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Judeo-Christian Politics … in Israel?

In historic election granting Netanyahu a record fifth term, the Bible Bloc Party’s vision is struck down but not destroyed.
Judeo-Christian Politics … in Israel?
Image: Amir Levy / Stringer / Getty

In one of the most tightly contested Israeli elections in years, Benjamin Netanyahu appears poised to remain prime minister.

His Likud party is projected to win 35 seats in the 120-member parliament, the Knesset, tied with challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party; but coalition partners will likely boost the incumbent Bibi to a governing majority of 65.

But for Christians in Israel, could the most significant electoral development have come from a new party that won a total of zero seats?

“We are the only party to give Christian and Messianic candidates parity in the candidates’ list,” said Avi Lipkin, the Orthodox Jewish head of the Bible Bloc Party, known as Gush Hatankhi in Hebrew.

“For the first time in 2,000 years, Jews and Christians are … brethren and allies.”

In Israel’s proportional system, a party must claim at least 3.25 percent of the nearly 6.4 million eligible voters—so roughly 200,000 votes total—in order to enter parliament.

The Bible Bloc only won 367.

The significance lies in their getting started. As a new party, Lipkin explains they had limited time to build a base. To legalize a party, 100 members are needed. The Bible Bloc recruited 150: roughly half Jewish and half Christian, as reflected in their candidate list.

Heading the list was Lipkin, with another Orthodox Jew in the No. 3 slot; No. 2 was an Arab Christian from Haifa; No. 4 was a Messianic Jew; No. 5 was a Dutch Protestant with a Messianic Jewish wife.

The 47 parties competing in Israel’s election were given a small budget and one minute of free airtime to introduce themselves.

“Our goal is to establish a strategic Jewish-Christian alliance to stand up for all Jews and Christians around the world who are facing the threat of terrorism,” said the Bible Bloc ad, “as well as to preserve Judeo-Christian culture around the world and in the State of Israel.”

Lipkin identified roughly 520,000 potential voters for his party, drawn from Israel’s Russian, Arabic Christian, and Messianic Jewish communities—and the Christians who have married into them. Some believe this number is inflated or includes people not eligible to vote.

But it reflects the Israeli nature of what Lipkin labeled as “sectoral politics.” He counted his sector as eight percent of the population and an “underrepresented people group.”

His party seeks to build an alliance with “all those who believe in God’s promises to the people of Israel found in the Bible.”

This naturally excludes Muslims, who compose roughly 20 percent of the population. Lipkin doesn’t mind if they vote for him, but his party did no outreach to their community.

They have their own parties already, he told CT.

This year, the four Arab parties won 10 seats, a decline from 13 following internal disagreements which led to the breakup of their electoral alliance.

“Every ethnic and religious sector of our society has a political expression and party to represent itself. That is one great thing about our vibrant, broad-based democracy,” explained David Friedman, the Messianic Jew on the Bible Bloc’s list.

“Personally, I felt it was time to stand up and be counted in many areas where little is being done.”

Solidly in the camp of current prime minister Netanyahu, who Lipkin called “the right man, in the right place, at the right time,” the Bible Bloc nonetheless seeks reforms in Israeli society.

A proud citizen who served in the Israeli army for 28 years, Lipkin lamented that the Israeli nation was built by communists and socialists.

“What we don’t have in this country are what I call the ‘white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Jew,’” he said, “in other words, Jews from America who can help Americanize Israel.”

Friedman identified the health care sector, pro-life policies, and full rights for Messianic Jews as areas of focus. He also hoped their Arab candidate could better represent Christians.

Recent research has indicated up to 77 percent of Arab Israelis favor greater integration in Israel, rather than fighting against it. And CT reported in 2015 how 75 percent of evangelical leaders identified as “Arab Israeli,” rather than “Palestinian.”

But Arab Christian support for the Bible Bloc is nil, said Botrus Mansour, co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel/Palestine, citing other recent research showing Christians, like Muslims, oppose Israeli policies that divide the Arab community on the basis of religion. They also jointly oppose the recently passed Basic Law establishing Israel as a Jewish state, as CT reported last year.

“Arab Christians have no reason to vote for such a party. Its agenda is extreme right-wing, like Netanyahu’s,” said Mansour.

“Most people haven’t even heard of them. To be frank with you, it is not an item worth writing about.”

The Bible Bloc’s affinity to the Israeli right is clear. The party is pro-Trump, supporting the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem as well as the annexation of the Golan Heights.

A Haaretz poll found 27 percent of Israelis support full annexation also of the West Bank; 42 percent support some annexation, and only 28 percent oppose integrating any Palestinian territory into Israel proper.

Friedman spoke of “maintaining a strong, defensible Israel and putting an end to terrorism,” referencing the estimated 150,000 Hezbollah missiles aimed from Lebanon.

But Lipkin’s vision goes further, with overtones in biblical prophecy. He envisions a future where a revived ISIS will overthrow Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

“Israel will have to defend itself, which will result in our borders expanding,” he said. “Our borders will go from the Nile to the Euphrates, from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia.”

And while the party may grow within its sectoral targets, Lipkin’s strategy to Americanize Israel is literal. Millions will immigrate in the near future, he predicts, when Islamic terrorism surges against American Jews and they and their Christian spouses make Aliyah—coming to Israel under its Law of Return.

“I see a potential holocaust in America very soon,” Lipkin said. “But then my party will be the biggest in the political system.”

Friedman is unsure about Lipkin’s apocalyptic geopolitical predictions. But he is worried about the rise of anti-Semitism in America, reflected in recent statements by Democratic politicians.

“Avi is not dreaming,” he said. And of his Messianic Jewish community, “I think there are a good number who adhere to this general framework.”

Jamie Cowen, a Messianic Jewish attorney in Israel specializing in US immigration law, believes there is some sort of similar end-times scenario. But once a believer in Hal Lindsay’s The Late, Great Planet Earth, he has soured on the details.

Cowen is among the 71 percent of the Israeli population that finds a moral problem with Israeli control over Palestinian territory, even if there are few alternatives at the moment.

Three-quarters of Israelis support a policy of separation between Israel and Palestine, though only 58 percent support a two-state solution.

Cowen is also concerned by growing anti-Semitism in the West. While hoping more Jews will make Aliyah, most of his clients are actually non-religious Israeli Jews concerned by Orthodox religious radicalization who want to leave the Holy Land.

Critical of Netanyahu’s government, Cowen is a member of the Yesh Atid party, which merged with Gantz’s Blue and White.

Desiring a centrist coalition, he believes Netanyahu’s political alliances with ultra-Orthodox parties will be bad for Messianic Jews.

“Messianic Jews and Arab Christians should get involved in politics but join broader-based and more popular parties,” he said. “Eventually, one or more such participants will get elected.”

But he is a long-time friend of Friedman, and respectful of the Bible Bloc initiative.

“While I appreciate their intentions, I don’t think such a party has much hope of getting into the Knesset.”

At least for now, the electorate agrees. But in an Israel still struggling with the integration of Messianic Jews, the Orthodox Jewish Lipkin believes this union is vital.

“I’m the only game in town for Christians who tell me that no one represents them as Bible believers,” he said. “Jews and Christians are not only natural allies. They are brethren.”

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