The Crisis in Israeli Democracy (and Christian Zionism)

This post first appeared on Kineti and is authored by Judah Gabriel Himango, one of Tabernacle of David’s teachers.

Dear Kineti readers, 

Below you’ll find a guest post from Aaron Hecht, a Messianic believer from Israel who has written extensively for Kehila News. Aaron and I developed an unlikely friendship several years ago after he and I discussed our differing views of Torah observance for Yeshua’s disciples.

His post today is on the months-long judicial crisis in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms would curtail the power of Israeli judicial system while expanding the power Knesset and rabbinical court. For over a month, tens of thousands of Israelis have demonstrated against the reforms, labelling them a power grab and a threat to Israeli democracy.

Aaron’s post also touches on Christian Zionism and Zionist groups who have injected themselves into the debate.  

Not everything Aaron says I endorse, and that’s OK. It’s healthy to hear voices outside one’s own echo chamber. Enjoy, dear readers!

Thousands of Israelis protesting the proposed judicial reforms of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel is in the midst of a serious crisis.

As I am sitting here writing this in my modest Jerusalem apartment, I can hear the sounds of angry (and frightened) people just a few blocks away, chanting slogans as they march through the streets of our capital city to make known that they do not approve of measures currently being pushed through the Knesset by the governing coalition. The protests I can hear out my window are part of a much larger protest movement, the largest by far in all of Israel’s modern history, against actions being taken by the government.

You may already be fairly familiar with the issues surrounding what is being called by those within the governing coalition who support it “Judicial Reform” and by those in the opposition who oppose it “the death knell of Israeli democracy.”

Both of these labels are deeply dishonest, as is most of the rhetoric being thrown around by both sides in the debate surrounding the particulars of different measures that are being proposed. This dishonesty is at the heart of the crisis, and it’s what’s making it so difficult to find a solution.

I offer the following thoughts as my own personal attempt at a solution to this crisis. I don’t imagine it’ll do much good, but here it is, for what it’s worth.

Let’s start with some truth because that’s the only way to solve a problem caused by lies and deceit.

Truth number one is that the judiciary in Israel is LONG OVERDUE for reforms. There are many serious problems with the judiciary and it is absolutely true that it has issued rulings in the past several years which overturned laws passed by the Knesset which were completely legitimate expressions of the will of the Israeli people. The Israeli Supreme Court has assumed powers that were completely outside its mandate.

Those who decry the “assault on democracy” that they say these proposed laws represent should take a moment to reflect on the damage that has already been done to democracy in recent years by the court’s inappropriate behavior.

That leads us to truth number two, that some of the measures being proposed to undo the abuse of power that the courts are unquestionably guilty of are quite constructive and necessary. Others are catastrophically absurd overcorrections that will lead to a situation that is even worse than what we have now.

In particular, the “override clause” which is being so strongly insisted upon by some parties in the coalition, which will allow a ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court to be dismissed by a simple majority vote in the Knesset is a really bad joke. There might as well not be a Supreme Court if the parliament has the power to ignore it.

If you don’t have a Supreme Court which has the authority to declare a law passed by the legislature to be out of line with the previously agreed upon “Basic Laws” or “Constitution” or whatever the foundational principles of that government are, then that is NOT a democracy. Full stop!

The leaders of the parties in the coalition who are pressing the hardest for this “override clause” are themselves attorneys who went to law school where they learned all about this stuff, so they know EXACTLY what they’re doing. But they are deceitfully pretending like there’s nothing at all out of the ordinary in the changes they’re trying to make and the opposition and the protesters are being hysterical drama queens and “anarchists.”

These absurdly childish ad hominem attacks should cause any thinking person to question the moral integrity of the people making them.

That leads to truth number three, which is that the governing coalition does NOT have a mandate from the voters to make these changes to the Basic Laws of the country. They endlessly repeat the claim that “the people voted for Judicial Reform and they’re going to get it” but they know that’s not true. They know, as does everyone, that in order to make a change this big, a LARGE majority is necessary. Having a coalition made up of 64 out of 120 Knesset seats is not nearly enough to make a change this consequential to the DNA of a country.

Something else everyone knows but which few are willing to say out loud is that most of the people who voted for the parties that make up the current governing coalition in the last election had no idea that anything like what’s happening now would result from their vote.

It’s purely anecdotal, but I have several friends who voted for right-wing parties which make up the current coalition in the recent elections because they wanted Netanyahu to return as Prime Minister. These people are now out in the streets protesting because the actions those who they voted for have taken are nothing like what they expected. Most of them say they want a new election as soon as possible so they can vote for someone else. (Keep this in mind, it’s very important for what comes later in the blog.)

That leads to another truth, not really on our list, but highly relevant nonetheless, and that is that Israeli democracy has been very dysfunctional for a very long time for all kinds of reasons. One of the primary reasons is that the voting public has very little knowledge and understanding about how the government works, much less the highly complex and nuanced issues the government deals with.

The teenagers I talk to about this say they’ve never learned much in all their years in school about Israeli history, the economy, the Court system, the military, or any other issues that might be helpful for them to decide who to vote for when they’re old enough. This tracks with what I’ve heard from many older people, some who vote in every election for the same party, some who vote occasionally, and some who rarely if ever vote. What they all have in common is that they have very little understanding of any of the relevant issues.

Those who vote for the same party in every election usually do so because it’s the party their parents voted for, or which their rabbi told them to vote for. They rarely have more than the vaguest ideas about what the party stands for or what plans their party has for the power they’re asking voters to give them. They just know that “people like me vote for this party” and that’s the whole story.

Most of the major political parties like this situation just fine and don’t even bother to publish a platform on their websites. Reporters who ask leaders questions about what their plans are in this or that area usually don’t receive serious answers or even empty campaign promises. In fact, many Israeli politicians don’t even bother to talk to the press. Netanyahu almost never gives media interviews, and when he speaks at press conferences, he ignores the questions that are asked of him and talks about the things he wants to talk about.

The major parties rarely if ever make any effort to attract voters from other parties who are not already inclined to vote for them, they just concentrate all their efforts on getting those who are usually their supporters to show up at the polls. The favorite tools for doing this are fear and loathing of the other parties.

For instance, a few years ago, the election slogan of the Likud Party was “it’s either us or them.”

That’s it. Nothing about why anyone should want “us” rather than “them” just a reminder to everyone that it was “either us or them.”

What all of this adds up to is the simple and undeniable truth that Israeli democracy has been highly dysfunctional for a long time. The five elections we’ve had in the past four years is both a cause and a symptom of that dysfunction. But the primary cause, as I said at the beginning, is deceit.

Everyone, on all sides, is being dishonest about their own positions, the positions of their opponents, and the situation in general. In such a dystopian “post-truth” environment, there’s every reason to expect things to go from bad to worse.

Crisis in Christian Zionism

That leads me to the next point that needs to be addressed in this blog, and that is the effect, and the connection, between this terrible crisis in Israel, and the crisis it has sparked in the Christian Zionist movement.

Most Israelis who are even aware of the existence of Christian Zionists think that it’s a relatively new phenomenon, but that’s not true at all. Christian Zionist organizations were active in Jerusalem for over a century before the modern State of Israel came into existence. In fact, the movement which would come to be known as “Christian Zionism” has its roots in the Protestant Reformation which occurred in the late 16th century in Europe and quickly spread to North America. For many years it was called the “Restorationist Movement” because these Protestant Christians wanted to help “restore” the Jews to their ancestral homeland. This desire came from a reading of the Scriptures (remember the Protestant Reformation happened in large part because European Catholics could, for the first time in centuries, read the Bible in their own native languages) and that motivation continues to be a factor in relations between Israelis and Christians to this day.

In any case, starting all the way back in the 16th century, the Christian Zionist movement has played a major role in the development of the Jewish community in this country leading up to the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948 and afterward. The Jews of Israel do NOT like to acknowledge any of this history, but that’s a topic for another blog.

What needs to be said here in this blog is that the current crisis in Israel, which even President Isaac Herzog said has the potential to lead to a civil war, has led to what must be the deepest crisis in Christian Zionist history as well.

The obvious question everyone has is, what should Christian Zionists do in this situation? What CAN they do? They obviously want to support Israel, but the question is WHICH Israelis can they support since Israelis are so bitterly divided on these issues.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog in which I tracked some of the internal Jewish/Israeli schisms we’re seeing explode today and I advised Christian supporters of Israel not to try and get in the middle of these internal Jewish/Israeli discussions. I don’t know how many people saw that blog, but the fact is, although most Christian Zionist organizations have taken a cautious and/or neutral stance, some HAVE jumped into the current discussion with both feet.

One group in particular which is very closely allied with the National Religious/Modern Orthodox settler groups in Judea and Samaria has given a full-throated endorsement of the current governing coalition’s agenda, including its scornful dismissal of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis marching in the streets to protest against that agenda. This CZ group has, sadly but not surprisingly, initiated a mindless repetition and amplification of the false narratives the coalition keeps peddling. They have even taken the step of denouncing some of the leaders of Israel’s Believer community who have spoken out against the coalition’s agenda.

Guys (you know who you are) I have a nickel’s worth of free advice for you.

First, you are completely out of order. You are guests in this country, not citizens. You have no business shooting your mouths off about the internal political battles being fought here, much less telling your supporters to disregard the testimony of Israeli Believers who ARE citizens of this country and have been appointed by God to represent His Kingdom in this country.

You frame your shilling for the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) as “reporting” the real truth from your perspective “on the ground” etc. but that’s less than even a half-truth and you know it.

Second, you should be aware that there will be another election in Israel sooner or later and your pals in the RZP might disappear as quickly as they rose to prominence. There have been several such “one-election wonders” over the years, and most of them had more of a natural base of voters than RZP does. The opposition parties which might very easily return to a majority in the Knesset one day (and for that matter, some of the Likud MKs who are already showing deep discomfort with their RZP allies) will surely remember who was on their side and who was against them in this current situation.

Everything you’ve built up over the past 15 years you’ve been working your tails off out there in Judea and Samaria could be taken away from you faster than you can even imagine. This too is something that has happened in the past to Christian Zionist organizations who backed the wrong horse in a political contest in this country.

There’s an old saying “mess around and find out.”

If you guys don’t want to find out, you better stop messing around, although it’s probably already too late.

In any case, I would ask anyone who is reading this blog to include urgent prayers for the Body of Messiah in Israel in your daily devotions. We’re a small and in many ways very vulnerable group. That’s not a request for pity, but it IS a request for support, both prayer support and whatever practical support you can offer. God is on the move in Israel, and of that there can be no doubt, that the Body of Messiah here is going to be playing a pivotal role in whatever comes next, one way or another.

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