Should Israelis see themselves first as “Israeli,” or first as “Jewish”?
In a recent article, our editor, Aviel Schneider, pointed out that this identity crisis is at the heart of the present division in Israel.
Right-wing and religious Israeli Jews see themselves first as Jewish, then as Israeli, and lastly as a citizen of the world.
Left-wing and secular Israeli Jews see themselves as first a citizen of the world, then as Israeli, and lastly as Jewish.
“Israeli” in this context does not mean “child of Israel” in the biblical sense, but rather is a modern nationality that most would define as first and foremost liberal, democratic and progressive. A “child of Israel” is a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and is first and foremost defined by the divine covenant between God and those forefathers.
As such, for the sake of this discussion, the more modern appellation “Jew” is synonymous with “child of Israel.”
This is a deep-seated issue, and convincing one side or the other to accept, or at least consider the opposing viewpoint has become nearly impossible.
Even so, it is instructive for us to ask the simple question: What does the Bible say?
Even if half of Israeli Jews couldn’t care less what God has to say on the matter, and view as “extremists” those who do, the simple fact is that without the Bible, there is no Israel, progressive, conservative or otherwise.
And the God’s Word is very clear on the matter at hand:
“For you are a people set apart as holy for ADONAI your God. ADONAI your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his own unique treasure.” (Deuteronomy 7:6)
God isn’t going to force this uniqueness on Israel. He wants her to embrace it. But biblical history shows that Israel has as often as not rejected its calling to be “set apart,” and we see the same happening today.
The issue of judicial reform is just a catalyst. If you listen closely to the demonstrators, you’ll hear that their real fear is becoming a “religious state,” of becoming something other than the Western ideal of liberal democracy, of becoming set apart.
And they’re willing to bring the country to a grinding halt to prevent that.
You can argue that the uniqueness envisioned by the rabbinical authorities or Itamar Ben-Gvir isn’t the uniqueness God has in mind. But that’s not the point. Even if the Messiah himself showed up and began transform Israel into a nation “set apart,” many of the same people who are protesting today would oppose his policies as “fascist.”
At the heart of the matter, they’re resisting the very notion of being “chosen,” of somehow being different from what the rest of the world wants and demands that they be. The other half of society already sees Israel as a religious state with a prophetic mission rooted in Scripture.
And that internal division is where our prayers should be focused, because it’s far more threatening than any external foe.
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