Israel beloved and very ill

Dear coworkers,

As I sit to write a long-neglected solar lantern is still somehow flickering on the garden table outside:

It seems to me a picture of Israel in these dark days. Weakened. Wavering. A faintly burning wick he will not quench.

I hope I can convey to you how much trouble Israel is in. The current government came to power only by mainstreaming the most extreme zealots, who previously were banned from even running for the Knesset. And the poisonous infection of their rhetoric is spreading rapidly through the bloodstream of Israel. As we’ve seen with children’s heart surgeries, once sepsis sets in the patient is at grave risk. From the NY Times this week:

It was the pictures of Palestinians swimming and sunning at a Gaza beach that rubbed Yehuda Shlezinger, an Israeli journalist, the wrong way. Stylish in round red glasses and a faint scruff of beard, Mr. Shlezinger unloaded his revulsion at the “disturbing” pictures while appearing on Israel’s Channel 12.

Channel 12 News

“These people there deserve death, a hard death, an agonizing death, and instead we see them enjoying on the beach and having fun,” complained Mr. Shlezinger, the religious affairs correspondent for the widely circulated right-wing Israel Hayom newspaper. “We should have seen a lot more revenge there,” Mr. Shlezinger unrepentantly added. “A lot more rivers of Gazans’ blood.”

It would be nice to think that Mr. Shlezinger is a fringe figure or that Israelis would be shocked by his bloody fantasies. But he’s not, and many wouldn’t be.

Israel has hardened, and the signs of it are in plain view. Dehumanizing language and promises of annihilation from military and political leaders. Polls that found wide support for the policies that have wreaked devastation and starvation in Gaza. Selfies of Israeli soldiers preening proudly in bomb-crushed Palestinian neighborhoods. A crackdown on even mild forms of dissent among Israelis.

This week we’ve reached new levels of lawlessness and chaos, as the zealots are now violently intercepting trucks carrying food to Gazans, setting them on fire, even attacking and injuring the IDF soldiers trying to protect the shipments:

Truck burning

It’s gotten so bad that the other two members of Israel’s war cabinet, defense minister Yoav (Joab) Gallant and National Unity leader Benny Gantz, both openly confronted the prime minister in the last four days for allowing the zealots to muddle Israel’s war aims by desiring to reoccupy and resettle Gaza:

Lamenting that “within the holy of holies of Israeli security, personal and political considerations have begun to penetrate,” Gantz appeared to take a shot at the slow pace of the war in recent months and at Netanyahu’s unwillingness to lay out a plan for a post-Hamas Gaza Strip.

“A small minority took over the bridge of the Israeli ship, and is sailing it toward a wall of rocks,” Gantz charged. “Crucial decisions were not made. The acts of leadership needed to guarantee victory were not made.”

“The moment of truth has arrived, the hour of decision has arrived,” he said to his longtime political rival. “The Netanyahu of a decade ago would have done it,” he continued. “Can you do the right and patriotic thing today?”

Should Netanyahu choose “the national interest over the personal, in the footsteps of Herzl, Ben Gurion, Begin and Rabin,” National Unity will be a partner, Gantz said, providing Netanyahu a political lifeline.

“But if you choose the path of the zealots and lead the whole state into the abyss, we will be forced to leave the government,” he warned. “We will turn to the people and form a government that will win the trust of the people.”

This is not just a conflict between religious Jews and the mostly-secular IDF leadership. It is also a struggle among the Torah-observant to answer the critical question of what it means to be a Jew. And in a good sign, Times of Israel editor David Horowitz pointed to one godly Jewish woman this week who knows that biblical faith is neither extremist nor divisive:

In a Facebook post on Monday, Tehila Friedman, who served all too briefly as an MK in 2020-21 and delivered a maiden speech to the Knesset four years ago whose prescience has to be reread to be believed, described her current concerns for Israel with terrible elegance: “I approach this Independence Day like a birthday party for somebody beloved and very ill. Recognizing how precious he is, deeply fearful that the sickness will defeat him, and hoping for his complete recovery.”

Tehila Friedman
Friedman went on to write that “Happiness is to want what you have. Hope is to want something else. We have to see the good because that gives us the strength to keep going. We have to see the bad because that gives us the strength to change.”

Friedman, a centrist, issued no demand for political change in her diagnostic post. But I do. Whatever he may believe, and whatever the sycophants with whom he now largely surrounds himself may tell him, Netanyahu is not the cure for the internal divides that for years have weakened Israel, but rather the prime cause. And he is not the physician to heal today’s ailing Israel, but rather the single most culpable Israeli in bringing our country, at its 76th birthday, to the precarious condition Friedman describes. It was he who had sought and won the position of greatest national responsibility, and thus had the most effective means to prevent the barbaric Hamas invasion. The buck stops with him.

At the very, very least, it is past time — 222 days past time — for Netanyahu to stop the ducking and diving, acknowledge that responsibility, and, if he is not prepared to leave public life of his own volition, then set the date to face the political judgment of the nation that entrusted him with its safety. The recovery of our “beloved and very ill” Israel depends upon it.

Friends of Israel, I share all these events because we too must know that Israel is very ill. The believing community around the world is slow to realize that some of the worst things Israel is accused of are actually happening. Increasingly the thought comes that we may see zealots tear the people apart as they did in the first century, bringing the legions of Rome down upon Jerusalem.

I think of our community’s old and dear friend Hava Katz, whose husband Art was a well-known Messianic Jew with a prophetic voice. His message didn’t find much favor among Israeli believers, because he didn’t see the current restoration of Israel as directly ushering in the kingdom of God. Instead he felt the Hebrew prophets speak of disaster yet again coming upon the Jewish people at the end of days, and some sort of third exile before God finally pours out his spirit and intervenes to save his ancient covenant people.

We see through a glass darkly, but what we do see is troubling. And then comes Messiah’s wonderful voice:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

So let’s be about our Father’s business. As outsiders it is not our job to wade into Israeli politics. And even Israel’s Messiah, living through tumultuous, corrupt and violent days, never spoke for or against the government. Our eyes, like his, must be firmly on the coming kingdom of God.

So let’s close tonight with a couple of beautiful images from the past week:

Osaid preopDoctors and charities in Israel are not immune from the winds buffeting this land. Virtually no one is now helping Palestinian children who need heart surgeries, even those from the West Bank. Thank God that our partners at the Sheba Medical Center, with Christian support, reached out their healing hands again this week to give Osaid from Hebron the second heart surgery he needed. Tonight he returned home to his family.

And another godly Jewish woman, our own coworker Zeporah, crossed back into Israel this week, with no little fear and trembling about what the border authorities would say about her journey to the enemy state of Iraq. She was warmly received though by our longtime friends at the bridge, as was the latest treasure she brought from Iraq, 13-year-old Rozh:

Rozh arrivesRozh had her first echo at Sheba the next day, and will have her pre-surgery dental checkup in the morning.

Thank God for relationships that are strong enough to stand when the storm blows.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).