You may not have heard, and you may not have cared, but less than a week ago, Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected as Prime Minister of Israel, and his Likud Party won a slim majority of votes to control Israeli Parliament. Netanyahu has a history of, like many politicians, speaking out of both sides of his mouth. This is an issue in any body-politic, for if you can’t trust the word of your leader, then his word is worthless. For example, if President Obama were to say, “We need to invest our money into improving the local school system in America” and then went on to legislate in such a way to put more burden on local schools, his word wouldn’t be worth anything. Words mean nothing when they aren’t backed up with action.
The bigger issue at hand in Israel, however, is that Mr. Netanyahu’s double-speak has led to further segregation, land-stealing, and oppression of the Palestinian people. It’s not just local schools, but an entire people group, who are victimized by Mr. Netanyahu’s double speak. He has said he is for a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine, and at the same time supports the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. If you don’t know, Israeli settlers are illegaly stealing Palestinian land, bulldozing family farms, and building little (to large) townships that are inhabited by Israeli citizens.
To his credit, Netanyahu has finally spoken clearly (although obviously terrifyingly) about this issue. The day of the elections in Israel, in order “to bridge the gap, Mr. Netanyahu embarked on a last-minute scorched-earth campaign, promising that no Palestinian state would be established as long as he remained in office and insulting Arab citizens” (Washington Post). Now, instead of lying to the world, Netanyahu has finally admitted that he has no plans to purse peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.
No peace with Netanyahu.
At this point, you might be asking yourself, “Why does this matter? This has always been the case in Israel.” Depending on your definition of ‘always’, you could be right, and you could be wrong. If ‘always’ means ‘ever since the establishment of the nation-state of Israel 70 years ago’, then, yeah, it’s always been the case. If by ‘always’ you mean ‘ever since the establishment of Israel as a people in the Scriptures’, then, no, it hasn’t always been the case.
It also depends on your definition of ‘Israel’. If by ‘Israel’ you mean ‘the country that has existed for 70 years’, then, yeah, it’s always been the case. If by ‘Israel’ you mean ‘the people whom God called out of Egyptian slavery to be a people of blessing and to a land of promise’, then, no, it hasn’t always been the case.
According to the Scriptures, Israel was always intended to be a people of promise and blessing. Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, Israel is commanded to love the stranger and foreigner in the land like they love themselves (Lev. 19:34; Numb. 9:14; Deut. 10:18-19; 24; 27:19; Isa. 56:6; Jer. 7:6; Ezek. 47:22-3; Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5). In fact, covenant faithfulness required this attitude towards strangers and foreigners in the land. The prophetic vision for Israel after exile was to rebuild the city of Jerusalem as a city without gates or walls, in which all people are welcome to come into the city and to the temple, the place where God’s realm and our realm collide.
Israel was supposed to be a people who love strangers as they love themselves.
After exile, we see in Ezra-Nehemiah, that the Israelites believed that the reason they were sent into exile was because they had allowed themselves to be made impure by foreigners. Therefore, Ezra commands the Israelites to divorce their foreign wives and husbands and for gates and walls to be built on the new city of Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem would be a place where only true Jews were welcome to worship. Interestingly, we are told that the people returned to the land, but God’s presence was not with them.
No doubt the incursion of Greek and Roman empires into the land was troubling to the Jews who had returned to the land. This led to apocalyptic visions of purity in Israel. In Psalm of Solomon, we read: “He (the Messiah) shall gather together a holy people whom he will lead in righteousness; and he shall distribute them according to their tribes upon the land. And the alien and the foreigner will no longer live with them” (17:26-28). The War Scroll of the Qumran community “reinforces this theme with preparations for a final battle where not only will the land be purged of Gentile influence, but righteous Israel will prosecute a war beyond the boundaries of the lad so that the source of all impurity will cease” (Burge, Jesus & The Land, 11).
After exile, Israel became a place of unwelcome, fear, and animosity towards strangers and foreigners in the land.
Netanyahu represents Israel-after-exile. He wants to purify the land of the ‘Arabs’ who are polluting it. The problem is so multi-faceted with this thinking that this blog can’t begin to do anything but scratch the surface. There are Arab Israelis. Many of them. There are Christian Palestinians. Many of them (remember, Jesus was from Palestine, and the Church began in Palestine). And, Arabs are human beings, with inherent human dignity, who are also cracked icons of the image of God, just like the rest of us.
Israel-after-exile, which the nation of Israel personifies, is oppressing and pushing out the foreigners and strangers in the land. They continue to break the covenant God made with Abraham, to make of them a people through whom he will bless the whole earth. Anyone who sees the wall that has been built between Israel and the Palestinian territories, anyone who sees the atrocities that Israel calls ‘settlements’, or anyone who understands the hopelessness that is Gaza, can see that Israel (as we know it) is far from blessing the nations.
America has wholeheartedly supported and financed Israel. Many Christians have endorsed our support of Israel, and believe that Israel-as-we-know-it is equivalent to Israel in the Scriptures. But it clearly is not. May we encourage our Jewish cousins and the nation of Israel to embrace the Scriptural vision for Israel, which is to be a blessing to the nations which participates in God’s shalom.
Netanyahu won an election based on his opposition to God’s shalom. Pray for Israel, and pray for the Palestinian people, that somehow all oppression will cease, and that God himself will become their (and our) King of Peace.