February 25, 2016
Dear Friend of Israel,
Five years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu good-naturedly chided the U.S. Congress about the “rambunctious” nature of Israeli politics. “You think you’re tough…on one another here in Congress?” he asked. “Come spend a day in the Knesset [Israel’s parliament]. Be my guest!”
Despite the Prime Minister’s words, the U.S. democratic system in action can indeed be as “rambunctious” as any other. Even now – eight months before the general election – the rhetoric has been flying, and the news has been dominated by candidates attacking each other on matters of policy, and sometimes attacking each other personally.
This public conversation can become overly partisan and bitter, and shed more heat than light. Americans know this as well as anyone. But, though it can be an annoyance, and at times discouraging, I look at this as a sign of overall societal strength. Such passionate public dialogue can only flourish in democracies like the U.S. – and Israel. Under totalitarian regimes, freedom of speech, and the freedom to criticize the government, is often harshly punished.
Participation in the political process is, of course, important. History is full of examples of good leaders bringing a measure of peace and prosperity to their people, just as it is full of examples of evil leaders creating problems for their people, and even driving nations into ruin. We have a duty to make responsible, informed political choices, and to vote not just according to our interests, but with our consciences.
But we must never forget the words of the Bible: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save…Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God” (Psalm 146:3, 5). I don’t believe these verses encourage cynical mistrust of all those in power as much as they remind us that divine power is infinitely greater than human power. Often, we look to our worldly leaders for every solution, while forgetting the One who is all-powerful; we look at the loss by the political candidate we favor as the ultimate catastrophe, while forgetting that God is still sovereign over the world and all that is in it.
As Americans gear up for the 2016 elections, let us all give thanks to God for the blessing of living under democratic political systems. There are many today – in Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, and many other countries – living under oppressive rule who do not enjoy that blessing. And, at the same time, never forget that political systems rise and fall like all works of man, and that true freedom is found in acting in faith and courage, trusting in God, and acknowledging His sovereignty and dominion over our lives.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President