Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Legacy of Ron Nachman

Ron Nachman passed away last week.  He was a friend of mine.  No, he was more than that.  He was a dear friend of mine.  If you did not know Ron, I’d like to introduce you to him.

Ron was a visionary.  Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  By implication, where there is vision, the people thrive.  In 1978 Ron pitched two tents in the barren Judean hills.  That was the beginning of Ron’s vision of the city of Ariel.  Like Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Ron suffered mockery and opposition to his dream.  He would stand on the hilltop and described the vision embedded not only in his mind, but in his heart.  And the people would tell him he was foolish, reckless, and crazy.

He was a young man back in 1978 and at the midpoint of his life.  From the age of 35, Ariel was his dream, his burden, and his goal.  He chose to develop Ariel deep into the territory away from the Green Line.  And he was determined to build a city there that was unrivaled for a city of its size in Israel.  Though he formally staked his two tents in the middle of a barren region, he had plans that were far bigger than two tents.  Instead of hoping for new residents to dribble into his experiment, he approached large groups of people to join with him.  In effect, he drew entire communities of people – initially some 6,000 – so that Ariel would not be built as a disjointed collection of desert homes with a cobbled infrastructure, but rather, a place where the essentials of a city could be well planned for the moment and the future.

Today the population of Ariel is 20,000.  It is a regional center for surrounding communities.  Ron would never settle for average or anything else that was less than the best.  I am proud to have assisted Ron on many occasions to help his dream come true.  I am proud to sit on the board of Ariel University, the first accredited Israeli university in the West Bank and an institution that only Ron could see through the dust of the desert in 1978.  It was as real in his mind back then as it is for the students who walk its campus today.

A critical interviewer asked Ron, “How can you build in Occupied East Jerusalem?”  To which he replied, “I just came from my hotel room, where I searched for proof that this land belongs to the British.  I found a Bible there, but it made no mention of London.  It didn’t speak of Washington, DC, or Paris or Berlin.  But do you know how many times the word ‘Jerusalem’ appeared?  And you are asking me if we have rights to our capital city?”

In a later conversation Ron posed the question, “If this land was given to us by God, how can we be considered trespassers?”  His question is legitimate.  If God has given us something, who has the right to consider our gift invalid?  Ron’s vision, and that of all Zionists, was to possess the land was given to Israel by Jehovah God Himself.  The Jews are not interlopers; they are inheritors.  They are not claim-jumpers; they are the children of the Most High God.

As we mourn the passing of this great man, would you also join me in giving the Lord thanks for how he used Ron as an instrument to accomplish His will?  Of course, you know that I am going to ask you to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. (Psalm 122:6)  I always will.  But, if I may, I would like to ask you to pray for the next generation of young people in Israel, like those who are students at Ariel University.  Please pray that they will have a Ron Nachman kind of vision for building the nation of Israel and that they would not sell their birthright for a mess of pottage.

Your ambassador to Jerusalem,
Dr. Mike Evans

Source material for this article can be found at the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Press, and CBN News.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Winning a tie

As expected, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected this week, but nonetheless suffered an unexpected loss of leverage that will make it difficult for him to form a government.

Netanyahu’s joint Likud-Beytenu list did even worse in Tuesday’s election than the polls predicted, winning 31 Knesset seats -- 11 fewer than the 42 its two parties held in the last parliament. Likud politicians blamed Netanyahu for leading the Likud from 27 seats in the 2009 election to the 20 Likud seats of the 31 it shared with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party.

More ominously for Netanyahu, the Center-Left bloc, which won only 55 seats in the 2009 election, rose to 60 seats, placing it in a virtual standoff with the Right.

Because his party won the most seats, Netanyahu is expected to be asked by President Shimon Peres next week to form a government. Then the wheeling and dealing to form a new coalition government will go into high gear.

Netanyahu will have 42 days to assemble a coalition and win a vote of confidence in the Knesset. If he fails, Peres can choose someone else, who then will have 28 days to try. Although it has never happened, if both attempts fail the Knesset is dissolved and new elections are held.

This process is likely to be a cliffhanger, with Netanyahu trying to balance his moderately right-wing supporters and challengers from the far Right, while accommodating the election’s big winner, Yair Lapid. Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There’s a Future) Party of moderate liberals is on the center-left side of Israel’s political spectrum.

One thing is clear about this election in which more than 30 parties competed: Israelis voted for change. Despite the dire predictions of pundits, the country did not move to the right; in fact the right-wing became smaller, if more hawkish. The change was a move to the center, led by Lapid. Another sign of change is that there will be 50 new lawmakers out of 120 in the new Knesset.

Yair Lapid’s 19 seats make him the power broker. It is assumed he has his choice of the top three ministries: finance, defense, or foreign. He campaigned for universal conscription, for reducing the deficit, and other socio-economic issues.

In his victory speech, Lapid declared that he would work for a broad coalition government. The charismatic former TV anchorman played the unity card. “I call on the leaders of the political establishment to work with me together, to the best of their ability, to form as broad a government as possible that will contain moderate forces from the Left and Right, the Right and the Left, so that we will truly be able to bring about real change."

This will be quite a goal to reach with Israel’s population of religious and secular Jews, Arabs, religious extremists, radical leftists, those willing to compromise on a two-state solution with the Palestinians, and those who reject this in favor of settling in all of the Promised Land.

It is a happy coincidence that the elections took place the same week as Tu Bishvat, the Jewish Arbor Day, when the Jewish National Fund since 1890 has sponsored the planting of millions of trees to drain Israel’s swamps, stamp out malaria, and make the country green. This new beginning of tree planting has come to be observed as the official birthday of the Knesset, which this year celebrates its 64th.

It is hoped that the 42 percent of new Knesset members and the new coalition they represent will be an impetus for the changes Israel desperately needs. This election above all set out to provide an answer to the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who took to the streets in the summer of 2011 to protest the state of an economy in which hard work in good jobs still doesn’t guarantee being able to make ends meet. It was the economy, not the conflict with the Palestinians or the danger from Iran.
The average Israel earns about $2,572 per month, and families with two wage earners earn approximately $3,428 per month, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Teachers in Israel earn an average of $1,666 a month — among the lowest in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Cars cost nearly double what they do in the United States, and in Israel they run on gas that costs about $8 a gallon. Not only are taxes much higher, but basic household goods also cost more. These are the things that Lapid campaigned about, and young Israelis responded.

The writer is a #1 New York Times bestselling author. His latest novel, The Locket, tells the story of a young girl, a neighbor of Adolf Eichmann, who is caught in the horror of the Holocaust.
By Mike Evans

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Let Me Tell You About Benjamin Netanyahu

by Dr. Mike Evans

Benjamin Netanyahu has just been elected to his third term as Prime Minister of Israel. Many Jerusalem Prayer Team members have asked me questions about the PM and the Israeli electoral system. I will attempt to answer those questions in this Facebook post.

1. Would you tell us about Benjamin Netanyahu?

I’ve known Benjamin Netanyahu since he was thirty years of age (see photo above). He is now sixty-four. When I first met him on July 4, 1980, he was selling furniture. It was the third anniversary of the death of his brother, Yoni. (Yoni was serving as a commander in the Israeli Defense Forces when he was killed during Operation Entebbe in Uganda, during a counter-terrorism hostage rescue mission. His unit had flown there to rescue more than one hundred Israeli hostages who had been hijacked by terrorists).

I had gone to the home of Benzion Netanyahu, Yoni’s father, to express my deep condolences on the anniversary of his son’s death. He was very gracious and invited me in for a cup of tea. A few moments later, Benjamin walked into the room. I could see the pain and depression in his eyes.

Before leaving, I asked him if I could pray with him. He said yes. I took his hands in mine and as we prayed, tears ran down my face. The words that came forth from my mouth were prophetic: “Jonthan loved David. You loved Jonathan. Out of the ashes of your despair will come strength from God, and you will be the prime minister of Israel."

I had a small bottle of oil that I had purchased at the Garden Tomb. As I ended my prayer, I removed the cap and touched his head with the oil. He was completely surprised and said, “No. I’m not going into politics.”

The following day, I requested a second meeting that week with Prime Minister Menachem Begin. During our meeting, I told him what had happened when I met with the Netanyahu family. I asked him to give Benjamin a position in his government. He did not know who Benjamin was, but his senior advisor, Reuven Hecht informed him by reminding the prime minister of Benjamin Netanyahu’s father and brother.

Menachem Begin was such a God-fearing man that he took my words very seriously. He told Reuven to have dinner with Benjamin. Reuven complied and Benjamin was offered his first position as Deputy Chief of Missions at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, under Ambassador Moshe Aron. He held that position from 1982-1984.

From 1984-1988, he served as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. He went on to become a Knesset member in Israel and was a member of the Israeli delegation under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir at the Madrid Peace Conference. I remember it well as I was in attendance for the conference defending Israel—one of only sixty in the world outside the delegations permitted to attend.

In 1996, Benjamin became prime minister of Israel, and in 2009 was elected for a second time to serve in that capacity. On January 22, 2013, he became prime minister for a third time.

2. Is the Israeli political system different from that in the United States?

Yes. Israel has an electoral system based on nation-wide proportional representation, and the number of seats which every list receives in the Knesset is proportional to the number of those who voted for it. The only limitation is the 2% qualifying threshold. In other words, a party must receive at least 2% of the votes in order to be elected. According to this system, votes are cast for the various parties on the list, and not for a particular person.

Since the institution of the primaries system in some of the parties, these parties directly elect their candidates for the Knesset. Some of the parties elect their candidates via the party's institutions. In the ultra-religious parties their spiritual leaders appoint the candidates.

The Knesset elections take place once every four years, but the Knesset or the Prime Minister can decide to hold early elections, and under certain circumstances can serve for more than four years.

There are 120 Knesset members. In order to become prime minister, one must have 62 of the 120 member votes. The Likud Party of which Benjamin Netanyahu is a member has joined forces with the Hisrael Beiteinu Party led by Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman. The two parties would have enough seats to form a new government. Some of the other parties are: Kidema (21 seats), Labour (8 seats), Shas, the Orthodox party, (11 seats), Bayit Yehudi Party, which is in the far right also has about 12 seats; and lesser groups—Hatnuah (7 seats), New Movement (3 seats), and others.

If you think US elections are frustrating, there is nothing more so than Israeli elections. There are not simply two parties vying for the top spot; there are more than a dozen.

In essence, the general election is not about voting for an individual, but rather voting for the party. If the prime minister leads that party, then Israel’s president (more an honorary and diplomatic position) can authorize that individual to attempt to form a government. The president is not involved in the legislative procedures of the nation of Israel.

Dr. Mike Evans

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Marvelous Modern Origins of Zionism

A solid case could be made to say that Zionism began in 70 AD at the beginning of the Diaspora following the destruction of Jerusalem, because from that day the dream of every Jew has been to return to their homeland.  But, as Leon Pinkster explained in 1882, the belief in the intervention of the Messiah “to bring about our political resurrection and the religious assumption that we must bear patiently divine punishment, caused us to abandon every thought of our national liberation. 

  Consequently we renounced the idea of a nation and did so the more readily since we were preoccupied with our immediate needs.  Thus, we sank lower and lower.  ‘The people without a country’ forgot their country.”

In other words, the Jewish people had drifted deeper and deeper into apathy through the centuries, resigning themselves to their situation, giving up the hope that the Scriptures clearly held out as a certainty.

Theodor Herzl, an early leader in the Zionist movement, in one of the most extra-Biblical prophetic statements ever spoken, said, “Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word, it would be this:  ‘At Basel I founded the Jewish State.  If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter.  If not in five years, certainly in 50, everyone will know it.”  He made that statement in 1897.  If you are not impressed, add 50 years to 1897 and see what year you get.

Admittedly there are those who believe that the nation of Israel is a humanly-conceived and man-made venture and that it is, therefore, not of God.  That is possible to accept, but only on one condition:  that one ignores that God always works through men.  To list them all would be impossible, men like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Solomon, Nehemiah, and Daniel.  It is, therefore, absurd to think that He would do anything different to bring the promised rebuilding of the nation of Israel through any other means.

To object to the work that these faithful men and woman committed to and have accomplished, to call it human rather than divinely conceived, is akin to calling Noah a fool because he built an ark.  Sure, God could have spoken the Ark into existence in a literal heartbeat, but He didn’t.  Instead it took Noah over 100 years to do it.  The problem is that some folks believe only what their eyes can see and their hands can touch.  Yet the Bible describes faith as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

To see the nation of Israel as it is today and to say that it is not a work of God is stunningly preposterous.  Zionism exhibits the rising faith of the Jewish people in the latter 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries that God, working through willing servants and leaders, would keep His promise that Israel would, indeed, return to the Promised Land.  As the sometimes disturbing scenario in the Middle East unfolds, it is possible for Bible scholars to see how the table is being set for prophecies concerning Israel to be fulfilled, such as the expansion of its territories and the rebuilding of the Temple.

In order for the Lord to do the things He has promised to do with and for Israel, it was necessary for Israel to be gathered together again as a nation.  Using men and women who longed for that day, people called Zionists, God has brought them into the land and has prospered them.  What a beautiful and blessed fulfillment of His promises we have been able to witness, and are witnessing still.  Pray with thanks when you pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and pray with faith, believing that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He has said He will do.

Source material for this article included the Jewish Virtual Library, and Zionism-Israel.