Caspari Center Media Review………….December 18, 2006
During the week covered by this review, we received 29 articles on the subjects of the Israeli attitudes to Christianity, the Pope and the Vatican, Christians in Israel, Christian Zionism, and sects in Israel. Out of the total:
- 5 dealt with Israeli attitudes to Christianity
- 16 dealt with the Vatican and the Pope
- 1 dealt with Christians in Israel
- 1 dealt with Christian Zionism
- 2 dealt with sects
- 1 was a book review
The remaining three articles dealt with matters of Christian and Jewish interest.
Although increased references to Christianity may be expected in the pre-Christmas period, the seven articles covered in this week’s Review are not specifically related to the holiday – an interesting fact which indicates that Christianity is a subject of interest in its own right and not peculiarly linked to Christmas (whether celebrated in Israel or abroad). Coverage of the pope and the Vatican continues, again in a variety of contexts – political, financial, and theological. These two topics converge in the book review, written by a Holocaust survivor living in Argentina. The events in Iran – its nuclear policy and recent hosting of a Holocaust-deniers’ conference – clearly lie at the center of much current Israeli – and worldwide – political concern.
Israeli Attitudes to Christianity
HaZofeh, December 12, 13, 14; Zman Haifa, December 8; Arei Modi’in, December 8; Mishpaha, December 7; Yated Ne’eman, December 14, 2006
The articles under this heading in this week’s Review are varied and give a good idea of the different perspectives – negative and ‘positive’ – displayed by the Israeli press and within Israeli society towards Christians and Christianity in Israel.
Two articles deal with the inclusion of Christian themes and sites in events organized for IDF soldiers, while a third relates to similar objections in respect to tours given to new immigrants. According to HaZofeh (December 12), “a large segment of an educational program for soldiers in Jerusalem was devoted to themes related to Christianity and to visits to churches.” The soldiers, from a field intelligence unit and the southern command and guided by members of the education corps – together with some priests – spent approximately fifty percent of the week-long program studying Christian subjects. The source for the figure of 50% is cited nowhere in the article and all those quoted emphasized the equality of time devoted to various educational themes. According to an army spokesperson, “The purpose of these educational programs is to strengthen the connection with the Jewish people and to Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people, while giving special significance also to other religions” – including Islam.
A second article, in Zman Haifa (December 8) carried an article concerning an IDF base which had been erected on the ruins of a crusader church (Stella Maris) on whose walls a large cross is still visible. The paper reported that the soldiers serving on the base were upset by the fact that, “living as Jews, on an IDF base in Israel” they were compelled to “look every day at an image of the Virgin Mary and a huge cross. This is a complete contradiction of our Jewish faith.” The solution proposed to the problem by the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Haifa was to “cover the cross or to conceal it.” On the Christian side, Archbishop Elias Chacour, responsible for churches in Haifa and the North, suggested that “the soldiers bothered by the cross should be stationed elsewhere,” asserting that “every religion has its religious symbols and each must be tolerant of the other. No one puts a cross up to offend someone else. The fact is that the cross was there, and there it should remain.” The affair has been brought before the Knesset and the Minister of Defence. In response, the latter declared: “Stella Maris is an historic building destined for preservation which has been leased by the Navy for many years to serve its purposes. The building’s status does not allow any activity or change in the decorations on its walls.”
The third article appeared in the local paper Arei Modi’in (December 8) and related to claims that the Modi’in municipality was responsible for “having some part in the organization of a trip … for new immigrants to Christian sites, in the framework of familiarization with [their] Jewish identity through the department of absorption.” According to the paper, the municipality was in fact implicated – and the department of absorption had even aided the tour by “finding a guide and publicizing [it].” The sites involved included monasteries and three churches in Ein Karem in Jerusalem – and in a letter exposing the event the author expressed surprise that “of all the Jewish treasure troves which could have been selected, the organizers chose to take the new immigrants to three Christian monasteries in Ein Karem.” Objections were also raised because the trip took place on Shabbat, “in violation of the labour hours and rest law. In response, the municipality maintained that it did not work on Shabbat and that the trip had been organized by a private company.
On a related theme, in a letter to HaZofeh (December 13), Edva Naveh from Sha’arei Tikva complained of the penetration of Christmas into Israeli society through the sale of chocolate santa clauses produced by Elite – an Israeli company – and distributed by the Mega chain of supermarkets. When a consumer complained to the store’s manager of the effect this would have on children anticipating Hanukka, she received the answer: “Yes, it is a Christian symbol – but so what? We must exhibit tolerance.” Edva’s response cited a standard Eastern European attitude towards the celebration of Christmas: “In Jewish tradition the festival on which the founder of Christianity was born is considered to be a day of mourning, on which it is forbidden to study the Torah, just as on Tisha B’Av [the day on which the two Temples were destroyed]. In Jewish history Christmas has been the day on which pogroms and attacks on Jews especially took place. The insinuation of Christianity into the Jewish State, in the guise of cute dolls, musical creations, and a blurring of Jewish identity, is a further step on the slope leading to the loss of the Jewish nature of the State.”
Although we might have classified the following article under “missions” and/or “sects,” the fact that it addresses the conversion of Israelis to the Jehovah Witness group may be taken as an indication of Israeli attitudes towards Christianity – which sees all sects/cults as “Christian.” The article reports on the well-covered event of the baptism of (this time) six Jews in violation of Shabbat at the Exhibition Grounds in Tel Aviv (Mishpaha, December 7; see previous Reviews). The headline is typical of the coverage of such events: “Six Jews baptized to Christianity. In the course of a large missionary event which took place on the Shabbat of “Toldot” [the Torah portion of the week, which gives the Hebrew date of the particular Shabbat] at the Exhibition Grounds, in which hundreds of people participated, six Jews were baptized into Christianity. Ten more Jews converted on the previous Shabbat in the same place.”
The Vatican and the Pope
HaZofeh, December 14; Ma’ariv, December 14; Yated Ne’eman, December 13, 14; Jerusalem Post, December 12, 13, 14, pp. 1, 3; Globes, December 14; Haaretz, December 13, 14 (English and Hebrew editions); Ma’ariv, December 13; HaModia, December 14, 2006
Christians in Israel
Jerusalem Post, December 14, 2006
According to the Jerusalem Post (December 14), the “chief pastor of the Anglican community in Israel, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, is facing mushrooming allegations of nepotism and graft.” An internal church committee formed to investigate the charges concluded that “Assal arranged to have a tender for the insurance policy of employees of the church’s two schools [in Nazareth] here issued to a company that promised to give half the commission to his son-in-law.” The 35-page report which includes these details states that the bishop’s actions constituted a “dramatic combination” of nepotism and violation of trust” and maintains that nepotism is rampant in the church.
Jerusalem Post, December 13, 2006
With various attempts by numerous European academic institutions to impose intellectual boycotts of Israel, the Jerusalem Post carried an article (December 12) on the upcoming visit of Prof. Dermot Keogh, head of the History Department at the University of Cork in Ireland. The visit is being organized by the Israel, Ireland Friendship League, in conjunction with the Open University and the support of the Cultural Division of the Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to the paper, “Keogh will be in Israel from December 18-22 and will be lecturing at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, Ben Gurion University and Tel Aviv University … [and] at the Open University … [when] his topic will be: ‘The delicate nature of relations with Israel: Irish, European and Vatican Historical Perspective.’”
Jerusalem Post, December 14, 2006
Jorge Klainman was born in Kielce, Poland, and survived a series of concentration camps during the Holocaust to reach Argentina after the war and there raise a family and establish a business. “Translated into English as ‘The Seventh Miracle’ and into Hebrew as ‘Nes Ha-Shev’I,’” Klainman considers his first-person account of his experiences as the seventh in a series of miracles which saved his life. “‘Six actual miracles occurred and saved my life,’ according to Klainman, 78. ‘The seventh was my being able to write the story.’” In the interview at his Buenos Aires apartment, Klainman stated: “Ten years from now there won’t be any Holocaust survivors left to transmit the truth to young people.” To prevent this happening, Klainman has dedicated his life to “explaining the reasons behind the Holocaust to fellow Argentines, many of whom grew up with anti-Semitic attitudes encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church and the thousands of Nazi war criminals who were welcomed by Argentine’s military dictatorship after World War II. ‘I’ve visited many colleges and universities throughout Argentina, giving speeches for high-school kids,’ Klainman said. ‘I even spoke at a Catholic seminary, and afterwards the kids cursed the Vatican for ignoring the Jews.’” According to the report, Klainman “said that the reaction of Argentina’s Christians to his book is much stronger than the Jews because ‘the Jews already know this story.’” Although the book is Klainman’s “seventh miracle,” he also explains some of the other background to its writing: “‘For 50 years I guarded my silence like a hermit, but then I got tired of these delinquents denying the Holocaust,’ he said. ‘I realized that by keeping silent, I was becoming an accomplice, collaborating with them.’”