Israel after sixty years
The State of Israel was founded on 14 May 1948 and recognised by the United Nations the same day. The new State was the focus of Jewish hope. Hounded, humiliated, abused and misused by the nations for 2,000 years, the Jewish people would at last be an accepted member of the family of nations — sharing mankind’s hopes, burdens and victories, and making its contribution to the resolution of mankind’s woes.
The State was founded in a largely depopulated land covered with malarial swamps, denuded hills and deforested mountains. Decades of coura-geous, sacrificial struggle resulted in a blossoming agriculture, a modern infrastructure and growing industries and commerce.
These developments encouraged Arab immigration alongside a further increase in the Jewish population. Competition between the two entities was sharpened by a new influence — regional nationalism, not least among the Middle-Eastern states carved into existence during the 1970s in the political interests of world powers.
Right to exist
Since its founding, Israel has been locked in mortal combat for its sheer right to exist. Just under a million Jews were forced to leave their homes and possessions in Arabic-speaking countries, while some 90% of the same number of Arabs left their homes in Israel — mostly encouraged to do so by the Arab armies who invaded the land upon declaration of the State of Israel.
Israel settled the Jewish immigrants, while the Arab nations enclosed the Arab refugees in camps, forbidding them to open schools, develop industry or improve the infrastructure.
Since then, and until 1967, Israel contributed to the United Nations World Relief Organisation for the Palestinians ten times more than all the Arab nations put together. Still, the refugee camps became fertile ground for anti-Semitism and a hatred of all things Jewish.
Meanwhile, Israel drained the swamps, pushed the desert back, developed a strong industrial base and established a society that has managed to sustain a real measure of democracy in spite of the need to defend itself against repeated attacks by Arab armies and terrorist organisations.
In a land bursting with innovative energy, eight Israelis have won Nobel prizes since 1966 and many of the modern world’s main institutes of research, learning, industry and technological application have Israelis on their staff. Hundreds of thousands from third world countries have come to Israel to study, returning to their countries to alleviate suffering, poverty and disease.
Over 100,000 students are enrolled in Israeli universities, with 21% of all graduate students and 50% of all doctoral candidates specialising in the sciences or medicine. Israel has a higher proportion of university students than any other country on earth, and the largest concentration of high-tech companies outside Silicon Valley.
Israel is still torn between a cultural and religious identity; between a large-hearted idealism that seeks to maintain high moral standards and the horrific necessities of war; between a hope that seems to be repeatedly dashed against the hard rock of reality and a pessimism that claims to view that reality more honestly. Israel thus remains at a crossroads, well expressed by its declared aspiration to be a distinctly ‘Jewish democracy’.
To be Jewish, Israel must accord Jews privileges and prerogatives not extended to members of other cultural, religious or national identities. To be democratic it must treat all alike. Caught on the horns of this dilemma, Israel refuses to accord various forms of Judaism equal status. Orthodox Judaism is the only form of Judaism accorded recognition in the country. At the same time, prominent leaders in the Orthodox community claim for their beliefs an authority that exceeds that of the State. Some have gone so far as to call for the State to be dismantled and reconstructed in accordance with their religious convictions.
Recognition and rejection
Some surrounding Arab countries, namely Egypt and Jordan, have come to terms with Israel and established formal relations. Many North African Muslim countries and most of the Gulf States have accepted the Jewish State’s existence. Driven by the common threat presented by radical Islam, Saudi Arabia seems also to have conceded Israel’s existence.
But organisations like Hezbullah in the north and Hamas in the south vow to destroy Israel. Abetted by an irresponsible regime in Iran, and Al Qaeda’s moral and practical support, there is little these two groups will not do to bring about the destruction of the Jewish State, while the Palestinian Authority is apparently too weak to negotiate and implement a peace agreement.
Israelis are torn, therefore, between grim determination and a weariness that threatens the fabric of the nation’s society.
The fledgling evangelical church in Israel reflects both the vibrancy and the difficulties facing the nation — the confusion and the desire to make a difference.
At the same time, resurgent anti-Semitism is raising its ugly head worldwide, even among Evangelicals. There are those within the church of Jesus Christ who are reverting to the shameful patterns of the past.
Instead of humble preaching of the gospel, ‘as dying sinners to dying sinners’, we Jewish Christians hear others disavow Israel’s need to hear the gospel, and witness a growing erosion of Christian sympathy for (and engagement in) true gospel preaching in Israel.
Evangelicals now seem to be torn between a political ‘Christian Zionism’ and an equally political ‘Christian anti-Zionism’ — both of which have lost their biblical moral edge and forgotten the burden of the prophetic message, calling the Jewish nation to faith and repentance.
Israel at sixty stands in need of the gospel, consistently lived out before its eyes and proclaimed with clarity and courage. Will the church of Christ rise to the occasion and to the opportunity? That is for my readers to decide.
© Baruch Maoz
The author is pastor of Grace and Truth Christian Congregation, Israel