Praying for Social Justice in Israel
by Dan Juster, Director, Tikkun Ministries International
What is Social Justice?
Many pundits, especially on the left, teach that social justice is equality. This understanding is problematic since it seeks a leveling of individuals and groups. The term "leveling" means people have the same income, the same size houses, etc. The idea is to make the lives of people in the society conform to one another. At the same time it raises unrealizable expectations and completely removes incentive. In reality, while all people are of equal value before God, they are given different callings, gifts and abilities. Some are called to accrue wealth to be used for God's Kingdom. Some are employees and some are called to be employers.
Political correctness is an abusive manifestation of this perspective. In part, this is why, in the Western world we can no longer make (or are sometimes no longer allowed to make) good distinctions. Men and women have to be more and more equal in their roles and their lifestyles. Marriage between two persons of the same gender must be seen as equivalent to a marriage between one man and one woman.
My concept of justice is rooted in Scripture, not in these false ideas of equality. I believe that a comprehensive reading of the Bible yields the following definition of social justice or a just social order. A just social order is one where every individual and every group is able to pursue and fulfill their God intended destiny. A society is unjust to the extent that individuals or groups are prevented or precluded from fulfilling their unique destiny. By destiny, I am referring to a person's freedom to pursue their life direction under the leading of the Holy Spirit. Oppression is limiting a person's choices to use their gifts, abilities and sense of calling before God. Of course that destiny should be worked out with a passion to serve the Kingdom of God. Though possible, most people do not have a single destiny or role for a lifetime.
Since the French Revolution, modern societies have advanced the false notion of justice as "leveling" equality. This view restricts people, and destroys freedom, opportunity and initiative. People have different callings. Some are called to be inventors; some to be engineers, artists or congregation leaders; some to be journalists, educators or farmers. Some are called to be employers and some to be employees. Some are able to make great sums of money and provide for others through business and enterprise. We could go on and on.
The Bible provides us with an ideal of a just social order where three things are necessary. One is that crime is punished and righteousness is rewarded. Just courts are crucial for this. The basic Law of God must be established in society. Secondly, everyone who is able to work should find employment, and society should foster conditions where all can be provided for through honest labor. A basic provision of food, clothing and shelter for those who can work should be the result of such honest employment. Those who are genuinely not able to work should have a means of support as well, but this does not necessarily imply central government programs (that is another discussion). The scriptural picture of a just social order is one of prosperity where each one can "sit under their own vine and fig tree." This means that adequate shelter, clothing, food and a means of provision - including their own labor - is a necessary part of a just social order. Not everyone is destined to be rich, but all should have adequate provision. The biblical prophecies of the future Kingdom describe such an order. Thirdly, the disparity or accumulation of excessive wealth is limited by providing wealth through land allocation for all, which is restored every 50 years. Leaving part of the harvest for the poor and setting aside a tithe for the needy are important scriptural examples of voluntary social welfare.
Social Justice Problems in Israel
I believe that social justice issues in Israel are a great threat to our survival as a nation, almost as threatening as our menacing neighbors. The greatest social justice problem in Israel is that many Israelis cannot afford to sustain a modest lifestyle without accruing huge amounts of debt. This problem is partly due to the great defense burden that is carried by all the citizens of Israel. As I once said to a friend concerning life in Israel, "taxes are double, the salaries are half and the costs are twenty percent more," living in Israel is not for the faint of heart.
A year and a half ago, there were massive social protests in the major cities in Israel. The protests were largely fostered by young adults, but people of all ages participated. Two important social justice issues were made clear.
1. The cost of living in Israel is beyond the income of many Israelis. The greatest problem is the cost of housing. The second is the cost of food, which due to Israeli monopolies is 20% more than the cost of food in Europe. Why is housing so expensive or why do costs not track according to the ability of people to pay? Though some social protestors think that the issue is based on a lack of affordable public housing, I completely disagree. The issue of housing is a supply and demand issue. One analyst stated that we are 100,000 housing units short of our true need.
What drives the price? In Israel, most land is state land, controlled by the Israel Land Authority. There is collusion between development companies and the Israel Lands Authority that prevents the release of sufficient tracts of land for building affordable housing. The developers want this shortage since it drives up their profit. They buy the land at a very low price. They sometimes hold on to land instead of building immediately, so the price will go up more. This is a type of crony capitalism. In addition, they build very expensive housing that is sold to wealthy Jews from abroad who do not take up residence in Israel. The developers make a huge profit, but this scheme does not house the people. If our young families cannot afford to live in Israel, they may lose heart and leave. This is a very serious issue. I would pray for the Prime Minister to take up this issue and speak out forcefully and propose legislation to solve it.
2. The second great issue of injustice concerns the Ultra-Orthodox. The Ultra-Orthodox have become a huge welfare class in Israel. They do not, for the most part, serve in the army nor do any alternative national service. Government policy pays for the men to study Torah indefinitely. The welfare life is survivable poverty, but the religious leaders among them foster this life orientation. Therefore the larger population of secular and National Religious Orthodox are very upset. Both these groups have to pay for this "welfare" through taxation and by carrying the burden of national army service. The Ultra-Orthodox do not desire, for the most part, to see their schools train or educate their young so they can make a normal living as adults. Of course, this produces a very abnormal situation and creates a much less healthy community than, for example, the same black dressed Ultra-Orthodox people in New York.
In Israel, their lack of participation in the workforce increases the tax burden for all others. Again, coalition politics has compromised justice and our Prime Minister has not addressed this issue. Perhaps he believes that national security requires that he should not fight this battle now. However, this is very destructive for the State of Israel and for the Ultra-Orthodox who continue to live a very unhealthy life pattern. Though I respect our government and Prime Minister Netanyahu, I am disappointed that he is not more direct and forceful in speaking the truth about these issues. His political coalitions and considerations make this hard, but he should be a statesman and do so.
There are other social justice issues. There is the matter of equal spending for schools and infrastructure for Israeli Arabs and their neighborhoods. There is favoritism for big business interests. A very few large businesses and their leaders control most of the wealth in Israel - this is also very unhealthy. However, the first two issues are the most important.
Young Messianic Jews are starting to engage on these issues. Some are considering careers in the field of political and social justice. This could be very exciting. However, these issues are also real matters for prayer for all of us who care about Israel. I would love to see our witness to Yeshua include speaking to the primary justice issues of our society. I am glad to be connected to some of the young adults that are taking on Israel's social justice issues.This is a really well-written article and I appreciate it because as a newcomer to keeping up-to-date on Israel, Dr. Juster explains very clearly the problems and this allows prayer partners to focus their prayers where most needed and precisely.)
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