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.

It's Time for a Change

Approximately, two million Christians visit Israel each year. They tour the areas where Jesus ministered. They bring hundreds of millions of dollars into Israel every year. Many significant Christian leaders are welcomed with open arms by the government. Some even receive a private reception with the Prime Minister. There’s actually an Israel Knesset Christian Caucus, comprised of Knesset members from the major parties, who build relationships with Christian leaders from all over the world. And, yet, as well described in a recent Kehilah News article, the government continues to block the rightful immigration of Messianic Jews to Israel.

Many Messianic Jewish young people serve with distinction in the Israel Defense Force. One such soldier was recently awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence. A Messianic Jew won a televised national singing competition. Another won the annual national Bible quiz. Messianic Jews serve in the government, law, high tech and medicine, to name a few. The government’s response: tighten the screws on Messianic Jewish immigration. Now, whether applying for immigration to Israel from outside or inside the country, questions are asked whether the applicant is a Messianic Jew or attends a Messianic Jewish congregation. If they answer yes, they are blocked from immigrating. For every other Jew applying for immigration, one only has to prove Jewish heritage to successfully immigrate. It is shocking discrimination.

So, what does the church world do? Nothing. Do you think Jesus or Paul would approve cozying up to a government that blatantly persecuted their followers? It reminds me of lines from the Eagles’ famous song, “Hotel California,” where people unwittingly are welcomed into the high life without regard to the consequences, “Welcome to Hotel California, such a lovely place, such a lovely face.”

But something can be done if the believers of the world would draw their heads out of the sand. Here’s some suggestions:

1.       Every Christian leader who meets with the Prime Minister or a Knesset Member should ask when will discrimination against Messianic Jewish immigration cease.

2.       Christian donations to Israel should be made contingent upon requiring the presence of Messianic Jews from Israel in donation ceremonies. You may think this is overly strident. However, when I was president of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, this is exactly the arrangement we made with a Knesset Caucus group who requested we raise money for a worthy project in Israel. I demanded and the Knesset Member relented to allow me to publicly say at a ceremony in Israel that the money was raised by Messianic Jews in the United States.

3.       Christian tours to Israel should demand as part of their tours to meet with Messianic Jews and view their various humanitarian projects.

4.       Christian leaders should cease their accolades of the Prime Minister until he acquiesces to Messianic Jewish immigration to Israel.

5.       Christian leaders involved in political lobbying on behalf of Israel should include demands that the Israeli government cease discrimination against Messianic Jews.

6.       The approximate 15,000 Messianic Jews in the land should vote for political parties that support religious plurality, rather than parties who will likely join with ultra-orthodox parties to form a government that will automatically target Messianic Jews.

The Apostle Paul said this in Romans 11 about Messianic Jews: “I ask then: Did God reject his people [the Jews]? By no means! . . . So too, at the present time there is remnant chosen by grace.” It’s time for the Church world to support the remnant who believe in the land of Israel.

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

Following Passover there are three relatively modern Spring holidays seriously observed in Israel – Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikkaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAztmaut (Independence Day). For Yom HaShoah (last week) ceremonies were held throughout the country, remembering the millions of Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust. Many of the early settlers in modern Israel either were fleeing the Holocaust or came here from the displaced persons’ camps in Europe following World War II. Our kibbutz holds a ceremony every year. We’ve attended most of them.

The ceremonies began the evening before (Jewish day begins in the evening). Following a few musical pieces and short statements of memory, the remainder of the ceremony focused on a woman from the kibbutz who had recently died. Her life was presented through a video. Of course, everything was in Hebrew, so it was challenging to follow, but through my limited Hebrew and an abundance of photos, I got the gist of the story. The woman, Merav, grew up in France to a relatively wealthy family. In 1940 the Nazis conquered France, and most Jews were transported to extermination camps in Poland. Somehow, as a child, she avoided that development and apparently was hidden in the home of a Christian family. In 1947, now a teenager, she boarded one of the ships to Israel and grew up in our kibbutz. The presentation showed her meeting her husband, having children, and building a new life in the land. She was interviewed on the film, probably by then in her 60’s or 70’s. I didn’t really understand much, but different photos showed her with her husband, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Several years ago a historian tracked her down and organized a trip of other people who had lived in the French home during the war. There was a reunion a few years ago at the French home where the children had been saved.  Apparently, at her late age she was unable to go, but one of her children went and met the children of other survivors of the war that had been sheltered in this home. It was very compelling. At the reunion they traveled to one of the war cemeteries where either one of Merav’s brothers or one of those from the home was buried, having been a soldier for the Allies. Another sibling was taken to Auschwitz and didn’t survive the war. At the end of the ceremony, one of her grandchildren gave a short speech about her. All in all, it was very moving, despite having a limited understanding of what was going on.

I’ve seen numerous documentaries and movies and have read many books on the Holocaust. While intellectually I understand how and why it happened, seeing the photos of Jews being rounded up and herded onto trains to death still shocks me, and to this day, it still confounds me. Nevertheless, this woman’s story captured the essence of the resurrection of the Jewish people and the establishment of the modern state of Israel. Seeing the photos of her and her descendants all together proved Hitler wrong and God right, when He said that He would gather back His people from the four corners of the earth and place them once again in their own land.

 

Reconciliation Conference

For the second year in a row I was invited to a reconciliation conference between Israeli Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians. Last year was a challenging and eye opening affair, culminating in a joint statement of points of agreement and disagreement between the parties but with the commitment to treat each other with respect and love. The purpose this year was to listen to one another’s stories with the hope of building relationships and even working together on projects.

When I learned that this year’s meeting was to be in Athens, Greece, I asked the coordinators about the possibility of meeting and ministering to Syrian refugees, who flooded the shores of Greece over the past few years. Although it wasn’t specifically part of the agenda, I learned that one of the Arab pastors had started a ministry in Athens among the Syrians, and he was planning to bring some humanitarian goods to some of the families. I, Stacy, our daughter, Amy, who was a participant this year, and several others opted to join the pastor instead of touring historic Athens.

Most of the approximately 62,000 Syrian refugees still left in Greece reside in the north, hoping to be transferred to various European countries. Several thousand, however, ring Athens in refugee camps. I was told that the government forbids visitation to these camps. In addition, hundreds of larger families have government- subsidized housing in the city. This is the group that the pastor ministers to. Since there were about twelve of us joining him, he split us into three groups, each group visiting with one family. He explained the situation of the different families. When he said one family was headed by a former member of the Syrian parliament, I knew that was the one I wanted to meet.

It was a bitingly cold and windy day. We met another refugee, who had become a Christian and coordinated the pastor’s work in the city. Unlike the family we were planning to visit, he was from Iraq. In fact, his father had been a major general in Saddam Hussein’s army, responsible in part for battling the Iranians during an earlier war. Following the US invasion, Iranian-backed militias killed his father in front of his eyes. He fled to Syria, Turkey and now Greece, where he met the Lord.

We took the subway to a station near the refugee’s home. We stopped to buy groceries since we were told the father would not receive money, albeit the fact that he had none. When we entered this small apartment, it was packed with a large family eating a meal together. All the women were shrouded in Muslim garb. The father whisked us into another room. Apparently, he had become a Christian a few months ago, but his family was not, and Muslim neighbors were over. So, he would talk to us privately until the neighbors left. We introduced ourselves as Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians from Israel, and that rather than consider Syria an enemy, we prayed for the Syrians. We then asked him to share his story. He began to tell an incredible and heart breaking story of the family’s journey over the past several years.

He has a large family. They lived in Syria near the Turkish border. One of his daughters died in an accident at a young age. I said I had heard he had served in the Syrian parliament, and told him that I worked in the US Congress in the past. He explained that he also owned a prosperous trucking company that transported goods back and forth from Syria to Turkey. I then said interestingly that when my great grandfather came to the US from Russia, he also started a trucking company, in New York city. He said he hoped my life wasn’t as tragic as his.

He was elected into the parliament through an independent party. However, the Assad government was increasingly pressuring him to join its party. He refused and resigned. When the Arab Spring erupted and trouble started in Syria, he sent his family into Turkey. He then ran for parliament again and won again. He requested the government not mistreat the protesters. The government accused him of being a traitor, and he fled to Turkey. The Syrian government and ISIS confiscated all of his property in Syria, though he still had property in Turkey. Near his home in Turkey there was a hospital tending to the Syrian refugees. He said what he witnessed there was a horror show. The Turks raped and murdered the refugees in the hospital and sold their body parts on the black market.

He tried to expose the truth of what was happening by informing Turkish government officials. The result was that he was jailed, and all of his property in Turkey was confiscated. After being released, he traveled to Istanbul to expose the corruption and atrocities to various foreign embassies with the hope that the information would be shared with the International Criminal Court in the Hague. He was told to contact the embassy again in a few days, and the information would be passed on. The reality, however, was that the person who translated his report was a government informant. He decided to send his oldest son to Athens because he knew trouble was coming. That was the last he heard from his son, about fourteen months ago. He assumed his son was kidnapped and either jailed or killed. He went to the Turkish courts to demand justice. Shortly thereafter, Turkish security informed him to leave the country within 48 hours or his family would be killed. Thus, he and his family fled to Greece on a dinghy boat exactly a year ago.

In Greece, he had the opportunity to flee with his family to Europe, but he was told he needed to work through one of the humanitarian organizations. Because of delays within the organizations, he waited, and then the doors shut in Europe. Now, he and his family are stuck in Greece, with no work permits, and nowhere to go. He said he was incensed with Islam. He heard of a Christian organization and started attending a Bible study, organized by the Israeli Arab pastor who arranged the visit. As he read the Bible, he saw the radical difference in teaching between Islam and that of Yeshua, especially about loving your enemy, and thus he began to trust the Lord. It was at this point in his story that his wife and the rest of his children entered the room, the neighbors having left. They knew about his new faith but listened attentively as he shared the story. The children were extremely cute and well behaved. Of course, I had to make a bunch of sounds for the kids and even performed my famous coins in the eye trick (Euros, no quarters), which the kids loved. We asked if we could pray for the family, and they said certainly. When I think about this picture, it’s simply amazing. Here we are: a few Messianic Jews and a Palestinian Christian pastor from Israel praying for this family with the wife fully garbed in Muslim black. We prayed blessings, prosperity, hope and comfort, a future for them and that God would find their missing son. It was incredibly emotional and powerful. Even though I knew the father would not receive the money, I hid some behind a pillow on the couch.

Afterwards, we met with the rest of our group at a restaurant, and the other groups that visited other refugee families had very similar stories. Folks, this is what the love of God is about – bridging political and regional differences through listening to each other, working together and loving one another. Stacy and I are dedicating ourselves to fostering our relationship with our Arab brothers and sisters who were there at this conference, especially those who live in close-by Nazareth. We intend to help the Arab pastor, who has the outreach among the Syrian refugees. While the US government is freaking out about Muslim refugees and the Israeli government is making life more and more difficult for the Palestinians, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

The Fires of Incitement

“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37). When we think of the judgment of God we rarely think of being judged for the words we speak. Rather, we think of avoiding judgment by our faith, or being judged by our works. But as you note, Yeshua makes it clear that we will be judged by our words. One of the real challenges in our day and age is to avoid speech that incites. Hear the Apostle James: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

All in Israel and many throughout the world are aware of the recent spate of destructive fires in Israel. This fall has been particularly dry, and last week the winds raged. Fires sprung up throughout the country, devastating sections of Haifa, some suburbs of Jerusalem and in the West Bank. Various countries provided firefighting assistance to Israel, including Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Investigations are ongoing about who and what started the fires. Some Palestinians have been arrested. At this point it appears some fires started by accident, some through negligence and some through arson. Yet, many of those interviewed, including leading figures in the government, pointed to Palestinian terrorism. I’ve read several Messianic Jewish and Christian reports from Israel assigning blame for the fires on terrorism. These kinds of quick trigger judgments lead to incitement and, quite frankly, are ungodly.

Yeshua said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” When we participate or entertain or promote inciting speech, we oppose peace. Rather, through our speech, we demonize the other. Throughout the ages this form of demonization ultimately led to catastrophes, aka, the Holocaust. Inciting speech inflames passions, distorts reality, perpetuate falsehoods and causes people to do things completely contrary to their character. Take the recent US presidential election. So-called alt-right websites propagated extremist philosophy, enhanced by apparently Russian disinformation. In the past, everyone was aghast when it was discovered that Soviet disinformation attempted to influence US perspectives. Now, it seems if Russian disinformation reinforces one’s own distorted views of reality, then it’s okay.

The Apostle Paul claims that followers of Yeshua have the mind of Messiah. That means not only do we have access to the wisdom of God, but that our thoughts, ideas and analysis of evidence should be filtered through the lens of Yeshua’s teachings and example. Rather than parroting jargon and demonization of others, followers of Yeshua should critically examine everything spoken or written to determine its veracity first before passing it on. Even if something is true, if it unnecessarily demeans the character of someone else, we must be very careful about disseminating the information. This leads to lashon hara – or negative speech – the very thing Yeshua condemned in the Matthew text above.

Finally, with the proliferation of social media and the utilization of the internet to search for news, classical news reporting has suffered. While many applaud the collapse of well known news services because newspapers and news shows are perceived to have a liberal bias, the alternative is a world awash in falsehood. To publish a news story reputable news services seriously vet sources and material to ensure its accuracy. During the Watergate expose of the Nixon Administration in the early 1970’s, Washington Post editors blocked the publication of numerous stories written by the famous reporters Woodward and Bernstein until the information contained therein could be independently verified. They wanted to avoid the dissemination of false accusations and information. Today, unverified accusations and information flood the internet, and sadly many people adopt such views simply because they buttress their own biases and predilections. This can lead to the total breakdown of society.

Be prayerful about what you say, and please pray for the families who lost homes and property during the fires.