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.

325px-UN_Partition_Plan_For_Palestine_1947.svg.png

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.

refugees1.jpg

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.

Messianic Business Forum

Messianic Business Forum

A week and a half ago, Israel First Fruits (http://israelfirstfruits.org/) hosted their fifth annual Messianic Business Forum in Jerusalem. The goal is to match budding Messianic Jewish and Arab Christian entrepreneurs with international investors to start businesses and better integrate into Israeli society. Our law firm sponsored and played a very active role in the forum.

On the first day a series of Israeli high-tech startups presented their inventions. Wow! They were amazing. Here are a few highlights:

1)      The production of protein from fruit flies to supplement animal protein to compensate for dwindling animal stock supplies.

2)      Interactive videos to assist in the recovery of brain injury victims.

3)      Bone replacement through growing coral in specially designed lakes and then using the coral to replace bones. Apparently, coral is stronger than bones and meshes with bone growth.

4)      Development of a fragrance that, strategically placed in agricultural fields, repels pests without the use of pesticides.

These are a few examples of how Israel blesses the nations, as promised in the Bible. I must say I was proud to be an Israeli as I listened to the presentations.

Later that day one of my partners and I met with potential investors concerning our project to assist young Israelis in buying their own homes. I have attached a summary of the proposal to the bottom of this blog. That evening I had the honor of opening the dinner with a short message and prayer to about 150 people.

The following day we met with more investors and then held our own seminar about investing in real estate and business in Israel. I shared the investing in real estate part. If you’re interested in a video of the presentation, write to me.

At the conclusion of the two-day event, our daughter, Jennifer, accompanied by our son-in-law, Jonah, led worship to begin the dinner. When a number of the internationals discovered she was my daughter, they congratulated me – she did a great job! I confused them when I said the guitarist was my son-in-law, because many know Jennifer’s husband, Judah. I explained Jonah was married to another daughter of mine. The people looked relieved.

 

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The Beginning of the End for Bibi

Bibi Netanyahu has been Prime Minister of Israel since 2009. When combining his recent terms in office with a shorter term in the 1990’s, he has served longer than any Prime Minister other than David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the state. However, it’s likely his days are numbered. For the past few years there have been several criminal investigations concerning financial improprieties involving the Prime Minister. Just the other day one of his closest advisers turned state’s evidence against him. This means a likely indictment for corruption will be issued soon. The corruption investigations cover a series of unrelated events, including receiving illegal gifts from wealthy individuals, a deal with Israel’s most popular newspaper for favorable coverage and kickbacks from a huge German/Israeli submarine contract.

While Bibi has been popular in the US, I have felt that he has greatly harmed Israel’s standing in the world, and the inclusion of ultra-orthodox parties in his current coalition government has been disastrous for Messianic Jews. In the two most recent elections, 2013 and 2015, we voted for Yesh Atid (there is a future), led by Yair Lapid. Yesh Atid is a centrist party, which includes platforms, among other things, for integrity in government and religious plurality. As many of you know from prior newsletters, I’ve gotten involved in the party. Most of those in leadership know I’m a Messianic Jewish leader.

Shortly, after we returned from the US, the party organized protests around the country, condemning the corruption in government. Since one of the protests was in the city of Afula, which we live next to, I was invited to participate. Up to now I’ve been involved in the English speaking branch of the party, since my Hebrew is lousy. But this event was for Hebrew speakers.  The Yesh Atid regional leader speaks limited English, and encouraged me to participate, which I did. We hung up banners on the four corners of a major intersection. They said,  “Fed Up with Corruption” – Yesh Atid.

After hanging the banners, we handed out tracts to cars waiting at the traffic lights about corruption in Israel and how Yesh Atid plans to change it. Handing out tracts is pretty popular here among the ultra-Orthodox. Usually, the hand-outs involve a blessing to which you’re supposed to donate money. Many readily received the tracts that I handed out, although no one gave me any money. I felt like the old days when I used to hand out gospel tracts. At the end Noga, the leader, wondered how I did in conversing with people because of my limited Hebrew. I told her that I said to each person “Shabbat Shalom, Yesh Atid.” Shabbat shalom because it was Friday. She laughed. I thought why converse, even if I could. What you want is the literature to be distributed to as many as possible. Afterwards, I heard from the leader of the English speaking branch that Noga told her I was awesome. I replied it’s hard to be awesome when all you’re doing is handing out tracts. I guess I had the anointing.

I will be going to another leadership meeting on Monday to prepare for a big speech in English by Yair Lapid, the head of the party, to be given in Jerusalem in September. It’s hard to say when and if elections will occur. If Netanyahu is indeed indicted, then he will likely be forced from office, leading to elections. This could occur at the end of this year or the beginning of 2018. In the most recent polling Yesh Atid is running neck and neck with Likud for the most votes. If there was an indictment of the Prime Minister, Likud probably could not win the next election, paving the way for Yesh Atid and a more centrist government to form.