Caspari Center Media Review………….November 15, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 26 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activity, Christians in Israel/Gaza, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Church, the Christian media, and the Pope and the Vatican. Of these:
3 dealt with anti-missionary activities
5 dealt with the Anglican Church
13 dealt with Christians in Israel
3 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 dealt with Christian media
1 dealt with Christians in the Holocaust
The focus of this week’s Review remained on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit and the Anglican Church in general, together with the developments in the affairs relating to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and Church. We have also included two articles on the plight of Christians in Gaza.
Zman Haifa, October 26; Merkaz HaInyanim, October 29, 2007
The story of the “missionary center” to be established in the Galilee by “evangelists” was run by Merkaz HaInyanim (October 29), a paper providing information for the Ultra-Orthodox public (see previous Reviews).
A piece in HaModia (November 8) reported that Shmuel Halpert, chairman of the religious lobby in the Knesset, recently requested that the current Minister of Tourism honor the agreement his predecessor had made that no “missionary center” would be built in Tiberias (see previous Reviews).
Zman Haifa (October 26) carried a story of Jehovah’s Witnesses activity in the city. According to the report, members of the sect are “approaching children and youth and with smooth talk are telling them Bible stories. They are distributing tracts with the titles ‘Troubles will soon pass away’ and ‘How God takes care of us’ … In them it is written that ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses are a group of true brethren who embrace the world.’” The “missionaries” attempt to convince the children that only if they follow the way of the Jehovah’s Witnesses will they find happiness. A United Torah Judaism member on the local municipal council claimed that: “We are talking about an extremist missionary sect with clear anti-Semitic characteristics” – by which he apparently meant the attempt to “destroy every remnant and memory of the Jewish people” through their conversion to Christianity.
Jerusalem Post, November 2, 4; Haaretz, November 2, 5 (Hebrew and English editions), 2007
Rowan William’s one-day visit to Israel last week differed from his previous three in his office as Archbishop of Canterbury (Haaretz, November 5). Whereas previously he had visited Palestinian Christians, this visit was devoted to “a meeting with Israel’s chief rabbis and with a special team from the Chief Rabbinate that deals with interfaith dialogue” (ibid). Despite the fact one of his aims was “to improve relations, even partially, between him and the Church he heads, and the State of Israel and its supporters in the West … because the Anglican Church, the third largest in the Christian world … is considered today to be the church most hostile in its attitude toward Israel,” most of his remarks as reported in Haaretz dealt rather with Iran and Muslim-Christian dialogue. “‘The only way of eliminating [the nuclear] possibility,’ the archbishop says, ‘would be a preemptive strike, which is against international law.’ This he says, would make any possibility of relations with Iran impossible.” It is thus apparent that his agenda is indeed dialogue – the religious equivalent to negotiations. His limited success in the latter in Britain he describes as “small things, but I think the alternative – of doing nothing – is worse.”
Muslim dialogue is also important to the Archbishop with relation to the situation of Christians in the Palestinian Authority. Recognizing that “Christians have become a minority in areas that once were Christian,” Williams countered by blaming Israel: “‘I would like to know how much it matters to the Israeli government to have Christian communities in the Holy Land. Are they an embarrassment or are they part of a solution? That is the question … A better option [than the fence]? I wish I knew. I can only point out the cost, which I think is something that affects Israel in the long term. It encourages the departure of young Palestinians from their environment.’” Even though his remarks on this visit were more muted, Williams found it difficult to lay even part of the responsibility for the situation on the PA itself: “When asked if the PA was responsible [for anti-Christian sentiment amongst the Palestinian communities], the archbishop replied: ‘I don’t think it’s the Palestinian Authority. I think it’s the drifting demography in the Palestinian regions.’” According to the report, unlike the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ability to impose his opinions upon the Anglican Church is limited: “His remarks about Israel are greatly influenced by Palestinian Anglicans who are extremely careful not to accuse their Muslim neighbors of persecution and prefer to level their criticism at Israeli policies.” Regarding the Anglican Church’s position on divestment from Israeli and international companies which sell equipment to the IDF, Williams repeated what appears to be the “official statement”: “I have no commitment to a program of disinvestments. We have an ethical investment policy and certain kinds of investment … needed to be reviewed in that light. We went through a process that is a routine matter of reviewing our investment policy according to agreed ethical criteria” (Haaretz).
Under the title “Time to renew Anglican Zionism,” the Jerusalem Post (November 2) noted that Williams’ “sharp criticism of the security barrier,” “whether a consequence of misinformation or of bias against Israel or both, was a distortion of the facts. The unfortunate phenomenon of Arab Christian emigration from the Holy Land to the US, Europe and other advanced countries has been going on for decades and is the result of a multitude of factors – educational, social, cultural, and political.” The article noted that Williams’ statements came “almost 90 years to the day after a fellow Anglican, Britain’s foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour, set the groundwork for the creation of the Jewish state.” The call for the “renewal of Anglican Zionism” came against this background, the unnamed author remarking that “Sadly, Anglican support for Israel has wavered since then.” S/he then suggests that “Perhaps present Anglican censure of Israeli policies has its source in the [Anglican?] Church’s expectations that the Jews, God’s chosen people, live up to higher moral standards … Perhaps it is the Christian tendency to come to the aid of the underdog … But Williams’s attitude does not reflect the best interests of his flock in this area, who benefit from the security Israel is seeking to attain and are vulnerable to the same ruthless violence that targets the Jewish state. Israel, with the security barrier, has taken essential steps to safeguard precisely the ‘asylum,’ the ‘safe home’ for the Jewish people ‘in their native land,’ that Balfour envisaged. And, hopefully with the support of intellectually honest allies, ‘the full flowering of their genius will burst forth and propagate.’”
Another article in the same paper (November 4) looked at same issue, asking “Does the Anglican Church have an Israel problem?” Starting from the recent American Episcopal “Israel-Apartheid” conference in Boston sponsored by the Episcopal Divinity School responsible for training many of the Church’s future leaders, Rafael Medoff went back in history in order to demonstrate that the current climate is in direct divergence to Anglican and Episcopal positions prior and during the Holocaust. One of Rowan Williams’ predecessors, William Temple, appointed to the office in 1942, “did not hesitate to take unpopular positions, such as urging the Allies to grant asylum to all Jewish refugees” – a stance which had a direct influence on Roosevelt’s policies in the States. While most American Episcopal leaders failed to speak out publicly, the General Theological Seminary in New York and the Berkeley Divinity School in Connecticut were both “co-sponsors of an important ‘Inter-Seminary Conference’ … held in New York City in early 1943 to discuss the Nazi mass murders.” The Bergson Group which lobbied for US action to rescue Jews also included a number of Episcopal leaders. Medoff concluded his historical review by stating that: “Today, as during the Holocaust, there are those within the Episcopal Church whose positions on issues of Jewish concern have raised troubling questions. But it is clear that there are other voices, as well.”
According to a brief report in Haaretz (November 2), the Archbishop also called for the release of the kidnapped soldiers, Eldad Regev, Ehud Goldwasser, and Gilad Shalit in a joint statement issued with the chief rabbis.
Christians in Israel
Haaretz, November 5, 6, pp. 3, 11 (Hebrew and English editions), p. 28, November 8; Israel HaYom, November 6; HaShavua BiYerushalayim, November 1; Ma’ariv, November 6; Yediot Ahronot, November 6; Makor Rishon, November 2, 6; Jerusalem Post, November 6, Business Post, November 6, 2007
The latest developments in the scandal surrounding the Greek Orthodox Patriarch have seen the indictment of two of those involved, Yaakov Rabinowitz and David Morgenstern, for “forgery and fraud,” in what the Jerusalem District court “described as ‘one of the most sophisticated cases of real estate fraud in the state of Israel.’” The two men were convicted of forging the Patriarch’s signature (at the time, Diodorus) and thereby stealing $20 million from the Jewish National Fund by illegally renewing the latter’s lease on prime real estate property in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh (Haaretz, November 6 + The Marker, November 6; Yediot Ahronot, November 6; Jerusalem Business Post, November 6; Makor Rishon, November 6; Israel HaYom, November 6). According to Haaretz (November 6), the court wrote in its decision that “The suspects cynically took advantage of the strong desire of the state authorities and the JNF to make long-term arrangements for the leasing of property in Jerusalem. The concern of the authorities, which had started to take shape, was that the renewal of the lease would not take place because of the political pressure on the patriarch from various sources in the Palestinian Authority.”
Caroline Glick related to precisely this issue in an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post (November 6) entitled “Israel’s anti-Zionist leaders.” Her take on Theophilos’ appointment was that his election “was the consequence of an anti-Jewish campaign of terror by Hamas and Fatah and the Jordanian government against the church and its leaders.” As earlier Reports have indicated, the Patriarch’s position has recently become conditional upon the candidate’s agreement not to sell any land to Jews – one of the primary reasons for the dismissal of Theophilos’ predecessor (Ireneos). According to Glick, “After Ireneos was ejected from office, Theophilos immediately distinguished himself from his fellow clerics with his enthusiasm for barring Israel and Jews from using church lands. He secured Palestinian and Jordanian backing ahead of the elections by pledging to operate in accordance with Jordanian rather than Israeli law. Jordanian law prohibits all land sales to Jews.” Last week’s Knesset decision to finally approve Theophilos’ appointment is therefore anything but a “simple matter,” but embodies the anti-Zionist stance increasingly being adopted by Israel’s own leaders: “By accepting Theophilos as Patriarch, Israel is siding with its enemies against itself. It is signaling to Israel’s antagonists that terror and extortion continue to pay. Just as terror is viewed as the force which compelled Israel to vacate Gaza and south Lebanon, so in the case of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Israel’s enemies would be justified in believing that their decision to terrorize the church leadership and force it to embrace anti-Semitism and the jihadist aim of ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Holy Land was the right decision.”
The Greek Orthodox church is also posing a traffic problem in the country. The high-technology tunnel road recently constructed between Nazareth and Nazareth Elit (Upper Nazareth) at a cost of 400 million dollars will remain closed until the dispute between the Israel National Roads Company and the Greek Orthodox Church has been resolved. At issue is a junction which has apparently not been built according to the specification agreed upon by the latter, who provided a portion of the land on which the road has been constructed. At present, the Greek Orthodox church has issued an interim order forbidding the INRC from continuing work on the paving of the multi-lane highway – which, in replacing the old road which had gained the name the “wall of death” because of its dangerous condition, was hoped would significantly lower the current number of accidents and fatalities. The disputed length was due to include an elevated bridge and a roundabout facilitating access to a residential neighborhood where the church had plans to erect a commercial center. The church is claiming that instead of investing 60 million shekels to build the roundabout and junction, the INRC has erected an intersection with traffic lights at the mere cost of five million shekels. Although the INRC is arguing that this is a temporary measure, the “church is unwilling to compromise, fearing that the temporary will become permanent.”
In a further church-related affair, HaShavua BiYerushalayim (November 1) reported that it had received information that four months ago Prime Minister Olmert signed an initial agreement with the Russian government according to which the Russian Compound and Sergei’s Court in the center of Jerusalem, which belong to the latter, would be returned to it within a year. Figures involved in the negotiations allegedly informed the paper that the Russian Church is planning to construct a hotel for Russian pilgrims on the sites, closing it off to outsiders. The area currently houses the police headquarters, a museum commemorating the Jewish underground fighters, the Ministry of Agriculture, and a hospital building. It has been leased to the Israeli government since it was bought by the Czar’s family in the middle of the eighteenth century. According to reports from the Prime Minister’s office, which confirmed the information received by the paper, the Israeli government will be compensated for the return of the property to the tune of 100 million dollars – a sum with which the government intends to build a new site to house the District Court. The Jerusalem municipality is calling the affair scandalous, it being unknown for a country to transfer strategic property in the heart of its capital to a foreign power. The proper course of action, in its eyes, would be to buy the property outright.
The “Nazareth cross” has recently received substantial back from an internet company called “A-2-Z” (Haaretz, The Marker, November 8); (for the cross, see previous Reviews). Under the aegis of its international campaign for the project, a huge cross made of tiles will be erected in Nazareth. The tiles, to which a dedication may be added, will be sold to “believers through the internet” on eBay. A-2-Z is said to be planning an “analysis of Christian believers’ activity on the internet” in order to identify the target population most likely to purchase the tiles.
Although not strictly within the purview of the Media Review, we have included here two articles on the situation of believers in Gaza. The first, in Haaretz (November 5), relates to the Christian exodus from the strip: “Since Hamas’ domination of the Gaza Strip, the pressure on the tiny Christian community – 3,000 persons living in the middle of 1.5 million Muslims – has increased.” The pressure recently took a turn towards violence when the manager of the only Christian bookshop in the city and Bible Society worker, Rami Ayyad, was murdered a month ago. “It looked like another dwelling of mourners in Gaza. Rows of plastic chairs for the mourning family and their comforters. Colorful plastic wreaths leaning against the wall of the building, and a picture of a young man, pale – shaved in fact – and bespectacled, smiling hesitantly from the posters covering the walls. But the usual sight of the Al Aksa mosque wasn’t visible in the pictures and the floral wreaths were accompanied by verses from the New Testament rather than from the Quran. The victim was a member of the Christian community in Gaza.” The bookshop, run under the auspices of the Palestinian Bible Society, also functioned as an internet café where residents could receive computer lessons. Immediately following Hamas’ overwhelming victory in the 2006 elections, a note was attached to the shop door demanding its instant closure. On October 6, Ayyad left the shop and didn’t return home. His body was found the next day in one of the streets of the city: he had been shot in the head and stabbed in the chest, leaving a wife in the eighth month of her third pregnancy and two small children. Although up until now, despite its size, the Christian community has largely lived in harmony with its Muslim neighbors, the climate now seems to be changing: “Many Christians are planning to emigrate at the first opportunity.”
This is also the headline of the article in Makor Rishon (November 2): “The Christians in Gaza want to leave.” Here, too, the blame is laid at the feet of Hamas. Quoting the British Guardian, the paper claimed that “Hamas’ victory is troubling not only to Israel and Bush but also to the Christian community in Gaza, who are saying that they will leave the city because they no longer see their future there following the victory of the fundamentalist Muslim organization.” According to the report, Ayyad was kidnapped by anonymous persons and then killed. “This murder exposed the fact that the Gaza Strip is not only ‘Hamastan’ politically and security-wise, but first and foremost religiously – an extremist fundamentalist Muslim entity. The most serious manifestation of this trend of Islamization in Gaza is the attacks on Christians. The Muslims hate Christians no less than they hate Jews.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Jerusalem Post, November 7; Haaretz, November 7; Makor Rishon, November 7, 2007
All three of these articles dealt with the “first ever meeting between a pontiff and a reigning Saudi monarch” – King Abdullah’s audience with Benedict XVI last Tuesday. Given Abdullah’s position as “the protector of Islam’s holiest sites,” the Pope fulfilled expectations by raising the question of the “positive presence and work of Christians” in the kingdom and pressing the issue of the ban on open Christian worship and the building of churches (Jerusalem Post, November 7). The meeting came at the request of Abdullah, who is currently touring Europe, the Pope apparently responding as part of his effort to “reach out to all countries that still don’t have diplomatic relations with the Holy See, which include Saudi Arabia and China” (ibid). According to the reports, “The talks were ‘warm’ and allowed a wide discussion on the need for interreligious and intercultural dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Jews ‘for the promotion of peace, justice and spiritual and moral values, especially in support of the family,’ the Vatican said in a statement” (ibid).
Haaretz, November 1, 2007
The continuing saga of Daystar’s removal from HOT’s package has reached the Supreme Court’s hearing of the former’s complaint against the latter this week. The charge claims that while HOT gave the reason for the removal of the Christian broadcasting channel from its cables as “religious pressure,” Daystar has good reason to believe that the true reason lay with the coercion exerted on the cable company from the Orthodox Minister of Communication. In this context, the removal of the station constitutes, in Daystar’s opinion, a violation of the freedom of expression: “We would not wish to imagine the possibility that in America Jewish broadcasting channels would be stopped on the grounds that their very existence impinges on the religious sensitivities of some of its citizens.”
Christians in the Holocaust
HaModia, November 11, 2007
According to this report, an ancient Torah scroll which was rescued from a synagogue in Cologne on Kristallnacht by a Lutheran pastor has been restored – both physically and geographically. Gustav Meinertz saved the scroll and hid it in his own home. When the war ended, he returned it to survivors who came back to live in the city. The funds for its restoration were provided by the Archbishop of Cologne. It now resides in the new location of the synagogue, on Roosnstrasse.