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Israeli Election is Wake-Up Call to Church: Part 1

The famous theologian Karl Barth once said, “We should carry the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other hand.”

This will help us, on the one hand, to understand what challenges our community is going through, and, on the other, to consider how the word of God might help the church relate to the challenges.

However, we, as evangelicals, have often failed to carry this through; instead we have carried the Bible with both hands.

We are well acquainted with Scripture, but are strangers to our people, community and country.

As a result, our message is often seen as irrelevant, and we are unable to give answers to the questions and needs of the people.

With respect to the current needs of society, the events of the last Israeli election, in my opinion, are a wake-up call to the church, a challenge to find ways to be more effective in its mission.

Many friends from abroad have asked my opinion about the elections. My answer is that these elections were significant: What happened before the elections, as well as the results, should have a direct effect on the mission of the church in Israel.

There are two major points from the elections that I would like to identify and reflect on:

First, the unity of all the Arab parties under what was called the “Joint List.”

Almost 80 percent of the Israeli Arabs who voted in this election voted for this party, and in my opinion most of those who abstained from voting did so not out of disagreement with the platform of the Joint List, but out of disenchantment with the political system itself.

But what were the main issues of the Joint List agenda that motivated Arab voters to vote for this party?

Many said that the fact that four major parties united for the List was itself the main achievement; this unity attracted many people to vote.

The next important issue on the agenda was a two-state solution to bring peace and dignity to both Israelis and Palestinians.

The issue of equal rights for the Arabs in Israel and the fight against racism and discrimination was also a major item on the agenda.

All this together, plus other social issues, made the Arab people believe that the Joint List is the best party to represent them in the Israeli parliament.

Second, the “victory” of the right wing parties.

In fact, this is not unprecedented; they have long been here, and, unless a deep change happens in Israeli society, they will be there for many years to come.

What was different this time was the competition between the right wing parties to bolster one’s credentials as “least tolerant” to the Palestinian Israeli community.

This, sadly, included, a few times, the use of racist expressions, and certainly involved using words that do not promote respect to Arab citizens, words which present them as strangers and enemies of the country.

Furthermore, they were vying with one another in more adamantly opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state and in defiantly working to increase the number of Israeli settlements.

This attitude was prominent among the leaders of the right wing parties, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself. The election campaign struck a distinctively negative chord.

Having said that, the question the church (and I here relate more to the evangelical churches) in Israel should ask herself is: How can we better serve the Arab Israeli community in particular, and the Israeli community in general, in the light of these elections?

Azar Ajaj is the president of Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary in Israel.

Editor’s note: This is the first article of a two-part series. Part two is available here. Ajaj spoke with EthicsDaily.com contributing editor Brian Kaylor at the 2014 Baptist World Alliance in Izmir, Turkey, about the role of the evangelical church in promoting peace in Israel. You can watch the video interview here.