Caspari Center Media Review May #2
During the period covered by this review, 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 40.
- 16 articles reported on the Pope’s visit to Syria
- 10 articles dealt with missionary and anti-missionary activity
- three articles dealt with Christian Arabs and the current conflict
- two articles dealt with archeology and the land
- one article dealt with the Jehovah’s Witness community in the land
The remaining eight articles were on miscellaneous topics dealing with Christian, Arab, or Jewish matters on their own merit.
Gentiles in the Israel Defense Forces (Melabs, 04/05/01)
This follow-up article deals with the issue of non-Jewish soldiers, and their response to the accusation that non-Jewish soldiers are inferior to Jewish soldier. (For more details regarding this accusation, see the March, 2001, #1 Media Review.) The article explores the reality of non-Jewish soldiers serving in the IDF, the majority of whom are from the former Soviet Union.
One soldier, Samion Yisraelovich (not his real name), says that Israel refuses to deal with the phenomenon of non-Jewish soldiers. “For example,” he says, “in the army they do not even consider allowing priests in, and the importance of the Christian holidays (Christmas and Easter) will continue being vague in the eyes of the commanders.” According to Yisraelovich, the only step Israel has taken with regard to this group of soldiers is in offering them a New Testament as opposed to the Hebrew Bible at the end of their basic training.
The army has set up “conversion programs” for non-Jewish soldiers. These programs include 400 hours of intense study (to be completed in a month’s time). At the end of the program the soldiers are supposed to go through the rabbinic court of conversion to be converted. But the program has not yet been implemented because of disagreements between the military rabbinate and the training command.
One rabbi has suggested that the way to deal with this “problem” is to find out the motives on non-Jewish soldiers before they are drafted into the army. If they are merely interested in the benefits offered by the government, then they should not be drafted. Their motivation, says the rabbi, would not be high enough.
Arkady Mikolsky, a non-Jewish soldier, disagrees with the aforementioned rabbi. He claims that “every person is a person. Religious issues might be relevant, but they are not essential. The question should be how the person serves, and what he is giving, and that depends on him. There are Jews who don’t do a thing and there are Christians who do (a lot). There are good people and bad people in all religious circles.” Yisraelovich adds that in the army, “we are all the same. We eat the same food and do the same work.”
Other soldiers, however, have not been quite so sympathetic to the Christian soldier’s “plight.” Some claim that the immigrant soldiers do not even try to adapt to the country they are now part of. They speak Russian only and do not venture out of their social circle. “This is Israel,” says one Jewish soldier, “You came here, so try to fit in and not stay different.”
Most of the non-Jewish soldiers agree the biggest issue for them is the Christian holidays. The army, they say, should be more sensitive to their desire to properly celebrate Christian holidays with friends and family.
As for converting, most think it a waste of time. “Conversion is nonsense,” says Yisraelovich. “Why go through with it? Why will that help? Inside nothing changes, the soul remains. Whoever is converted won’t really feel Jewish.”
The army responded to this article by stating that no immediate changes will be made in their policy, but they will look into the problem.
Christian Arabs Distribute Letter of Protest (Kol Ha’ir, 04/05/01, Hazofe, 13/05/01)
Palestinian Christian Arabs living in Bethlehem and Beit Jalla have issued a letter of protest against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leader, Yasser Arafat. The letter, which was distributed internationally and was presented to the secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, and the Pope, accused the PA of “ethnic extradition.”
The Christians claim that the PA and other Muslim factors are trying to rid the West Bank of its Christian inhabitants by force. The method used is as follows: the Tanzim (paramilitary group) invade and take over Christian houses for the purpose of using them as bases for shooting at Jewish neighborhoods. The Israeli army almost always retaliates to such actions by destroying (or attempting to destroy) the houses from which the gunfire originated. The ultimate victims, then, are the Christians who live in the those houses. For fear of their lives, they cannot refuse the Tanzim and they cannot prevent the Israeli army from firing at their homes.
This group of Christians has taken a bold step by accusing the PA of promoting these actions. They even went so far as to name the Tanzim activists who are taking over their homes. In the letter, the Christians claim that “we personally approached Chairman Arafat and demanded that he issue arrest warrants for those responsible (for the shootings).” Despite their demands, however, “the shootings only increased.”
The Christians are convinced that the only purpose for shooting at “Jewish homes” is to rid Beit Jalla of its Christian inhabitants. They claim that in addition to this abuse, the Christians were turned out of the hotel they had taken refuge in (after their homes were destroyed), and money that had been promised them by the PA was “pocketed” by one of the PA’s leading men. In conclusion, “since corrupt officials in the PA have taken over the Church and its possessions, we decided to approach Chairman Arafat once again… with the request that (he) put an end to this tragedy, protect us, and insure a Christian presence in this city.”
Nearly two weeks after this article was printed, the Christians in Beit Jalla reported that the Tanzim had returned to their neighborhood and were inspecting the area for suitable shooting bases. The Christians are said to have surrounded the Tanzim activists, and even picked fights with some of them.
Attempts To Prevent Mission Conference (Yated Ne’eman, 08/05/01, 10/05/01, 11/05/01, Hamodia, 09/05/01, 10/05/01, 11/05/01, 14/05/01, Hazofe, 10/05/01, 13/05/01), Jerusalem Post (18/05/01)
These religious daily newspapers all report on the frantic effort of Yad L’achim and Lev’ L’achim to prevent a conference in Jerusalem planned for the 13-15 of May. The conference was to be led by David Hathaway, a “well known” missionary belonging to the Messianic Jewish “cult” in England. Hathaway was planning the conference, entitled “The Festival of the God of Israel,” in collaboration with local Messianic Jews (“Jews who converted to Christianity”).
The invitations were distributed mostly to Russian new immigrants and stated that during the conference “the blind will see, the deaf will here, and the lame will walk.” Those who attended the conference were also promised “spiritual and physical healing.”
Yad L’achim and Lev L’achim both attempted to prevent the conference by legal means, claiming that the event “involves preaching conversion while promising benefits, which is forbidden by the law.” These benefits would include free rides and entrance to the conference.
Yad L’achim explained the situation to the administrators of the Congress Center (Binyanei Ha’uma) and demanded that the event be cancelled. But the administrators of the Congress Center claimed to know nothing of the missionary conference being planned. The Center was booked during those dates for a “medical conference.” Edna Ramot, the head administrator of the Congress Center, stated that “there does not seem to be any foundation to the claim that the purpose of this event is the conversion of the religion of the participants, and not even the slightest evidence has been produced supporting the claim that they intend to give money, something equal to money, or physical goods” in exchange for a change of religion. Yad L’achim and Lev L’achim claimed to be shocked and saddened by the “naivety” evidenced by the administration of the Congress Center.
Both organizations vowed to keep fighting for the cancellation of the event, but when they failed to bring this about legally, Yad L’achim announced that it would send activists to the gates of the Congress Center to try and prevent people from going in. Yad L’achim’s “secret plan” included the distribution of information pamphlets to the participants.
Rabbi Lifshitz, the head of Yad L’achim, said that “Binyanei Ha’uma was built with the money of the Jewish people. Was it built that this place should provide a stage for missionaries who want to blot out the memory of the nation of Israel?”
The secular English language daily also reports on fallout from this conference. Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Haim Miller has threatened to file a complaint with the police against the Jerusalem International Center for hosting this ‘missionary’ conference. Miller is Chairman of the Movement to Safeguard Haredi and Religious Rights and it is in that capacity that he will involve the police. The municipality is not responsible in cases where the law is broken, it is the police who are authorized to deal with these kinds of issues.
Knesset Discusses Missionary Center at Keinut (Yeted Ne’eman, 11/05/01)
The Knesset met in special recess session on 2/5/01 and discussed a Shas proposal against “announced plans to establish a missionary center and a baptismal site near the settlement of Keinut.”
Israel Loving Christians Encourage Locals (Kol Ha’ir, 11/05/01)
Over 100 Christians from Germany and Switzerland traveled to Israel on a moment’s notice to encourage the locals during this difficult time. This visit was planned and organized by the German monthly “Nai” that is distributed in Germany, Switzerland, and Israel. The paper requested that those who love Israel sign up for this special trip as an expression of their belief in “a strong Israel, love of Zion, the building up of the land, and the coming of the Messiah.”
The Chairman of the “Judea-Samaria Council” (Yesha), Benni Kesariel, told the visitors that “their visit was necessary and essential in preventing Israel’s isolation.”