In most of the Western world today, popular social justice issues range from social and economic inequality to the poor, refugees, the exploitation of women and more. While these issues are equally relevant to Israel, followers of Yeshua face distinctive issues. For the fourth year in a row, the Lausanne Congress on Reconciliation sponsored a forum on Israeli Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christian reconciliation, this year held in Cyprus. The topic was social justice issues in Israel.
After discussions on the background, meaning and theology of social justice, representatives from the Israeli Arab Christian community, the Israeli Messianic Jewish community and the Palestinian territories Christian community made presentations on issues of social justice within their respective communities. After the formal presentations, each community then discussed within itself how their respective communities handled issues of social justice and what they ultimately wanted the other communities to understand about themselves and how they could assist the other. Then each community presented to the others their understanding of social justice issues.
The one common element among the three communities was the reality that their communities are marginalized communities within the whole of Israel, albeit, for very different reasons. For the Israeli Arabs, the issue of inequality was stressed, especially as it related to the allocation of government resources to Arab cities, schools, health care and development. For Messianic Jews the primary issues raised were discrimination in immigration matters, the monopoly of the ultra-Orthodox over the country’s religious affairs, the on-going situation with the Palestinian territories and societal discrimination against the Arab community. Finally, the Arab Christians from the Palestinian territories emphasized the problems of general poverty, corruption in the government and the control over their communities by the Israeli military.
Most of the presentations led to lively and sometimes intense questions and discussions as each community tried to understand the others’ perspectives. At the conclusion, there was a real sense of shared perspectives and a desire to try and assist the other. There was a commitment to try and regularly fellowship with the other communities, attend functions that recognize the pain of the other, tour together some areas that are relevant to the other community, continue theological debate among the communities and advocate on behalf of the other within one’s own community.
For me, this was the third conference I was able to attend. It amazes me to see the progression of these conferences as the participants shared and prayed over highly intense issues, some of which go to the very identity of the individuals themselves. More than ever, this Scriptural passage proved fitting, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”