How should Christians think about the crisis in Israel?

How should Christians think about the crisis in Israel?

Over the past few months, I have been asked by many of my Christian friends, most of whom hold positions of communal leadership, to explain the current crisis in the state of Israel. The turmoil, marked by months of protests and a barrage of media reports broadcasting the erosion of Israel as a democracy, surrounds proposed reforms to numerous aspects of Israel’s judicial authority and procedures. As supporters of the Jewish state, these Christians are concerned for Israel’s welfare in general. But more specifically, they want to understand where I stand on the issue of the proposed judicial reforms and, more broadly, what, if any, position is the correct one from a faith-based perspective.

Many in the Israel-advocacy business are inclined to tell our foreign friends that the issue of Judicial Reform is an internal Israeli matter which our Christian friends should simply ignore. The message is that friends of Israel should stick to supporting Israel in our fight against our external enemies, continue to make donations, and nothing more.

I agree that it is wise and politically expedient for Christian supporters of Israel to avoid commenting on the Judicial Reform issue. At the same time, it is important for Christian Zionists to understand the broader context of the controversy. Specifically, it is worthwhile for Bible-believing Christians to understand the spiritual battle that the current struggle represents.

Beginning with the First Zionist Congress in 1897 through to this present day, there have always been two distinct ideologies that are both referred to as “Zionism.” The Zionism of Theodore Herzl envisioned a secular state that would serve as a homeland for the Jewish people. It is worth noting that the title of Herzl’s famous book envisioning this secular nation-state, Der Judenstaat, means “The Jews’ State,” not “The Jewish State,” as it is usually mistranslated in English. Herzl’s vision was not of a “Jewish” state, where Jewish faith and tradition would flourish. He was not interested in the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecies of the ingathering of the people of Israel. The atheistic secular leaders of the Zionist movement, including the vast majority of the founders of the state were not interested in, and were even hostile to, the creation of a society based on Biblical principles and Torah law.

Alongside this secular Zionism was the ideology known as Religious Zionism. This movement saw the Zionist movement as the beginning of the process of the redemption of Israel as foretold by all the prophets of the Bible, beginning with Moses in Deuteronomy 30:

Even if you are scattered to the ends of the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and from there He will bring you. Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your fathers. – Deut. 30:4-5

Religious Zionism is simply another name for the belief that the modern State of Israel heralds the beginning of the great future foretold by the prophets of the Bible, and everything else that this implies about the modern state.

From the late 1890s through the late 1970s, the secular Zionists held full control over the entire Zionist enterprise. While religious and secular Zionists and cooperated in the building of the state, fought wars together, and sang the same national anthem, their ideologies were never aligned. The ideological disagreement between the two Zionisms did not affect the practical governing of the state because all the levers of power were entirely in the hands of the secular faction. 

Over the course of the last four decades, Israeli society has become steadily more traditional, religious, and politically right-wing. In a reversal of what many Westerners are accustomed to, younger Israelis tend to be more right-wing and more conservative than their parents and grandparents. The Left-wing secular political parties have become less and less powerful as the years have passed. 

In response to this shift, the liberal-secular Left sought to retain their grip on power through the judiciary. Beginning in the 1990s, Israel’s Supreme Court arrogated to itself authorities it was never intended to have. To cite the most prominent and egregious example, they invented a rule that allows the court to strike down any decision, administrative or otherwise, made by any government body solely on the basis of the decision appearing to be “unreasonable” to the judges. This undefined and wide-ranging power has essentially allowed the secular, left-wing court to strike down regulations, appointments, and even laws passed by the legislature at will. On many occasions, this power has been used to prevent the religiously observant community in Israel from living according to its values.

For example, the court prohibited municipal swimming pools in neighborhoods with traditional populations, both Bedouin and orthodox Jewish, from offering gender-segregated swimming hours. They restricted the right of religious institutions of higher learning from offering accredited gender-separated classes to students who wanted them. The court has literally stepped in to prevent religious Jews from living according to their religious beliefs. 

Christians who support Israel do so largely due to their Biblical faith. Like Jewish Religious Zionists, they understand that the State of Israel represents a move of God towards the ultimate redemption of Israel and the world as foretold in the Bible. Many Christians are confused and perturbed when they encounter the rampant secularism and anti-faith positions of many Israelis, including many of those in leadership. 

A core principle of Religious Zionist thinking is that the material building of the Jewish state and the physical ingathering of the Jewish people precede the spiritual awakening and full return to God. This approach is consistent with many of the end-times prophecies in the Bible. For example, in Deuteronomy 30, immediately after the verses we quoted above, verses that speak of the physical return of the Jewish people, we read:

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. – Deut. 30:6

In other words, first the Jewish people will be ingathered from the exile and will build a prosperous state. After the physical ingathering and building, the next stage of the redemption process begins, the return to God. Today, the State of Israel has been built. Israel is “more prosperous and more numerous” than at any time in its history. With Israeli society becoming more faithful and traditional in recent years, the next stage of the redemption story, the circumcision of the heart of Israel, is underway. 

The current struggle in Israel is an expression of this process. The century-old conflict between Herzl’s secular Zionist vision and the Religious Zionism of Deuteronomy 30 lies at the heart of the judicial reform debate. The powerful secular minority that still controls the mainstream media, the courts, academia, and most of the top positions in the military is losing its hold on Israeli culture and society. This is a good thing. The judicial reforms proposed by this government and supported by a majority of Jews in Israel represent an important step in the defeat of secularism as the governing ideology of the Zionist project. 

May we merit the fulfilment of the words of Isaiah,

For out of Zion shall Torah go forth, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki serves as Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation and is cohost of the Shoulder to Shoulder podcast.

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