil or common law in its rulings. This, in and of itself, is highly problematic and could cause a host of problems for, among others, Messianic Jews. The Court already refers to Rabbinic law in certain cases where Messianic Jews are barred from immigrating to Israel. Imagine what would happen if it applied the same reasoning to employment, housing or social benefits.

However, there is one section in the new proposal that has caused the biggest outcry, including from the President of the State, Reuven Rivlin. The section actually allows religious or national groups to establish communities that could deliberately exclude others from their communities. During committee proceedings, one of the Knesset members, an Ethiopian Jew, called the proposal, “pure racism, a disgrace.” The response by the sponsors was, “It’s not racism; it’s Zionism.” If such a proposal passes, one could expect increased housing discrimination, including against Messianic Jews. While social discrimination does exist in Israel, there is little to no actual legal discrimination, except for issues involving immigration to The Land.  This Nationality Bill could actually make discrimination legal.

A few months ago, Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid Party, of which I’m an activist, introduced his own nationality bill. Here’s what he had to say:

"Today, at the start of the summer session of the Knesset, we are submitting a very simple bill. The Nation-State Bill. Not formulated in the language of conflict and discrimination like the coalition wants but in the clear and unambiguous wording written originally by MK Benny Begin (from the Likud). The Bill we submit states simply: The State of Israel will be open to Jewish immigration, the ingathering of the exiles and will promote the development of the land for the benefit of all its inhabitants. It will be based on the foundations of freedom, justice and peace as envisioned by the prophets of Israel. It will maintain complete social and political equality of rights for all its citizens, irrespective of religion, race or gender. It will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. It will preserve the holy places of all religions and be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Our Bill states that the nation-state of the Jewish people is the State of Israel, a democratic state, an egalitarian state for its minorities with the blue and white as its flag, the seven- branched menorah as its symbol and “Hatikvah” as its national anthem.”

Lapid’s proposal is quite a contrast to the bill being currently considered. Israel is called to be a light to the nations. Yeshua said, “You are the light of the world . . . Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.” In many ways, Israel is a light to the nations, but passing legislation that is deliberately discriminatory and divisive is not the way.  As I’ve said before numerous times, this particular coalition government is the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. It continues to harm relations with American Jewry. Its discrimination against Messianic Jewish immigration is almost unprecedented. It’s time for a change. Please pray for the defeat of this current legislation.

Mess in Gaza

For almost 400 years most of the Middle East was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. This includes present day Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and other nations. World War I brought the demise of the Ottoman Empire, and following the War the Allies (predominantly the British and the French) divvied up the area. The area consisting of Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan became known as the British Mandate. As you can see from the map below, the British created the nation of Jordan from this Mandate. Previously, the British had agreed to give the region of Palestine (the entirety of the British Mandate) to be a homeland for the Jews. At this time there were about 100,000 Jews living in the land (most of whom had immigrated over the past 40 years) and 500,000 Arabs.

British Mandate.jpg

Following World War II and the Holocaust, there was an almost universal sense among the Western nations that a nation state of Jews needed to be formed in the land controlled by the British Mandate. This resulted in United Nations Partition Plan of 1947. The land of Palestine (excluding Jordan) would be divided between a Jewish state and an Arab (Palestinian) state. This is the first time the issue of what becomes known as the Gaza Strip arises. In the map below you can see the yellow strip (later known as the Gaza Strip) along Mediterranean Sea, designating this area as part of the future Arab state. What’s particularly notable is its proximity to the West Bank.


In the end the surrounding Arab nations and the Arabs within the partitioned area rejected the Partition Plan and instigated a war against Israel. The result was an Israeli victory, a significant increase of land under Israeli control, the absorption of the West Bank under Jordanian control and the Gaza Strip under Egyptian control. Note in the map below how the Gaza Strip is now significantly separated from the West Bank, especially in comparison to the original Partition Plan.

Armistice agreement.gif

Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Arabs were displaced from Israel during the war. These Arabs and their descendants now are often referred to as Palestinian refugees by the Arab communities. See the map below which shows 190,000 Arabs from Israel relocating to the Gaza Strip. Today, out of the 1.9 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, one million are considered refugees.


The 1967 Six-Day War resulted in, among other things, the Gaza Strip, the entire Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank coming under Israeli control. The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt as part of 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. The Gaza Strip remained under Israeli control. In 1988 Jordan renounced any rights to the West Bank. In the 1993 Oslo Accords Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) agreed on a plan of limited autonomy of PA control over much the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The hope was that over a period of time PA control would increase and possibly lead to the formation of a Palestinian state. See the map below.

Oslo accords.gif

In 2005 then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw all Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip and to hand over administrative control of the Strip to the PA. In the 2006 Palestinian elections, Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt, won a shocking victory. Hamas was considered a terrorist organization by Israel and most Western nations. In an essential civil war in the Gaza Strip in 2007, the PA was thrown out of the government in Gaza, and the PA banned Hamas involvement in the West Bank, thus creating two governing organizations over portions of the Palestinian lands. Since that period, Israel has fought several wars with Hamas in Gaza and has blockaded the Strip from almost all international trade, fearing the development of a military arsenal to be used against Israel. Unlike the PA, Hamas continues to call for Israel’s destruction and launches constant terrorist and bombing attacks against Israel. In addition, the current Egyptian government has prevented most trade going to and from Egypt through its border with Gaza. The combination of Israel’s and Egypt’s blockades against Gaza and Hamas’ allocation of its limited resources to weapons and terror against Israel has resulted in widespread poverty and unemployment in what is considered one of the most densely populated areas of the world.

Recently, Hamas decided to launch a popular protest against Israel by gathering thousands of demonstrators and busing them to the Israeli border protected by a security fence. Hamas used the events of Israel’s soon to be 70th anniversary of the state’s founding (called Nakba – catastrophe – by the Palestinians) and the anniversary of Land Day, remembering the confiscation of Arab lands in northern Israel in the 1970’s. Hamas has used the demonstrations to call for Israel’s destruction and return of the refugees from the 1948 war to their former lands within Israel proper.

Sadly, the first day of demonstrations a week ago led to a confrontation with the Israeli military on the border, resulting in several Palestinians being killed and hundreds more shot. News reports of the events are in tremendous conflict with Palestinian reports of Israeli snipers shooting peaceful protesters, while Israel reports that Israeli snipers are shooting at Palestinians that are attempting to throw Molotov cocktails and breaching the security barrier. Both sides acknowledge that some of those killed were Hamas military operatives. On the other hand, it does appear that many of the injured Palestinians simply were peacefully protesting.

The Gaza situation seems like it has no good solution. With Hamas in power, a peaceful resolution appears impossible. If Israel makes progress in peace negotiations with the PA in the West Bank, and if the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank thus improve, then perhaps the Palestinians could force a governmental change in Gaza. In the meantime, please pray for wisdom and restraint on the part of Israel’s military leadership. Also, pray for a change of heart in Israel’s government to seek real peace with Palestinian leadership. Finally, pray that Hamas would be exposed to the Palestinians in Gaza as the primary source of their misery.



Trump's Jerusalem Announcement

In one sense, President Trump’s announcement about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is much ado about nothing. Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since the founding of the modern state. The entire government is located there. While other countries may not formally recognize it, the reality is that any country that has relations with Israel implicitly accepts that Jerusalem is the capital. Foreign dignitaries meet Israeli government officials in official Israeli government offices in Jerusalem. Even former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the first Arab leader to visit Israel, addressed the Israeli leadership in the Knesset in Jerusalem, not on the beaches of Tel Aviv. Honestly, the avoidance of formal recognition was simply an exercise in futility and assuaged the international community into thinking that there was something to be gained by tying formal recognition to an eventual peace treaty. The two issues are unrelated.

On the other hand, President Trump’s insistence that formally recognizing Jerusalem could jump start peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is completely ridiculous. The reason there are no negotiations is that neither side is serious. Any final settlement will require Israel to relinquish most of the West Bank to the Palestinians, which would cause the current government to collapse. In addition, the current Palestinian leadership would likely walk away again from any negotiated settlement, like they have a number of times since the year 2000.

What is likely to happen, however, is a weakening of relations between Israel and some of the “moderate” Arab nations. The rise of Iran has caused a number of Arab states to look for partners to restrain Iran’s expansion plans. Israel has been the beneficiary because of its defense superiority and ingenuity, which the Arab governments desperately need. Now, however, the Arab Street likely will sympathize with their Palestinian brothers and make it almost impossible for Arab governments to maintain relations with Israel.

For the United States, this was one more action by the President that further weakens US standing in the world. He has already forfeited Asia and parts of Africa to China, parts of eastern Europe and the Middle East to Russia and now further emboldens Iran and radical Islam. For someone who campaigned on strengthening America, most of his actions have had the reverse effect.

An interesting question is whether America’s formal recognition of Jerusalem will have a salutary spiritual effect on Israel, the US and/or the world. In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that those who bless him (and his descendants) will be blessed, and those who curse him will be cursed. There are numerous Biblical passages about God’s love for Jerusalem, His plans to protect her and anyone who comes against her will be destroyed. There are many examples throughout history where it appears that a nation which treats the Jewish people well prospers. The reverse also seems true when nations have persecuted Jews. In my view strengthening Israel’s defenses and assisting her in making peace with her neighbors, including the Palestinians, is a far better way to support Israel than a proclamation about Jerusalem. Having said that, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and all nations should simply accept it.