CASPARI CENTER MEDIA REVIEW DECEMBER, 2000 #1
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 81.
- 19 articles dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
- 16 articles presented international Christian opinion on the recent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, and reported on Arab Christian involvement in the crisis
- 15 articles dealt with missionary and anti-missionary activity
- five articles discussed issues concerning Messianic Jews
- three articles reported on current land disputes between the Church and Israeli companies
- two articles were about recent archaeological discoveries
- two articles had to do with non-Jews in Israel
- one article presented Israeli attitudes towards Christians
The remaining 18 articles were on miscellaneous topics dealing with Christian, Arab, or Jewish matters on their own merit.
Christian and Jewish Relations Over the Centuries by Rabbi David Rosen (De’ot, October 2000)
Rosen discusses Jewish-Christian relations down the centuries, and explains that modern Israelis have little contact with the Christian world, and are therefore somewhat unaware of what Jewish sources have to say about Christians. Though many may be familiar with the Rambam’s opinion that Christians are considered idol worshippers, few may know of positive remarks regarding Christians made by many other rabbis. These rabbis determined that Christians are not idol worshippers, and some spoke of them as “inheritors of the Torah” and ones whose “full intentions are to the Maker of heaven and earth.” Some even commanded Jews to pray for their welfare! Rabbi Jacob Amdin said, “Christians and Muslims are a congregation that brings glory to Heaven, which will remain. Their desire is for heaven, and their reward will not be kept from them.”
Nonetheless, Rosen reminds his readers that most of Jewish thought regarding Christianity has been negative, and was greatly influenced by Christianity’s treatment of Judaism, Jews, and the Torah. Yet in the last decades there has been a serious change in Christianity’s [and specifically Catholicism’s] approach to Judaism and the State of Israel, which requires a similar change in Judaism.
In order to understand the magnitude of this change, Rosen reminds the readers that from its beginning, Christianity has considered itself the heir of the covenant and promises that were given to the children of Israel. According to this view, the destruction of the temple was a judgment from heaven on the Jews for killing the Messiah, as a sign that the Law of Moses was canceled, and as proof that Jesus really was the Messiah – otherwise why would the Jews be punished so severely? It proved that the Jews were a cursed nation. that broke its covenant with God, and therefore the covenant was transferred to a new nation that was made up of those Gentiles who accepted this fuller gospel. This nation became “true Israel” in God’s plan of salvation.
Rosen goes on to describe Catholicism’s reaction to modern Zionism, which was, especially at first, very negative. A Jesuit article just four months prior to the first Zionist Congress in 1897, claimed that the Jews were destined to live in servitude to the Gentile nations until the end of days, and that the curse they had brought on themselves would never be removed. They claimed that the words of Jesus himself opposed the possibility of Jerusalem ever becoming the capital of a Jewish nation. Pope Pius the 10th told Herzl, “The Jews did not recognize our Lord, and therefore we can not recognize the Jewish people. Therefore, if you come to Palestine, we will be ready and waiting with churches and priests to baptize you all.” This sort of attitude was common among Catholic leaders of that time.
Rosen sees the real turnaround as a result of the Holocaust and of Pope John XXIII’s personal commitment to the cause. In 1965, the Vatican officially rejected its ‘teaching of contempt’ towards the Jewish people, and since then has openly condemned various expressions of anti-Semitism, calling them a sin against God and man and therefore contradictory to the Christian faith. In 1990, Pope John Paul II declared that the fact that anti-Semitism found a place in Christian thinking demanded that the Church repent. Many bishops, and especially German and French ones, have acknowledged that many Christians were directly and indirectly to blame for what brought about the Holocaust, and that the Church carries part of the guilt and shares in the responsibility for it. However, no Catholic document took full responsibility for the Holocaust, and Catholicism has even sought to declare Pope Pius XII, who served as pope during the Holocaust, a saint. This has created quite a ruckus in Jewish circles, because his actions during the Holocaust are viewed negatively.
Pope John Paul II also made several very positive statements regarding the right of the Jews to live in the land of Israel, with Jerusalem as their capital, and to have the peace that every nation deserves and needs. During the eighties, the Vatican declared that it was prepared to have full diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. However, many Israelis only became aware of the change in the Church’s attitude during Pope John Paul II’s visit this year, when he made a moving speech at Yad Vashem and visited the Western Wall. He also acknowledged the State of Israel by visiting its president at the time, Ezer Weizman.
Christian Friends of Israel Presents 2000 Tulip Bulbs to Metula (Yedion Afula Vehaamakim, 17/11/00)
Four representatives of the organization Christian Friends of Israel, which is comprised of members from Holland, Germany, the USA, and Canada, presented 2000 tulip bulbs to the mayor of Metula. The Dutch representatives explained that Metula was chosen for the bravery it has shown by living along the border and founding an exemplary settlement. Yaacov Katz, Metula’s mayor, was very moved by the gesture and is planning to plant the bulbs in the public parks of the town.
Bridges for Peace’s Christian Solidarity Mission to Israel (The Jerusalem Post, 01/12/00, 07/12/00, 08/12/00)
A solidarity mission with over 100 representatives of various Christian Zionist organizations was in Israel from the 3rd till the 6th of December. Their purpose was to show support for Israel and to learn more about the present conflict. The group was made up mostly of representatives from the US, but also included those from South Africa and Australia who belonged to organizations such as the National Unity Coalition for Israel, Friends of Israel, the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, and the International Third World Leaders Association. According to Clarence Wagner Jr., international director of Bridges for Peace, an evangelical Jerusalem-based group, the participants represent more than 50 million Christians around the world. The delegates met with government, military, and media leaders in Israel. Wagner said the delegation members believe Israel has been wrongly labeled as the aggressor in the current conflict. “Now is the time for responsible Christians to speak out on behalf of Israel as it is being maligned and falsely accused,” he said.
The representatives, whose groups collectively donate millions of dollars yearly in support of Aliyah, “are not trying to make up for the anti-Semitic past of the Church, [but] are saying we can forge an alliance,” says Wagner. Still, he concedes, “anti-Semitism in the church is almost endemic, so great work is required there.”
While Bridges For Peace stands in solidarity with Palestinian Christians, whom Wagner characterizes as “victimized by the same forces that are attacking Israel,” he acknowledges that the organization’s identity as Zionist causes friction. “We understand that Palestinian Christians are in a delicate position, but we don’t want to remain silent about our views,” he says.
Naim Ateek, of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology, wrote to the editor of the Jerusalem Post, following these reports on the solidarity delegation, and commented on the remark by the delegation that they came to stand with Israel “as well as to identify with indigenous Christians caught in the conflict.” Ateek remarks that the insinuation about the latter is misleading and false. “These Christian Zionist delegations never meet with the leaders of the indigenous Christian communities, i.e. the Orthodox, Catholic, and mainstream historic Protestants of the land,” he said. “Furthermore, the indigenous Christians are all Palestinians like their Moslem counterparts and are struggling together against the Israeli occupation of their country. Our Christian responsibility today is not to be silent in the face of injustice but to dare to stand and champion justice for those who are oppressed.”
Greek Orthodox Palestinian Priest Calls on Church to Refuse to Pray for Christian Arabs Killed Serving in IDF (Yediot Aharonot (04/12/00), The Jerusalem Post (05/12/00), Hazofeh (06/12/00)
A Greek Orthodox spokesman, Archmendrite Atalla Hanna, commended Muslim religious leaders for their decision to deny last rites to soldiers who are killed during their service in the Israeli Defense Forces. “It does not matter whether or not the soldier who served in the IDF was Muslim or Christian. He is betraying his people and collaborating with the occupation army, and therefore must not be prayed over in a church or a mosque.” He declares that many Christians share this position.
However, Metropolitan Vasillios, a high ranking Greek Orthodox Church official, said yesterday (December 5th) that Atalla is not a church spokesman, and that his view was not that of the Greek Orthodox Church.
In a reaction to the report, Rabbi David Rosen of the Anti-Defamation League, sent a letter to Greek Orthodox Diodoros I, expressing Rosen’s shock and urging the patriarch to disassociate himself from Atalla’s comments. “Aside from the inhumanity of such an approach, it seriously compromises the position of your whole church and faithful vis-a-vis the state, its authorities and citizenry,” Rosen said in his letter.
Hazofeh, the Ultra-Orthodox daily mentioned above, takes this news item and turns it in a typical way: “There is nothing new under the sun,” says the reporter. “All the Eastern churches without exception have been full of hatred towards Israel since they were founded.” He explains that the sources of this hatred are both the pagan religions that were woven into their faith, and Islamic influence from the surrounding nations. “Catholic and Protestant churches include quite a number of Israel haters as well,” he says. “But unlike these churches, the Eastern churches nurture wild anti-Semitism.”
“In their defense, it must be said that the Jewish hope for independence in the Land of Israel contradicts the Christian hope for the conversion of the Jews in the Last Days, which will hasten the return of their Messiah. We disappoint them and delay the salvation of the Christian world. That is a sin that cannot be forgiven. And we need to pay for it, for the peace of mind and the mystery-faith of the worst kind of Israel haters.”
Yediot Aharonot, the secular paper, goes on to say that several hundred Beduin and dozens of Muslim Arabs and Christian Arabs currently serve in the Israeli army. Arab soldiers say that the social pressure against serving in the army increased even before the current crisis, and that even years ago, Muslim families would request that the names of Muslim soldiers killed in battle not be publicized.
Yad Lachim Warns of New Missionary Tactics (Hamodia, 04/12/00)
Activists in the organization Yad Lachim, warn the public through this Ultra-Orthodox Jewish daily, that the missionaries have come up with new tactics to distribute their tracts. The missionaries frequently travel on the buses, and leave tracts and booklets on the seats so that the public will read them while they are riding the bus. The activists warn the public to be alert and not pick up this dangerous material.
Ultra-Orthodox Opinion on Drop in Tourism (Hamodia, 06/12/00)
This Ultra-Orthodox Jewish daily expressed its opinion on the current drop in tourism despite the soaring expectations Israel had for tourism in the year 2000.The writer says, “For us… this is another lesson on the extent to which impurity is rejected from here [by the Land]. The Land of Israel cannot and will not stand impure nations. Christianity, under whose shadow and patronage crusades and the Holocaust occurred against our people, always arouses in us spiritual and tangible fears… It was extremely difficult for us that the Holy Land should endure millions of Christians, although many of them were only tourists. They added power and might to Christian tourism, which we have suffered from while scattered in the Diaspora. Neither all of Barak’s peace processes, nor the age-old friendship with America’s Christian president, helped bring even a few tourists. The Christians didn’t come, not because of the Intifada, but because the holiness of the Land could not bear them… Even the widowed tourism industry joins the procession of wonders that surround our Land and us. As we await the coming of the redeemer of righteousness, we deepen our faith in the Creator and Leader of the world.”
New law Forbidding Missionary Activity and Distribution of Missionary Material by Mail, Fax or E-mail Passes Pre-reading in the Knesset (Yated Ne’eman (07/12/00), Hazofeh (10/12/00))
In a pre-reading, on the 6th of December, the Knesset approved a new law suggested by Rabbi Meir Gafni, from the Ultra-Orthodox Yehadut Hatorah political party. It was approved despite the objection of the government. The law forbids missionary activity, and the distribution of missionizing material via mail, fax, e-mail, or any other type of communication, and was approved by 23 Knesset members from Likud, Yehadut Hatorah, Shas, Mafdal, Ahdut Leumit, and members of the Shinui party. Nine Knesset members from Yisrael Ahat and Meretz objected.
In explaining the reason for this law, Gafni pointed out that there is a loophole in the current law prohibiting missionary activity. At the time that law was passed, fax and e-mail did not exist, and therefore the law must be corrected. He further stated that such a law had been suggested by a Labor party member during the 14th Knesset and had already passed a pre-reading then, with the approval of Labor party members.
Yossi Beilin, the Minister of Justice, expressed the government’s disapproval of this law, explaining that attempts to convince a person to change their religion, or outlook, faith, or lifestyle, are legitimate and fall under the right to freedom of speech, unless done for wrong motivations.
“The Silence of the Christians” (Al Hazafon, 07/12/00)
During Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May, 5000 Southern Lebanese Army (SLA) soldiers [trained and raised up by Israel’s IDF] became refugees in Israel. This article, appearing in a secular, northern Israeli local bi-weekly, reports on the way the local Arab Christian population has treated these refugees, who are mostly Maronite Christians. The writer remarks that he had hoped that the local Christians, especially the Maronites, would put together a humanitarian aid program, or at least come against the majority of Arab Israelis who denounced the refugees as collaborators, traitors, spies, etc. Instead, these Maronite Christians, who live in Haifa, Nazareth, Akko, Makhar, Gish and Jerusalem, competed with the Muslim Israelis with their words of condemnation and disdain.
This silence was also going on while the Fatah was attacking the Maronite population of Southern Lebanon before May 2000. Neither did the Maronite government of Lebanon intervene on their behalf. The writer remarks that if you ask one of the local Christian Arabs about the SLA people, he will curse and insult making sure that his Muslim friends overhear him. But then, when he is sure you are alone, he will come near and whisper in your ear some careful words of sympathy for the refugees’ plight. There have even been some care packages sent secretly by local Christians, who have fund-raised in secret and cooperated by allowing some weddings to take place in their churches in Haifa and other places.
And yet, remarks the writer, this is a hypocritical attitude. When asked, the Christians admit that if they were in the same situation as the Southern Lebanese, they would have also cooperated with Israel. When asked why they do not support their brethren openly, and what the refugees must think of them, most of the local Christians respond with embarrassment. The writer closes the article by saying he wishes the refugees knew of this embarrassment.
Dozens of Christian families from Beit Jala have fled to Jerusalem (Iton Yerushalaim (08/12/00), Yediot Aharonot (17/12/00))
About 50 families from Beit Jala have left their homes during the past few weeks, and have moved to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Prominent Christians say that they expect more families to leave, if the security situation doesn’t improve. They called on the Palestinian Authority to keep the Tanzim and Palestinian Police from firing on Gilo from Beit Jala, and said that over 100 homes have already been damaged.
The same sort of situation is also going on in Beit Sahour. The Christians living near an Israeli army base have had Tanzim and Palestinian Police firing on the army base from their neighborhood, and have had 140 homes damaged there as well.
One of the families from Beit Jala that moved to Bethlehem, said that the Tanzim took over their home and said that they didn’t care if it was destroyed. Most of the Tanzim are from the refugee camps, and have nothing to do with Beit Jala. One of the residents who tried to prevent them from shooting near his home was severely beaten.
The Palestinian Authority claims it has already asked the Tanzim and Palestinian Police to stop firing from these Christian neighborhoods, but the gunmen say they have never heard of this directive.
Also, about the 7th of December, over 100 tombstones were desecrated in the Latin and Orthodox Christian cemeteries in Beit Jala. A cross at the entrance to one of the cemeteries was also smashed. The Palestinian Authority was quick to announce that this was “an irresponsible act, a stupid act, the purpose of which was to cause a conflict between the Christians and Muslims in Beit Jala.”
Both the PA and the Catholic leadership accused Israel of the incident. The Christians in Beit Jala, however, believe that the act was revenge for their demands that the Tanzim stop shooting from inside their neighborhood.
When Christian leaders in Beit Jala protested to Yasser Arafat that he wasn’t protecting them, a group of PA leaders visited the graveyard and condemned the desecration.
Warming up Gilo (The Jerusalem Post 10/12/00)
Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, helped distribute 1,500 blankets, heaters, and flashlights to the residents of Gilo. Eckstein’s organization and the Jerusalem Friendship Fund donated 150,000 dollars toward the distribution project.
Ministry of Interior’s Strike May Prevent “Celebrate Messiah 2000 Conference” and Arrival of its 1,200 Participants
(Maariv (13/12/00), Haaretz (13/12/00), Yediot Aharonot (13/12/00), The Jerusalem Post, front page (14/12/00), The Jerusalem Post (15/12/00, 17/12/00, 18/12/00), Haaretz, English edition (18/12/00))
The Celebrate Messiah 2000 conference may be canceled due to the strike going on in Israel’s Ministry of Interior. The conference, which is being sponsored by AD 2000 and the Lausanne Committee, is due to take place from December 27th to January 2nd, and has been in the planning for five years. The participants are from 65 countries around the globe, and roughly 600 are from South America, Africa, and the Middle East, and need visas to be able to come. Despite the conflict in the area, the conference was due to go ahead, but now it may need to be canceled, moved to another country, or held with only half the participants, because of the visa delay.
None of the Israeli leaders that conference organizer Louis Bush has contacted has been able to intervene on the conference’s behalf. Though the tourism industry has suffered a powerful blow, the Ministry of Interior refuses to process the visas. Bush says that despite verbal and written assurances from the Ministry from before December 14th that the visas would be processed, they have not been.
Messianic Jews at Yad Hashmona (Hazofeh, 13/12/00)
A reporter from this Ultra-Orthodox Jewish daily decided to visit Yad Hashmona, a little village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, to see the new Biblical garden that has recently been opened there. The village was originally started by Finnish Christians who wanted to help the Jews build Israel, and was named after eight Jewish victims that were taken from Finland during the Holocaust. Now, however, there are 12 Jewish families living there, who run the place with the help of Finnish volunteers.
The reporter visited the Biblical garden and discovered that despite the place’s innocent and promising name, it contained pictures of scenes from the New Testament, such as the Good Samaritan.
Salo, one of the local residents tells the reporter, “It’s true. We are Jews, and we all believe in the Tanakh [the Old Testament], but we also believe in the New Testament.”
“It turns out,” remarks the reporter, “that these people receive groups and have a sense of having been sent, and try to communicate this to their audiences, without offending anybody…”
After hearing what Salo had to say, the reporter was convinced that this desire to keep from offending people, allowed the local people to present their beliefs unhindered, disguising their purposes with an innocent description of the place as a Biblical Garden. Shouldn’t they be obliged to mention that their definition [of ‘Biblical’] includes “That Christian addition”? she asks.
IDF Approves Postponing Army Service of Jehovah’s Witnesses
(HaModia (14/12/00), Hazofeh (14/12/00), Yediot Aharonot (14/12/00, 15/12/00), Iton Yerushalaim (15/12/00))
These mostly Ultra-Orthodox papers report on a recent discovery that the IDF not only allows for the deferment [and eventually cancellation] of the service of Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, but also allows the same for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses are complete pacifists, and therefore the IDF has allowed deferment, if the individual can provide proof of membership and baptism.
MP Rabbi Moshe Gafni, of the Ultra-Orthodox party Yehadut Hatorah, discovered a letter from the IDF to a Jehovah’s Witness in Haifa, which assured the postponement of his service for a year. He has presented an official question (Sheilta) to the Minister of Defense regarding the issue. The Ultra-Orthodox are outraged that the whole country complains only when yeshiva students receive deferments.
The secular daily “Yediot Aharonot” had the following provocative title for its article on the issue: “Want to be released from service in the IDF? Join the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
A spokesman for the IDF said that they do approve deferments for members of this cult because they are complete pacifists, but each person is an individual case. The yeshiva students, however, all receive a deferment, no questions asked, and therefore require legislation regarding their status, as the Supreme Court has ruled.
Holocaust Survivor Writes About Past (The Jerusalem Post, 15/12/00)
This secular daily tells of an upcoming meeting with Nechama Tac, a Holocaust survivor who has written extensively on that period. Two of her recent works have been translated into Hebrew through Yad Vashem, and were presented at Yad Vashem on December 18th. The first, “Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood,” tells the story of how she herself survived the Holocaust by passing as a Christian. The second book, “In the Lion’s Den: The Life of Oswald Rufeisen,” tells of a Jew who passed for a gentile during the war, became the trusted aid of a senior S.S. officer, and managed to save hundreds of Jews as a result. Later he escaped and found refuge in a monastery, underwent a spiritual transformation, and converted. In Israel, Rufeisen is better known as the late Brother Daniel, the Carmelite monk who provoked one of the state’s first Who-is-a-Jew crises by his determination to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, and to be recognized as a Jew.
Jerusalem’s Mayor Thinks City’s Churches Should Pay City Taxes (Kol Hair (15/12/00), Iton Yerushalaim (15/12/00)
Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, said at the city council meeting on December 7th, that Jerusalem’s churches should be paying city taxes, whereas Jewish institutions and Ultra-Orthodox families shouldn’t have to. He made these remarks after presenting the need to raise the city taxes 1.25 percent next year. The Israeli government has an agreement with the churches not to charge them city taxes, but Olmert claims they should be forced to pay since some of the churches are very rich and have the financial capability to do so.
The Christian Embassy is outraged at these statements, and is planning to meet to discuss them, once they receive the council meeting minutes.
One of the council members, Anat Hoffman, wrote to Olmert saying, “If a non-Jewish mayor were to attack Jewish institutions in this manner, I would probably be the first to protest. Why are you picking on Jerusalem’s 158 churches and monasteries, when the main benefactors from this exemption are the 1,198 synagogues and Jewish institutions of Jerusalem?”
New Book on Christian Zionism (The Jerusalem Post, 15/12/00)
This secular daily tells of a book recently published, called “You Don’t Have To Be Jewish To Be a Zionist – A Review of 400 Years of Christian Zionism.” The author, Eliyahu Tal, claims that the idea of the Jewish return to Israel was “first conceived by non-Jews centuries before Herzl and Balfour.”
“By pointing out that Zionism was advocated by prominent non-Jews well before Jews embraced political Zionism, Tal is arguing that the Christian-Jewish alliance is natural, rooted in Israel, and still vibrant,” says the reviewer.
Christian support for the idea of a Jewish State, Tal demonstrates, holds across denominational lines. The book provides a wealth of Zionist quotations from US presidents to astronaut Neil Armstrong.
“This book makes for an excellent and concise resource. It also makes the ideological point that the Christian friendship bolsters the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to Israel. The booklet will remind Jewish readers… that we have many friends in the Christian world and should be gracious in accepting their support.”