Caspari Center Media Review May 2004 #2
During the period of time covered by this review, we received 126 articles as follows:
- 16 dealt with Messianic Jews and anti-missionary organizations
- 15 dealt with Christian solidarity with Israel
- 10 dealt with the status of non-Jews
- 3 dealt with anti-Semitism / anti-Zionism
- 6 covered Christian tourism to Israel
- 18 covered archaeology and various sites
- 18 covered art, culture and books
- 17 covered films
The remaining articles dealt with domestic Israeli and Christian or Jewish affairs on their own merit.
“Missionaries” and Anti-Missionaries
Ha’Aretz, May 5, 14; Arutz 7, May 19; Iton Yerushalayim, May 14; HaShavua b’Yerushalayim, May 6, 13; HaModia, May 11, 20; HaModia English, April 28; HaMahane HaHaredi, April 22, May 6; BaKehila, May 6, 2004
Four articles followed up on the protests against Messianic Jews in the southern city of Arad. The weeklies HaMahane HaHaredi (April 22) and HaModia (April 28) covered the original protests both outside the homes of believers and outside a “missionary coffee shop.” HaMahane HaHaredi (April 22) also carried an article entitled “The ‘Messianics’ complain about the incitement against them,” quoting one Messianic leader as saying, “the orthodox spill our blood and no one does anything” and emphasizing that the Messianics “work and serve in the army.” (The latter in contrast to the ultra-orthodox who are often supported by other Israelis’ taxes and are exempted from military service.) On May 6 HaMahane HaHaredi carried an article complaining about a secular Israeli paper’s coverage of the events in Arad, saying that “only a paper driven crazy by self-hatred could describe ‘the small community of Messianic Jews living in Arad peacefully until the ultra-orthodox discovered them and declared holy war against them’ and who are now ‘gripped by fear.’”
Ha’Aretz (May 7, 14) published 3 letters to the editor which follow up on the news from Arad. Two of these come out in support of the Messianic Jews, saying that they are being persecuted for no reason, and that it is perfectly legal for them to express their religious opinions and even to “preach” to others so long as no incentives are offered or minors involved. The third letter presents a fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity which leads to misunderstandings: whereas Christianity is a “religion of individualism,” in which each person chooses freely what to believe, Judaism is a “national religion” in which God chose the Jewish people as a nation. Thus Christians believe that their faith is the truth for everyone – Japanese, Chinese, French, Arabs, and also Jews. Jews, on the other hand, believe that you’re born into a faith and there is no coming or going. So Jews cannot grasp the idea that they can choose their faith freely, and Christians cannot grasp that for a Jew to do so would be a betrayal of his people.
A new missionary school is set to open in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood (BaKehila, HaShavua B’Yerushalayim, May 6; Iton Yerushalayim, May 14). The school, a branch of the “Word of Life” organization, is being opposed by the Yad L’Achim anti-missionary group, which sent a letter directly to Ulf Ekman asking that he “leave the Jewish people alone.”
Yad L’Achim is also acting against a missionary club targeting youth in downtown Jerusalem (Arutz 7, May 19; HaModia, May 20). The club, officially an “Artists, Musicians and Media club,” lures teenagers with music and other activities, and then proceeds to teach them the New Testament and convert them. The mother of one such teen filed a complaint with the police. They questioned Adam Rosenfeld, who confessed to missionary activity among youth (it is illegal to “convert” a minor in Israel), and was released without being charged. The mother has now filed an appeal against this decision. Rabbi Kluger of Yad L’Achim says, “These youth who visit the club are … easy prey for the wild desires of the missionaries.” Yad L’Achim also sent a “spy” into the club to document the missionary activity. Another videotape shows the missionary Richard (Eyal) Freiden saying, “I am excited to see the young crowd here … these are the people we are trying to reach with the gospel of ‘that man.’” The evidence, along with a demand that the club be closed, was sent to the police, the Ministers of Public Security and Education, the mayor of Jerusalem, and others, but so far “nothing has been done to protect these young people.”
Christians in Israel / Status of non-Jews
In Jerusalem, May 21; Ha’Aretz, May 12, 13, 20; Kol Ha’Ir, May 21; Kol Zichron, May 14; Walla News, May 10, 12; HaModia, May 10; Ma’ariv May 12; BaBik’a, April 2004
Members of the Beit El community in Zichron Ya’acov have finally received the status of permanent residents. This group of Christian Zionists from Germany has been in Israel for over 30 years. They were first thought of as “missionaries,” but over the years proved their loyalty to Israel and desire to help the Jewish people. (Kol Zichron, May 14; Walla News, May 10; Ma’ariv, Ha’Aretz, May 12)
Other Christians living in Israel, however, are still suffering from governmental mistreatment (Walla News, May 12; Ha’Aretz, May 13). In a letter to US President George Bush, 50 Christian leaders complained that their “relationship with Israel is worse than ever.” The signatories, including Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical leaders, say that Christian workers face discrimination in the granting of visas. Some groups claim the problems are due to the fact that some Christians express “too much sympathy” toward the Palestinians. A government response is included in the Ha’Aretz article. According to this, there are two reasons for visa delays and denials: Many of the Catholic workers are from Arab countries, and visa requirements have become more stringent. Among Evangelicals, on the other hand, many Christian workers are not officially clergy, and so were no longer granted clergy (A3) visas, but rather volunteer (B) visas, which are for shorter terms. These problems are being addressed by an inter-ministerial committee, and in the short term existing A3 visas will be renewed.
In Jerusalem (May 21), the Jerusalem Post weekly supplement, includes an article about the decline of the “Jerusalem syndrome.” Among the groups and individuals mentioned are the “Concerned Christians” who were deported in 1999; Brother David, who has been in Israel illegally for years; the Mormons, who have ceased operations in Jerusalem because of the security situation, and Jews for Jesus, who supposedly promote contacts with extremist Jewish groups committed to rebuilding the Temple. Overall, the activity of such “cults” is diminishing according to the article, though some groups have simply moved from Jerusalem to outlying areas where they are less visible.
In “The Ultra-Orthodox Emigration Police” (Kol Ha’Ir, May 21), the blame for Israel’s financial woes and sexual permissiveness is laid on foreign workers, some of whom “have ties with ‘daughters of Israel.’” HaModia (May 10) quotes leading rabbis as saying that “employers are obligated to try to employ workers from among our brothers, Kosher sons of Israel.”
Christian Support for Israel
Yated Ne’eman English, April 30, May 7, 14; Yated Ne’eman, May 14, 20; HaTzofeh, May 7, 21; Channel 10, May 10; Jerusalem Post, May 9, 20; Ha’Aretz, May 10, 19; Ha’Aretz English, May 7, 10
Many articles in this category cover changing rabbinic opinions about accepting funds from Christian supporters of Israel. HaTzofeh (May 7) reports that Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, a leading rabbinic authority, seconded a warning by Rabbi Avraham Shapira against receiving money donated by Christians through the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. On May 10, however, Ha’aretz (English & Hebrew) reports that despite the prohibition, individual religious charities which asked Rabbi Eliahu whether they should stop accepting donations were told to continue taking them.
Yated Ne’eman (May 14) carries an exposé on “Dangerous Christian Generosity: How the International Fellowship Serves Missionary Interests.” In this lengthy article, American Evangelicals (“Evangelists”) are portrayed as seeking only to convert Jews, mainly by “buying” them through charity; and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the Fellowship, is portrayed as a missionary in disguise and a “Jew for Jesus” (based on quotes from a fictional book he wrote). HaTzofeh (May 21) has a full-page response by Rabbi Eckstein, explaining that the rabbinic rulings against his work are based on fear and out-dated realities. In the past, the Christian world may have been against the Jews, but today Evangelical Protestants are Israel’s greatest supporters, since her existence proves the legitimacy of the scriptures they believe. Rabbi Eckstein lays out the scriptural basis for Christian support for Israel, and cites Evangelicals’ loyalty and generosity in a time when Israel has very few friends.
In other news (Jerusalem Post, May 9; Yated Ne’eman, May 14), American Christian Zionists are planning to hold a referendum on “Do you support the creation of a PLO state in the Land of Israel?” Referendum ballots will be distributed through churches in the Christian Zionist spectrum, and the results will be presented to the Congress and President Bush. Yated Ne’eman (April 30, May 7) also carries short pieces stating the opinion that if Israel withdraws from the territories, there could be a backlash among her Evangelical supporters who would “weep at the stupidity of the Israelis.”
Anti-Semitism / Anti-Zionism
Ma’ariv, May 9, 19; Globes, May 20
On May 9, Ma’ariv carried an article titled “France: Anti-Semitism in School Books.” A math textbook for 11th graders includes the question, “How much interest would Judas Iscariot earn, through the year 2000, on the 20 coins (sic) he received for betraying Jesus?” When faced with protests from Israeli and Jewish leaders saying that this encourages negative attitudes about Jews, French officials sidestepped the issue by saying it was in bad taste, but only one book among many.
The Swedish state church has started a campaign against Israel, calling for a boycott of Israeli products (Ma’ariv, May 19, Globes, May 20). In response, the Swedish Jewish community has officially broken ties with the church.
Ha’Aretz, May 13; Jerusalem Post, May 21; Ma’ariv, May 14, 21; Tel-Aviv Time Out, May 13; Pnai Plus, May 13; Kol Ha’Ir, May 14; Iton Yerushalayim, May 14; Al HaSharon, May 14
After months of articles about Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” the Israeli media has moved on to reviewing a satire about the same topic. Israeli director Asi Dayan has made a movie called “The Gospel According to God” in which God is a tired old man addicted to the shopping channel, Jesus spends his days working on a puzzle, and Satan shows up dressed as a Hasidic Jew. Though the movie tries to be surrealistic and philosophical, all the reviewers agreed that it is weak and meandering, and unfortunately is not a good “answer” to Gibson’s successful film.
Teva HaDvarim, May 2004
Teva HaDvarim, a Herzliya monthly magazine, has a 5 page article with photos of the Via Dolorosa. The writer presents three alternative interpretations of the New Testament to counter Mel Gibson’s controversial portrayal of Jesus’ suffering. The first interpretation (and the author’s favorite) was penned by Justice Haim Cohen in his book “The Trial and Death of Jesus the Nazarene.” According to Cohen, because Jesus’ night-time trial before the Sanhedrin went against Jewish tradition and law it must have been forced by the Roman’s judicial time-table, and was actually a last-ditch effort to save Jesus from his Roman persecutors. Jesus did not actually blaspheme in this trial, but indicated by his words that he would not stop inciting rebellion against the Romans; only the high priest tore his clothes – in grief that Jesus would be executed – whereas if Jesus had blasphemed all the priests present would have torn their clothes, too.
The second interpretation, based on “The Byzantine Symphony” by Jean Olivier Tedesco, holds that the disciples were fomenting rebellion against the Romans behind Jesus’ back and in spite of his teachings. When they arrived in Jerusalem they confessed their intentions to him, and when he refused to play the part of the rebel leader they decided to turn him into a martyr who would draw the nation into rebellion against Rome. According to this hypothesis, Judas Iscariot tried to save Jesus when the other disciples turned him in to the Roman authorities.
The third interpretation, in Robert Frazier’s “The Golden Bough – A Study in Magic and Religion,” ties Jesus’ walk down the Via Dolorosa to the Roman Saturnalia. According to this book, a component of the Saturnalia celebrations was the crowning of a criminal as “king for the day” – who was then mocked. This would explain Jesus’ suffering as merely Roman entertainment, having nothing to do with who Jesus was or what he did.
The author is left wondering which of these three interpretations is correct, unfortunately not including the traditional understanding in her list of possibilities.