The streets of Tel Aviv filled with young adults and their many
supporters; tens of thousands of people came to protest. What brought them
out onto the streets? Huge frustration over housing costs. The working
middle class can no longer afford Israel's expensive house prices,
especially in the Tel Aviv area and in Jerusalem. Other areas are also
highly priced. The primary reason for this is a housing shortage. I used
to say that living in Israel must be a mathematical miracle beyond our
understanding; the salaries are half, and the taxes are double, while the
cost of goods is higher. Despite all these difficulties affordable shelter
is a basic necessity in society.
The Socialistic Response of the Left
It was not long before the leaders of the political left turned the
protests into a call for socialistic remedies. These ideas included
building public housing, subsidizing home buyers, increasing wages and
redistributing income from the very rich. Sound familiar? Ironically,
Israel's past Socialist policies are the primary reason for the
The Economists Provide Solutions
Several economists have written fine articles in the Jerusalem Post with
clear directions for a way forward. Here are some of their thoughts.
1. In Israel, most land is owned by the state and leased for housing that
is purchased by the people. There is a great bureaucracy (read: expensive,
slow, political) that hinders and delays the approval of housing projects.
This process needs to be streamlined.
2. Israel cannot afford to build sprawling suburban type housing or it will
lose its agricultural land and intensify commuting problems. Rather, there
should be incentives to build high density housing in cities and properly
zoned areas beyond the big cities. The private sector can build the
housing if there is sufficient profit to make it worthwhile.
The Great Disparities of Wealth
The wider protests raise other issues for which there are no easy answers.
The wealth of Israel is too concentrated in a small number of families.
Conservative politicians, as well as liberals, are concerned about this.
However, the socialistic solution where the government distributes, owns
and controls everything destroys entrepreneurial vision and the needed
leadership for businesses that expand the economy for all. Socialism has a
wrong definition of justice, namely equality, which leads to the inability
to reward effort, recognize gifting, and allow for income disparity.
Equality is pushed so far that some do not even allow distinctions between
sexes. Biblical justice is rooted in the idea of God's intended
destiny for each person. Any policy or legislation that prevents the
fulfillment of an individual's destiny is unjust. Equality is part of
destiny with regard to opportunity and justice in the courts. Every person
is of great value because they are created in the image of God.
The Rejection of the Idea of Social Justice
Some conservatives, however, mistakenly reject any idea of social justice.
They argue for a society where all are able to live out a rugged
individualism. Social justice is a biblically derived idea only when
social justice is applied according to, and has its base in biblical
principles. If Israel could discover the biblical teaching on social
justice and apply it, it would be wonderful example for the whole world,
but maybe we will have to wait until the Days of the Messiah.
The Bible and Social Justice
The Bible allows for people to trade, to diligently farm the land, to
manufacture goods to be sold to others and more. That some will be rich
and some of more modest means is an accepted result. However, the Bible
provides some very clear guidelines for social justice.
First of all, biblical law prevents the great concentration of wealth in
the hands of a few. The Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25
stipulates that the land be redistributed every 50 years to the original
families of ownership. So one may accumulate land and riches from its
production, but only until the 50th year. Then new opportunity is brought
to the larger society. In addition, loans are released every 7th year.
Debt is one of the great means for getting rich by oppressing others in
need. The Bible precludes this. There are laws requiring leaving the
corners of the field and the gleanings for the poor. There is also a tithe
every third year that is distributed to the poor. Just weights and
measures were enjoined. In addition, families were responsible for taking
care of their young and their old. Punishment for non-capital crimes
emphasized making appropriate restitution plus a penalty amount. The
Bible's laws of morality produced stable families that are a key to
Applying the Bible to Modern Societies
Today, since we are no longer an agrarian society, we need to look at
applying social justice principles in a very different context. Laws
allowing for a new start through bankruptcy are parallel to the laws of
forgiving debt in the Bible. One key for improving social justice is that
those with wealth would be taxed if they put their money into shelters that
only benefit them, but would be rewarded by investing in ways that expand
the economy and bring financial benefit to both employees and investors.
In addition, there can be taxes to provide for the truly needy - parallel
to the poor tithe and leaving food in the fields.
We need to understand that expanding government agencies often swallow the
very wealth that is intended for transfer to the needy; creative tax
donations to charity could provide a way to channel the funds directly to
those in need. Many of the poor will not overcome poverty without
discipleship in skills and responsibility. The voluntary institutions that
raise funds and implement programs to improve the lot of the needy are the
best providers for many of the functions of a compassionate society. They
can institute discipleship programs as well. This is why Yeshua following
communities are a key - they can provide the discipleship that releases
impoverished people from the thinking and habits that hinder their ability
As an Israeli citizen, I hope that our country does not slip back to the
stagnation of socialism, but finds dynamic solutions that are fitting for a
more enterprising society. The Bible can provide guidance. Pray for
Israel as we go through these struggles and pray for young Messianic Jews
to take their part in society to help solve these problems. This is part
of our witness.