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Israel Headed to Fourth Elections in Two Years

As we enter the new year 2021, Israel is heading to its fourth elections in the past two years and this one will yet again focus on whether to continue under the security and stability the country has known under long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or finally move on to a new national leader. The campaign is still in its early stages and there are several factors which could tip the scales one way or another – including Israel’s coronavirus vaccination effort, Netanyahu’s pending trial, the Iranian threat, and the approach of the new Biden administration to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and especially to Tehran.

The election is slated for March 23, and various parties are still jockeying to see who has the best chance to unseat Netanyahu, which remains a very tall task. Netanyahu is widely known as “Mr Security” here in Israel, and even the Blue & White alignment featuring three former IDF chiefs-of-staff could not dent that reputation in the last election. He also has performed extremely well on economic affairs, championing free markets and successfully promoting Israel as the Start-Up Nation. Netanyahu has shown incredible diplomatic skills that have elevated him to the status of a Western statesman. And he has enjoyed unprecedented longevity in office by his mastering of the game of domestic Israeli politics.

But Netanyahu also is seen by many as too focused on his own political survival, while his family is viewed as leading a privileged lifestyle. Taking advantage of the three-pronged corruption scandal now facing Netanyahu, the “Black Flag” protest movement has been holding boisterous demonstrations outside his official residence for months on end, and even stirred similar protests in other nations.

While he is preparing for that trial, which could begin before the March 23rd balloting, Netanyahu also continues to build on what may be his most lasting legacy – the Abraham Accords. Indeed, the recent peace and normalization deals with several Sunni Arab states is an historic diplomatic breakthrough for Israel and the region.

His main rivals in this election are not from the Left or the military, but from his own Right flank. Both Naftali Bennett of Yamina and Gideon Sa’ar of the fledgling “New Hope” faction were close associates of Netanyahu within Likud who have since parted ways and now present the biggest threat to toppling the five-time premier. They do not disagree so much with his policies, but are banking on Israelis wearying of his personality.

Meantime, Benny Gantz of Blue & White lost public support when he broke his promise not to sit in a government with Netanyahu, even though it was for the good of the nation during a global pandemic. His old partners Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Moshe Yaalon of Telem have yet to broaden their support base enough to challenge for the top seat of power. And Gabi Ashkenazi has done well in his short stint as Foreign Minister, but currently is still weighing his options.

As the campaign heats up, Netanyahu will tout his ambitious plan for Israel to lead the world in the race to mass vaccinations from coronavirus. And he will certainly explore whether more Arab nations are open to peace with the Jewish state – a breakthrough made possible by US President Donald Trump.

Trump may not be there this time to deliver Netanyahu some election-eve gifts, such as his well-timed recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights. Instead, the Biden administration could seek to impact the election by unnerving Israeli voters about Netanyahu being a liability to closer US-Israeli relations. Yet they could easily drive just enough Israelis into Bibi’s arms to return him to power should Biden’s team come out too strongly against the settlements or too easy on Iran. After all, there is something to be said for security and stability in these very turbulent times.

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Middle East faces prospects of Biden presidency

After the media declared Joe Biden the winner of the US elections in early November, leaders in Israel and the Middle East quickly began taking measures in anticipation of Biden taking office on January 20th. These moves may prove premature, however, as President Donald Trump has contested the results over allegations of massive election fraud and is seeking to secure a second term on Constitutional grounds. As of this writing, the outcome of those efforts are still unresolved, but the prospects of a Biden presidency have already caused key shifts in the region.

From an Israeli perspective, it would be hard for any president to measure up to Trump. He recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US Embassy there; recognised the Golan as sovereign Israeli territory; gave legitimacy to Israel’s presence in Judea/Samaria; played down the two-state solution; cut off US funding to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA refugee agency; withdrew from the flawed Iranian nuclear agreement; confronted the bullying of Israel in the United Nations; and recently swayed three Arab states to normalise relations with Israel. For all these reasons Trump is widely admired in Israel, with one pre-election poll showing 66% of Israelis were pulling for his re-election.

Meantime, Biden has his own long record on Israel and the region. During his 36 years in the US Senate, he did tend to go along with the pro-Israel consensus in Congress. But as vice president for eight years in the Obama administration, there were many occasions when he could have distanced himself from its unfriendly policies towards Israel, yet he failed to do so. This extends from when a newly sworn-in Barack Obama immediately pressured Israel to impose an unprecedented ten-month settlement freeze, all the way to when the outgoing Obama team orchestrated the very one-sided UN Security Council resolution 2334, which declared Israeli settlements a “flagrant violation under international law”.

Given this record, most Mideast leaders have been expecting Biden to take a completely different approach to the region than Trump.

As a general rule, Biden is bent on undoing many of Trump’s executive decisions – both at home and abroad. This might not mean returning the US Embassy to Tel Aviv. But it would include warming US relations with the PLO and restoring US funding to the PA and UNRWA – although Biden would need to adhere to the new Taylor Force Act which now blocks US funding if the Palestinians are still paying welfare benefits to terrorists.

He also would vigorously push the two-state solution again, as well as pressure Israel on settlement activity. And he would likely revert to the “linkage” theory – the State Department’s traditional position that all conflicts in the region stem from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which needs to be solved before other regional problems can be addressed.

Buoyed by the thought Trump was on his way out, the PA leadership in Ramallah quickly signalled Biden they were ready to start restoring security cooperation with Israel, and even to enter renewed negotiations with Jerusalem, after boycotting any such talks during Trump’s time in office.

European Union officials also felt emboldened to ratchet up their opposition to all settlement activity, denouncing in particular Israeli plans to build hundreds of new housing units in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Givat Hamatos.

However, many Arab leaders continued to take steps to normalise relations with Israel. Even Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman recently hosted a discreet but historic meeting with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss future moves should Biden take office.

Meanwhile on Iran, many analysts believe Biden would either re-enter the old nuclear deal or seek a new one with minor changes and an extended deadline. The clerical regime in Tehran, however, made it clear they would exact a high price to even entertain possible changes to the JCPOA negotiated under Obama.

Otherwise, Biden is largely seen as a ‘globalist’ – a view reflected in his picks so far for senior foreign policy positions. Many are former Obama appointees, which could prove worrisome to Israelis still smarting from the Obama years. But Biden’s defenders insist he would respect the close US-Israel relationship and help maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.

For America’s traditional Sunni Arab allies, however, there are serious concerns Biden would return to the Obama-era appeasement of Iran by lifting sanctions and overlooking its aggressive tactics in the region. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a visit to the region to reassure Israel and the Arabs that Trump was still around, and a few days later Iran’s top nuclear scientist was assassinated – setting back its atomic program no matter who occupies the White House.

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

The Battle of Voices

In most countries, there is no doubt that our media outlets and the streams of communication have become ‘mainstream’ in a very literal sense. In most places, there is just one prevailing discourse, one message, one viewpoint that is endorsed and anybody who decides to depart from this consensus view is immediately ostracized for being radical, racist, fascist or worse.

The University of Arizona found in a recent questionnaire, sent to 462 journalists at media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press, that only 4.4% described themselves as conservatives, while an astonishing 58.7% identified themselves as left/liberal leaning.

One area where this bias is seen most obviously is their treatment of US President Donald Trump. The German newspaper Die Welt calculated recently that 99% of the articles published in Germany about Trump were critical. He is caricatured as a rough-talking, boastful man who is destroying Western culture.

As Christians, we should note that the vast majority of evangelical Christians in the USA came to an entirely different conclusion. In their eyes, Donald Trump’s time in office has been one of the most successful administrations in the past 50 years. Before Corona, the US not only had the lowest unemployment rate in decades, he also significantly improved the economic standing of America’s Black community, far more than his predecessor Barak Obama. Trump reversed some of the extreme abortionist laws and took an unprecedented pro-life stand as America’s president. He is considered the most pro-Israel US president in history, with these last months of his first term noted for the first peace breakthroughs between Israel and the Arab world in decades. When Trump announced the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the political elites in Europe not only condemned the move, their experts foresaw a Middle East set ablaze. Yet today, three years after, much of the Arab world enjoys a rare atmosphere of peace and stability, and has become more friendly to Israel than many nations in what used to be known as ‘Christian Europe.’

Yet the media do not want to report anything good about Trump. And what is astonishing about this extremely liberal chorus of voices which dominate the airwaves around the world is that they are not united because laws force them to be so, but it all has coalesced into a grotesque Orwellian reality in which no law prevents free speech, but any deviation from the accepted narrative is punished. Just a few weeks ago, a Christian ministry leader in Germany posted a modestly pro-Trump opinion, yet all hell broke loose as politicians and media outlets swarmed down on her until she finally removed the post and focused back on her ministry.

Reading through the book of Revelation, I recently was surprised by a recuring pattern that the Apostle John encountered in his visions. As he describes the evil forces which will unfold and fight against the saints and the Lamb during the last days (also during history), they seem to all resort to one main weapon of choice – their mouths.

In Revelation 9, John sees a frightful demonic army, demonic horses having the heads of lions with “fire, smoke and sulfur” coming out of their mouths. John later attests that their main threat is their mouth; indeed, “the power of the horses is in their mouth” (Revelation 9:17-19).

In Revelation 13, as the anti-Christian Beast and his false prophet are revealed, we read “a mouth was given to the beast to speak haughty and blasphemous words” (Revelation 13:5). His prophet “spoke like a dragon” (13:11), and erected an image which spoke and caused “those who would not worship the beast to be slain” (13:15).

And as John sees the “bowls of God’s wrath” being poured out (Revelation 16), again an evil army is assembled. This army is led by the Beast, the dragon and the false prophet. Their key weapon again is their mouth. Out of their mouth, “three demonic unclean spirits like frogs” are released with the purpose “to assemble the kings of the world for battle.”

These passages are possibly best summarized by Revelation 12:15, where the serpent, Satan himself, comes to the scene and pours out of his mouth “a river after the woman (Israel)… that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood.”

The spoken deceptive words of Satan are what caused sin, chaos and death from the very beginning, by talking mankind into his demonic schemes (Genesis 3:1ff). He spoke back then in the Garden Eden, and he still speaks until today. His words of deception, immorality and blasphemy are all around us. And woe to anyone who dares to speak against it – a fury will break loose against you. There are numerous hot button issues where public dialogue has become impossible: abortion, gender and family issues, or support for Israel are some prime examples. In short, any biblical, conservative input into our national life is immediately shot down by the political correctness of our days.

The book of Daniel gives a similar picture. Also here, the beast and anti-Christ of Daniel chapters 7 and 11 speak against God and against the saints (Daniel 7:8, 11, 20). Daniel sees these demonic voices “wearing down the saints” (Daniel 7:25). The signs of the saints being worn down by these voices can be seen today. It is easier to compromise for peace’s sake than to stand firm on what we believe.

Yet the most important truth and value the book of Revelation offers us is hope! There is hope for the future. Jesus comes back! At his arrival, Jesus will – with the breath of his mouth – make an end of Satan and his Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:8). We must never forget that the word of God is more powerful than any word of deception and any demonic lie. His word stands forever! At the command of His word, the world was created and His word calmed the sea. When Jesus comes it will just take a breath, one word from his mouth, to unmask all the lies and schemes of the enemy. What a glorious day that will be.

But there is hope also for today. Again and again, John sees overcomers, men and women of God who will not bow down at the words that come from the mouth of the serpent. John sees those who overcame shared unique qualities:

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11)

Never forget the power of the blood of Jesus. Like at Passover, when the blood protected the people of Israel, so also today the blood of Jesus “speaks.” It is more powerful than any power of darkness and protects us from the assaults of the enemy. Make it a point every day to proclaim the power of the blood of Jesus over your life and family, and trust the Lord to keep you from the many lies that fill the airwaves.

They also overcame by the word of their testimony. Don’t be silent, and ask the Lord for wisdom when to speak and when not to, and ask for courage not to hold back. As God gave us His word, we are called upon to make use of the “sword of the spirit, the word of God”. Let us trust that the power of His word is the same today as it was in the days of the Apostles.

And finally, they overcome because of an attitude of total dedication to the purposes of God. It reminds me of the three men in the fiery furnace who did not listen to the voices of their day and refused to bow down to an idol. “No matter if God will save us or not, we will never bow down” (Daniel 3:17). It also was the profession of Queen Esther, who after praying and fasting, went to the king saying: “If I perish I perish!” Radical dedication to Jesus and His eternal Kingdom is a quality that will be required in the years to come more than ever before.

As we cherish these qualities and immerse ourselves in the faithful words of God, He will keep us, protect us and allow us to carry out great exploits for His glory.

Render Unto Caesar

"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s." (Luke 20:25)

While the whole world is waiting on edge for finality in the US elections, this is a good time to address the question of why so many Christians are still reluctant to engage in the political process.

It is true that politics can be a turnoff, and election campaigns are outrageously expensive and can often bring out the worst in us. It also is true that, as Christians, we belong to a Kingdom which is “not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Yet, I find it indefensible for Christians not to at least vote.

One of the odd flaws of American democracy is that voter turnout rates are much lower than in many other Western democracies, generally ranging in the low to mid-60s. Voting rates among Christians in the United States are slightly higher, most notably ever since Evangelicals became more involved in the pro-life movement and other moral causes in the 1980s.

But there are still far too many Christians who are fatalistic about the way things are going. Others misconstrue the separation of church and state, believing the mantra of our detractors that Christians should keep our religious views to ourselves. Thus, they voluntarily muzzle their own voice. But this is wrong!

The whole concept of separation of church and state can be traced back to the incisive words of Jesus in Luke 20:25… “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

In context, Jesus had just told the Parable of the Wicked Vinedresser, which upset some of the religious rulers of his day. So they sent in spies posing as followers to trick him into saying something which might get him in trouble with the Roman authorities. “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” they inquired. But Jesus was up to their game, and responded with an incredibly wise answer that has had a lasting impact in the shaping of Western culture.

Taking a Roman coin with the emperor’s face on it, Jesus said: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Luke 20:25)

The Bible teaches that God sets up rulers and authorities, who need to be respected (see for example: Daniel 4:17; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-4). Yet Jesus also set forth the great truth that there are things about our lives and persons which belong to God alone, and no ruler can take them from us. And we must walk out our life and faith within the tension between those two competing ‘masters.’

Much of this biblical wisdom was forged in ages past when kings and rulers tended to be ruthless, and the righteous often had to suffer and endure and overcome their cruelty and evil.

Today, however, so many of us live in relatively free, democratic societies where we can actually tell Caesar just how much we must render unto him. We can limit the powers of government and hold our leaders accountable. And it is inexcusable for Christians not to exercise our individual rights and defend our religious freedoms. We should not cede our ground and thereby leave it to those seeking ungodly aims.

Most modern democracies are built on one of two historic models which arose at the same time – the French and American revolutions. Both uprisings were sparked in the late 18th century by peoples who stood up to the tyranny of their respective kings.

In France, the royals plundered the people and lived lavishly, abetted by a church bent on maintaining its own privileged status. But the masses eventually rose up and overthrew them both in a bloody revolution empowered by cries for “liberty, equality and fraternity.”

Meantime in America, the courageous subjects of King George settling the new world demanded a real say in their own lives and took up arms to repel his attempt to keep them under his heel.

Building on the Magna Carta, the Reformation and other developments, these revolutions greatly furthered the concept that rulers themselves are subject to a higher law, which led to nations adopting constitutional limits on government. However, there is a key difference between the resulting French and American models for democracy. The French Revolution eventually gave rise to the modern secular state which has left no room for God in the public square. The American model, on the other hand, called for a healthy separation of church and state even while preserving and guaranteeing a place for God in public life.

I truly believe the election battle being waged in the US right now is a struggle over whether America will abandon the model established by its founding fathers and opt instead for the vision of a totally secular, socialist state ruled by an unaccountable elite.

So while we still have the power, we need to be speaking out to tell Caesar just how far he can go and what he can and cannot take from us. We should be seeking out leaders who can turn our nations in a more godly direction. We must demand rulers who will defend our religious liberties and individual freedoms, and especially the life of the unborn. We must back those who will stand for the traditional family and biblical values. And we must insist that our leaders support Israel and treat her fairly in the international arena. 

— David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

The Referendum on Trump

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts… (2 Peter 1:19)

The late Bible teacher Derek Prince used to say that one of the worst things God could do to a nation is to place it under a ‘spirit of confusion.’ And he would often lament, half-jokingly, that his beloved Israel was saddled with a double portion of that spirit.

We are about to find out if the United States will be left languishing in a spirit of confusion by the upcoming election, or whether a clear prophetic voice has been restored to America.

Ahead of the 2016 election, there were several Evangelical figures in the United States who had similar prophetic words and visions that God was raising up Donald J. Trump to lead the country in a more godly direction. Several said the Lord would use a new leader as a “Trumpet” sounding across the land – and this was long before businessman Trump decided to run for president.

These prophetic voices were quite intriguing, yet some Christians were reluctant to fully embrace them. Were these prophets driven more by a vision to restore a ‘Christian America’ rather than by a desire to build the Kingdom of God? For when that becomes our primary goal it can create an idol, and our idols can often speak to us false words that we are all too eager to hear.

Many Evangelicals also had serious concerns over Trump’s character flaws. Yet they voted for him, largely because of the policies he espoused and the promises he made, particularly concerning Israel. It also helped to have Mike Pence, a genuine born-again believer, on the ticket. And they also wanted to believe the prophetic utterances concerning his candidacy were accurate.

Well, they turned out to be true. Despite all the odds stacked against him, Trump won! And he indeed has turned America in a more godly direction. He is the most pro-life president ever. He has defended religious freedoms that leftists would purge from the public square. He has slowed the erosion of traditional families and other biblical values. He has encouraged individual initiative and advancement based on hard work and merits, while creating jobs that are lifting every sector of society. He has stood for US national interests, and against globalization. He has cut taxes to grow the economy, and exposed corruption in government. And he has kept his promises concerning our ally Israel, in ways that were simply unimaginable four years ago.

Now, we are just days away from a second referendum on Trump. The odds against him are even greater this time, especially due to the widespread fears and economic uncertainties associated with the Coronavirus. The mainstream media are predicting a nationwide “blue wave” for the Democratic party – from presidential candidate Joe Biden on down the ballot. And they are doing everything they can to ensure it happens, with the full cooperation of the left-leaning, pro-globalization big tech companies. They are scourging Trump and anyone who dares to back him. They are burying and mocking anything that taints Biden’s long public record and his fitness for the highest office in the land. And when an ‘October surprise’ emerged in the form of his careless son Hunter Biden’s laptop, they have deliberately spread the tale that it is a “Russian disinformation campaign” – which in itself is a disinformation campaign.

Yet once again, prophetic voices have arisen which foresee another Trump victory against these overwhelming odds. These voices seem to have their motivates and priorities right. These are humble, God-fearing men, who are seeking righteousness and not the spotlight. They know this is a spiritual battle more than a political one. They appear to be ‘Kingdom first’ believers, and what they are seeing is that the things God wants to do with and for America through President Trump will take two terms in office to complete.

Like four years ago, nearly every paper, pollster and political pundit is predicting Trump’s defeat. Indeed, it seems only a miracle from heaven will keep him in office. But the prophets are saying it will happen. And when it does, it should leave little doubt that Trump truly has been chosen to lead America at this time. And perhaps more important in the long-term, it will become clear that the prophetic voice has been restored to America. That is a great blessing for this nation, and we would do well to heed this prophetic voice (2 Peter 1:19). It also has a divine purpose. God is wanting to use America in new and greater ways to bless the world, and to promote and defend liberty in a dark and difficult time.

The Israeli Perspective
We must hope and pray that a clear prophetic voice will be restored to Israel as well. After all, this is the nation that gave us the great Hebrew prophets of old, and the prophetic figures of the New Testament.

It is interesting that recent polls show some two-thirds of Israelis prefer the re-election of Donald Trump over Joe Biden, who drew only 18% support. That stands in sharp contrast to the American Jewish community, which the latest polls concur will go for Biden at a 75% rate, with only the conservative Orthodox community turning out for Trump in large numbers.

Why this huge disparity between Israeli and American Jews on the biggest political question of our day? What do Israelis see that their American Jewish cousins do not?

First of all, most Israelis clearly grasp that President Trump is the best friend they have ever had in the White House – hands down! This positive view of Trump goes beyond his acknowledging of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his move of the US Embassy here. It goes beyond his recognition of the Golan as sovereign Israeli territory, and his legitimizing of Israel’s legal rights and presence in Judea/Samaria. It even goes beyond his withdrawal from the seriously flawed Iranian nuclear agreement. It also has to do with the way Trump and his Administration have defended Israel from the constant bullying they face in the international arena. This is something ordinary Israelis appreciate in ways that American Jews – and most others outside this country – cannot fathom. It wears on a people to be hounded, degraded and defamed for so many decades in United Nations forums, and Israelis are glad that someone has finally stood up for them.

President Trump also is taking concrete steps to erode away at this global structure for bullying Israel. When Serbia and Kosovo sought US mediation of a bilateral economic agreement, Trump required that they also do right by Israel. When the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain sought greater US protection from Iran, they had to sign diplomatic accords with Israel. When Sudan now wants off the terror-sponsorship list, they too must make friends with Israel.

Many Israelis also know that Joe Biden, on the other hand, would undoubtedly return the US to the globalization bandwagon, which is so easily manipulated by the anti-Israel club. The globalization process means ceding more and more national sovereignty to the UN and other international agencies that are already infested with anti-Zionist and even antisemitic operatives, such as the special prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, or the UN Human Rights Council, which just elected such repressive regimes as Russia, China, Cuba and Pakistan as members.

Tech giants like Facebook and Twitter are baldly supporting Biden’s candidacy because they welcome this same globalization process. And it is not so much out of some liberal idealism, but more out of pure profit motives. After all, Facebook now has several billion users and wants access to an unfettered global market placed beyond Washington’s regulation.

But we are seeing in this election why that is a such a dangerous proposition. Global cooperation can be used for great good, but global governance can also be used for great evil. There is such enormous potential for abuse of power by an insulated elite, for suppression of truth, and for repression of peoples and their basic rights. And no doubt Israel will remain a target of the thug nations endemic to globalization.

Perhaps that is why Donald Trump is so needed at this hour. He seems to be the only one uniquely capable of putting the brakes to the globalization drive – and the dark side lurking in its shadow.

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

A Second Look at the Israel-UAE Peace Deal

Hard on the heels of last week’s diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just concluded a swing through the region to try to get other Arab nations to quickly join the “Abraham Accord” by agreeing to normalize relations with the Jewish state. While his junket did not bear much immediate fruit, it is clear that a number of former enemies in the region are warming up to Israel, in part due to the looming Iranian threat but also because of cultural changes occurring within Sunni Arab societies.

In last Friday’s Commentary [Is the Israel-UAE Pact a Real Breakthrough for the Region?], we began laying out the pros and cons and the underlying reasons for the UAE’s decision to break from the pack and openly embrace direct relations with Israel. It is an historic development, as the Emirates have become only the third Arab state to establish formal ties with Israel – after Egypt and Jordan. We also looked at why the UAE in particular took this bold step, and who might be next? Here are some more thoughts on this important development in the Middle East.

To understand why the United Arab Emirates has made peace with Israel, one only needs to look at a map of the region. The UAE is located only 22 miles across the water from Iran and thus it feels very vulnerable to Tehran’s nuclear and regional ambitions. In light of this threat, they put in a request with the Pentagon six years ago to purchase several of the new F35 advanced stealth aircraft, and making peace with Israel significantly raises the odds of that being approved. It is likely that Israel will not be able to totally block that sale, but they could then expect to be compensated with other advanced military hardware and technology to help maintain its qualitative edge over other militaries in the region.

Second, the native-born citizens of the UAE only comprise 11% of the total population in their own country. The oil-rich nation has imported workers from some 200 nations, including large contingents from India and the Philippines, many of whom practice Christianity, Hinduism and other religions. So unlike most Arab and Muslim-majority states, the Emiratis have had to become very tolerant in allowing these guests to practice their own faiths. Thus, there are many churches and even several synagogues to serve the growing Jewish community in the UAE.

In fact, last year the UAE welcomed the Pope to Abu Dhabi, where he performed a large public mass for tens of thousands of Catholics in the country. Styling 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance,” the emirs also approved plans for the Abrahamic Family House, a unique and grand complex which will contain a mosque, church and synagogue all living in harmony. The concept came from an interfaith clerical group called the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity, and thus it seems the UAE is now very ecumenical minded.

The UAE is also seeking to diversify its economy away from oil exports and over into hi-tech, which would make it a natural partner with Israel. Finally, the Emirates have touted Dubai and Abu Dhabi as opulent hubs connecting East and West in the emerging global community, and continuing to irrationality hate Israel does not mesh with the futurist image it is trying to project.

But what other Arab states might be next in line to make peace with Israel?

Secretary Pompeo visited several of the most likely candidates in his trip through the region this week, including Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain and Oman. Although he returned home without another diplomatic trophy to help with President Donald Trump’s re-election effort, there is reason for hope that progress will come soon enough.

Oman seems most likely to be the next Arab nation to join the peace camp with Israel. They were the earliest and most vocal in their praise of the deal made by their immediate neighbor. And Oman has hosted three sitting Israeli prime ministers over recent decades, going back to Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in the 1990s, and Benjamin Netanyahu more recently. They also have extensive trade relations and other interactions with Israel. But they are holding back for now, perhaps to see what the UAE gets out of their deal or whether Trump will get re-elected.

Bahrain also is seen as a prime candidate, but it is somewhat constrained by its delicate internal political situation at present, as the ruling Sunni Arabs are a minority in their own country, facing unrest from the Shi’ite majority – both Arabs and Persians – who are open to Iranian influence. During the Arab Spring uprisings several years ago, the Shi’ites staged mass protests against the Bahraini king, forcing the Saudis to march troops across the 16-mile long causeway to the island nation to save him from being overthrown.

Saudi Arabia is certainly starting to open up more to the world, and they have developed their own quiet ties with Israel. But as guardians of the holy city of Mecca and of mainstream Sunni traditions, the ruling family will move slowly on both tracks. But glacial changes indeed are taking place. The younger Saudi generation, as reflected by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have access to the Internet and are more open to Western influences. They can now go see movies, which was forbidden just two or three years ago. Women can now drive, travel without chaperones, and attend sporting events. Regarding Israel, there also are signs of warming relations. For instance, the Saudis are now letting Israeli commercial flights to cross over their territory on the way to India. But it will take time, and for now the Saudis are still sticking with the Arab peace initiative they launched in 2002, which requires a Palestinian state before normalization with Riyadh.

Sudan also has been sending out signals of an interest in reconciling with Israel, but the nation is still in the midst of a fragile transition away from a radical Muslim dictatorship and many anti-Israel elements remain in the transitional council. Further, the overtures to Israel appear to be almost exclusively motivated by a desire to reap rewards from Washington, including debt and sanctions relief.

Finally, Secretary Pompeo made a stop in Morocco in hopes of coaxing its monarchy to close a deal with Israel. Morocco was once home to a large Jewish community which contributed much to the country, and that heritage still enjoys some measure of respect there. Morocco has hosted Israeli leaders and exhibited less hostility towards Israel than most members of the Arab League. But it also has its share of Islamic rejectionists – like the current prime minister, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement now led by Turkey. Some analysts also are saying Rabat is perhaps looking for the US and Israel to recognize its claim to the Western Sahara as part of any deal with Jerusalem.

Meantime, one also has to take into account the stiff opposition to the Israeli-UAE normalization pact being raised by Turkey and Iran, as well as by the Palestinians themselves. They are pulling out all the stops to deter anyone else from making peace with Israel.

Progress towards peace between Israel and the Arab world is never easy. But the Trump team has managed an historic breakthrough and more incremental advances can be expected. But it will take President Trump being returned to office in November for the current diplomatic momentum to be sustained.

 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Is the Israel-UAE Pact a Real Breakthrough for the Region?

Just as the Oslo Accords suddenly sprang from the Norwegian woods back in 1993, last week’s news of a breakthrough in relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates caught everyone by surprise. The region’s attention quickly swung from the fallout of the massive blast in Lebanon to the possibilities of a seismic shift in Israel’s relations with a host of hostile states throughout the Middle East and beyond. Even in Israel, the rancorous ‘black flag’ protests to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instantly lost steam.

Many hailed the announced deal as a welcome return to the “peace for peace” formula preferred by the Israeli Right, in that Israel was not being asked to concede anything to the UAE in exchange for normalization of relations with the Jewish state. Others cautioned that there indeed might be a quid quo pro, as reports surfaced that, as part of the deal, Israel had agreed for the US Administration to sell the latest F-35 stealth aircraft to the UAE – a move which could seriously undercut the IDF’s qualitative edge over any potential array of foes in the region.

As the truth about the F-35s shakes out, there is no doubt that the so-called “Abrahamic Accord” is a big deal. The Emirates have now become the third Arab state to break from the pack and begin to open formal relations with Israel. Like Egypt and Jordan before them, the UAE rulers will not let the future of their nation and the entire region be held hostage to the unyielding Palestinian nationalist cause. Given the current climate, several other Sunni Arab states could rapidly fall in line behind the UAE in forging peace agreements with Israel.

But why has the UAE gone first? Part of the answer is that the country’s rulers are very forward-looking and want to diversify away from oil dependency and into hi-tech – and what better partner for that than Israel. The Emirati rulers also aspire to be part of the globalization process, pitching Dubai and Abu Dhabi as key hubs for connecting people in the promising new future ahead. They also appear to be very ecumenical minded, wanting to promote tolerance and respect in particular between the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In addition, there seems to be an emerging stream of Muslim Zionists in the Arabian Gulf – those who believe the series of Koranic passages which affirm that the Land of Israel was promised by Allah to the Jews.

Some of these reasons may give many Christians pause. Globalization? Ecumenicism? Muslim Zionism? And aren’t the native Emiratis just 11 percent of the overall population in their own country? We will address these concerns further in coming weeks. But for now, it is quite encouraging for those of us who care about Israel to focus on the enormous potential of this deal.

For starters, Israeli hi-tech companies will now be able to attract investments from not only rich Arab oil sheikhs, but also from the sovereign wealth funds of the UAE, estimated to be worth over $1 trillion dollars. Israelis also will now be able to shop and dine in the luxurious malls and hotel complexes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

In addition, there already are rumblings of diplomatic breakthroughs with several other Sunni Arab states, such as Oman, Bahrain and even Morocco. Sudan also is exploring normalization with Israel, after decades of siding with Iran and hosting radical Palestinian and Islamic terror militias on its soil. There also could be a knock-on effect throughout the rest of the world, as many other nations will begin to question why they must maintain a hostile posture towards Israel if so many Arab countries are befriending the Jewish state.

No doubt, US President Donald Trump and his foreign policy team have sprung a real coup for Israel and for all peace-loving nations. Reviled by so many at home and abroad, Trump deserves credit for a breakthrough that supposed ‘peacemakers’ like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama lacked the vision, energy and ability to attain. This also makes Trump’s re-election in November even more critical now for Israel and its emerging Arab peace partners

Not only would Trump and his team be able to continue the momentum of this breakthrough, and spread it to other Arab capitals. They also could continue to uphold a major pillar of the current diplomatic shift in the region – which is that the Sunni Arab bloc has come to trust President Trump when it comes to confronting Iran. He has proven that he is serious about challenging the militant clerical regime in Tehran over its renegade quest for nuclear weapons and its export of terror, weapons and chaos throughout the region.

That is a huge departure from the policies of appeasement toward Iran employed by the previous Administration, which included Vice President Joe Biden. Under Obama/Biden, the Sunni Arab states felt abandoned. Now with Trump they have a sense of reassurance, even to the point of coming out openly about their warming relations with Israel. And let’s not forget how Israelis felt when the Obama team (with no objection from Biden) gave Israel one last parting shot by orchestrating the passage of UN Security Council resolution 2334.

By contrast, a Trump re-election could have many other positive impacts for Israel. For some reason, Trump has not had the international coattails one would expect, since he is actually admired by many national leaders abroad. Yet many nations have held back on following his lead in moving their embassies to Jerusalem, or in recognizing Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan. This is due in large part to the widespread animosity towards him in the media and concerns he may only be a one-term president. Yet if he wins a second term, I expect many other nations to finally give Jerusalem the respect it deserves and place their embassies in the city. They also may join Trump in recognizing the Golan as Israeli territory, and even change their stance on the legality of the settlements in Judea/Samaria, as Trump did. Time will tell!

 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Blame for the Beirut Mega-Blast

As if Lebanon did not have enough troubles already, this week’s massive explosion in the Beirut port rocked that city with such a sudden and overpowering fury, the whole world stopped and stared in great sympathy and awe. As the dust cloud settles and the embattled Lebanese try to recover from this crushing blow, the search also begins to find those responsible for this immense tragedy. Among other culprits, the trail undoubtedly leads to Hizbullah. But in this process, let us not forget all those ‘experts’ who have long urged Western leaders to appease and engage with ruthless Islamist terror militias, even though they have no business ruling over anyone’s lives.

Another Crater to Crawl out of
Lebanese authorities have quickly pieced together that a welding accident apparently set off fireworks stashed in a warehouse along the Beirut docks, which then ignited 2,750 tons of the highly combustible fertilizer ammonium nitrate perilously stored in an adjoining warehouse. The result was the largest conventional explosion in modern times, which killed at least 135 people, injured about 5,000 others, displaced some 300,000 from their homes, and shook or shattered everything within several kilometers of the blast.

Wednesday’s disaster comes as Lebanon was already in the throes of its worst-ever economic collapse, with the lira currency losing 80% of its value. The nation’s financial ruin was well underway long before the Corona pandemic hit the country, and most analysts blame Hizbullah for siphoning off the country’s resources to fuel its campaign to destroy Israel and its military adventures in Syria.

A new report released this week by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies calculates that it will take $93 billion to bail Lebanon out of the staggering debts that have piled up due to Hizbullah’s malfeasance. And that was before this week’s explosion blew a huge crater in the middle of Beirut’s busy port and leveled just about everything within a thousand-meter radius. It will now take an estimated $15 billion more to rebuild the gateway of Lebanon’s economy.

Just as with the economic tailspin, blame for the Beirut blast goes back to Hizbullah. They are in ‘unofficial control’ of the port area. Nothing goes in or out of the country without their approval and profiteering, and that includes all the narcotics exports from the Bekaa Valley. Whatever the origin of the ammonium nitrate shipment compounded six years ago in the port warehouse, Hizbullah leaders knew of its lethal potency (see video below) and were likely holding it in storage for use against Israel.

 

The fact that they were keeping nearly 3,000 tons of a highly incendiary material in a busy urban area did not seem to bother Hizbullah. For decades, they have hidden caches of rockets and other munitions in the middle of every town and village in south Lebanon.

So how did the cruel, callous leaders of Hizbullah gain such a stranglehold over Lebanon and why did we allow them to do so?

Lords of Lebanon
Hizbullah arose in the early 1980s as a rival to Amal. Both were Iranian-backed anti-Israel militias who competed for popularity among the Lebanese Shi’ite community in Beirut and the southern border area. Amal eventually dropped its terror militia and went wholly political. In the early 1990s, Hizbullah also entered politics. Like Hamas in the Palestinian arena, Hizbullah won a broad following by providing social services to the poor, which gave them a political base to run for parliament, yet all the while retaining their heavily armed militia.

In time, Hizbullah’s militia became as strong as Lebanon’s armed forces, which gave them political clout over Lebanese affairs far beyond their small faction in parliament. Besides the steady financial support from the Ayatollahs in Tehran, the minority Alawite rulers in Syria also helped bolster Hizbullah’s standing in Lebanon for its own purposes.

But the Assad regime went a step too far, working with Hizbullah to assassinate the Saudi-backed prime minister Rafik Hariri in a roadside blast in 2005. The Maronite Christians and Sunni Arabs had enough and bravely took to the streets in the ‘Cedar Revolution’, which – aided by Western pressure – managed to chase the Syrian overlords from their country.

But Hizbullah has remained, deeply embedded among the Shi’ites of Lebanon, who make up roughly one-third of the population. And Iran – with Syrian help – has built up Hizbullah into a regional military power now armed with over 150,000 rockets and missiles – far more than the militaries of all but a handful of countries. As a consequence, Hizbullah has effectively been granted veto power over Lebanese government decisions, which is actually written into the Doha truce agreement of May 2008.

Yet after fifteen years of basically calling the shots in Lebanon, all in the interest of a foreign power (Iran), even many Shi’ites are starting to complain about the way Hizbullah has bankrupted the nation and sent their sons off to die in the Syrian civil war. Meanwhile, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah – once seen as a hero in the Arab world – is now openly mocked by Arab leaders and media for always hiding in his bunker.

The ‘Myth’ of Two Wings
What is often ignored about the steady rise of Hizbullah is the way many Western leaders listened to the bad advice of certain ‘experts’ on Islamist groups who advocated that we could engage with such thugs and trust them to moderate once in power.

One notorious example is Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who served as senior Middle East advisor to EU Foreign Secretary Javier Solana from 1997 to 2003, critical years for the emergence of both Hizbullah and Hamas. Crooke was an especially key player behind-the-scenes during the second (armed) Palestinian intifada, when he helped negotiate a resolution to the standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, as well as several short-lived tahdiya (calms) between Israel and Hamas. He also was a leading advocate for Europe and the US to allow Hamas to run in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in early 2006.

Because of his prior experience as an MI6 agent in making discreet contacts with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA militia, which helped bring progress in peace talks in Northern Ireland, Crooke began projecting a similar dichotomy on the Islamist terror militias in the Middle East. Crooke argued that Hamas and Hizbullah were not implacable terrorists but “resistance fighters” who were seeking answers to the region’s problems through traditional religious values, rather than Western secularism. He contended that including such groups in the political process would lead to their moderation as they began sharing the responsibilities of governance.

The problem was that Hamas won the 2006 election by a stunning landslide over Fatah, giving them legitimacy and power without the need for compromise. Their war against Israel could go on, even if it meant the Palestinian people must suffer. [Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin once dismissed the ‘myth’ of his movement having two wings, insisting: “We cannot separate the wing from the body. If we do so, the body will not be able to fly. Hamas is one body.”]

Crooke gave similar flawed advice about Hizbullah. Following his rationale, European states, among others, made a distinction between the political and military wings of Hizbullah and Hamas, shunning or banning the militias while accepting and engaging with the political leaderships of both groups. In doing so, they ignored that the whole raison d’etre of both Hamas and Hizbullah was to destroy Israel and impose Islamofascist regimes on their own peoples.

It has taken years for some European and other Western nations to begin to realize the folly of this policy. Only in recent months has Germany finally banned all Hizbullah activities on its soil, although Berlin still allows official engagement with its slate of members in Lebanon’s parliament.

Perhaps the Beirut mega-blast this week will finally awaken Western leaders to the reality that Hizbullah will never moderate, they will never stop hating Israel, they will never be responsible partners in governance, and they will never care for their fellow countrymen – including even their own Shi’ite community. For the sake of all the hurting, peace-loving Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Druze of Lebanon, it is time to start rooting them out.

 

 

David R. Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist and ordained minister who serves as Vice President & Senior Spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Lincoln and the ‘unfinished work’ of racial equality

When I was researching for my book “Floodgates” several years ago, I became fascinated by the life and beliefs of Abraham Lincoln in relation to Charles Darwin and their comparative views on God and mankind. Lincoln is a towering figure in world history most remembered for emancipating black slaves in America, and like his contemporary Darwin, his true religious views are vigorously debated to this day. And I believe the world would do well to remember Lincoln’s words and actions concerning the equality of man as we wrestle with the heated racial tensions now plaguing an America and world also beset by a global pandemic.

Darwin published his book Origin of Species in 1859, on the eve of the American Civil War. Though some have framed that great conflict as a battle over states’ rights and other issues, President Lincoln rightly boiled it down to a struggle over the equality of man as a creation of God. This makes the Civil War unique from all other conflicts in human history, and the man who presided over the nation during that grueling fight is equally unique.

It was a time when Darwin and others began using his evolutionary theory to question the divine origin of man. Lincoln read these works, was drawn to them intellectually, but in the crucible of the “War Between the States,” he came out retaining his belief in a God who made all men equal. He also firmly believed that God’s judgments are righteous and true, and they are still in the earth today.

Lincoln’s worldview
The long, swirling debate among scholars and biographers concerning Abraham Lincoln’s religious beliefs come in part because he kept them private as a matter of principle. This debate was already raging during his lifetime, as on several occasions Lincoln even considered bringing libel suits to stem rumors he had denied Christian beliefs. Today, Lincoln remains such a monumental figure that Christians and atheists alike claim him as one of their own. Thus, some portray him as a skeptic or an iconoclast who rejected the established Christian views of his day, while others depict him as a deeply spiritual man who was given over to much prayer and was fully cognizant of Divine Providence over human affairs.

Lincoln biographer Fred Kaplan notes three distinguishing characteristics about the 16th president of the United States. First, Kaplan lists Lincoln, along with Thomas Jefferson, as the greatest intellectual president in American history, whose every written or spoken word was composed by him alone Self-educated, Lincoln read profusely on an array of subjects.

Second, as a young man Lincoln first learned to read by candlelight from the Bible, a book which impacted him deeply for the rest of his life. Kaplan recounts that in Lincoln’s day the Bible “was given full currency as the source of the dominant belief system. It was also the great book of illustrative stories, illuminating references, and pithy maxims for everyday conduct. More than any other glue, it held the society together.”

Third, nearly everyone who knew Lincoln came to see him as a very decent and honest man. As a young lawyer, his clients took to calling him “Honest Abe” as a compliment to how he was always fair and deserving of trust. Accordingly, Kaplan notes that Lincoln “was also the last president whose character and standards in the use of language avoided the distortions and other dishonest uses of language that have done so much to undermine the credibility of national leaders.”

So whenever Lincoln quoted from the Bible, which he did quite often, it was not just to manipulate Christian voters or simply because he admired its literary value, but he honestly believed the Scriptures shed much needed light on the world. At an early age, he was steeped in the Calvinistic views of his mother, with its focus on predestination. And while he ventured into other views in his day, he always returned to the Bible as a guiding light of truth and morality.

We see this in his famous “House Divided” speech while running for the US Senate in 1858. Taken from Mark 3:25, the speech thrust Lincoln onto the national stage as an articulate opponent of slavery, and helped propel him to the presidency two years later.

A humbled man of prayer
No doubt the Union army’s poor showings early in the war drove Lincoln to his knees in prayer. Many sources also claim that the tragic death of his eleven year-old son Willie in 1862, and then the emotional experience of visiting the vast military cemetery at Gettysburg in late 1863, were catalysts for Lincoln’s deepening spirituality. He prayed more earnestly, and his public speeches reflected a leader with a deep personal sense that somehow God was using him as an instrument of good within His unfolding purposes for America.

Lincoln’s sense of Providence was already apparent in his First Inaugural Address in March 1861, in which he expressed hope that a combination of “intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land” would somehow resolve peacefully the crisis then brewing due to the secession of the Southern states.

Around the time of the Union’s sound defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862, Lincoln sat alone in his office and penned the following words:

“In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party… I am almost ready to say that this is probably true – that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet…”

This grappling with God’s purposes amid the bloody conflict continued to dominate Lincoln's public remarks for the rest of the war. In his immortal Gettysburg Address, Lincoln distilled the essence of the Civil War as a struggle over America’s belief in the equality of all men:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure… It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom...” [60]

The Union’s victory at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 also prompted Lincoln to call for the first official nationwide observance of Thanksgiving Day in order to reflect on “the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Finally, we see a similar theological message in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, delivered in March 1865, in which he stated that both sides “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other… The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

Lincoln then referenced King David the Psalmist: “As was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’” With this precious truth from Psalm 19:9, the president humbly deferred to powers beyond the reach of logic: He had come to believe that God’s judgements were proper, even if they belied any rational explanation. Lincoln then concluded his speech on a note of reconciliation, with perhaps his single greatest utterance:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds...”

Upon listening to Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the famous black statesman Frederick Douglas commented that it “sounded more like a sermon than a state paper.” But Lincoln’s words, and especially his call for leniency on the South, provide us with a remarkable glimpse into his struggle to come to terms with four brutal years of war.

Trusting in divine justice
I believe that while Abraham Lincoln was intellectually open to new thoughts emerging in that day, including Darwinian evolution, he ultimately represents a man who still feared God and sought to understand His judgments in the earth. Though he may never have openly professed faith in Christ, his worldview was deeply infused with biblical insights into God, man and the universe. This included a high view of mankind as created in God’s image – a view he was willing to defend by force of arms.

Lincoln also rightly proclaimed that “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9) The same Psalmist also said that “His judgments are in all the earth.” (Psalm 105:7)

I believe that, indeed, God’s righteous judgments can be seen working themselves out in every generation. In that regard, I believe the Civil War was God’s correction upon all of America for the sin of slavery.

The whole nation, both North and South, was morally complicit for having allowed slavery to take hold in the New World. The selling and enslavement of human beings was contrary to the principle expressed in the American Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” The abandonment of this sacred principle was already underway in the drafting of the US Constitution, when the so-called “three-fifths clause” counted black slaves as merely three-fifths of a person solely for purposes of allocating seats in the US Congress; otherwise they were not deemed to be persons entitled to equal rights. This clause was included as a compromise to sway the southern slave-owning states to join the new, centralized federal government.

Then as new states were admitted to the Union, more slave states were allowed to join, such as in the “Missouri Compromise” of 1830, which served to maintain the balance between slave and free states in Congress. That delicate balance lasted for another 30 years but eventually tensions over slavery boiled over into open conflict. Thankfully, the right side won that bitter contest, but not before both sides had paid an immense price for allowing the evil of slavery. I believe Lincoln came to realize this to some degree, and therefore called for leniency on the South just ahead of his untimely death.

Yet even though America paid a very costly price for the evil institution of slavery during the Civil War, it took another 100 years and the Civil Rights movement to finally shame many white Southerners (and many other Americans as well) out of their sense of racial superiority. We still have a ways to go, in all nations and societies, to recapture the biblical truth that all men are created equal by a benevolent God, and thus we should treat every human life with dignity and respect. It is indeed an “unfinished work,” as Lincoln said at Gettysburg.

But we can also trust that God’s judgments are righteous and true, and that they are still in the earth today. We do not have to try to force justice through senseless violence, as many are doing at present. Besides, our own human sense of justice is usually a lot different than what God considers justice. Rather, what we could all use right now is a little “malice toward none, charity for all.”

 

 

David R. Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist and ordained minister who serves as Vice President & Senior Spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. His book “Floodgates” is available at www.icejstore.com/collections/books

Points to Ponder this Tisha B’Av

Beginning next Wednesday evening (29 July), the Jewish world will mark Tisha B’Av, an annual day of mourning and fasting to lament the uncanny series of tragedies which have befallen their people on this singular date in history. Regarded as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av (“Ninth of Av”) primarily recalls the destructions of the two Temples in Jerusalem. But this day also witnessed a long litany of other major Jewish calamities which should give us all pause for much thought and reflection even amid our own current Corona plague.

According to the Talmud, this day of mourning is warranted due to five specific disasters in Jewish history which all occurred on the Ninth of Av.

1) The bad report of the ten spies sent by Moses to search out the Land of Canaan.
2) The destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.
3) The destruction of Herod’s Temple by the Roman general Titus in 70 AD.
4) The Roman crushing of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD.
5) The Roman plowing of the Temple remains still in Jerusalem that same year.

Strangely, a number of other catastrophes in Jewish history also have taken place on the Ninth of Av. This includes the launch of the First Crusade (1096), which left thousands of Jews dead in its path; the Expulsion from England (1290); the Expulsion from France (1306); the Expulsion from Spain (1492); and the initial Nazi approval of the “Final Solution” (1941), just to name a few.

Focusing on the Talmudic list, there are important lessons to be drawn from them in relation to where we are today.

The Bad Report of the Ten Spies
Many Jews share the sense that all these calamities have occurred on this specific day because of the original sin of the negative reports brought back by ten of the twelve tribal leaders sent by Moses to spy out the Land of Canaan (Numbers 13 & 14). It was indeed a serious incident. They confirmed that the Land “truly flows with milk and honey,” but also voiced fears over the strength of its inhabitants, their fortified cities, and especially the giants in their midst, which made them appear as “grasshoppers.”

Their doubts about God’s ability to help them overcome these obstacles sorely displeased Him, especially after they had just seen His might so thoroughly displayed against the Egyptians. In fact, the Lord took their bad reports as a “rejection” of Himself (Numbers 14:11). It came down to a matter of simply lacking faith in God’s ability to keep His promise to deliver the Land of Canaan into their hands.

Now Moses interceded and spared the Israelite people from destruction, but there still was a price to pay for their unbelief – that of wandering in the Wilderness for forty years until a new generation arose which was ready to possess the Land.

This Tish B’Av, Israeli leaders are pondering the “annexation” question and looking at all the obstacles to possessing the Land of Israel this time around. They see a mass of Palestinian people and worry about the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and whether Israel can remain a Jewish and democratic state. They see other ‘giants,’ such as Hizbullah rockets, Iranian nuclear ambitions, and the anti-Israel alignment in the United Nations.

But if Israelis are able to see with the eyes of faith, like Joshua and Caleb, they would realize God already delivered the entire Land into their possession some 50 years ago. True, there is still another hostile people in parts of the Land, but with patience and trust in God all these obstacles can surely be overcome.

Right now, the Trump peace plan offers them a chance to expand Israeli sovereignty to 30% of Judea/Samaria and the Jordan Valley. But as Jason Greenblatt, one of the architects of the Trump plan, confirmed this week, extending Israeli sovereignty under the plan “comes with a commitment to set aside a certain area of land for the eventual potential Palestinian state.” As vague as that may sound, it means annexing settlements would lock Israel into the real possibility of having to accept a Palestinian state on the remaining 70% of the West Bank.

It is better for Israelis to wait and trust God, rather than enter a process which would require them to cede forever part of their God-given land inheritance. To do so is like the sin of the twelve spies, for you are saying that God is not able to keep His promise to deliver the entire Land of Canaan to you in rest and peace.

The Destructions of the Temples and Jewish Exiles
The destructions of the First and Second Temples were both very painful for the Jewish people – they still remember it even in moments of great joy like weddings. And the fact that both destructions occurred on the same date is doubly ominous. God certainly works on a precise timeclock. Further, both destructions also were accompanied by bitter Jewish exiles from the Land of Israel.

The second destruction and exile at the hands of the Romans came in two phases. In the first stage, the Jewish people were deeply divided over whether to fight to the last man or surrender to the Romans and become their slaves. The Jews trapped in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD were actually fighting each other inside the walled city over this very issue, and it hastened the Roman victory. Then in the second stage a few decades later, the people followed a false messiah who led them to defeat and dispersion.

But God promised well beforehand that He would not leave the Jewish people scattered among the nations forever. Rather, He vowed to bring them back and “assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.” (Jeremiah 32:41)

This Tish B’Av, more than 45% of the Jewish people are now gathered back in the Land of Israel. That means we are almost near an historic milestone of more than half the Jewish people living back in their ancient homeland for the first time in actually 2700 years – since the Babylonian exile. But we have been hovering around these same percentages for the past few years, as the number of Jews moving to Israel has been about the same as the number of Israelis moving abroad.

Ironically, the Coronavirus crisis may be the thing which tips the scale and pushes us past the 50% mark. All indicators point to a sharp rise in interest and applications among Diaspora Jews to make Aliyah, due in large part to the resurgence of antisemitism worldwide. Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog recently said he expects as many as 250,000 Jews to come home to Israel over the next three to five years. Together with the increased numbers of Israeli citizens returning from foreign lands, it may be the Corona pandemic which helps accelerate the formal end of the long Jewish exile.

This brings up one more point to ponder this Tisha B’Av. When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, the Jewish Sanhedrin met in Yavneh and took a momentous decision to refocus Jewish religious life around the synagogue system. This fateful ruling held that as long as more than half the Jews were exiled from the Land of Israel, they were no longer obligated to keep the commands of the Mosaic law concerning Temple worship. But if half the Jewish people are soon regathered back in the Land, will Yavneh have to be re-visited? And will it mean they are obligated to rebuild the House of the Lord in Jerusalem?

The Jewish people have come so far in recent times, arising out of innumerable tragedies and centuries of exile to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild their nation here. The remaining obstacles are not so steep that they, too, cannot be overcome, and a glorious future lies ahead for the nation and people of Israel. Let us be praying for them this Tish B’Av, as they ponder the events which befell them on this day in Jewish history.

 

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