Thursday, April 11, 2019
Thursday, April 11, 2019
What the reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu to a fifth term as Israeli prime minister tells us about Israel’s political and theological worldview
King Bibi is the word that is now heard around Israel, referring to Benjamin Netanyahu, now apparently on his way to a fifth term—an unprecedented fifth term—as the prime minister of Israel. This after what many have described is one of the most contentious Israeli national elections of recent memory. But this is where we need to expand our memory a little.
There has never been anything but contentious elections in the history of Israel. One of the world's youngest states established by action of the United Nations and the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, Israel became a nation in 1948 after a very long period of Jewish struggle for a homeland. It was that very argument for a Jewish state after the Holocaust that led the United Nations to establish Israel by its own action.
One of the historic hallmarks of Israel is that the very first nation to recognize Israel as a state was the United States of America by action of then president, Harry S. Truman. The United States and Israel have had a close relationship ever since 1948. It has not always been an easy relationship, but there has been no period in American-Israeli history in which the relationship has been closer than it is right now. Particularly a very close personal relationship between American President Donald Trump and the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, often referred to by his nickname Bibi.
Thus, now on his way to a fifth term as Israel prime minister, he is being referred to by many celebrating his election as King Bibi. Netanyahu, soon to turn 70 years old, has for decades dominated Israeli politics. It's not only Netanyahu, it is his party, the Likud Party, traditionally the most influential party of the right of conservatism there in Israel. But the history of Israel over the last several decades and the personal political biography of Benjamin Netanyahu point to seismic political changes. We need to note not only in Israel, not only in that region, but also when the United States and throughout much of the world.
The international media over the last 48 hours have trumpeted the fact that Netanyahu and his electoral opponent, former general Benny Gantz had both claimed victory, and they did so at different points. You could argue that both deserve to claim victory because both of them received 35 seats in Israel's parliament known as the Knesset, but it's not a matter just of which party has the most seats. If that were the case, the two major parties would now be at a draw. It is instead, which party can assemble a winning coalition? There are 120 seats in Israel's Knesset. The winning coalition must claim at least 61 of them, and this is what's important.
It is Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party who appear to be the only party which will be able to create a coalition to gain those 61 seats. Actually, it is likely that the coalition will gain considerably more, and there's a big story there. When you're looking at politics in the United States, you look at a presidential election, there is always not only the counting of votes, there is the evaluation of worldviews. The same is true in any major electoral decision. But what's really interesting looking at Israel is the fact that even though the nation really began in an extremely liberal political tradition for the last several years, even you could argue for the last couple of decades, Israel has been as an entire culture moving in an increasingly conservative direction.
Thus, we need to step back for a moment and ask the question, why? Why was Benjamin Netanyahu elected to a fifth term? Now apparently as Israel's prime minister, by the way, this will be one term separated from a period out of office and now a fourth consecutive term. What has happened in Israel? Well, for one thing, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a very charismatic and also a very intelligent politician, he's also inherently divisive. And thus you have to look at a victory like this and ask, what in the world does this mean? Well, it means that Israel is at the present moment experiencing a rather remarkable stability economically and militarily.
You could extend that to politically, and the Israeli people have decided they like that stability. The vote this week was a vote for stability, but it is also a vote that vindicates many of the recent trends in Israel's politics. I mentioned that the nation was begun in a very liberal political tradition. Indeed it was. It was born in an open advocacy of socialism. Israel was a young nation and it was a young socialist nation. That remained largely true over successive decades. But things began to change in Israel largely because socialism began to fail and an entrepreneurial spirit began to gain control of the nation. Thus over time, it became a far less socialist and a far more capitalist nation.
And the vote that took place this week is an affirmation of the fact that the citizens of Israel understand that a free market has been far more economically productive than had the previous commitment to socialism. But in Israel, the economic issues have often had to take a backseat to the military issues because for its entire existence, Israel has been surrounded by nations that want to bring it to the point of extinction. Thus the election of an Israeli government is often a statement about just how secure Israel feels. That doesn't mean that Benjamin Netanyahu became the choice along with his party because Israel felt secure, but because Israel understands the threats and it feels secure precisely because of the defensive posture that has been undertaken by the Netanyahu government.
A defensive posture that has meant that Netanyahu has kept up the heat most particularly on Iran. He has made very clear that Israel will defend itself over against any kind of incursion by its enemies. He has played political hardball, and even as this has been controversial in Israel, it turns out that a vast majority of Israeli voters are very supportive of at least some form of that political and military hardball. Here's the other big thing to note. In Israel, you're really not talking about the traditional kind of battle between the left and the right. And in Israel, sometimes that has meant the far left and the far right. What's happened is that the left has largely disappeared. Why?
Well, it's because, not only of politics, but of other more fundamental issues. First of all, the economy did not prosper under that kind of liberal worldview, and that's understandable. The second reason is that Israel is precarious situation as the only electoral democracy in the entire region, it has been made more secure by the kind of realism that Benjamin Netanyahu argued for and is now brought into being in Israeli foreign policy. In Israel, the left is not only been rather isolated in effective electoral terms, it has begun to disappear. So, even General Gantz who was the opponent, he was the head of what has been known as the Blue and White party. That's a reference, of course, to Israel's flag. He had to make arguments that were roughly similar to the arguments made by Benjamin Netanyahu.
The argument he made was that there needed to be a change in personality in the Prime Minister of Israel. He argued that the time had come when Benjamin Netanyahu needed to be retired, even though his achievements would be recognized. There's something else going on here. Benjamin Netanyahu has been repeatedly charged with corruption, including recent charges coming from prosecutors. So, why did a majority of Israelis vote, at least for a party that would include a coalition that would produce Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister?
It is because, for one thing, charges of corruption and countercharges have been political tools in Israel now for decades, but there's another issue. Perhaps the Israeli people decided that they were going to make a vote for stability because they actually prize stability even over some other moral goods, at least for now, at least as the table is now set. But there's even more here than meets the eye and the national and international secular media are not giving much attention to these two big developments. One is largely the failure of what western democratic nations, particularly liberal governments have encouraged as a two state solution in resolving the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestinians.
But what we need to note is that support for a two state solution has largely collapsed within Israel amongst especially a majority of Jewish voters. We also need to note that it is a less popular position now, even amongst many Palestinians. Support for a two state solution is failing in many European capitals as well. President Donald Trump and the Trump administration are no longer officially committed to a two state solution, which means that for now the approach taken by Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu is what is being affirmed in Washington and what is at least tacitly being accepted in other western capitals as well.
There are deep moral issues implicated in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. These are issues that are extremely difficult to discuss, especially during a time of a political campaign such as Israel has just experienced. The question is, where does Israel go from here? One final huge issue when it comes to Israel and what's missing in most of the secular media conversation, it comes down to theology. We're looking at the fact that Israel was established as a secular state and most of the major political leaders in the early years, even the early decades of Israel's history, they tended to be agnostics or atheists, not theists at all.
But over the last several decades, the growth component in the Israeli population has been amongst the religiously Orthodox, not amongst the secular or even the religiously liberal. The birth rate amongst liberal and secular inhabitants of Israel is very low. The birth rate amongst the Jewish Orthodox is extremely high. That's a differential that over time makes a huge difference. You see it not only in Israel, you see it even in a city like New York City, where the more liberal and agnostic wings of Judaism are now going into decline, demographic decline because of extremely low birth rates and a pattern of intermarriage.
Whereas, amongst the communities of Orthodox Judaism in New York City and in the larger New York area, the big growth rate is amongst those who are the most Orthodox. This is where Christians thinking theologically understand that's going to make a difference. Evidently, it will make a difference. The worldview will drive the politics and even the birth rate will drive the politics as well. But here's where we understand the birth rate is also tied to the worldview inescapably. It's always true, not only in Israel, not only in New York, but wherever you live as well.
Scientists speculate that newly-discovered bones could be an ‘early human species’: Why a person’s understanding of creation and human descent has moral consequences
Next, I turn to a very different story. This one has been generally datelined from the Philippines. As the Washington Post reported yesterday—the reporter is Ben Guarino— "Please welcome a possible new member to our band of upright apes: Homo luzonensis, whose teeth and bones were discovered in a cave on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The remains represents," says the Washington Post, "a newly discovered species. Scientists have concluded in a report published Wednesday in the Journal, Nature.”
Guarino goes on to report, "Our genus, the Homo in Homo sapiens, contains multitudes, including the thick-browed yet sophisticated Neanderthals and Homo erectus, a nearly 2 million-year-old species that may be our direct ancestor." He continues, “Homo luzonensis is the fourth peculiar and extinct human discovered in this century. Homo floresiensis, so small it was nicknamed ‘the hobbit’ was found in Indonesia in 2004." We're then told in the Washington Post of another supposedly human species that was identified based on a finger bone from 2010 in Siberia and another based upon skeletons which were pulled out of an African cave in 2013.
Guarino goes on to say, "Together, these new found species show that human evolution was highly versatile as groups adapted to unfamiliar conditions around the world. Modern humans," he says, "we’re not alone. Our close kins survived until fairly recently. And some of our co-inhabitants possibly embarked on long sea voyages suggesting similar levels of intelligence." Before moving to the larger worldview implications of this story, it's interesting to note that at least some paleoanthropologists and other scientists are saying that this is perhaps an overclaim about finding a new species.
One particular anthropologist, Susan Anton said that she’s doubtful because in her words, "They don't have any heads," meaning the fact that the scientists have not uncovered any remains that would include human skulls or cranial material which would determine, according to their own anthropological standards, whether or not this find represents a new human species. Let's just think about this new story for a moment. It is interesting that so often the mainstream media produce this kind of story saying, "Here is a huge find. Here's what it is and here's what it means. We found a finger bone in Siberia and we are now able to identify a whole new human species."
But even in this article you note, even as the claim is being made that this find represents a new human species, which is again helping to tell what they call the evolutionary story, the story of human evolution. The article at least does site people who are saying this appears to be a very quick judgment. This is actually not much evidence. I'm going to let the scientists who are arguing from that worldview battle amongst themselves. The big issue for Christians is to understand that we as creatures, thinking creatures, reflective, cogitating creatures, we have to explain ourselves. And deep within ourselves is a hunger to know where did we come from? How did this happen? What is the human story?
Here's where Christians understand that in the modern age there really are two and only two stories of how human beings came to be. There is the biblical story that begins in Genesis 1, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth", and follows through the entire story of God's creation of humanity and then his relationship with human beings, the only creature made in his image. And then there is the other story. It is the secular story of modern evolutionary theory. A story that has been changed over and over again.
And as this story in the Washington Post indicates, it's a story that continues to change. And even as different scientists tell the story, they tell it at least in slightly different ways. The theory of evolution has been transformed again and over again over the course of the last 150 years. You can count on the fact is going to be transformed again. The defenders of modern secular science will say, "Well, that's the way science works. We change the story when we are presented with new evidence, but of course Christians understand that none of us looks at evidence in a way that is not pre-committed.
We look at the evidence based upon our worldview we can't operate otherwise. If you are operating from a secular worldview looking at the evidence, then you're going to have to use the best human ingenuity to try to come up with some account of what all of this means from whence human beings came and what it means to be human. One of the most disastrous experiments of the modern age is the human attempt to define humanity in merely human terms or merely natural terms. It has turned out to be a disaster. It's a disaster intellectually, it is a disaster morally, it is a disaster for human dignity, and this story helps us to understand that very, very clearly.
The implication of this story is not just an implication. The explicit claim of this story is that there are different origins for humanity, even for Homo sapiens developing differently in different places. Here's where we need to understand why human dignity is at stake in two fundamental ways. The first way it's at stake is that there is no explanation given the evolutionary worldview of why human beings are actually distinct from any other species, why Homo sapiens supposedly is to be recognized as possessing a certain dignity, why human life, the life of Homo sapiens is to be privileged over other species, why we talk about human rights and not in the same way animal rights.
But of course that's what we're looking at right now. The breakdown of that argument. If human beings are just another species, and if every species is just another accident, then there is no inherent grounding for human dignity nor the sanctity of human life, nor for why human beings have rights that other creatures do not have. Here's where we understand the biblical worldview grounds human dignity, not in human beings, but in the creator who made us, who made us in his image.
Human dignity is grounded in the fact that we are not accidents. We were created by God in his image for his glory and thus every single human being from the moment of fertilization until natural death is a part of God's pleasure and a part of God's glory and a part of God's plan possessing rights and dignity precisely because we're not accidents. Every single one of us is a special creation of God. God had to say, "Let there be life." Or our life would never have begun. But there is another essential affirmation of human dignity that is included in the biblical account that can't be sustained in the secular account in the evolutionary account, and that is the common identity of all human beings, the common grounding of human identity, the identity of every single human being in God's creative purpose indeed, even in primary first ancestors, Adam and Eve.
Common descent of every single human being from the first man and the first woman, the first married pair, becomes absolutely essential to arguing why every single human being, regardless of any characteristic, whether it be skin color or ethnicity, or ability or disability, every single human being has equal grounding in the plan and purpose of God in the image of God, and by the fact that we are all descended from the same father and the same mother. We need to note that the Bible points to this common descent from Adam as not only importantly grounded in the doctrine of creation, but important and central to the doctrine of atonement. It is because as the apostle Paul says, "In Adam, we sinned." And speaking of Christians, he says, "In Christ the second Adam, we are made alive."
That common descent from Adam is essential not only to understanding human dignity, why every single human being is made in the image of God and every human being is equally made in the image of God. It is not only creation, it is our descent from Adam and Eve. It is a commonality of the fact that we are all in essence, brothers and sisters. No matter when we live, no matter where we live, no matter how we look. So, think about all this and understand what's his stake when you see a headline like this one yesterday from the Washington Post. Bones discovered in an island cave may be a new human species.
You're either going to follow the logic of a secular evolutionary worldview or you're going to follow the logic of the scripture and answering the question as to whether or not this even makes sense. But it's also essential that we understand that our concept of human origins, it will have an inevitable moral consequences. That's something you're not going to see affirmed in the secular media.
Abortion pills soon to be available in campus clinics across California: How the language of the culture of death is oftentimes deceptive and conceals the moral horror of abortion
But next, this takes us to the state of California, a very different headline. This time from the Washington Times. The reporter's Christopher Vondracek, and he writes, "The California State Senate Health Committee approved in a 7-3 vote Wednesday the ‘College Student Right to Access Act’ or Senate Bill 24.” As the reporter tells us, "It would amend the state's public health code to force student health care services clinics at California State University and University of California campuses to ‘offer abortion by medication techniques,’ starting in 2023."
The bill is almost certain to pass from the California Assembly to the governor's desk, and governor Gavin Newsom has already pledged that he will sign the bill when it arrives to him. We need to understand just how radical this is. We're talking about the state legislature mandating that the health services clinics at California state universities, and at all the campuses, the vast university of California system must offer, and this will mean free of charge, medical abortions which means by pill at least beginning in 2023. But as you look at the story, there is even more here that tells us where we are as a society.
As the Washington Times says, "Proponents say the bill would remove red tape for college students seeking a full slate of reproductive health options." Again, notice the language "reproductive health options." That means killing an unborn baby. "Currently," says the Times, "campus health clinics carried dozens of varieties of birth control medication but not the abortion pill.” State Senator, Connie Leyva, who is the bill's chief sponsor said in a written statement, "Students should not have to travel off campus or miss class or work responsibilities in order to receive care that can easily be provided at a student health center."
This is the language of the culture of death staring a straight in the face. Here you have a legislator saying that she will mandate abortion on college campuses in the name of the fact that students should not have to even leave the campus nor to miss some kind of work responsibility "in order to receive care." Again, the language of the culture of death is almost never honest. It doesn't say what is really at stake here. It doesn't even make reference to an unborn human being.
It simply makes everything a matter of rights and a woman's right to what is defined here as health care. Back in January of 2018, the same legislator said, "Women do not lose the constitutional right to end a pregnancy simply because they are a college student." Now, just think about that for a month. That is incoherent language. There is no way that anyone in the state of California is very far at any time from an abortion, from almost any kind of abortion, and in California that means a fully funded abortion. This makes no sense whatsoever until you understand the monomaniacal impulse of the pro-abortion movement to make abortion available anywhere all the time as conveniently as possible within an arm's reach, right on a college campus, because it would be unjust.
Notice the moral language here. It would be “unjust” and “discriminatory” even to require a college student to leave a college campus in order to obtain a medical abortion. That's the insanity we're facing here, but it's an insanity that is going to rocket through the California assembly. It's an insanity that is going to be signed into law by California's Democratic governor. It's going to happen. He has already told us he will sign the bill.
At the infamously liberal University of California at Berkeley, a group known as Students United for Reproductive Justice made the argument for the case. One of the leaders said, "Right now, students do not have equitable access to healthcare and it disproportionately affects students of color and low income students." Think about that again. You're simply being told here it's a matter of justice that someone might not have an equally fast, equally funded, equally uncomplicated access to an abortion. That's the great cause here.
Later, the same students said, "Students are really, really supportive of Senate Bill 24. Students don't need to accept a watered-down definition of pro-choice. We can, and must demand actual equitable access for all of us." Once again, we have to face there only two alternatives here. Either this argument is morally laudatory and should win the day, or it is morally abhorrent and must be seen for the moral horror that it is. What we are also seeing sadly is the fact that a secular society is losing the ability to see the killing of the unborn, as in any way, a moral horror.
It is now being repackaged simply as reproductive choice, and we're being told now it has to be made not only possible, not only funded, but convenient as a matter of justice. Let's listen carefully to what we're being told.