CASPARI CENTER MEDIA REVIEW SEPTEMBER, 2000 #2
The number of articles found in the Israeli media’s coverage of matters relating to Messianic Jews, the mission and other Christian matters, came to a total of 58. Of these, 13 articles dealt with missionary and anti-missionary activity; nine articles dealt with Jewish-Christian relations; seven articles reviewed the current status of three land disputes between Israel and Church institutions; six discussed Christians and non-Jews in Israel; six articles were on the future of Christian institutions in Jerusalem’s Old City in a peace agreement and abuse of Christian religious rights by the Palestinian authority; five articles discussed historic statements made by the Catholic Church regarding Jews; two articles dealt with the changes being made in the Christian Affairs Department of the Israeli government; and one article dealt with Israeli attitudes towards Christianity. The remaining nine articles were on miscellaneous topics dealing with Christian, Arab or Jewish matters on their own merit.
Unconditional Support of Israel (The Jerusalem Post, 12/09/00)
In this letter sent to the editor of The Jerusalem Post daily by an evangelical Christian woman named Carole Murphrey from Corpus Christi, Texas, she expresses her satisfaction about the recent treatise issued by a group of North American Jewish scholars and Rabbis. She expresses regret about the church’s treatment of the Jews in the past, but is grateful for Jewish recognition of changes in Christian attitudes towards Jews and Israel. She explains that the particular group of evangelicals to which she belongs, believes that Eretz Yisrael was given to the Jews, forever, unconditionally. She goes on to say, “Please give us Christians a chance to prove to you that we’re not all monsters and antisemites. Our support of Israel is not a covert tool to aid us in “converting” you. Many of us are willing to lay down our lives for you, and we pray for your protection daily.”
Cardinal Ratzinger publishes Book on the Supremacy of the Catholic Faith. (Jerusalem Post 12/09/00, Haaretz 13/09/00, Jewish Chronicle 15/09/00, Hazofeh 20/09/00, Yediot Ahronot 26/09/00)
Several Israeli and Jewish newspapers published articles and opinions on statements made by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, one of the closest aides to Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Ratzinger heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which is the guardian of Vatican orthodoxy. In his recently published book, Ratzinger declared that the Catholic Church is waiting for Israel and the Jews to embrace Christianity. In one of the quotes from his book, which was mentioned in the German magazine “Focus,” he says, “Catholics do not want to impose Christ on the Jews, but they are waiting for the moment when Israel also says yes to Christ.”
Many Jews in the Diaspora and in Israeli circles think this comment will delay progress in Catholic-Jewish relations, and reverse what was thought to be an irreversible turn for the better in these relations. Italian Jews made their opinion regarding these statements known by declaring a stop to the Catholic-Jewish dialogue. Rabbi Toef, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, remarks, “This document is an offense to Jews and cancels all efforts by Pope John Paul II to bring reconciliation between the two religions.” Rabbi Toef, supported by the rest of the Jewish communities in Italy, cancelled his participation in the “Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Day” that had been set to take place October 3. The Vatican said they regretted the Chief Rabbi’s words, and announced that the day of dialogue was cancelled.
Ratzinger’s comment came a week after he had issued another Vatican document, Declaration Dominos Iesus, in which he declared that only those who are part of the Catholic faith will receive real salvation, and called other religions and Christian denominations “gravely deficient.” This declaration carried the authority of the pope and brought about negative reactions both from Jewish and Protestant circles.
Ratzinger was asked at a press conference, “How should the unique character of Jesus Christ and of the Catholic Church be explained to a Jew or a Lutheran Christian?” He replied, “We are single-minded in our belief that a Jew and those who believe in other religions do not have to recognize Jesus as the Son of God in order to receive salvation, if they are kept from doing so by circumstances which can not be overcome and which they themselves are not to be blamed for.” Nonetheless, the Vatican’s position is clear – they believe in the supremacy of the Catholic faith.
In an article published in the ultra-orthodox daily Hazofeh, Joseph Friedlander, the writer, quotes Micah 4:5, which says, “Though all the people walk each in the name of his own God, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.” He remarks that this verse indicates that there should be patience and honor towards those of different religions and faiths, out of recognition of the fact that all religions in which men believe are equal, and there are no religions which are more valuable. He claims that a religion which thinks that it is superior will be hungry for power and control over those of other religions, and he recalls how “Edom” [the church] has brought much sorrow to the Jewish people with this sort of attitude.
An opinion of a different nature comes from John Diamond who writes for the Jewish weekly “Jewish Chronicle,” published in London. He says, “It’s one faith or another, it can’t be both… One of the greatest pretences maintained by the modernist wings of most of the great religions is that the maxim “live and let live” can somehow be extended to accept the equality of all faiths.” He goes on to say that if you take ecumenicalism to its logical conclusion “you get to a heaven divided into religious states: turn right at the Pearly Gates if you’re a Christian and you’ll find God in a long, white beard, turn left and there’s Buddha contemplating his navel on a spare cloud; go straight and you’ll find Allah presiding over his Muslim millions.”
Diamond claims that those who are true believers don’t believe this at all. “They believe that their religion is the only true one and all the rest are misguided and, at worst, absolutely wrong.” Therefore Diamond, as a Jew, is not offended by the Cardinal’s statement and would not expect him to accept all other religions as true, if he is a true believer.
Who will defend the Christians? (Haaretz 15/09/00, appears in both the English and Hebrew editions, Kol Ha’ir 22/09/00)
Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat has been claiming recently that in his quest for Jerusalem’s Old City he is representing the interests of both Muslims and Christians. Though this claim regarding Muslims is understandable, the PA chairman has been told by representatives throughout the Christian world that no one authorized him to represent the Christians or to make claims concerning their holy places in Jerusalem.
There are communities of Christian Arabs in and around Jerusalem whose national identity is Palestinian, but the PA gives these Christians very low status. The communities are disappearing gradually, partly for economic reasons, but also partly because of threats and mistreatment by Muslim extremists. Among the Palestinians, the percentage of Christians emigrating from the territories has been especially high, Much higher, for example than Christian Israeli-Arabs.
This is explained not only by the relatively good education that this sector of the population acquires while having limited menial jobs offered them, but also by their being exposed to threats and plots by Muslim extremists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. There are many stories, mostly coming from Bethlehem, about Christian girls being taunted, or veiled threats such as “After Saturday comes Sunday” (meaning, Once we get done with the Jews, you’re next). And occasionally there are outbreaks of violence that go unreported by the Palestinian media.
In a report from the US State Department, the Palestinian Authority is also accused of limiting the freedom of worship of Christians. According to this report, religious rights of Muslims who have converted to Christianity are being violated, when the PA, including its security forces, arrest these converts or discriminate against them. The US State Department has received several complaints regarding harassment by the PA.
In the report, there is also information about the PA’s treatment of Christians in general. The report states that the status quo is generally kept throughout the Palestinian controlled territories, except for occasional infractions. One example was of limitations made by the PA’s Ministry for Internal Affairs on a Christian radio station in the Bethlehem area, regarding the amount of Christmas music played during the Year 2000 celebrations. Upon lack of compliance by the station, it was closed down “temporarily.”
Jesus was a Palestinian (Makor Rishon 15/09/00)
In this religious weekly, the writer reports on a program called “Good Morning Jerusalem,” in which a Palestinian artist was interviewed on one of his recent paintings. The painting portrays Jesus between two Israeli soldiers. The artist explains, “Our struggle against the Other (Israel) is an eternal struggle. You can say it started 2000 years ago and is continuing up until today. I illustrate this with the image of Jesus, who came to the world with a message of justice, and the other side did what they did. The Palestinians demand the same right, and are treated in the same manner. In this painting I illustrate the following idea: The Israeli soldier, as we see him, is wearing an army uniform, and Jesus has nothing but the truth. When he is searched at the entrance to Jerusalem, they find a stone, a piece of bread and a fish – and he is bound. This is the Palestinian man since the beginning of the struggle until it ends, if it ends.”
And, indeed, according to this article, the official position of the PA portrays Jesus as a Palestinian – the first Palestinian murdered by Jews.
A New Local Christian Rock Band – “Man Alive” (Kol Ha’ir 15/09/00)
This local Jerusalem weekly reported on a new phenomenon in Israel – local Christian funk-rock bands, and specifically in this genre the new band “Man Alive” from Jerusalem. The band’s members are Jamie Hilsden (24), lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, Joel Hilsden (19), drummer, Bethany Ridings (22), guitar and vocals, and Jeremy Boyd (21), bass guitarist. The article featured photographs of all the band members. The band was formed February 3rd, 2000 and has since done much touring around the country, specifically at local funk-rock clubs and congregations. Their lyrics speak of God’s and His Son’s love, and include quotes from the Bible. Their music is loud, but is regarded as having good quality by the young crowds and critics. It is sometimes difficult to understand the words, “But says Jamie, “I try to speak with the audience, so they know who I am.” The band has produced a demo that includes seven tracks, and are distributing it to international companies and selling them at their concerts. They even have a web-site: www.man-alive.com
The writer goes on to say of the band that it is “the least provocative and most humble band in the country. They don’t want to make lots of money and sell millions [of albums], they plan to have spouses only of those of the same religion, they dress modestly, they will remain virgins until their weddings, [and] they oppose abortion and drugs… Man Alive will proclaim their love for God and their strong faith at every opportunity, which actually kind of makes them the most provocative band in the country, no?”
$30 million Raised in 20 Years by The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Chicago (The Jerusalem Post, 17/09/00)
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, chairman of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Chicago, received a citation from the Jerusalem Economic Forum for his efforts on behalf of new immigrants and the capital’s impoverished families, in raising $30 million over the past 20 years for their welfare.
Eckstein started an immigration and absorption project to bring 500 Jewish families from the former Soviet Union to Israel, mainly to Jerusalem. All the adults are trained professionals and are absorbed into the high-tech industry before they even arrive to the country. They are also placed directly into permanent homes upon their arrival instead of going to the absorption center, and thus becoming more of a burden.
Eckstein, who has just set up an office in Jerusalem, refused to take all the credit for himself. The money, he said, came from Evangelical Christians who regularly offer a “sacrifice” for Israel. He also refused to come to accept the citation empty-handed, and so presented two $50,000 checks: one to the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, for food and medication for needy families, and one to the chairman and founder of JEF, Israel Isaacs.
Education Ministry Suggests School Visits to Christian Site in the North (Hamodia, front page of Hebrew edition, 18/09/00; Yated Ne’eman 19/09/00; Hamodia, English edition, 22/09/00)
These two ultra-orthodox Jewish daily papers, report that a circular which has been sent out to schools all over the country by the director general of the Ministry of Education, suggests that schools take their pupils to visit “Galilee Experience,” a site on the banks of the Kinneret where visitors are shown an audio-visual display which focuses on Christianity, and is run by Messianic Jews. The circular states that the audio-visual production shown on the site has historical, geographical, religious and educational content, and depicts people who had an impact on the Galilee. The production also describes important events that occurred in the district in the past and details places where interesting artifacts of the period can be seen. The visit is described in the circular as “a suitable start to an excursion of the Galilee or as a fitting end to an outing to the area.”
Rabbi Shalom Dov Lipshitz, head of Yad L’achim, was sharply critical of what one of the writers calls “the Education Ministry’s attempt to deliberately send children to missionary productions.” Two Ultra-orthodox Knesset Members, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman and Rabbi Moshe Gafni, also wrote letters to the Ministry, voicing their disapproval. Litzman recommended that the children be sent to sites related to Orthodox Judaism such as Meron, Tzefat and Tiberias. “Why are we interested in broken wells filled with snakes and scorpions, when Jewish children have access to wells of living water?” Litzman asked. The Ministry of Education says they will look into the matter.
U.S. Chides Israel for Religious Bias (Haaretz, Hebrew and English editions, 21/09/00)
An annual report prepared by the U.S. State Department’s Democracy, Human Rights and Labor division, criticizes Israel for unjust treatment of Arabs, for vandalism and discrimination against Christian groups and non-Orthodox Jewish streams, and for sanctions against Muslim citizens who want to go to Mecca on hajj pilgrimages. This report, entitled “2000 Annual Report on Religious Freedom,” comes in response to a demand made by U.S. Congressmen that the status of Christian groups around the world be reviewed, to ascertain whether they suffer from discrimination or persecution. The report’s findings are relayed to governments in the countries reviewed by it.
The report claims that the State of Israel provides lower quality services and opportunities in education, housing, employment and other spheres to non-Jewish citizens, who make up 20 percent of the population. It also deals with harassment and vandalism against various religious groups in Israel, giving special emphasis to the plight of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The report also notes that Reform and Conservative synagogues have been the targets of vandalism in Israel. No mention of mistreatment of Messianic Jews is made in these articles.
Took Off His Cross and Repented (Yom Leyom 21/09/00)
This Ultra-orthodox Jewish daily, reports of a young Jew from Tzefat who went to a conference held by Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak. He asked the Rabbi dozens of questions. In the end he was convinced, removed the cross he was wearing around his neck and repented in tears. His mother had encouraged him to go to the conference in hopes that he would be convinced to leave his Christian girlfriend. The Rabbi expressed his relief that the discussion between him and the youth ended this way.
The conference was held at “Beit Alon” and attracted hundreds of young people from all over the Galilee. The participants asked many questions, and, in the end, many of them went up on stage, put on a kipah and tzitzit, and called out, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God.”
Jesus Awaits Professor David Flusser (Kol Hazman 22/09/00)
The weekend magazine supplement of a leading Hebrew daily (Maariv) featured a lengthy article about Professor David Flusser, with the large headline “Jesus Waits for Flusser.” On Friday, September 15th, on his 83rd birthday, Professor David Flusser passed away. He was well known throughout the Christian world for his research on Jesus’ Jewish background. The respect which Church leaders had for him is reported to have bordered on personality worship.
The reporter, Yaron Avitov, wrote a book in which he devoted a chapter to Prof. Flusser. According to the article, Flusser believed in the afterlife, and wasn’t afraid of death, and was especially looking forward to meeting his favorite Jew, the crucified Jesus. Rumors of “this Jewish wise-man, who knew more about Jesus that any cardinal,” spread all over the Christian world and drew many to his lectures. “Jesus is close to me agreed Flusser. “I have an affectionate attitude towards him. I know his religious and moral message, but there is one difference – I’m more pessimistic. If there is any similarity between me and anyone from that time period, it is more likely the elder Hillel. Most of the things that I appreciate about Jesus, are found in him.”
Flusser is better known outside Israel than inside it. “In Israel, I am considered an expert on Christianity he is quoted saying, “but in the world I am considered an expert on Judaism. I don’t live in peace with that, but I’ve given up already, and I will enter with that into Hell.”
Flusser’s books on Jesus and the Jewish sources of Christianity sell well in European bookstores, and the halls he spoke in there were always full. He says he was trying to stand up for the Jews before the nations. To questions about blame for the death of Jesus, he answers cynically, “We shot him in the feet, what do you want me to say?” To his Christian audiences he would explain that the Jews are not to be blamed for Jesus’ death.
Some Jews claimed that he identified too much with Jesus and Christianity and found “too many Jewish roots for the Christian faith.” Flusser responded, “I try to stand up for Israel before the nations. This costs me my lifeblood. You need to turn the enemy into your friend. The fact that a Jew researches Christianity is a wonder of nature in their eyes, and it excites them. Serious Church leaders did not try to convert me, because they need me for the Jewish-Christian dialogue. The aura I have in the gentiles’ eyes, is based upon the fact that they want to learn from me what they should believe in. I am completely positive that I have had contributed, and an important contribution at that, to the betterment of these relations.”
Flusser the father of two sons, named his youngest, Yochanan, who is the principal of a special education school, after John the Baptist, a favorite character of his. Yochanan is said to clearly be his father’s student and to have inherited some of his colorful personality.
Professor David Flusser has received recognition for his achievements, and was awarded the Rothschild Award four months ago, and the Israel Award in 1980. He was a senior researcher on humanities in Israel, and worked as a professor of humanities at Hebrew University. He spoke 26 languages, could lecture in nine, and was also a virtual expert in other fields such as biology and art.
Companies Boycotted Because of Matters of Faith (Maariv 24/09/00)
This secular daily newspaper dealt with the topic of boycotts. The writer told the story of Edward Campus, a Jehovah’s Witness, who was laid off of his job at the Vita Company as the result of an Ultra-orthodox boycott. Rabbi Shalom Lipshitz, head of Yad L’achim is quoted saying, “Up until today, we have been responsible for the firing of dozens of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists. The companies cooperate with us as long as it doesn’t go public. There are many ways to fire a worker without telling him the real reason. They are missionaries and we work against them. These cults would give their world in order to baptize a Jew into Christianity, and we threat with boycott if they are not fired.”
Dan Yakir, a lawyer that is legal counsel for the Israeli Institute for Human Rights, says that boycotting a company because of the religious beliefs of one of its employees is wrong. “The abuse of rights is done both by the boycotter and by the company who gives in to the boycott.”
Professor Ruth Gabison, of the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University, says, “Boycotting a person because of his religious beliefs or lifestyle is completely wrong, especially if he did not participate in missionary activity. As far as Campus’s situation is concerned, if what was published is correct, there was no reason to hurt him.”
Campus was returned to his position at Vita, following a counter-boycott initiated by a member of the Meretz political party. Later, he retired, and in the settlement he agreed not to speak about the issue to the press.
The Great Rabbis of Israel Request Donations to the Yad L’achim Fund “Soul Ransom” (Hamodia 26/09/00)
This Ultra-orthodox daily reports on visits by Rabbi Shalom Lipshitz and other members of the Yad L’achim organization to various Rabbis around the country, with the purpose of gaining their recognition, support and endorsements for donations. Lipshitz reviewed the activity that occurred during the past year at 17 branches of the organization throughout the country. He reported on the activities for the strengthening of Judaism and the bringing in of those who have drifted away. These activities have been done among 1000 Russian immigrants who participate regularly in classes on the Torah and Judaism at branches of the organization. The members also gave an update on the continuing struggle against missionary and cult organizations, which have captured innocent Jews in their nets and caused the destruction of families from the vineyard of the House of Israel.