Strength in unity

The recent election could go down as a milestone in Israel's modern history

Naftali Bennet election night 521 (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Naftali Bennet election night 521
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
The recent Israeli election could well go down as a milestone in the nation’s modern history, given its encouraging signs of a maturing body politic. In particular, an unprecedented number of voters looked past tribal loyalties and the traditional hawks-and-doves divide in favor of calls by a new generation of leaders for uniting as one people to solve some of the country’s longstanding domestic problems.
Normally, Israelis vote with the nation’s pressing peace and security issues foremost on their minds, or they simply vote for their own “tribe.” That changed this time.
Peace and security were still important to Israeli voters in this election, but as they looked around the region they saw very little that the country can do right now to alter the worsening strategic situation.
The majority still supports a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians but they also know there is no peace partner at present on the other side. The Arab Spring continues to wreak havoc in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere, but Israel has few means to influence its direction. And the Iranian nuclear threat remains an urgent concern, but the nation is waiting for the second Obama administration to begin charting an updated course for halting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Meantime, there has been a political standoff for decades between the five main tribes in Israel – the Ashkenazi (European), Sephardic (Middle Eastern), ultra-Orthodox and Russian Jews, plus the Arab community. Each represents about 20 percent of the population and all have been perennially locked in rivalries for their share of the collective pie.
Yet a new generation of leaders emerged in this election calling for an end to the tribalism and a unified focus on solving those problems at home which can be solved – such as growing poverty, rising costs of living and an equalizing of the burden of national service.
As the new undisputed leader of the settler movement, Naftali Bennett spoke of the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox and even the Arabs as “our brothers,” who must be respected as equal partners in shaping Israel’s future.
Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid faction voiced a similar message, explaining that after more than 60 years of nationhood the various competing tribes have realized their rivals are not going to disappear. The son of a staunch secularist, he even admitted that the ultra-religious Jews had “won” in their battle with the European socialists to define “Israeli-ness,” but that with this victory comes national responsibility.
“If an Ethiopian child in Netivot is hungry, it’s your responsibility as much as mine,” Lapid recently told a class of ultra-Orthodox college students. “You cannot say: ‘I only give to haredi charities.’” It will now be up to these new leaders to keep their campaign promises. But what is already clear is that many Israeli voters bought into their message.
In a unique way, this is reminiscent of the ancient Israelite tribes under Joshua, when Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Menashe had already conquered their allotted lands, yet they still crossed over the Jordan to help their fellow tribes possess their inheritances (See Joshua chapters 1 and 4).
God obviously sought a clear division of tribal lines within ancient Israel. He commanded that one tribe could not take the lands of another, and each could only marry within their respective tribe. Yet He also wanted them to become one nation, knowing that while there is beauty in diversity, there is strength in unity.
The prophet Ezekiel, in his amazing vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (Chapter 37), foretells of a day when God would regather the split kingdoms of Judah and Israel from among the nations and “make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all… David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd.”
Israel today is indeed a remarkable nation of Jews gathered from over 100 countries around the globe, who have come back as distinct tribes with their own languages, cultures and customs, but God has been slowly forging them back together into one nation. They have a glorious future ahead of them, far more glorious than they even realize. And perhaps the election of 2013 was a small but encouraging glimpse of God’s hand at work.
The writer is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem;