Israel is in trouble

Israel is in trouble
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly Cabinet meeting, Jan. 15, 2023 (Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

“I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.”  This is a great promise from the book of Isaiah regarding the nation of Israel, and specifically, the city of Jerusalem. God has a plan and purpose for the nation of Israel. She is called to be a light to the nations. 

The amazing story of modern Israel’s restoration is chronicled in scores of books. A people without a nation for almost 2000 years, scattered throughout the earth for most of that time suddenly return and establish their own nation. It’s probably the greatest example of God’s reality and faithfulness in the world today. All of this was prophesied in the Bible, written between 2000 – 2700 years ago. 

The fulfillment of these amazing promises is probably best captured in a paragraph of Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

Wow, what a statement. Written only 3 years after the devastation of the Holocaust, the Jewish authors set out a vision for the country, highlighting the best of Biblical values – freedom, justice and peace for all, as envisaged by the prophets of Israel. Since that time Israel fought numerous wars of survival and built a powerful and prosperous state for most of its inhabitants. It’s a fully functioning parliamentary democracy with frequent elections, a robust court system, a free press and a country that generally abides by law. It’s not a perfect country, far from it. The treatment of its Arab citizens, and worse, the control of Palestinian territories and their inhabitants blemish a very compelling narrative of a country that was on the way to becoming a praise to the earth. 

However, for the first time in its modern history, Israel’s future as a praise in the earth is in jeopardy. The most radical government in Israel’s history was elected a few months ago and its stated plans and actions will undermine Israel’s unique role in the world. As I quoted from the prophet Isaiah at the beginning, God has set watchman on the walls of Jerusalem. I am speaking to you today as a watchman. 

Several years ago Israel’s police opened criminal investigations against Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel. Later, he was indicted and is now standing trial for the criminal charges. In his last term as Prime Minister he tried to steer legislation through Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to immunize himself from prosecution. Those attempts were blocked. Unable to prevent prosecution, he set out on a campaign to undermine the police, the courts and the press to galvanize public opinion behind him. During the most recent election campaign, resulting in his accession to power once again, he formed a governing coalition whose aim is to strip the country’s protections against the abuse of power, which includes immunizing Netanyahu from prosecution. 

The minister he put in charge of the police force, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is an extremist provocateur, who earlier in his life was convicted of supporting a Jewish terrorist organization. He is rabidly anti-Arab and has called for the expulsion of Arabs from the country. How does that comport with Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which, in part says, “the country will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex?” Or what the Hebrew scriptures declare, to which Yeshua the Messiah repeats, “For my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples?”

Possibly worse is legislation now being considered that would fully undermine Israel’s judiciary. The judiciary has been the one bright spot in the country that has protected individual rights. Unlike the US and many other western nations, Israel has no constitution. Rather, it has a series of Basic Laws that function on a quasi-constitutional basis. They are the laws that establish the government’s principles and rights for its citizens. But Basic Laws can be passed and amended by a majority vote of the Knesset, affording only limited protection for major changes in government structure and individual rights. 

Additionally, unlike many other western countries, Israel’s parliament is unicameral, meaning there is only legislative body running the country with few checks and balances. In the past this limitation was self-correcting because the coalitions that formed the government were sufficiently varied to ensure a balancing of polices. Under the current government there appears to be no check on radical changes to the country’s structure and character. 

Therefore, the last bastion of protection for the country’s democratic principles is the courts. Proposed legislation would allow the Knesset to overturn judicial rulings by a majority vote. Until 1994 the courts did not review legislation. Rather, they reviewed administrative actions by the government to ensure they complied with underlying statutory law. That changed when the Knesset added another Basic Law to its compendium of laws in 1992, titled, Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Unlike earlier Basic Laws which formed the structure of the Israeli government, this one was more akin to the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution, seeking to establish a series of individual rights on the part of the populace. In a 1994 Israeli Supreme Court case, the court held that a law passed by the Knesset could be invalidated if it infringed upon individual rights spelled out in a Basic Law, specifically the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. Thus, for the first time the courts asserted the right of judicial review of Knesset passed laws. 

For many right-wing Israeli politicians this was deemed an anti-democratic action by an elitist court, especially because the court has since struck down a series of Knesset passed laws that sought to remove protections over Arab ownership of lands in the disputed territories and exempted the ultra-Orthodox from serving in the military. Under the proposed revision, if the courts rule that a law violates individual rights, the Knesset could step in and overrule the ruling by a simple majority vote. Thus, protected individual rights become the sole purview of the majority. Court rulings protecting religious minorities like Messianic Jews and Christians could be at risk as well as the right to a free press, the freedom of unreasonable search and seizure, the right of privacy and due process under the law. 

As a result of these actions, major protests have erupted throughout Israel. Israel’s leading legal scholars warn of a collapse of democracy. Businesses are moving money out of the country, fearing an economic collapse. Violence can break out any moment. Frankly, Israel is in trouble. 

What can be done? There are times in the Bible when God would bring confusion to Israel’s enemies. Israel’s greatest burden right now is its own constituted government. The government needs to change. New elections need to be called, and a reasonable government needs to come to power. Prayer should be directed to either bring reasonableness or confusion to the current coalition. Prayer should also be directed to those few in the government who are willing to put the country’s future over their own political future. There’s not much time. Radical proposals, such as I’ve described, will be coming up to vote in the next several weeks. Please pray with me that you who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.