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Have a little respect for Israel

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17 Jun 2021
Have a little respect for Israel

Over the past 30 months, the Israeli public has staggered through four very frustrating national elections. I live right across the street from a polling station in Jerusalem and have watched my neighbors dutifully line up to vote each time, only to end up befuddled once again by the inconclusive results. By the fourth round of balloting in late March, most Israelis came away numbed by the whole experience, as this most recent election turned out closer than ever. The political deadlock has been simply mystifying. And even though I had my own preferences, I wound up just praying for mercy that someone, anyone, would finally secure a clear victory and mandate to govern.

Alas, the impasse lingers. True, a new government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was sworn in this week and it deserves a chance to prove it is up to the task. But it was approved by the slimmest of margins, 60 to 59, and is in constant peril of collapse.

Having toppled Benjamin Netanyahu from power after twelve long years in the premiership, the new ruling coalition is a loose collection of eight very diverse parties primarily held together by their common desire to now keep him from returning as prime minister. It took four elections to pry him out, and even then it was by a single vote in the Knesset. The outcome last Sunday was so in doubt that one lawmaker from the Right was in a serious car crash in the Galilee that morning and still rushed to Jerusalem to vote, while a parliamentarian on the Left was stretched out on a gurney receiving medical treatments in the Knesset chamber so she could be there to cast her critical vote.

Netanyahu managed such an historic run as Israel’s prime minister because of his diplomatic and economic acumen, his mastery of Israeli politics, and above all his reputation as “Mr. Security.” Most Israelis had come to trust him to keep them safe, and for the most part he did. After facing a couple rocket wars with Hamas in the early 2010s, Netanyahu has overseen a relatively peaceful period for Israel, with the fewest ever number of deaths from the conflict and terror attacks in recent years. He kept the brutal Syrian civil war from spilling over into Israel even while successfully striking at Iranian and Hizbullah targets deep inside the country. He oversaw a series of clandestine operations that effectively set back Iran’s nuclear program by years. And he steered the country past the coronavirus threat faster and more effectively than any other national leader around the world.

But a new generation of leaders has arisen in Israel who are insisting it is their time to take the reins of power. They are younger, forward-looking, and care deeply about the future and well-being of the nation. And even though it carries great risks to turn out such a competent and experienced leader as Netanyahu, I am not so worried for Israel. For the Ancient of Days is also the “Rock of Israel” (Genesis 49:24; 2 Samuel 23:3; Isaiah 30:29). He was watching over Israel and her destiny long before Netanyahu was born, and He will be there guarding over Israel until His eternal purpose with this restored nation is completed.

Apparently, not every Christian shares this confidence in God. In fact, one well-known Evangelical figure was so anxious about the prospects of a post-Netanyahu Israel that he publicly tried to goad wavering Knesset members on the Right to abandon Bennett’s incoming coalition. This brought to the fore the question of just how much pro-Israel Christians should be involved in Israeli politics. I was encouraged that the vast majority of Evangelical leaders worldwide felt this was a step too far. Here is why they are right.

First, Israel has been plagued for decades by outsiders wanting to meddle in their internal political life. It starts with Jews in the Diaspora who feel deeply attached to the nation and want a say in what happens here. Most Israelis understand that sentiment from their relatives abroad but respond that Jews should go ahead and move here if they truly want to get involved in deciding the existential questions facing this nation.

Then there is the international community, which has been massively prying into Israel’s domestic affairs for seventy-plus years now. The United Nations tries to bully the Jewish state. European governments are directly funding all manner of leftist causes inside Israel. The US State Department has its own long history of ordering Jerusalem around.

Most Israelis resent such outside meddling, and Christians should steer clear of it as well. As Evangelicals, we indeed have a unique bond to the nation of Israel because of all the spiritual blessings we have received from the Jewish people. We owe them our prayers. We owe them political support within our respective countries. But we should leave the tough decisions they face to those who live in Israel, pay taxes here, and serve in the IDF.

Instead, Evangelicals should be standing on the firm principle that the entire world ought to respect Israel as a democracy, and let Israelis decide their own fate and future borders with their Arab neighbors, free from foreign pressure and intrusion. This still leaves plenty of room for us to express our love and concern for this embattled nation, to voice our opinions as friends, and to encourage biblical faith among Israelis.

Yet some Christians have the mistaken notion that our being “grafted” into Israel, as the Apostle Paul describes it in Romans 9-11, means we ought to even become citizens of the modern-day nation of Israel. However, the Bible draws a distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’ Israel, and we should understand and maintain that distinction.

God called ‘natural’ or ‘national’ Israel into being to birth ‘spiritual’ Israel – the one family of the redeemed worldwide. As Gentiles, we are added to or enlarge spiritual Israel when we come to faith in Christ (Romans 9-11; Ephesians 2:11-22, 3:4-6). Yet we are still told to respect and honor natural Israel (Romans 3:2, 9:4-5, 15:26-27; John 4:22).

We also are promised that one day natural Israel will converge with spiritual Israel (Romans 11:25). Until then, Christians are to love the Jewish people and nation, befriend them, and defend them – but all from one very respectful step away, trusting that God is fully able to deal with them and bring them to their redemptive destiny in Him.

The past two-and-a-half years of political deadlock in Israel has been painful to watch, especially up close, and I am afraid it is not quite over yet. It has been such a most unusual time as to be inexplicable. But I do sense that God is dealing with His people through it all, and we should give Him room to do so. Rather, our role is to be very careful and prayerful observers. As friends should be! 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

FOR MORE INFORMATION on this subject, please watch the ICEJ webinar “The New Israeli Government” from Thursday, 17 June 2021, moderated by David Parsons, and featuring Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.

 

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