Caspari Center Media Review………….December 11, 2006
During the week covered by this review, we received 39 articles on the subjects of Christians in Israel, the Pope and the Vatican, missionary and anti-missionary activity, Israeli attitudes towards Christianity and Jesus, and Christian Zionism, sites, and tourism. Out of the total:
- 7 dealt with Christians in Israel
- 3 dealt with Israeli attitudes towards Christianity/Jesus
- 5 dealt with missionary and anti-missionary activity
- 9 dealt with the Vatican and the Pope
- 1 dealt with Christian Zionism
- 1 dealt with sects
- 2 dealt with Christian tourism
The remaining 11 articles dealt with matters of Jewish and Christian interest.
Once again, both missionary activity and Israeli attitudes towards Christianity and Jesus figure largely in this week’s Review. Interestingly, several of the articles are designed for young audiences, so that we gain a different perspective on themes normally addressed through “adult” perceptions and conceptions. Due to the fact that we are approaching Christmas, many of the articles cover Christian life in Israel, although more general aspects of Christianity in Israel also appear.
Christians in Israel
Yediot Acharanot, December 8, 10; Ma’ariv L’Yeladim, December 6; Jerusalem Post, December 6; Haaretz, December 7; Iton Ayalon, December 1; Iton Yerushalayim, December 1, 2006
We may expect an increase in articles covering Christians in Israel in the weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year. In this week’s review, two papers cover an “interfaith” celebration in Haifa named the “Feast of Feasts Festival.” According to Yediot Aharanot (December 10), “thousands arrived” to attend the event, which marks “the Jewish, Christian and Muslim festivals.” The event was also given lengthy coverage in Ma’ariv’s youth paper (Ma’ariv L’Yeladim, December 6). Entitled “A triangular celebration,” this piece explained to its young readers “in December the members of the three central religions in Israel celebrate different feasts which have one thing in common – joy and light.”
The author went to Nazareth on the eve of Christmas – the city “in which, according to Christian tradition, Yeshu’s mother was told about his birth and in which he grew up and was educated and from where he went out to the cities of the Galilee.” Under the somewhat misleading subheading “New Year,” the article describes the events which take place each year at this season, explaining that “thousands of Christians come to the Church of the Annunciation on Christmas Eve in order to participate in a celebratory mass, which is broadcast live to the whole world on TV, and flood the town. Some of them manage to enter the church, others stand outside and listen to the prayers.” Under the subheading “Customs,” it lists the “most characteristic item,” the “most popular costume,” the food, “The Christmas tree,” decorated with Santas, stars, and other ornaments – under which lie all the presents to be opened on Christmas morning. Regarding the costumes: “Many people dressed up as the figure of Santa Claus roam the streets of the city … are photographed with the children and ask them to bring a wish, distributing presents and toys.” And about the food: “It’s really difficult to withstand the baklava, knafeh, and mahmul [very sweet, honeyed pastries] … The children most like to eat ‘asal albalbul’ – small cakes which look like birds nests.” The article sums up with the experience of life in Haifa: “In Israel there are many Christians who live in the large mixed cities. They live side by side with Muslim Arabs and Jews, and each time it is nice to see how this famous co-existence exists in Haifa, Jerusalem, Akko [Acre], Yaffa [Joppa], Beit Shean, Ma’ilia, Tarshiha, and others.”
Haaretz (December 7) reported on a meeting of thirty church leaders “for a special ceremony ahead of Christmas and the New Year, and to welcome the new Papal Nuncio Monsignor Antonio Franco.”
Another gathering of clergymen was that of a group of Palestinian pastors living under the PA who have joined “a Canadian-based Evangelical alliance” (Jerusalem Post, December 6). The 15-20 pastors, most of whom live in the greater Bethlehem area, have joined the “World Evangelical Alliance, a network of churches in 128 countries that says it represents 420 million Evangelical Christians.” The organization’s international director, Geoff Tunnicliffe, stated that the WEA would not take a stance on Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a remark that prompted the article’s author to differentiate the WEA from “Christian Zionist” organizations such as the International Christian Embassy. On a different note, Harry Tees, general-secretary of the United Christian Council in Israel, said that his organization was “working to get Evangelical churches recognized by the government in the same way that Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches are, as well as to implement changes in the educational curriculum about Christianity.”
Iton Ayalon (December 1), a local paper of the Ramle and Lod region, devoted a section to tourist attractions found in the two cities – including the churches.
Two articles related to Palestinian guides in the Old City of Jerusalem who are ostensibly “re-writing” Jewish and Christian history. Iton Yerushalayim (December 1) indignantly reported that unsuspecting tourists are being told (in many cases by guides not licensed by the Ministry of Tourism) that David’s Citadel is really the “Mosque of Marwan” and that the “Holy Sepulcher” is in truth a Muslim holy site since the Caliph Omar prayed in it. While the second article (Yediot Aharanot, December 8) “exposes” the “facts” by asserting that David’s Citadel is actually a mosque from the Muslim period and Omar Ibn-Chattab did pray in the Holy Sepulcher, the questions the former paper raises are to the point: “Who built David’s Citadel? And what is the significance of the Holy Sepulcher? … From the perspective of Judaism and Christianity … this is pure propaganda in these tours.”
Israeli Attitudes to Jesus and Christianity
Haaretz, December 5; Ma’ariv, December 8; Yediot Acharanot, December 5, 6, 2006
Israeli attitudes towards Christianity and Jesus may be extrapolated from many varied aspects of Israeli society. One of the most central of these focuses on the conversion of members of the “lost tribes” and others – people who observe Jewish customs who are yet defined as Christians in their own countries. Several such groups are located in Western Asia. According to Ma’ariv (December 8), all they need is “some representatives of the Jewish Agency, together with other representatives of good will organizations … and they can become Jews. It’s true that today they’re Christians. And it’s also true that their spiritual leader is Yeshu. But let’s not get caught up in trivialities. They’re Jews no less than other groups.” [Editor’s note: This type of attitude is particularly relevant to the claims made by Messianic Jews – who are also “Christians” whose “spiritual leader” is Yeshua. Why should they, too, not be considered “Jews no less than other groups”? Is it coincidental that the piece was entitled “Israeli stupidity”?]
In another example, the eighth Jerusalem Jewish film festival currently being held is not exclusively Jewish. According to a report on the event in Haaretz (December 5), “a special section in the festival is devoted to ‘faith and religions today’ – a cinematic look at religions such as Christianity and Buddhism.”
While not a specifically Israeli response, Yediot Acharanot (December 6) covered the “missing Jesus” in a nativity scene constructed in a small town in Virginia, USA. According to the author, the town “almost missed the purpose [of the event] after it was discovered that the figure of baby Yeshu was missing from the scene in the festival of lights which presented … [sic] the birth of Yeshu.” Jesus – together with Joseph, Miriam and other human personages – had been omitted in an attempt to prevent difficulties relating to Church and State. “Things were restored to their order,” however, following numerous complaints from the public.
In a piece that could also have been categorized under “Interfaith” and links up with articles reviewed above under “Christians in Israel,” an article in the same paper (December 5) reported on the naming of a road in an Arab neighborhood of Haifa after the television program “Sesame St.” “Sesame St. has and will always be considered an educational tool which encourages children to recognize the different needs of people in society and exposes them to the ethnic, religious, and cultural variety in Israel.” The TV channel launching the project decided to do so during the “Feast and Feasts Festival” – “which marks the three feasts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – Hanukkah, Christmas and Ramadan.”
Missionary and Anti-missionary Activity
HaModia, December 6, 11, pp. 1, 8; BeKehila, November 23; Yated Ne’eman, December 5
Making their usual lack of distinction between sects and Christianity, the Israeli press carried several reports this week on Yad L’Achim’s protest against the Scientologists and Jehovah’s Witnesses (HaModia, December 7, 11; BeKehila, November 23; Yated Ne’eman, December 5) (see previous Reviews).
Simultaneously, HaModia (December 6) reported that Meir Porush this week informed the Minister of Interior of “knowledge” that “some of the missionary organizations are smuggling apostates and converts into the State under the Law of Return and they are working here as overt or covert missionaries.” Since the Law of Return covers anyone born to a Jewish mother who has not converted to another religion, “two questions are automatically raised: should an amendment not be added which includes guidelines to the border control to check, as far as possible, ‘new immigrants’ as to whether they are already converts and members of another religion; and whether the Ministry of Interior is concerned to remove Israeli citizenship from those who have obtained it illegally.”
Porush is also seeking additional amendments to the “Law of punishment – persuasion to change one’s faith.” He would like to see it become more severe by increasing the penalties and monetary fines for “missionary activity” and an extension of the grounds on which charges for the offence may be pressed. [Editor’s note: Currently the law mandates punishment for offering reward, favor, material or any other benefit to influence another to change his religion. The proposed amendment would also make it illegal and punishable to influence another to change his religion without the use of any form of favor, reward or benefit.] The proposed new clauses run as follows: a) “The person who [attempts to] change another’s religion, without any reward, favor, or material or other benefit, or in order that he might persuade someone else to change their religion – his sentence shall be three year’s imprisonment or a fine of 200,000 NIS; b) The person who agrees to change his religion, without any reward, favor, or material or other benefit, or who brings another person to change their religion – his sentence shall be two year’s imprisonment or a fine of 300,000 NIS; c) the definition of ‘persuasion to change one’s religion’ shall be expanded to include: electronic means or by way of an agent, or through regular mail, or by electronic mail.” Porush vindicated the amendments by arguing “thousands of innocents Jews have already fallen into the traps and octopal arms of the mission,” which is working from “hundreds of bases across the country” in an “unprecedented operation in recent [years].”
The Pope and the Vatican
Galileo Tza’ir, December 1; Ma’ariv, December 7; Jerusalem Post, December 5, 6, 7; Makor Rishon, December 1; HaModia, December 8; Haaretz, December 11 (English and Hebrew editions), 2006
In its December issue, Galileo Tza’ir, a monthly magazine for “curious youth between the ages of 7 and 15 dealing with a variety of topics from a scientific perspective,” carried an article entitled “Meeting the Pope,” intended to introduce important personages to its young readers: “If you ask a Christian child where he can find the Pope, the father of the Catholic Church, he will immediately tell you that the Pope lives in the Vatican which is located in Rome, which is in Italy. And indeed, the Vatican, which is the center of Catholic Christianity and the place of the Holy See, is the smallest independent state in the world (as regards territory). The residents primarily speak Latin but also Italian. At the head of the Vatican, which is considered one of the most sacred sites to Catholic Christianity, stands the Pope, who is the head of the Church. The Pope today is Benedict XVI, who was elected to serve in the office as long as he lives. The Pope possesses many powers to institute laws governing Christians all over the world. The Vatican’s permanent residents include the Pope, clergy and nuns – all of whom are guarded by the Vatican’s own soldiers, the Swiss Guard. The Vatican encompasses the Church of St. Peter and the Sistine Chapel, which is also a church and which houses the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo. Every year many tourists visit the Vatican, among them Christians seeking to pray. Many politicians also come to meet with the Pope and give him their respects.”
While the Pope’s visit to Turkey was still making headlines this week, the papal news which occurs in this week’s Review relates first to Olmert’s scheduled get-together with the Pontiff in Rome. This comes as part of a round of meetings with European leaders. According to Ma’ariv (December 7), the talks will focus on “Iran’s nuclear policy and the situation in the territories.” The Prime Minister is also expected to raise “the racist remarks regarding Israel made by the President of Iran” and to ask for “the support of the head of the Catholic Church in the process of strengthening moderate Muslim forces in the Middle East.” Ma’ariv’s Uri Yablonka concluded his article by commenting, in light of the Pope’s scheduled visit to Israel in 2007, that the pontiff “tends towards public expressions on political and international subjects.”
Index HaGalil, November 24, 2006
As the previous Review noted with respect to Jerusalem, the Golan Heights have now also become the recipient of Dutch flowers. “Friends of Israel from Holland decided to paint the Golan with flowers and donated 12,000 colorful bulbs to decorate the Golan. A delegation of Christians toured the Golan and the flowers were distributed to moshavim and kibbutzim. ‘We believe that the people of Israel are the chosen people and therefore it is important that we support you,’ they said to the heads of the settlements in the Golan during a fascinating and exciting tour.”