Today is a very exciting day for many people in both Israel and the US. In the US, Americans are going to the polls to elect the next president of their country and at the time of this writing the race is too close to call. Israelis are following that race as the President of the US has such an influence on so much that happens to Israel.
But today there is another election going on in Israel– a primary election for the head of one of Israel’s smaller political parties. The Bayit HaYehudi or Jewish Home party is one of two religious Zionist parties in Israel, the result of a splinter of a larger party a few years ago. Both parties represent the most vibrant ideology in Israel today and the only one which combines modern Zionism with good old-fashioned faith. But because of in-fighting and petty politics, both parties only represent a fraction of their potential constituency.
Today, for the first time ever, this party is holding primaries for the head of the party and next week, there will be primaries for the Knesset list. And, both parties have already agreed to run jointly for the Knesset. Thousands of religious Zionists in Israel have registered to vote in these primary races and the energy and excitement this has generated bodes well for a far larger representation of these combined parties in the next Knesset when the country goes to the polls in January.
But this is not just about politics. What is especially exciting about this new dynamic is the new voice that is being heard from young people newly involved in the political race. For years, the religious Zionist political party focused on representing the interests of the religious Zionists in Israel. It ensured that religious people could observe Shabbat and the kosher laws in the public arena and feel comfortable. It ensured quality religious education for religious children. And it fought valiantly and often effectively for the settlement movement, whose ideological leadership and character is drawn from the religious Zionist sector of Israel.
For years, though, the party ignored a far larger, much more important role in Israeli society – the role of educator and inspirer. The religious Zionist population is involved in every area of Israeli society – in the military, the universities, business, non-profits and, of course, religious life. Unlike the ultra-Orthodox who live a more cloistered life, the religious Zionists take part in everything. But when they get involved in society, they are doing it with Bible and faith in hand. When they serve in the military, they do so because they believe that they are defending the Land of Israel which G-d gave to His people. When they teach in either religious or secular institutions, they are educating the next generation to build a just and honorable society in the best of Jewish tradition.
When so many secular young people have lost track of Zionism and are confused as to why they are in Israel and what Jewish history and tradition means, the religious Zionists know why they are here. These young soldiers know what they are fighting for. A significant number of IDF officers today are religious Zionist young men, and they are able to inspire their comrades and remind them of what Israel means to us all.
Today, the religious Zionist party is beginning to understand that they have a message that is relevant not only to religious people in Israel, but to the entire country. And if some of the young men and women running for party positions win seats in the Knesset, this party may well become an important platform not only for a political message but for a spiritual one as well. And that is truly exciting!
At CFOIC Heartland, we have been communicating a message of faith and Zionism to Christians all over the world. Imagine if that message were also being communicated from the Knesset! Which brings me to a meeting of a different sort that I had today. I was invited to meet with a diplomat from the Norwegian Embassy in Tel-Aviv. Although the Norwegian government is decidedly pro-Palestinian and is one of the few governments which actually supports non-profit organizations whose goal is to undermine the Israeli government, this diplomat wanted to find out what the so-called “settlers” had to say about things.
The conversation was cordial and I was pleased that I had the chance to point out to him how biased his assumptions were. I criticized his use of the word “occupation’ and discussed the legal issues that underlie our claim to the land. At some point in the conversation, he asked me if my claims were based on the Bible, as if that would end the discussion, but I proceeded to discuss a host of legal and political issues that supported our claim to the land. He was very interested in the activities of CFOIC Heartland and recognized that Christian groups in his country were more pro-Israel than the current government. And he indicated that elections in his country would be held in 2013 and that it was quite possible that a more pro-Israel government would replace the current one.
Which brings me to the connection between the two subjects of this letter – the changes in the Religious Zionist party in Israel and my meeting with a Norwegian diplomat. His government is a very secular one and while Israel can make its case easily on purely secular terms, the passion we all feel for Israel derives from our Biblical faith. But it seems that changes are happening in Norway and the Christian party is gaining strength. And that means better relationships with Israel.
In Israel, I am confident that the results of our upcoming elections in January will demonstrate a similar trend. True religious values will come to the fore. Not religious coercion but religious values. And what a difference that will make.
We cannot survive without religious values. We cannot survive as humanity without recognizing our Creator. And when we do, our vision becomes clearer and we are better able to align priorities and seek justice. I hope and pray that as democratic countries face elections, in whichever part of the globe they may be, we will witness hum