[Israeli Politics 101] Who’s Running and What it Means for Israeli Messianic Believers

Not that long ago, there were two main political parties in Israel – Likud (“Consolidation”) and (“Avoda” )Labor.  Likud was the more conservative and Labor was more left leaning.  As time went on, more centrist parties began to pop up, among them – the now defunct Kadima (“Move Ahead”) headed by the late Ariel Sharon, Shinui (“Change”) headed by the late Tommy Lapid, father of Yair Lapid who himself established Yesh Atid (There is a Future) just a few years ago.  Another hopeful was Minister of Finance, Moshe Kahlon who, in 2014, established Kulanu (“All of us Together”).  Other smaller parties, of which there are many, joined one of the two major political parties to provide enough mandates (voices) in order to become the ruling party, but, it’s notable to recognize that, in recent years, most of Israel’s Prime Minister were elected from either Likud or Labor.

Now, as the decision of early elections scheduled for April 9th, has been taken, there has been the emergence of two new political parties – one called Hosen L’Yisrael (“Resilience”) headed by Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and another called Yamin HeChadash (the New Right) co-headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

What does all this mean for Messianic believers? Here’s what we already know.  Under the Likud leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish believers attempting to immigrate to Israel have had to, for years, confront the ultra-orthodox party stronghold of the Interior Ministry who traditionally has been given control of that office of government.  It has been unfriendly, antagonistic and unwelcoming to Messianics, blatantly and systematically denying them the right of return.  That situation would likely not change under another Likud term.

The Labor party, whose views lean towards many positions which most believers would not share, is much more embracing and sympathetic towards Jewish believers who want to return to their homeland.  Some Labor Knesset ministers have even personally, and through their party, tried to help a number of believers in their fight for citizenship.

It is anyone’s guess how the two new parties would respond towards Messianic Jews, but both Bennett and Shaked of Yamin HeChadash are of a more traditional and religious stripe and would likely offer governmental portfolios to their more religiously observant party friends who may not be any friendlier to believers than the Likud has been to the present day.

Yesh Atid, run by Yair Lapid takes a centrist position on most issues, bucking the present system of allowing military exemptions and stipends to the ultra-orthodox, and would seek to be more pluralistic to the secular majority of Israeli citizens, but also amongst their party members are those who have been vocally unfavorable to Messianic Jews.  While they may seek to distribute governmental portfolios to more centrist leaning individuals, it’s not clear if they would remove the present collective body of ultra-orthodox zealots from the Interior Ministry, the very group which determines issues of birth registry, marriage, death and immigration rights.

Finally, Former IDF chief Benny Ganz, (Hosen L’Yisrael) has not yet stated his political positions nor does anyone seem to know who will be associated with his party.  Gantz is said to hold moderate positions toward Palestinians which places him left of Netanyahu.  Although the former paratrooper who rose to the prestigious rank of IDF chief of staff, is said to project a sense of integrity and security, he, nonetheless, represents an unknown commodity to the Israeli public who have yet to know his political leanings and aspirations.

One thing for sure is that many Israelis are tired of business as usual and looking for what they believe to be needed change.  With looming threats that Bibi Netanyahu stands to be criminally indicted over charges of corruption, there, perhaps, has not been a better opportunity for aspiring candidates to jump into the political pool and do their best to appeal to the 70% of secular Israeli citizens who long for a more pluralistic, democratic atmosphere which breaks the stranglehold of the ultra-orthodox which have long supported the Likud party and continue to control their definition of who is a Jew, how today’s Judaism is defined and who, despite their birthright, does not fit into that category.

Messianic Jews and their gentile believing counterparts should certainly be concerned over the differing political positions of those seeking to run the country, questions of Israel’s security and any prospective peace deals, but, perhaps, the most important political factor that Israeli Jewish believers and those who regularly support and pray for Israel should concern themselves over is whether or not Jewish believers are welcomed to return to the land of their forefathers and also able to enjoy religious freedom as full and valued Israeli citizens.