CASPARI CENTER MEDIA REVIEW DECEMBER 1998
PROTESTS IN BEERSHEBA
Ha’Aretz, HaModia,, HaTzofe, Ma’ariv, Yated Ne’eman, Yedi’ot Aharonot, Army Radio, Israel Radio, Israel TV, HaModia, Ma’ariv, The Jerusalem Post, Beersheba regional weeklies, etc. etc., Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 2-4, 1998
On Saturday November 28 a large crowd of Haredi Orthodox Jews surrounded Beersheba’s Messianic congregation in protest against a supposed mass baptism. The protest was organized by Yad L’Achim in coordination with Beersheba’s chief rabbi. Called from their synagogues during Shabbat prayers, approximately 1,000 protesters descended on the congregation’s meeting place while a few families were there preparing for the meeting. They were incited by claims that 150 Jewish children were to be baptized that day, and the protest became heated, with threats as well as rocks thrown at the building. The Beersheba police was forced to evacuate the worshippers and their children, escorting them through a barrage of verbal abuse and spit to waiting police cars. Following the incident, members of the congregation as well as orthodox leaders were interviewed by both the print and electronic media.
Following are some quotes:
“… there was a real threat to their life. Rocks were thrown at the building, and cars belonging to congregation members were vandalized. The orthodox threatened to kill the believers and burn their homes.” (Yedi’ot Aharonot, Nov.29)
“A large protest called by the Rabbis of Beersheba prevented the baptism into Christianity of 150 children…” (Yated Ne’eman, Nov.29)
“During the demonstration, the crowd was astonished to see Jewish children, ‘baptismal candidates,’ looking out of the windows…. At this horrifying sight the crowd erupted with cries of ‘Shma Yisrael’….” (HaModia, Nov.29)
“So, then, what caused the riot? According to a source who is close to orthodox circles, the explanation should be sought in the election of Rabbi Yehuda Deri (Shas [Sephardic Orthodox] MK Arye Deri’s brother) as Beersheba’s chief rabbi. …. Some claim that the latest incident is part of the chief rabbi’s campaign to prove himself to the community: ‘He, of course has to show deeds to his public. And what could unite orthodox, traditional and nationalist secular people more than a battle against the mission which threatens to plunder the souls of children and change them into gentiles.’ ….
‘They deny that they planned to baptize?’ adds Rabbi Deri in astonishment, ‘Of course they’ll deny it. But we know for certain that they wanted to have a baptism ceremony… What happened on Shabbat was a spontaneous demonstration. Hundreds came to the mission house, but there was no violence other than knocking on the door. … We don’t want wars, and we have nothing against the Christian community. But the Messianic Jews are a threat….’[According to a Yad L’Achim member], ‘the Messianic Jews look for people in difficult situations … they help them with food and clothes which come from a large warehouse in Jaffa, and mostly they poison their souls. Their people are good at doing this. They have psychological training and know how to convince. ….. They have a Bible House from which propaganda is distributed. Everything is free. We don’t attack Christians, but this is a dangerous cult. After all, we don’t open Yeshivas inside Catholic churches. True, they claim that they are Jews, not Christians. But we’re talking about a cult of Christians who masquerade as Jews, and in order to fool people they call Yeshu by the name Yeshua. We won’t allow them to continue their work. We’ll continue protesting.’
H.A. has been living next to the mission house for 45 years. According to her, there is no missionary activity there. ‘Their activity causes no problems. … They sing and pray…. No neighbor has ever complained about them, and we all have good relationships with them.’[According to a member of the Messianic congregation], ‘We are Jews, not Christians. We pray according to the New Testament, and in our prayers there is only love for the whole country. At our meetings we sing songs of thanksgiving to God, all from the book of Psalms. Everything the rabbis say about what we do is a lie. We don’t try to convert Jews, and on Shabbat we didn’t know what they wanted from us. Hundreds of protesters dressed in black came and screamed “where are the children you want to baptize?” We were afraid for our lives. The children cried. The orthodox threw stones and banged on the doors with sticks. They cursed us. The women called us Russian dogs and other, more obscene names. The children heard it all.’ But despite the opposition, they will not stop their gatherings: ‘Why should we stop? This is private property, and we live in a democratic state. We have not hurt anyone. Everything is open and above-board, and whoever wants to can come to our meetings. Orthodox people would also be welcomed. We have no hatred for them, and we are amazed at the depth of their hatred for us.’
The police are investigating the Messianic literature to see if its content is illegal, as well as the complaints filed by congregation members following the demonstration. So far, they have found no evidence that the Messianic Jews broke the law.” (Ha’Aretz, Dec.2, by A. Arbeli)
“For every person who joins them, the missionary receives $5,000, and when the convert is a Jew the payment is even bigger. Of the Vatican’s 1.5 billion dollar world missions budget, approximately 1 billion dollars have been allocated to the 600 missionary cults working in Israel.” (HaModia, Dec.3)
“One of those trapped inside said, ‘A crowd dressed in black surrounded us, yelled, threw rocks, and tried to climb over the wall [of the compound]. We were mostly concerned for the children who were with us. We aren’t missionaries and didn’t hold any baptism ceremonies. We are Jews, just like those who want to get rid of us. We all believe in the same God, but we believe in love and tolerance as well.’” (Sheva, Dec.3)
“Some members of the congregation were angry at the police, who were not able to remove the orthodox, and instead preferred to evacuate them from the building under heavy police guard. ‘It’s absurd. The orthodox broke the law, not us. They are the ones who should have been dispersed,’ complained one member.” (Kol HaNegev, Dec.4)
“‘As I got closer I heard yelling and shrieking. Some people were trying to climb over the wall around the house and get inside. Some were throwing rocks. They were in a frenzy. This wasn’t a demonstration; this was a mob,’ said N. Aridan, a history lecturer at Ben-Gurion University. … Aridan’s description of what he called a ‘pogrom’ matches the one given by Christians and Messianic Jews who were there. But the version offered by police and local Shas leaders … speaks not of rioters, but of peaceful, if fervent demonstrators. ‘There were a few dozen people praying, dancing and singing…’ said [the] spokesman for the police’s Southern district. ‘There were over 500 people there…’ said [the] spokesman for the police’s Negev region.[And in the words of one of the women who was evacuated with her children]: ‘People were spitting on me. They had murder in their eyes. Some of them were wailing, “the poor children” …. One man in the crowd, who seemed like he truly wanted to help us, offered to take my boy to the van so he wouldn’t get hurt. But right away another man reached out and said, “No, give the boy to me, he’ll be safer with me,” and I could tell from the look in his eyes that he did not want to help me. He wanted to take my son.’
City Councilman Y. Saban, head of the local Shas list, was in the crowd. He recalled: ‘When we got there, we saw a lot of children, and the Christians were trying to baptize them, but we stopped them.’ Asked if he had actually seen attempts to baptize Jewish children, Saban replied, ‘I didn’t really see too much, it was all going on behind the walls….’” (The Jerusalem Post, Dec.4)
POGROM IN JERUSALEM
All newspapers, radio and television stations, Nov. 12 – 24, with continuing occasional mentions in the media.
The Mea She’arim apartment of two Swiss Christian women was severely vandalized in what the local media as called a pogrom. Dozens of orthodox protestors broke into the apartment on the evening of Nov.11, while the women were out, and smashed furniture and fixtures, then started throwing their belongings out the windows. A mob waiting downstairs, chanting “Missionaries,” then burned the items. A third women called the police when the orthodox tried to break into her apartment as well. Over 30 police officers were needed to evacuate her under a hail of stones and bottles, as well as curses and verbal abuse. A number of men were detained for questioning, but at this time no charges have been pressed.
Following are some quotes:
“‘This building was unclean, and now it’s Kosher and pure,’ T.S., who lives across from the women’s apartment said with joy. ‘Though I didn’t sleep for 24 hours, because the whole building was shaking, I don’t care, because without a doubt from now on it will be more pleasant to live here.’” (Yedi’ot Aharonot, Nov.13)
“From what I heard in the neighborhood, the three had been suspected for a long time of being missionaries. What heated up the dark impulses of the mob involved in the pogrom, was a rumor which spread like lightning – and in Mea She’arim rumor is the same as fact – that one of the women gave a neighborhood child missionary material. The boy showed the gift he received to his parents, who didn’t bother to find out who gave it to him. They decreed that the source of the abomination was the strange transplant who lived among them.
The women deny that they are missionaries. They say that they came to learn Hebrew and Arabic, and to live in the beloved country. But their explanation doesn’t matter. During the five years that they lived there, a time bomb was ticking, and the pogrom was only a matter of timing. In the opinion of some, the timing isn’t coincidental: police officials think that the strengthened position of Haredi parties in the City Council …. has increased their motivation to conquer additional territories in Jerusalem…[According to one of the women involved, their neighbors were not always friendly…]: ‘The children always yelled, “Gentile, Gentile,” and there was this idea that we wanted to take their children… At first it was only words. One woman always told me to get out, and the children spat on me and hit me twice. …. One night they didn’t let me sleep. They banged on the door, rang the bell, tried to break in, and broke the bell and door handles. …. All I have left are the clothes I’m wearing. My money, my passport, everything’s gone.’” (Ma’ariv, Nov.20)
“[In the words of Marcel Rebiai, a member of the Swiss group, speaking to the Knesset Interior Committee]: ‘We aren’t in Mea She’arim to hurt the community. We’re there to help the needy, to fix up homes. I understand that some residents feel threatened by the presence of non-Jews. But it’s not true that we tried to convert children. We made friends in the area, and that’s what threatened others: that we developed friendships with Haredi people. The people who hurt us are not our enemies and we don’t want to accuse them. We want to pray for them and help them. We’re not here to be a threat.’” (Yedi’ot Aharonot, Nov.24)[Note: The Interior Committee condemned the attack, but according to reports on Israel Radio the orthodox members didn’t show up for this particular meeting…]
“The police is afraid to mess with the Haredi orthodox. The fact is, they sent [to the protest] a border patrol jeep and one police car, and sat and watched 800 people rioting and destroying the apartment for 3 hours and none of them dared to interfere…” (Jerusalem Scoop weekly, Nov.27)
Israel TV, Israel Radio, Dec.8; Army Radio, Israel Radio, Ma’ariv, Yedi’ot Aharonot, Israel TV, Dec.9; Yedi’ot Aharonot, Ma’ariv, Globes, Dec.15 1998.
Following their custom of many years, the Arab-Christian Orthodox community in Jaffa planned to reserve a banquet hall in nearby Bat-Yam in which to hold their New Year’s celebration. But this year was different: the owners of the hall had already received a warning from the Bat-Yam rabbinate threatening to revoke their Kashrut certification if they hosted Christian events. Fearing for their livelihood, they turned down the request to use the hall, as did owners of alternate locations. Sources in the rabbinate are quoted as saying that holding Christian rites in a hall would make it unclean, and that it could no longer be considered Kosher, and that New Year’s celebrations are particularly offensive to Judaism. Apparently, these warnings have been received not only in Bat-Yam but all over Israel.
After the Orthodox Christian community in Jaffa appealed to the Supreme Court, the rabbinate revoked the threat to cancel the Kashrut of the hall in question.
Yedi’ot Aharonot: National daily published in Tel-Aviv. Attitude to believers depends on the reporter.
Yated Ne’eman: National religious/political daily published in Bnei Brak. Very hostile to believers.
Ha’Modia: Jerusalem religious daily. Very hostile to believers.
Ha’Aretz: National daily, published in Tel-Aviv, mostly objective towards believers.
Sheva: Beersheba weekly
Kol HaNegev: Southern region weekly.
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.
Ma’ariv: National daily, published in Tel-Aviv. Politically tends to the right, mostly objective towards believers (depends on the reporter).
Globes: Tel-Aviv daily.