Light for the Last Days

Israel Desk – 29th April 2020

Israel has a government.  Hopefully.

Almost every day there is a twist and turn in the ongoing saga of Israel’s attempts to form a viable government.  This has gone on now since April 2019 through three indecisive elections and could have been heading a fourth election in August 2020.  Some amongst the Orthodox have said this must be a sign of the coming of the Messiah because only the Messiah can fix Israel’s paralysed political system!

In recent times the issue has been whether there would be a unity government of Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and Kahol ve Lavan (Blue and White) led by Benny Gantz.  On April 20 the news came through that agreement had been made.  ‘Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist election rival Benny Gantz signed an agreement on Monday to form an emergency coalition government that would end a year of political deadlock.  Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White party issued a joint statement saying they had clinched a unity deal, which follows elections in April and September 2019 and on March 2 in which neither won a governing majority in parliament.   The two had agreed Netanyahu would remain prime minister for 18 months period until Gantz takes over in late 2021.’

Netanyahu, in power consecutively for the past 11 years, is under criminal indictment on corruption charges, which he denies. They include bribery, fraud and breach of trust.  Gantz on the campaign trail promised not to sit in a government led by a prime minister facing criminal charges, but he recently backtracked, saying the enormity of the coronavirus crisis necessitated an emergency unity government.

“We have prevented a fourth election. We will protect democracy. We will fight coronavirus and care for all Israel’s citizens,” Gantz said on Twitter after signing the deal. Netanyahu tweeted a picture of Israel’s blue and white flag.

Hopefully nothing more will change by the time you read this article.  Israel certainly needs a stable government and they need wisdom and help from the Lord at this time:  ‘Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly.’  Proverbs 2.6-8.

Will Israel annex territory in Judea – Samaria / the West Bank?

The Israeli coalition agreement contains a plan to annex territories in the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.  The condition is that the US approves the measure, which is in line with the proposed US peace plan.  ‘The Times of Israel’ reported a US State Department official as saying, ‘We are prepared to recognise Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty and the application of Israeli law to areas of the West Bank that the vision foresees as being part of the State of Israel.’  According to the report, the move would be “in the context of the government of Israel agreeing to negotiate with the Palestinians along the lines set forth in President Trump’s vision.   The Trump administration’s “deal of the century” for peace in the Middle East was unveiled in January, and all but endorsed Israel’s wish to apply sovereignty to the large settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria as well as the Jordan Valley.  The US plan enraged the Palestinians, who have refused to negotiate with the Trump administration and accused it of being grossly biased in Israel’s favour.

Palestinian leaders warn that any move to seize new territory will shut the door to the ‘two state solution’, further threatening the stalled peace process and undermining stability in the region.  Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO executive said the Israeli coalition is based on ‘the theft of Palestinian lands and constitutes a threat to peace, security and stability in the entire region.  Abbas Zaki, a member of Fatah’s central committee said ‘the conflict with the occupation is taking a new turn.’  He refused to rule out a ‘massive popular uprising against the occupation.’  However some Arab commentators doubt whether the leadership has the ability to support such an uprising. 

This territory is the heartland of the biblical land of Israel, Judea and Samaria, where most of the places known from the Bible are situated – Jerusalem, Hebron, Samaria, Shechem (Nablus), Bethlehem, Bethel (Ramallah), Jericho among the main ones.  It is also prophesied in the Bible that in the last days Jerusalem will be a burdensome stone burdening all nations (Zechariah 12), in other words a crisis in this area will be on the centre stage of world events.

Virus increases secular – religious tensions in Israel.

Israel has had over 15,000 reported cases of Covid 19, with 212 deaths. Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, home to large ultra-Orthodox communities, have had the largest concentrations of cases. In the early stages of the Coronavirus crisis ultra-Orthodox Jews ignored pleas to stay at home in the face of the coronavirus threat.  An article in Haaretz newspaper read:  

‘Early this week, the streets of the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak were bustling with shoppers as ultra-Orthodox residents, obeying their religious leaders, ignored pleas to stay home in the face of the coronavirus threat.  By Friday, Bnei Brak had become the country’s worst hot spot and now resembles a ghost town. The military will soon be sending troops in to assist local authorities. One expert estimated that nearly 40% of the city’s population might already have been infected.  The city has become a lightning rod for anger and frustration by some secular Israelis who allege insular Haredi communities — with disproportionately high numbers of confirmed cases — are undermining national efforts to contain the virus.

The pandemic also has threatened to upend deep-seated customs in the religious world, including blind obedience to religious leaders and the belief that religious studies and traditions take precedence over the rules of a modern state.  The crisis is rooted in a combination of factors. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox tend to live in poor, crowded neighbourhoods where sickness can quickly spread. Synagogues, the centrepiece of social life, bring men together to pray and socialize in small spaces.

A new debate erupted Thursday when Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a powerful ultra-Orthodox politician meant to lead the battle against the virus, was confirmed to be infected.  Litzman had previously said that the Messiah would come by Passover time so Israelis would be able to celebrate Passover as usual.  

Channel 12 TV said ministry officials were furious with Litzman, who had resisted calls in recent weeks to impose restrictions on gatherings at religious institutions. The channel said Litzman had quietly been breaking the rules and attending prayer sessions at synagogues.  “An outbreak in Bnei Brak is the same as an outbreak in Tel Aviv. Litzman did not just betray his own voters. He betrayed all Israelis,” Zehava Galon, a former leader of the secular Meretz party, wrote in the Haaretz daily.

When Israel began shutting down schools, workplaces and its international airport last month to slow the outbreak, Litzman was not the only religious leader to resist. Influential Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky of Bnei Brak said closing religious seminaries is more harmful than the virus. “The Torah protects and saves,” he said.

In recent weeks, attempts by police to enforce quarantine orders in Bnei Brak and religious neighborhoods of Jerusalem resulted in standoffs with angry crowds. Some shouted “Nazis” as police arrested or fined violators.  Police say officers have been assaulted multiple times and several paramedics have been injured by ultra-Orthodox crowds.

In recent days, defiance has subsided as the scale of the outbreak became clear. Kanievsky, 92, now urges followers to stay at home.

Anshel Pfeffer, a commentator at Haaretz, said the crisis presents a major challenge to the rabbis’ traditional authority and the ultra-Orthodox way of life.  “The community was already facing challenges before the coronavirus crisis,” he said. “But this is certainly bringing a lot of these challenges to a head.”

One thing we can say for sure is that there was no appearance of the Messiah by Passover time.  The rabbis who teach that Messiah is coming miss the point that He has already come in the person of Yeshua / Jesus to suffer and die as a sacrifice for our sins in fulfilment of Isaiah 53 and that He is returning this time as the King Messiah with all the power of God at His disposal to bring an end to war and injustice and establish His Messianic kingdom, ruling from restored Jerusalem with its Temple in place and Israel at peace with its neighbours.  Before that time there will be the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30) leading to Israel’s acceptance of Yeshua and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31.31-4). God will correct the mistake of not recognising Yeshua as the Messiah, when He reveals Himself in the events of Zechariah 12.10 prior to His return in power to the Mount of Olives at the time of the last war (Zechariah 14))

Number of Jews worldwide nears 1925’s level, but still far short of pre-WWII

Central Bureau of Statistics says there were 14.7 million Jews at end of 2018, in figures released ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day. in 1939, there were 16.6 million.  According to the CBS, there were 14.7 million Jews at the end of 2018, just shy of the 14.8 million there were in 1925 but still significantly fewer than the 16.6 million there were on the eve of World War II in 1939, and the Holocaust in which six million Jews were systematically murdered.

The 6.8 million Jews in Israel accounted for 45 percent of the world Jewish population. Of them, 5.2 million were born in Israel while the majority of the rest, 1 million, were born either in Europe or on the American continent. The United States has the second largest Jewish population at 5.7 million, followed by France, Canada, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Russia, Germany and Australia.

Israel’s total population stands at nearly 9.2 million, according to data released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics on Sunday.  Israel grew by 171,000 people since last year’s Independence Day, according to the CBS, with analysts predicting that Israel will be home to 15.2 million people by its 100th birthday in 2048. In the past year, 180,000 babies were born, 44,000 people died and 32,000 new immigrants arrived in Israel.

Israel’s population was described as “young,” with 28 percent aged 0-14 and 36.1 percent under the age of 19. The average number of children aged 0-14 years in other OECD countries is just 18 percent.

Israel’s 6.806 million Jews comprise 74 percent of the population, with Arabs making up 21 percent. An additional 5 percent are largely comprised of non-Arab Christians.  Today, 78 percent of Israelis are native-born sabras; however, 3.3 million people have immigrated to Israel since 1948, with 44 percent of them arriving in the past 30 years. 

In 2020, the five most populated cities were Jerusalem (936,047), Tel Aviv-Jaffa (461,352), Haifa (285,542), Rishon Letzion (254,238) and Petach Tikvah (248,005).

On the eve of Independence in May 1948, Israel’s Jewish population stood at 806,000. At that time, only Tel Aviv was home to more than 100,000 residents. Today, Israel has 14 cities with 100,000-plus residents and eight cities with 200,000-plus residents.

Originally published at JNS.org 

Israel’s Independence Day 

Public celebrations for Israel’s Independence Day were very low key this year.  The government determined that the annual air show would present too much of a temptation for Israelis to violate coronavirus restrictions and gather in public venues.  So the Israel Air Force (IAF) decided instead to honour the nation’s healthcare workers with flyovers of major hospitals across the country.  Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, the current commander of the IAF, published a video clip noting that under usual circumstances, his forces are on the frontlines of the crises faced by Israel.  In the battle against COVID-19, however, it’s the nation’s doctors, nurses and medics who are the frontline troops, and Gen. Norkin felt it was important to honour them just as the nation honours his soldiers in times of war.

While the nation followed an unusual Independence Day, Israel Today magazine https://www.israeltoday.co.il published an article showing the significance of Israel’s enduring existence.

‘Israel cannot be snuffed out for one simple reason: God said so.

What does it mean to be eternal?

It’s a difficult concept for our minds to grasp. Our general notion of things is that they have a beginning and an end. History has conditioned us to see peoples and nations in the same way.

Even the mightiest of empires have eventually crumbled. Where are the Romans, Persians, Aztecs and Mongols? Some might still exist, but only as shadows of their former glory.

The socio-political map of the world is constantly shifting. Israel and the Jews have not been immune to this. But something sets them apart.

Israel and the Jews have faced perhaps more conquests than anyone else. In some cases, in particular with the Romans and the Nazis, these were concerted efforts to erase Israel and the Jews from the annals of history.

And yet, here Israel is.

Despite being targeted for not only conquest, but annihilation by some of history’s greatest powers, the Jews somehow endure. And not only endure, but thrive in a reborn nation state. Somehow, Israel is eternal in a way that those former powers could only dream of.

The unassailability of the aforementioned empires was based on wealth and military might. Israel’s is based on something that’s, well… more unassailable.

The Bible contains many verses concerning God’s everlasting covenant with the fathers of the nation of Israel. But it is the prophet Jeremiah (31:35-36) who best conveys the truth of the matter:

Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”

In other words, heaven and earth as we know them would have to pass away for Israel to cease to exist as a nation. And the power behind that promise makes all the wealth and military might in the world pale by comparison.

Israel cannot be snuffed out for one simple reason: He said so.

What a privilege to live in a time when we can witness the eternity of Israel manifest in the reborn Jewish state. And in so doing, what we are really witnessing is God’s faithfulness.

Amen.

Tony Pearce

Tony Pearce

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