Caspari Center Media Review………….February 1, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 25 articles on the subjects of missionary and anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel and Christian “aliya” to Israel, Israeli attitudes to Christianity, Christian Zionism, the Pope and the Vatican. Out of the total:
- 7 dealt with missionary and anti-missionary activity
- 4 dealt with Christians in/to Israel
- 3 dealt with Israeli attitudes towards Christianity
- 4 dealt with Christian Zionism
- 1 dealt with cults
- 1 dealt with the Vatican and the Pope
- 1 dealt with Christian tourism
- 1 was a book review
The remaining 3 dealt with different matters of Jewish and Christian interest.
This week’s Review sees a rise in coverage of missionary and anti-missionary activity, generated in large part by three particular events, in the south, middle, and north of the country. Under the category of “Christians in Israel” we have included not only local but also foreign Christians, as well as immigrants with a Christian background. The Israeli media widely noted the death of Yuri Shtern which, together with additional articles, focused attention on Christian Zionism.
Missionary and Anti-missionary Activity
HaModia, January 11; Kol HaDarom, January 5; BeKehilah, January 11; Yom L’Yom, December 28, January 11, pp. 2, 3; Jerusalem Post, January 22, 2007
The religious paper Yom L’Yom (December 28) printed the same article regarding the revoking of the restraining order against Yehuda Deri as carried previously by Kol HaNegev (see January #1). The same paper also carried a report on January 11 concerning “a missionary sect endangering Bnei Brak” – the same group responsible for the telephone calls to Orthodox families as reported in HaModia (January 5) (see same Review).
Three articles (in HaModia, BeKehilah, Yom L’Yom, all from January 11) related to the “shock” of the “exposure to danger” of missionary activity amongst the children of Orthodox families “in the classroom.” All three papers reported that members of the “Shavei Zion” congregation in Haifa – who also “regularly visit the church of ‘Ohalei Rachamim’ on Shabbat” – “are sending their children to study in a Talmud-Torah [religious] school designed for the ‘children of those seeking to return [to Judaism].’” During the week, the missionaries’ children “sit on the school benches of the Talmud-Torah school in the Haifa area,” while on Shabbat they can be found “playing outside with their schoolmates.” On Shabbat, the children get on “organized transport” arranged by “the Messianic Jews” in order to take them “to the church in Haifa.” There, they participate in “Christian rituals and prayers in the church which runs the congregation. They listen to missionary strengthening lessons from Eitan Shishkoff, the head of the dangerous sect. These same children infiltrate and influence their religious friends during the weekdays.” With good reason, it would appear, Yad L’Achim accuses the Shavei Zion families of “preferring the values and rootedness of the Orthodox educational system which the Talmud-Torah school provides” in the absence of any Messianic schools of their own. When approached by Yad L’Achim, the school expressed its intention of cooperating with the anti-missionary organization in order “to eliminate the serious phenomenon.” Yad L’Achim also reported a deluge of “tracts” in Haifa and its surroundings distributed by the Messianic congregations, advertising a “preparation course for bar and bat mitzvah,” together with ads for the times of prayer and Bible study of the Parashat haShavua – the Torah portion of the week. Yad L’Achim denounced these activities as “perverse measures” – the missionaries being willing to stop at nothing to “hunt the souls of innocent Jews.”
The Jerusalem Post ran an article on the front page of its January 22 issue reporting that the cable and satellite TV companies prevalent in Israel, HOT and YES, are “running Jews for Jesus ads.” YES and HOT both include the Dallas-based Daystar TV network as part of their basic cable program, on Channel 110 on YES and available by request on Channel 98 on HOT. While not directly identifying the source of the Jews for Jesus ads, the article links them to the “Phoenix-based Jewish Voice Ministries International.” When contacted concerning the ads, the chairperson of the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting said that the “issue would be investigated. He added that there were very clear guidelines for religious programming, including misinformation, frightening programming, and programs directed at minors, but that there were no guidelines for missionary activity.” Etgar Lefkovits concluded his article by remarking that “The ever-sensitive issue of TV missionary activity comes amid burgeoning ties between Israel and the evangelical Christian world … The issue also underscores the delicate balancing act that many Evangelical Christians face between their support for Israel and their hard-core beliefs.”
The regional paper Kol HaDarom (January 5) carried a full-length story on Pnina Comforti, owner and manager of a chain of bakeries in the south of the country (see previous Reviews). Following the revoking of her kashrut license by the Rabbinate due to the discovery that Pnina was a Jewish believer – which has led to no small loss of business and revenue – Pnina has decided to “fight back.” She has filed a law suit in the Supreme Court against the Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbis of Ashdod and Gan Yavneh: “From the moment when rumors started to fly around this issue in Gan Yavneh [Pnina’s original residence, whence she was forced to leave as a result of the harassment, and to set up another shop in Ashdod], a real blood libel began against her conducted by the radical Orthodox, whose whole purpose and objective was and is to destroy the business of my client in Gan Yavneh and everywhere else …” Posters were hung with her picture in the shopping mall where her shop is located identifying Pnina as a “missionary” and a Messianic Jew. The latter are defined as those who have “sold their souls, betrayed their people, and gone over to the Christian religion.” The poster continues: “Don’t give her a prize! Your future and your children’s future is most important. Don’t go into her shop because she has a slippery tongue and is trying to hound you into the Christian religion. Stay away from her. Be proud Jews. Vote with your feet.”
Pnina’s law-suit claims that “none of these rumors have any foundation and are only slander and evil words.” It also states that “the community, and among them Rabbis, are calling [upon the public] not to buy her goods and lending a hand to a witch hunt against her.” The revocation of Pnina’s kashrut license, both in Gan Yavneh and in Ashdod, was based on the grounds that, as a Messianic believer, “it is impossible to trust you in matters of kashrut.” The law-suit argues that the source of the revocation of the license lies in “foreign [non-relevant] considerations.” It was also done “in violation of the law which forbids kashrut fraud, without any authority, and out of discrimination because of her religion in violation of Basic Law – Dignity of Man and his freedom, and infringement of the freedom of business.” It appears that the suit has made some impact already, since Pnina’s kashrut license has been restored – at least temporarily – in Gan Yavneh. This will not end the story however: Pnina’s lawyers have stated that they will continue the fight with a damages case, followed by charges of slander. The report, it should be said, appears quite accurate and objective, and concluded with an interview with Pnina herself in order to “demonstrate just how complicated her situation is.”
Attitudes towards Christianity and Jesus
Zman Hadera, December 29; BeKehila, December 21; Yediot Eilat, January 12, 2007
Zman Hadera (December 29) carried the interview with Michael Hersigor which we covered in last week’s Review. Likewise, a letter from Gila A. bemoaned the infiltration of Christmas and Sylvester into Israeli society along the same lines as Edva Naveh (see previous Reviews). A third article – which we could have included under “Christians in Israel” – we chose to place here. The religious paper BeKehila (December 21) demonstrated a very clear attitude to Christians and Christianity by exclaiming over the continued Christian practices of so many of the Russian immigrants to Israel and then in its reportage of the tragic killing of two young children by a father in the course of an argument with his wife. Having dismissed the idea that a Jew could possibly have acted so cruelly as to push his two young sons out of the window – “even when he is a sinner, no Jew is capable of descending to such a level as this” – the author then revealed the “explanation”: the perpetrator was not a Jew but a Christian!
Christians in Israel
HaModia, January 16; Yediot Ahronot, January 16; Yediot Haifa, December 29; Haaretz, January 19, 2007
Under the title “16,900 Christians celebrate Christmas in the city,” Yediot Haifa (December 29) carried an article that elaborated on the statistics reported in Yated Ne’eman (December 25) (see December 06 #4). In 2005, more than half the Christian population (148,000; 2.1 of the general population) was concentrated in major urban centers, such as (in order of size) Nazareth, Haifa, Jerusalem, Shfaram, Tel Aviv-Yaffo, et al. 56% of Christian youth over the age of 15 were employed in the Israeli workforce – a higher percentage than the Muslim or Druse populations. The student population (generally 10-11% of the total student population) leads the country in the level of matriculation passes, while 90% achieved the level required for university admission, in contrast to a level of 71% amongst the Druse and 87% amongst the Muslim student populations. At the same time, the population is diminishing in size. “The decrease in growth derives primarily from a decrease in the migration percentile (a minority of Christian immigrants under the Law of Return) and a slowing down in the natural increase (less children, more deaths).” According to the report, “Despite the fact that most of the Christian population is Arab, its ‘demographic behavior’ differs from the rest of the Arab population in Israel (mostly Muslim) and more closely resembles that of the Jewish population.”
The identity of “other” Christians in the country is extrapolated from several articles in this week’s media coverage. Thus, for example, an article in HaModia (January 16) that looks at “The Russians and Hebrew” – noted that a large percentage of the Russian immigrant population not only refuses to adopt Hebrew as its native language but also cleaves to its foreign culture. “Not a few Russian immigrants, mostly in less sensitive places [?], wear Christian crosses, celebrate the Christian holidays, and are Christians in every way.” This phenomenon refutes the claim made by those who promote aliya (immigration) that the immigrants inevitably become naturalized Israelis.
It is not only the Russian immigrant community which is characterized by a prominent Christian background. The Ethiopian falashmura receive explicitly different treatment due to their “conversion.” An article in Yediot Ahronot (January 16) cited the Efrati Report of 1999, according to which it was agreed to allow 27,000 falashmura to immigrate. Since then, 19,200 have actually arrived, while 8,100 still remain – out of which “about 4000 have been discovered to be explicit followers of Yeshu.” The falashmura’s “savior” is an Ethiopian by the name of Avraham Nigose who, according to the report, “worked in the past for the Christian mission” – apparently a German organization that operated an orphanage in Gondar. Shortly after his arrival at an absorption center, the article claims, Niguse wrote a letter to his “spiritual teachers”: “‘Because I am a Christian they are telling me to convert [to Judaism], and we will educate you at university. I am very apprehensive of this. I want to remain a Christian. I ask you in Yeshua of Nazareth’s name to find a way to get me out of these difficulties.’ Since this letter, so his relatives claim, a Jewish spirit and Zionist motivation have entered him. Indeed, because of him and his lobby, 31,683 falashmura have immigrated up until today.”
A further type of Christian has found an even more wretched fate in Israel (Haaretz, January 19). Simon Steven Doka, a member of the Christian Zandi tribe, fled from his native Sudan due to Muslim governmental persecution of the Christian population at the age of 17. He spent a year and a half in Egypt, where he was harassed – both because he was a Christian and because he was black. At the age of 19 he crossed the border into Israel where, after 11 years, he finally received temporary residence (a visa which must be renewed every year). In hopes of gaining permanent residence, he learned Hebrew fluently, volunteered for the civil guard, underwent firearms training, fathered a son with an Israeli woman, and opened a business – a tiny niche in the wall where he sells socks and jeans to foreign workers, primarily Chinese (who wear out their socks in a couple of days working on construction sites). But here his problems began: “He can’t marry in Israel because he’s not Jewish. He can’t convert to Judaism because the Rabbinate demands that he possess permanent residency. He can’t travel abroad to get married because he’s not an Israeli and doesn’t have a passport” [the UN has recognized him as a refugee].” His real difficulty has now become his income. He petitioned the Tel Aviv municipality for a license to open his “shop” on Shabbat because it is the best day for business amongst the foreign worker population. The municipality refused to issue a license because Doka’s business is not located “in an area where the majority of the residents are not Jewish.” When his visa is due for renewal in two months, Doka fears that it will not be extended and that he will be expelled – even though he has a lawyer working, pro bono, on his case.
Jerusalem Post, January 17, pp. 1, 3, January 19; Yediot Ahronot, January 21, 2007
The death of Yuri Shtern on January 16 – from cancer, at the age of 58 – was tragic for all concerned, including the cause of Christian Zionism that he had promoted through his foundation of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus (Jerusalem Post, January 17, pp. 1, 3). “The caucus catapulted the intellectual Shtern to virtual stardom in the Evangelical world” – an estimation confirmed by the numerous eulogies which poured in from evangelical leaders: “‘In our hearts, he will always be remembered as a gentle, selfless champion of the historic deepening of Christian-Jewish relations in our time’ … ‘This is a devastating loss for all Bible-believing Christians … Shtern was a proud Israeli Jew who was an exceptionally wonderful friend of the Evangelicals’ … ‘In this critical hour of history, the Jewish and Christian community have lost a vital and important leader for the work that has to be done for the protection of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide’ … ‘We who partnered with this venture will honor his memory by doing more for that cause which was so dear to his heart, and we will do so remembering that his work was marked by zealousness and a genuine nonpolitical love for the People of Israel.’”
A report in Yediot Ahronot (January 21) indicated that “Christian friends of Israel contributed no less than 155 million shekels to welfare projects in Israel in the past year. This represents a 30% increase over the previous year.” The purposes towards which funds were given included the supply of meals to 40,000 pupils, relief for residents of the North in the wake of the Lebanese war and to needy families in general, financial support of aliya and absorption, and relief to needy Jews in the diaspora.
At the same time, not everyone is unambivalent regarding the Christian Zionist phenomenon. In a letter to the Jerusalem Post (January 19), responding in some measure to Calev Ben-David’s review of Zev Chafets’ book) and entitled “True love doesn’t seek to change the beloved,” Netta Kohn warned that “one cannot object to true friends – especially when true friends are relatively rare. But it is imperative that we reject ‘friendship’ that aims, ultimately, to wrest us from the Judaism that makes us the unique people we are and seeks to bring about acceptance of that which Jews rejected, and were martyred for rejecting, over some 2,000 years ago … We have long known that if you ‘love’ someone in order to change him, you do not love him at all.”
Ma’ariv, January 21, 2007
A strange item was reported in Ma’ariv (January 21) regarding what appears to reflect the existence of a “Satanic cult” in Israel: “Two youths from Arad broke into 28 synagogues over the course of the year in the city [Beersheva]. They used the vast amount of money and property stolen to buy Christmas trees and presents for their families and friends. Arad police succeeded in arresting the two, aged 16 and 17. During investigation they admitted breaking into the synagogues. The investigators suspect that the youths belong to the cult of Satan because they found graffiti in praise of Satan close to the synagogues.”
The Pope and the Vatican
HaZofeh, January 18, 2007
According to a report in HaZofeh (January 18), Pope Benedict XVI has instituted an “international Judaism day” – apparently in recognition of “Judaism’s contribution to the humane values of the world.” Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, invited to address the event in Rome, took the opportunity to appeal to the Italian government to “step out of its indifference and not to keep silent in the face of the Iranian threat.” He also reminded his audience of the Jewish values of charity, deeds of loving kindness, honoring one’s parents, and love of one’s neighbor.