The Abraham Accords—a normalization of ties agreement signed in September 2020 between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain—have already brought dramatic changes to the region’s political climate. More changes are expected in the future. The agreement made history as it was the first time an Arab country established diplomatic relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The purpose of the agreement was to foster development and cooperation in the fields of health, agriculture, tourism, energy, and the environment and to join forces against the threat of Iran.
Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, many positive results have followed. Sudan and Morocco likewise signed normalization agreements with Israel. Travel between the UAE and Israel has taken off, with more than 130,000 Israeli tourists visiting the nation since October 2020. Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for Israel’s El Al Airlines to fly between Israel and the UAE. In the United Arab Emirates, kosher restaurants are opening, and many of its citizens are taking Hebrew-language classes in order to do business with Israel.
These trends are likely to continue and positively impact Israel’s economy and political relationships with the surrounding Gulf states. Israel’s Economy Ministry estimates that the UAE-Israel deal alone will likely result in millions of dollars of profit in bilateral trade and investments in the coming years. “Exports to the UAE…could jump to an annual $300–$500 million. UAE investments in Israel were predicted to amount to up to $350 million a year,” according to the Economy Ministry’s assessment.
We cannot overestimate the impact if more Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia, follow the precedent set by the Abraham Accords and normalize relations with Israel. It could signify a possible shift in political focus that involves a greater emphasis on joining forces against Iran and a cooperation toward a better economic future as well as a decreased emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Ultra-Orthodox Community in Israel
Throughout the pandemic, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, known as the Haredim, have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. Even though they make up 12.6 percent of Israel’s population, the Haredim represent 28 percent of COVID-19 infections. By January of 2021, they had three times as many cases per capita as the Israeli population at large. While the Haredim are always generally separated from and often in conflict with Israel’s mainstream society—opposing secular employment (in order to pursue religious study) and army service—the pandemic has only enlarged the divide between religious and secular Israelis.
The Haredim in Israel are known for their submission to religious authority and disdain for secular policies, as shown by their frequent protests, blockage of bustling intersections on the Sabbath, and occasional resorting to violence. While this chasm between the religious and the secular is not new, the coronavirus seemed to highlight their differences. A former ambassador to Israel recently wrote about a hope that “somehow, this intractable and growing impasse between societies would resolve organically. It has yet to happen. There is a widespread sense among non-Haredi Israelis that this imbalance simply cannot be sustained.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, many ultra-Orthodox have relied on the guidance of their religious leadership. Some of these leaders prioritize Torah (Five Books of Moses) study and adherence to Jewish law and will not restrict gathering for prayer in a group, trusting that the Lord will keep them safe. Other Haredi leaders are appealing to Judaism’s emphasis on the importance of saving lives, which entails encouraging social distancing, wearing masks, closing businesses, and taking the vaccine. These differences of opinion foster further tensions within the community. Moving forward out of the pandemic will mean confronting the ever-growing divide between Israel’s religious and secular communities.
Chosen People Ministries hopes that our staff will serve both the religious and secular communities within Israel and bring shalom—peace—to the Holy Land through both sides giving their hearts and lives to the One who is the Prince of Peace. The Haredim often oppose our work, but we love them and admire their faith. Please pray that we will find new and creative ways to proclaim the gospel to this group of Israelis and that many would come to know the Lord they so diligently seek.
This calls to mind the heartfelt cry of the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:1–2, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.”
What Is Next for Ministry in Israel?
March marked one year since the beginning of the global lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last significant event to be held in Israel—in person at our Ramat Gan Center—was a Purim (Feast of Esther) celebration, with more than 120 children. Our staff member, Maxim, comments, “For a year now, our congregations have not met, children’s camps have not been held, and many of our earlier ministries are no longer possible. Because of the coronavirus, every few days, the government’s instructions change; we cannot plan anything.”
Robin, one of our Tel Aviv staff members, writes, “While this year has been one of challenges, restrictions, and life being different, it has also been one of being creative, consistent, and thinking of new ways to continue to share the gospel and encourage and disciple believers in Israel.” Robin shared that the focus for the last six months was on small group gatherings, personal ministry to individuals, maintaining an online presence, and being creative and relevant to current COVID-19 conditions in Israel.
Chosen People Ministries—Israel is continuing to sponsor online Bible studies, seminars, children’s storytime, ESL classes, women’s ministry, and holiday events, as well as the occasional online concert.
Follow-up of our Isaiah 53 online campaigns, which have been very successful, has continued, and some Israelis have come to faith in the Messiah this way. Our staff members are also in touch with younger Israelis they met through backpacking outreaches abroad, and a few of these “travelers” came to faith and continue to grow in the Lord.
The lockdown measures provided unique challenges for the elderly Holocaust survivors we serve since many of them are lonely and isolated during the pandemic.
Maxim again writes, “Since the Holocaust survivors were forced to spend many months at home without fellowship, they now need to return to a more normal life.” Maxim and our Israeli staff organized online music and art classes with a gospel focus to help the survivors connect with one another and find spiritual answers to some of life’s toughest questions.
The economic challenges caused by the pandemic also opened new doors for ministry in Israel. Many Israelis lost their jobs. Unemployment is rampant within Israel, so our staff members organized seminars about finances with a focus on helping Israelis find new jobs and develop new skills.
Our online ministries in Israel are growing. Through these digital events, we are reaching more people than ever before.
Please pray for our future efforts, which will include:
- Establishing smaller home groups throughout Israel, including the Golan Heights and urban Tel Aviv
- Additional humanitarian projects geared to helping the poor and elderly, especially the shrinking number of Holocaust survivors living near the border with Gaza
- Online and media ministries, especially geared for the younger generation, designed to meet their everyday needs for love, acceptance, guidance, and faith