For the past few months, I’ve been repeatedly asked by my American audience to write on the political situation in Israel. I’ve received many thoughtful questions, and will try to provide a brief introduction and synopsis in this post.
We arrived in the country March 16, the day before the big election for Prime Minister. I had done my homework, and was ready to cast my ballot, but since we had to be here for three months, was unable to do so. Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. There are at present a total of 38 political parties!!!! However, most of them are so minor (very specific in their political outlooks), that few even receive enough votes to get representation in the Knesset, our Parliament or Congress. Knesset is made up of 120 seats, and at this time 11 separate parties are represented. Netanyahu (Likud Party) won a sweeping 34% and remained in power. Netanyahu had a little over a month to form a coalition of representatives from within his own party and also with non-Likud members who would be willing to work with him. After many conferences (much prayer on my behalf), alliances were formed and the Prime Minister secured his office.
Because Israel is a democracy, every citizen has a voice. Not just Jewish Israelis, but also Arab (Muslim and Christian), Druze, and others who make up her citizenry are allowed to vote, and are represented by their particular political party. Many people outside this country are not aware, but even the Arabs, with their Ayman Odeh party, have a seat/voice in the government – and it is not a tiny one. There are very religious Jewish parties, both Ashkenazi (Western/European Orthodox) and Sephardi (Eastern/Middle Eastern/African/Moroccan/Latino Orthodox) as well as groups that are secular. We have right wing Zionist and left wing Socialist groups as well as a Green party and centrist factions. All have a voice. With that said, one can only imagine how difficult politics can become here with so many dissenting opinions. However, a working right wing/centrist coalition was formed, and Kadima! We march forward!!
Governments are made up of people, and people are not perfect, therefore, there is no government on earth that is perfect. However, here in Israel, we do our best with the many problems we confront. One of the biggest on the foreign scene is the continual bad press we receive by the UN and Progressive journalists who would paint this country as a colonizing, occupying force here in the land illegally. We are often seen as the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, but I would like to take the opportunity to present a few facts.
The Jewish people have always considered Israel their physical and spiritual homeland. Jews have inhabited this place consistently (even by a remnant) since early Biblical times. Even after their expulsion by the Romans in the year 70, Jews remained – in Tiberius, in Jaffa, Akko, Sfat, Jerusalem, and other parts of the country. Most of Jewry, however, was scattered throughout the world in the Diaspora. This lasted almost 2000 years. In the late 1800s, a Viennese Jew, Theodor Herzl, had the dream of the Jewish people finally returning to their homeland, and with a handful of other Europeans, formed the Zionist movement. At this time Israel was a vast desert wasteland ruled by the Ottoman Turks. By 1901, Jewish people from around the world helped fund the legal purchase of both wetlands and swamps in the North and deserts in the central and southern parts of the land. People began arriving by the hundreds, mostly to escape the Pogroms of Eastern Europe, the growing unrest in France, Russia, and other countries, and those others who had a dream in their heart of re-forming a Jewish state. Life was a continual struggle – against both the elements and hostile Bedouin neighbors – but nonetheless miraculous. There was a cohesiveness of purpose of re-establishing the small Jewish homeland. Swamps were drained, irrigation placed in deserts, the land began to flourish and become green and productive. Kibbutzim, neighborhoods, and cities began to spring up. As the world was plunged into darkness with the First World War, the British who had also come here, aligned themselves against the Turks on three fronts (North, South and West). Jewish settlements were repeatedly attacked, many people taken hostage, forced into arduous labor, or tortured by the Turks, Many were expelled into Egypt. The Jews is Egypt under Trumpledore and Jabotinsky aligned themselves with the British and fought valiantly to defeat the Turks and regain control of their homeland. Because of this, in part, the British government in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, promised their “best endeavors” to help the Republic of Israel come into being. During the time of the Russian Revolution and further persecution of the Jewish people, the British troops drove the Turks from Jerusalem, and put Israel into the rule of the British who declared equality for all – Jew, Arab and Christian. Jews continued to pour into the country, and on the eve of WWII, the British curtailed further immigration. Over 6 million perished in the Holocaust which ravaged Europe. At the end of the war, the remnants of European Jewry started pouring into the land, despite British and UN quotas. Eventually, in 1948, after a vote by the UN, Israel was granted her independence as a sovereign state and the national Jewish homeland and the British pulled out. Immediately following, the surrounding Arab counties attacked this small under-equipped, ragtag army of pioneers, citizens, and Holocaust survivors from all fronts. Israel was miraculously victorious. Israel has been fighting the onslaughts of her neighbors (as well as mis-informed press) ever since.
Despite the fact that the majority of the citizens here want peace, the question of how it is to be obtained comes into question. There are groups that want to appease the Arabs by giving up parts of the land. Israel is the tiniest of countries-really! Smaller than the state of New Jersey. I can drive from the very North to the very South in 6 hours, tops. To go from the East to the West will take me a little over an hour. Most are familiar with the West Bank, also known as Judea & Samaria in Biblical times, and Disputed Territory today. It is a huge swath of land in the very center of Israel, inhabited by Jewish settlers and Palestinian Arabs. It was reclaimed by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 War fought against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. To give this land up to the hands of hostile Palestinians would leave this tiny nation virtually defenseless, as Israel would be only 7 miles wide from East to West at her central part. Please look at a map and see the area in dispute for yourself. This is the region outside nations are trying to put pressure on the UN and Israel to abandon to hostile Palestinians.
In contrast, there are very many Arab citizens within Israel, both Christian, Muslim, Bedouin, Druze, and others who are very friendly, peaceful, responsible citizens. Our city, Karmi’el, in the North, is surrounded by Arab villages. We live side by side without incident. The Arabs work in our stores and factories, serve on our local police force, some serve in the army (voluntarily), drive our cabs and busses, and contribute to our delightful cultural mix. From my kitchen window, I see the gleaming white town of Deer Hanah, with its two minarets. We hear the calls of the muezzin from the towers of the scattered villages in the valleys….
Internally, as there are more and more instances of anti-Semitism around the world, more and more people are deciding the time has come to return home. We are experiencing huge waves of immigration – from Ethiopia, Ukraine, Russia, France, South America. Each group with its own language and culture – and problems. Part of the “lost” tribe of Menassah was recently found – in India – and are being brought back to their original homeland (speaking Urdu, but with Torah scrolls and Jewish DNA!!!). Some immigrants are very poor. Very few speak Hebrew. Absorbing all the newcomers – and the costs involved – and getting them to assimilate – it no easy feat. Taxes here are extremely high, partly due to the need for a strong defense, partly to cover the cost of absorption of immigrants. Centers have been set up for the temporary housing and education of those in need. My family is part of this program. We were fortunate to settle here without incurring too much financial hardship,and we have our own home, but we still must attend a state-funded Hebrew School for 5 months. In order find gainful employment, one must speak the language…. Groups of both Jews and Christians from America and throughout the world have helped to generously fund the immigrant absorption programs.’
There are other internal debates (under the Law of Return – who qualifies as a Jew in order to obtain citizenship? The ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate are debating this heavily now); the rising cost of food and housing are being dealt with – and the ever present-need of Israel to be able to defend herself against the rising threat of hostile neighbors. Even though Palestinian Hamas neighbors living in Gaza (a part of Israel that was given up 10 years ago, Jewish residents expelled by their own government in hopes of peace) created miles of underground tunnels with plans of infiltrating southern Israel to kill its citizens, last summer’s war was ill-represented to the world. Even though Israel shipped over tons of humanitarian aid; treated wounded Gazan civilians in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba; airdropped leaflets of planned bombings of Hamas strongholds for civilians to evacuate the area; much was never publicized. The West repeatedly heard of attacks on civilians despite the fact that the terrorists were putting their rocket launchers inside schools and hospitals for maximum effect and using their own citizens as human shields in order to maximize civilian casualties.
I have been asked repeatedly by my American audience – How does Israel – the average citizen – view America and the current administration? Israel has always had America as its closest ally. We have worked together in many sectors: business, education, high tech and the science and medicine. Americans have helped fund the very existence of this nation. Both Jews and Christians work together to support the one Democracy, the one place that really stands for freedom in the midst of this Sharia-ruled part of the world. Last week, a terribly (naive?) lopsided treaty was brokered by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry with Iran. It lifts sanctions, and actually allows for Iranian nuclear proliferation. It brings further instability to this region. Israelis will defend themselves by themselves, if it comes down to it. We still love America and Americans – I am still an American! But for the first time, we question the current leadership. We are wary, in disbelief almost, at the current state of affairs, but we are not afraid.