The Jerusalem Post, March 31 & April 2; Ha’Aretz, March 31 & April 1 1998
In a flurry of misinformation, Israeli papers declared that “Representatives of 50 Christian evangelical groups have agreed to make an unprecedented joint statement promising not to carry out missionary activity in Israel.” The agreement was hammered out by MK Zvili, one of the controversial anti-missionary bill’s original sponsors, and representatives of the Christian community. (See text of agreement below.) However, the above interpretation of the agreement, published the day before a meeting with MK Zvili at which the agreement was to be signed, led to a boycott by both the Messianic Action Committee (MAC) and the United Christian Council in Israel (UCCI).
MAC Chairman Baruch Maoz, in response to headlines that shouted “No missionary activity in Holy Land,” told Ha’Aretz that Messianic Jews would not stop their “missionary activity,” and that asking them to do so would be like asking the Labor party not to try to win an election. The statement, which was originally endorsed by the MAC and UCCI along with other Christian groups, is definitely open to interpretation. The clause in question states that “We… will not engage in activities …… to alienate (the Jewish people) from their tradition and community.” Maoz states that the activities of Messianic Jews often bring Jews closer to their tradition, and that “Zvili is a politician. He was looking for a statement he could interpret however he wanted. We were willing to give it to him, so he would drop the bill.”
The UCCI also did not endorse the statement in response to the early publicity. UCCI president Charles Kopp said that “the publicity had made it appear that those present would be relinquishing their right to say what they believed.”
In the end, the agreement was signed by one of its main sponsors, Bridges for Peace, as well as a number of ecumenical groups. But even the “day after” article in the Jerusalem Post, though it acknowledges the boycott, is headlined with the generalization that “Christian groups eschew proselytizing.”
AGREED TEXT BETWEEN REPRESENTATIVE CHRISTIAN BODIES AND MK NISSIM ZVILI
As representatives of Christian churches, schools and charitable institutions from different parts of the world, living and working in the State of Israel, we rejoice in the presence of the Jewish people in this country of their ancestors and delight in their return to it after many centuries of persecution and suffering. We trust that the Almighty will guide them in all aspects of their religious and communal life and will inspire them, in the tradition of the prophets, to shape a just and compassionate society. We pray for the establishment of peaceful relations with their neighbors, as well as with the members of the Christian, Muslim and other religious communities in this country. We pray for God’s blessing over all Israel’s inhabitants.
We believe that the covenant which God concluded with the people of Israel was never revoked. We deeply respect the Jewish people in their identity and integrity and will therefore not engage in activities, which have as their intention to alienate them from their tradition and community. Nor will we exploit, for the benefit of our denominational interests, such economic, social or psychological needs as may emerge. Recalling the grim events preceding Israel’s rebirth, we are sensitive to their memories, hurts and feelings, even as we pursue our religious callings. We also recognize the potential for healing between our faith communities as we live in the midst of a Jewish majority, sharing its challenges while living together in a land sacred to both our traditions.
We earnestly call upon the government of Israel to maintain its enlightened policy which allows our Christian communities in this country, both native as well as expatriate, to freely follow our vocation, which includes among others, caring for our members; engaging in many social and charitable projects; welcoming and assisting pilgrims and visitors from abroad; and maintaining schools and institutions for teaching and research – to the end, that the Christian communities in the State of Israel may flourish in harmony with those of other faiths.
ISN’T THE LAW ENOUGH?
Hadashot Mishpaha, March 26 1998
“I truly hope that we won’t have to follow in the steps of Rabbi R. Solovichik, who lay on the floor of ex Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and cried in order to prevent autopsies.” Thus said the legal advisor to the orthodox factions in the Knesset, in a meeting with Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein regarding Israel’s “anti-mission” laws. Rubinstein acknowledged that the laws in question have not always been enforced, adding that he will weigh options to change this situation. The AG and State Attorney Edna Arbel promised that religious legislation will not be discriminated against. Rubinstein also agreed to appoint his top aide, Attorney Solberg, to be responsible for the enforcement of religious legislation. Whenever members of the orthodox lobby feel that the police have neglected to press charges or enforce the law, Attorney Solberg will investigate the matter.
DADDY BAPTIZED ME
Kol HaDarom, March 20 1998
The conversion of a family in Ashkelon was discovered when their five year old son told his kindergarten teacher that he had been baptized. She promptly notified the Yad L’Achim anti-missionary organization, who stepped in to try to convince the father to return to Judaism. The mother, who refused to go along with the conversion, maintains that her husbands motives were purely financial, and that after his baptism he would receive money and help with housing. She also claims that he was told to divorce her if she didn’t convert, and that “he has turned into a robot.”
In another southern city, an IDF officer’s involvement with “a cult” was reported to the military, who did not respond.
Yad L’Achim cites cases like these to prove the need for harsher anti-missionary measures as well as for fundraising, since they are fighting “15 thousand missionaries with a budget of millions.”
IN THE NAME OF GOD
Zman Tel-Aviv (Ma’ariv supplement), March 13 1998
According to the US report on religious freedom published in July 1997, Israel is not the place to be a Jehovah’s Witness. Members of the world-wide group have been consistently harassed, beaten and threatened by orthodox anti-missionaries. This article documents a number of such attacks, including two “missionaries” being held at gun-point and a mob beating 3 sisters who had simply been visiting a friend. Victims have filed complaints with the police, but so far no charges have been brought against the perpetrators, even though in some cases their identity is known.
Yad L’Achim, while denying complicity in illegal acts, recently ran the following notice in a Russian language paper: “Caution, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yad L’Achim has commenced an operation against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Dan region (Tel-Aviv area – ed.). Actually this should have been done long ago… Of course missionary activity is illegal… Yad L’Achim has started a war against this cult, and in certain cases we resort to violence against missionaries in order to force them to obey the law.”
MK Dedi Zucker of the left-wing Meretz party plans to bring the problem of religious intolerance, as well as the lack of appropriate response by the police, to the attention of the Knesset. And meanwhile, the police spokesman says that the matter is “under investigation.”
Ha’Aretz English edition, March 29 1998
The following is excerpted from the article:
Brother David moved into an apartment on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem to secure what he believes will be a front row seat for the return of Christ in 2000. …He is in touch with dozens of Americans who are ready to sell their possessions and move to the Holy Land in the next two years.
Next door, a hotel run by Palestinian Muslims is making an unusual sales pitch. “How would you like to be staying at the Mount of Olives Hotel the day Jesus returns?” reads a flier sent to 2000 Christian congregations in the US.
These are just some of the signs that as the millennium approaches, this city… will be a magnet for Christian “end-timers” who believe the second coming of Christ is near.
While officials in Jerusalem tackle the millennium as a practical problem (such as providing lodging, toilets and water for the 6 million visitors expected between mid 1999 and the end of 2000 – ed.), there is growing expectation among millions of evangelical Christians that the city will soon witness dramatic events.
According to such beliefs, the creation of the state of Israel is a sign that the end of the world and Christ’s return … are near. Most preachers in the US are reluctant to set a date, but many are stirring anticipation among their flocks.
Most pilgrims … will tour holy sites and go home if nothing happens. But Jerusalem has a history of doing strange things to people. The Jerusalem district psychiatrist predicts he’ll see more that the usual three of four annual cases of “Jerusalem Syndrome”—people without prior psychiatric problems who, once in the holy city, believe they are biblical figures or have a godly mission. Sufferers might engage in washing rituals, begin wearing white or deliver confused speeches at holy sites.
Brother David …. spends his days distributing food and clothes to the needy. He said he has helped dozens of Christians find cheap apartments in the area, and has received letters form dozens more who want to come. “I have waited all my life for this,” said David. But he has also left himself an out. If Christ’s return is delayed, he will just keep praying.
“It just gives us an added drive to do what we know is good while we have time,” he said.
The Jerusalem Post: National English language daily, published in Jerusalem. Tends to the religious right, but careful and relatively fair towards believers (has a large Christian readership). Friendly towards right-wing political Christianity.
Ha’Aretz: National daily, published in Tel-Aviv, mostly objective towards believers.
Mishpaha/Hadashot Mishpaha: Jerusalem religious weekly.
Kol HaDarom: Ashdod weekly.
Ma’ariv: National daily, published in Tel-Aviv. Politically tends to the right, mostly objective towards believers (depends on the reporter).