Israel is adrift and looking for purpose

The Jerusalem Post recently ran an Editorial entitled “Israel’s Malaise” which referenced the historic (in a bad way) speech by former US President Jimmy Carter in the summer of 1979 in which he lamented the “crisis in confidence” that Americans were feeling at the time regarding their country and its future. The gist of the JPost piece was that Israelis are currently experiencing a similar national mood as the second Knesset election of the year approaches.

The piece quoted one of Israel’s most highly respected political analysts, Mitchell Barak, who explained that “People see politics more as politicians maneuvering in order to get jobs. There’s no ideology anymore, and this has done long-term damage to people’s interest in politics.”

It also opined that the loss of interest in Israel’s political scene is merely a symptom of a much larger drop in the enthusiasm Israelis feel for their country and its future more generally. It gave as reasons the high cost of living, which seems to increase year after year while incomes are stagnant and the dream of home ownership is beyond the reach of most and the threat of war looms above everything.

I’m inclined to think that there was a lot of truth in this editorial, especially the first part about how people don’t see much point in voting since the political leaders don’t seem to have much of an ideology, or even any organizing principles or ideas, beyond acquiring and keeping power for themselves. Some of the largest parties don’t even bother to publish a platform and otherwise barely even try to give voters any particular reason to vote for them. They just try to convince voters that their opponents don’t deserve to be voted for because of their bad ideas, shortcomings, mistakes, deceit, etc. This, obviously, makes political campaigns very negative, which is wearisome and off-putting. To that can be added the fact that from one election to the next entire parties form and go out of existence, with individual politicians re-branding themselves to suit whatever their pollsters tell them is trendy at any particular time.

Add all that up and it’s not hard to figure out why a record-low voter turnout is expected on 17 September.

The second point the editorial made is also quite relevant.

Nearly every young Israeli I know who has a way to leave the country and make their lives in the US, Canada or Europe either already did so or is trying to do so. I have lost track of the number of people I met when they first made Aliyah (immigrated) to Israel full of hope only to return to their country of origin a few years later because they found life here just too difficult and/or not what they thought it would be. People who stay here often seem to spend much of their time planning their next vacation and otherwise exhibiting symptoms of deep discontent and restlessness.

For those who study history and take its broad view, none of this is surprising. 

Countries, like individuals, go through phases and seasons of life. Although the metaphor isn’t perfect, I think that if Israel was a person we’d call this phase of its life “late middle age” when the excitement of youth has faded somewhat and life’s routine has become kind of boring but still enough of a struggle to be stressful and prompt doubts, regrets and dreams of something different.

The purpose of Israel as a refuge for persecuted Jews, which animated the founders of the modern State, is still in play but it doesn’t have the same emotive power it once did. The call to “be a light unto the nations” still has some traction but is often met with eye-rolling cynicism, partly because the concept has been abused by some for less-than-honorable reasons. Being the “Start-Up Nation” gets some people excited but although Israel’s hi-tech economy is a source of pride for many it is only a source of employment and material benefit for a relatively small number of people, with many others feeling left out, bewildered and frustrated. For the reasons stated above, being “the only democracy in the Middle East” doesn’t hold much interest for most people anymore.

In short, Israelis are looking for something or someone to inspire them, to lead them, to give them a reason to get excited about what the future might hold and to get involved in making something happen. 

Happily enough, God has a plan and a purpose for this nation and these people and it’s the most exciting thing anyone could ask for. If you’re reading this blog than you probably know what those plans and purposes are, so the question is, what are you doing to help this nation and these people find out about it? What are you doing to help these people receive what God has for them? If you’re not getting in line with God’s plans and purposes for this nation and these people, whose plans and purposes are you getting in line with, and why?

These are questions we all must grapple with, and I hope reading this blog helped someone to do that.