Last Thursday, a row of Shevet volunteers, myself included, was settling in at the movie theaters for a showing of The Hobbit. The large room went dark and cell phones were blacked-out while the last of the tittering died down. Immediately the big screen illuminated, and… a two-minute advertisement was aired for the political party HaTnuah (התנועה in Hebrew, meaning “The Movement”)! In apocalyptic terms it warned that Israel’s current path is the path to destruction, and that a new movement is needed, now. The stark worldview of good vs. evil it suggested was perhaps the best primer for Tolkien’s imaginative world.
Yes, it’s election time in Israel. This Tuesday, the 22nd of January, the Israeli public will select the 19th Knesset, which will convene for the first time on the 5th of February. Israel is a parliamentary democracy, with a system nearly identical to Holland’s. Seventeen parties are on the ballot, and each party is awarded a number of Knesset seats in keeping with the percentage of the vote it earns. The Knesset contains 120 seats total.
The Prime Minister is not voted on directly in Israel. Citizens vote for a party, not a politician. (Direct elections for the Prime Minister were held in 1996, 1999, and 2001, but were scrapped because they led to instability in the system.) This is how the Prime Minister is chosen in Israel: after the elections, the leader of the most popular party is given the task by the president to form a coalition of parties with similar goals. From this coalition a government emerges, which is comprised of ministers (Minister of Defense, Minister of Education, etc.). If a coalition forms, the coalition organizer becomes Prime Minister. If it fails to form, then the leader of the second-most-popular party is given the task of forming a government, and so on.
Still waiting for The Hobbit to begin while the previews ran, I reflected that from early times, God has exemplified deep interest in who the leader of His people is. The book of Judges is a salient example. Time and again the mountain-dwelling Israelites were boxed in by enemies, like a raccoon treed above baying hounds; and time and again a leader was appointed, usually from obscurity, to lead the people through the crisis. Who were Deborah and Gideon, Sampson and Ehud? And has God changed since that time? Does the Everlasting One care about the 19th Knesset? I believe so.
The Knesset is a square building on a rocky hill about fifteen minutes by foot from Shevet Achim. The property is leased from the Greek Orthodox Church. A monastery stands like a fortress in the valley below. No one doubts that in the months and years ahead, difficult decisions will be debated and made in the conference rooms and plenary hall of that square building. Let’s take a cursory look at those decisions:
You tell me. How can a united voice emerge on these issues, particularly from such a diverse political assemblage? Last Thursday, before The Hobbit, I attended the book release of Knesset Member Dr. Einat Wilf at a media center just around the corner from Shevet Achim. In her comments about her new book which studies the electoral system in Israel, she made the claim: “No parliament in the world has to contain the range of views that the Israeli parliament does.”
The last day to legally publish election polls was last Friday, the 18th of January. The next set of data will not be polls, but results. But in every forecast I have seen, the party Likud-Beiteinu, newly formed in October by a fusion of the two parties Likud and Israel Beiteinu, and headed by Mr. Netanyahu, is expected to win twice as many seats as the runner up, projected to be Labor. Labor is center-left, Likud-Beiteinu is center-right. It appears that Mr. Netanyahu will again be given the task to form a new government.
So how can we pray? Maybe you agree with me, that God in fact does care, and intensely, about leadership in Israel. Given the docket of complex, sensitive, and urgent issues that the 19th Knesset will inherit, prayer is perhaps best invested not in a particular politician or party, but in the nation as a whole. And also, given the polarized nature of public opinion in Israel, regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, a large block of the country is certain to feel disappointed, betrayed, or worried. Or elated.
There is no reason not to be frank: Israel is at critical moment. Nor is their reason to tremble! If a squat, hairy-footed hobbit named Bilbo Baggins can blitz alone into a hopeless crisis, and come out standing, why not a wispy little country like Israel? I hope I am not guilty here of conflating fantasy literature with geopolitics. But there is something that pings true about the story of Bilbo. Perhaps true strength is latent in apparent weakness. And something likewise pings in this battle hymn from ancient times:Put not your trust in princes, In a son of man, In whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, He returns to the earth; On that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them, Who keeps faith forever; Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners, He upholds the widow and the fatherless, But the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The Lord will reign forever, Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord! ~ Psalm 146
PS - the moment I finished typing this, my cell phone was spammed with a survey: Who are you going to vote for? 1) Bibi? 2) Sheli 3) Benet 4) Yair 5) Tsipi 6) Meretz 7)Abstain