Caspari Center Media Review………….September 20, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 14 articles on the subjects of missionary and anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel, Christian sites, Jerusalem, interfaith activities, the Pope and the Vatican, and film. Of these:
4 dealt with missionary and anti-missionary activity
4 dealt with Christians in Israel
2 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 dealt with film
1 dealt with Christian sites
1 dealt with Jerusalem
1 dealt with interfaith activities
The focus of this week’s Review lay primarily on missionary and anti-missionary activity, together with a spate of neo-Nazi violence in the country.
Missionary and Anti-Missionary Activity
HaShavua BiYerushalayim, September 6; BeSheva, September 6; HaMahane HeHaredi, September 6; Yediot Haifa, September 7, 2007
A mail-box campaign similar to the ones recently reported in Modi’in and Jerusalem has also been underway in Haifa (Yediot Haifa, September 7) (see previous Reviews). Flyers were distributed in several neighborhoods which included Orthodox and immigrant residents, offering the Jesus film free of charge. “In the history of the Jewish people lived a Jew who greatly influenced humanity. We offer you the full-length film ‘Yeshua’ in a selection of languages … The film is based on historical facts, was filmed in the country, and is played by Israeli actors.” Among the vehement responses to the campaign was that of Shas council chairman Avi Witzman: “They are trying to entice Jewish children to convert. These people must be caught and thrown into jail. I would also break their arms and legs if I could. These people, who call themselves Messianic Jews, are a dangerous sect which is trying to take advantage of people in need for the express purpose of converting them. We have never operated in places that have a non-Jewish population. Unfortunately, the freedom of missionary activity derives from the indulgent hand of the police, who don’t bother to act against them.” The police response was very moderate and unbiased: “Like many other bodies, the Messianic Jews are acting in the name of the freedom of expression and as long as they do not break the law I can’t relate to them. If we deny our citizens this basic right, we shall quickly deteriorate into a dictatorship.” The article also quoted a response from Ora Guttman, a “representative of the organization”: “We’re talking about a film which is historical in nature. The material is distributed in numerous neighborhoods without discrimination between religious or secular populations. It is not illegal activity and it is unfortunate that the Orthodox are expressing themselves in such language, because to say that someone’s arms and legs should be broken is incitement. We don’t receive requests [for the film] from children but only from those older than eighteen. I find these complaints difficult to understand because we’ve received lots of requests from people living in Orthodox neighborhoods wanting to know about additional aspects related to Judaism.”
An article in HaShavua BiYerushalayim (September 6) reported on the strength of evidence provided by Yad L’Achim that a prominent missionary in Netanyah had been persuaded of the errors of his ways by a lengthy visit by three Yad L’Achim workers – amongst them a former missionary himself, well known in the Sharon area. The missionary’s web-site had been the focus of many complaints to the anti-missionary organization, which finally succeeded in decoding his password and discovering his true name and identity. While the article refrained from identifying him, this “Messianic Jew” is alleged to have written a letter of apology to his “readers,” acknowledging that “everything you have read here is simply lies. Judaism is the only true path. Proofs will be provided in the near future.” The report also claimed that the missionary’s outpost has turned into a place of “repentance enlightening the eyes of the lost through full cooperation with Yad L’Achim workers, who with his help answer questions by inquirers and direct their path.”
A second article, published in HaMahane HeHaredi (September 6), claimed that a group of “Messianic Jews” was using a Muslim cemetery for preaching purposes. When the information reached Yad L’Achim, they contacted Muslim authorities and notified them of the “destruction” which was taking place in the cemetery. The Sheikh filed a complaint with the Supreme Court requesting that the “destruction of the tombs by the ‘Messianic Jews’ be stopped.’” The authenticity of the report is brought into doubt by the fact that the Supreme Court’s ruling was that “building construction at the site was forbidden” – suggesting that neither “preaching” nor the destruction of graves was at issue. According to the report, however, the Sheikh’s gratitude to Yad L’Achim evidenced the “success of the struggle to end the missionary vandalism in the neighborhood of Ein Karem.”
The same piece also reported that Yad L’Achim are demanding an apology from Ramat Rachel for a statement the hotel printed in BeSheva refuting claims made by Yad L’Achim regarding the hotel (see previous Reviews). The hotel declared that: “Ramat Rachel Hotel vehemently denies and rebuts in every way the specious and false statement recently published by Yad L’Achim … which implies that Ramat Rachel Hotel allegedly lent their hand to missionary activity … we repeat and emphasize that the statements published by Yad L’Achim are wild lies and incitement, as far from the truth as east is from west, and are giving rise to baseless hatred.” Yad L’Achim’s claimed in response that this statement itself constituted slander, and demanded an admission from the hotel management that it had rented its premises for the purpose of missionary activity. In a letter to the hotel, Yad L’Achim’s lawyer asserted that the organization could prove its claim from missionary literature which openly stated that the mission had held conferences at the hotel. He further maintained that Yad L’Achim had suffered from the hotel’s statement, people having questioned how the organization could have made such erroneous claims, doubts which damaged its reputation. In consequence, Yad L’Achim was seeking compensation from the hotel in the amount of 100,000 NIS.
Finally, Binyamin Kluger, a Yad L’Achim worker heavily involved in anti-missionary work in Jerusalem, wrote a letter to BeSheva, the paper in which the “advertisement war” has been conducted, providing evidence of the fact that the hotel’s “excuse” that it could not back out of contracts was obviously false. Giving information regarding several upcoming events being held at the hotel by different Messianic congregations (Bob Colver, Asher Intrater) and Meno Kalisher’s congregation, Kluger argued that the hotel management could not claim violation of contracts for events whose nature was known beforehand.
Christians in Israel
Haaretz, September 11 (Hebrew and English editions); Ma’ariv, September 10, pp. 6, 21, 2007
The country has recently been shocked by a wave of neo-Nazi activities. An article in Haaretz (September 11; Hebrew and English editions) noted the desecration of a synagogue in Eilat daubed with “graffiti with Nazi overtones, such as ‘Hitler is the Messiah’ and ‘Long live Hitler and Jesus Christ,’ accompanied by crosses and swastikas.” The police consider that while “dozens of people are currently involved in neo-Nazi activities in Israel … they apparently operate in small groups or alone.” According to the Hebrew edition of Haaretz, eight suspects have also been arrested for neo-Nazi activities in Petah Tikvah and accused of attacking Asians, homosexuals, drug addicts, and religious Jews. The eight, between the ages of 17 and 21, are all from the former Soviet Union and while having made aliyah under the law of return, are not halakhically Jewish. A third article, in Ma’ariv (September 10), ran under the headline “To change the Law of Return” and explicitly associated the neo-Nazi activities with the clause in the law which allows non-Jewish grandchildren to immigrate. “In the last fifteen years, a million new immigrants from the USSR have arrived in Israel, among them 25,000 Christian families. The immigration of non-Jewish families, some of whom continue to live an openly Christian lifestyle or have been brought up in the bosom of anti-Semitic sentiments, is a wicked and abominable act not only on their part but also on that of the State.”
The presence of other Christians in Israel is also being denied, this time nine experts brought in to oversee the construction of a Romanian Orthodox church in Jericho. The experts – stonemasons, sculptors, painters, plasterers, and a work manager – who have supervised the completion of churches worldwide, have already been in the country five years. The Ministry of Interior is now claiming that this constitutes the maximum period of time a person is allowed to reside in the country. The continued refusal of visas, including an appeal to the Supreme Court, has now led the Romanian church to pursue diplomatic channels to resolve the issue. The Romanian Patriarch has also turned to the International Human Rights Court in Strasbourg and filed a petition for compensation from the Interior Ministry.
The Pope and the Vatican
Israel HaYom, September 9; Jerusalem Post, September 7, 2007
An article in Israel HaYom (September 9) noted that during a speech calling on Europeans to bear more children, the Pope also “along the way apologized for the church’s attitude towards the Jews.” “On Friday, the pope expressed sorrow over the part the church played in the deaths of many Jews in Austria during the Second World War and said: ‘We all need to make sure that not just the stones will speak in the name of the church on this matter.’”
The Jerusalem Post of September 7 reported that the pope has also “offered to sue the full weight of his office to contact Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah in an effort to secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.” The offer came within an hour-long meeting with Peres – an unusually lengthy audience for the pope.
Jerusalem Post, September 11, 2007
A joint US-Israeli concern is co-producing a three-part series featuring Jesus – played by Israeli actor Shahar Sorek. According to the report in the Jerusalem Post (September 11), “Shooting may begin on the Jesus project early next year, with two or all three of the films to be shot back-to-back and the first in the series intended for a US theatrical release in late 2008.”