Caspari Center Media Review………….December 27, 2007
During the week covered by this review, we received 18 articles on the subjects of anti-missionary activities, Christians in Israel, Christian Zionism, and Christian tourism. Of these:
1 dealt with Messianic Judaism
2 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity (Christmas)
1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
11 dealt with Christians in Israel
4 dealt with Christian tourism
1 dealt with Christian Zionism
Christians in and to Israel featured largely in this week’s Review, with the long-awaited appointment of the Greek Orthodox patriarch and the approach of Christmas.
Kol HaZman, December 14, 2007
In an interview with Reform Rabbi Iris Wiener, the latter was asked her opinion, among many other things, of Jews for Jesus: “‘They’re Christians. A person who believes in Yeshu is a Christian. This is a very serious internal contradiction. Let them live.’”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Ma’ariv, December 20; Yediot Tel Aviv, December 14, 2007
According to a brief note in Yediot Tel Aviv (December 14) – evidently written by someone British – “There’s no need to go to cold and rainy Piccadilly Circus in London in order to experience something of the celebrations of Yeshu’s birthday – for whoever prefers Santa Claus over Elijah the prophet. Christmas is already here, in Tel Aviv …” While Tel Aviv-Yafo may not indeed be Piccadilly Circus, Tel Aviv’s central bus station “at least looks like Covent Garden a couple of days before Christmas eve. There’s no shortage of Santa Claus dolls, decorations, Christmas trees (or something that closely resembles them), chocolates in the shape of angels, blue Santa outfits, and anything else you can imagine. All that remains is to produce that awful egg concoction, to hang the mistletoe over the doorway, and to feel a little as though you’re abroad.”
A much longer and more thorough investigation of Christmas was printed in Ma’ariv (December 20) as part of “A journey in the footsteps of the cross” – a suggested route for following in the “sounds and sights which composed Yeshu’s life.” Opening with a lengthy description of a Christmas service in a church in Yafo, the (unnamed) author acknowledged that his presence felt like “one of the spies in the biblical story enjoying the sounds of the Christmas mass.” Although the reference appears strange, the following statement, to the effect that “many Israeli have discovered the Christmas mass in recent years – not converting, God forbid, but simply experiencing the choral and vocal church music” perhaps explains that he felt it necessary to affirm the legitimacy of his – and their – attendance. In order to explicate the reason for the “journey,” the writer introduced it with a short historical review. Under the subheading “The angel Gabriel visits Nazareth,” he stated: “Yeshu (Yeshua), the son of a Jewish family from Nazareth (whence the name Yeshu the Nazarene), was born in Bethlehem, apparently in 4 b.c.e. There, in a small manger, his mother Miriam gave birth to him. Subsequently, a large church was built on the spot which is called the ‘Church of the Nativity.’ He spent his youth in Nazareth, then a small and insignificant village in the Galilee. In Nazareth, a city holy to Christians, churches were built on various important places in Yeshu’s life.” The following paragraphs are devoted to a survey of these churches. The next section, entitled “The crucified one from Jerusalem,” looks at Jesus’ ministry and death in the city: “Yeshu wandered amongst the villages of the Galilee, and according to tradition performed signs and wonders in various places. He slept in Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in Corazin, and in Betsaida. Beside the lake he fed 5,000 people with five loves of bread and three fish … We’ll skip his journey to Jerusalem and go directly to the trial at which he was condemned to death. The Roman procurator Pontius Pilate sentenced him to crucifixion. His suffering-filled path passes through the ‘Via Dolorosa.’ Yeshu carries an enormous cross on his back and along the way stops fourteen times.” Here again, comes a description of some of the present sites. The following section is entitled “The ascension.” Here, a full description is lacking, the writer focusing instead on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Of this he does manage to say, however, that “according to most streams of Christianity Yeshu was crucified here, was buried here, and – of course according to the tradition – rose from the dead.” Although the ascension is mentioned in the subtitle, there is no reference to it in the text. The article concludes with a list of the musical offerings for Christmas to which so many Israelis “flock.”
Yom L’Yom, December 13, 2007
A piece in Yom L’Yom (December 13) referred to MK Ya’akov Cohen’s (United Judaism) recent question to the Knesset concerning the National Parks Authority’s flyer advertising Christian sites (see previous Reviews). Despite Cohen’s obvious concern about such “missionary preaching,” he failed to arrive at the session. The minister due to answer his question was quoted as saying, “If he doesn’t come, I won’t give him a response.” When he entered late, he was refused permission to speak.
Christians in Israel
Ma’ariv, December 14, pp. 12, 19; Haaretz, December 17, 20, pp. 2, 4; Jerusalem Post, December 17; HaDaf HaYarok; Yediot Haifa, December 14; Makor Rishon, December 20, 2007
With the recent signing of the agreement according to which parts of the Russian Compound in Jerusalem have been returned to Russia, Ma’ariv (December 14) ran an article on the Compound’s history. Originally built by the Russians in the nineteenth century, Israel took over occupancy of the buildings from the British following the War of Independence in 1948. In “Operation Orange” in 1964, Israel gained the right of use of most of the religious premises in exchange for three million dollars’ worth of citrus fruit. Sergei’s Courtyard – which was not included in this agreement – is named after Duke Sergei, Czar Alexander III’s brother, who served as Director of the Orthodox Palestine Society responsible for the construction of numerous religious buildings across the country. The courtyard functioned as a guest house for visiting Russian aristocracy. Despite the current agreement, ownership of this particular building remains problematic, since it rightfully belongs to Duke Sergei’s heir. According to the British, this is not a Russian but Prince Philip. It is feared that having already expressed an interest in the property, Philip may prevent its transfer to Russian hands.
The government has, more than two years after his appointment, finally recognized Theophilos III as the official Greek patriarch in the Holy Land (Jerusalem Post, December 17; Haaretz, December 17). Following his predecessor’s “ousting” for leasing land to Jewish groups “interested in expanding their presence in the Arab sector,” the Israelis had refused both to acknowledge Irineos’ removal and Theophilos’ appointment, the former still being invited to official events and provided with police protection. “On Sunday, the government finally approved Theophilos by a vote of 10 to 3. The opponents were all members of Shas, who raised reservations about Theophilos’ reported commitment to blocking any future sale of lands to Jews.” The leasing of church property has constituted a controversial issue within the Greek Orthodox Church. According to the Jerusalem Post, it “sparked an open mutiny against Irineos by followers and rebel clerics. World Greek Orthodox leaders stopped recognizing his authority, and a church tribunal in Jerusalem defrocked him and demoted him to the rank of monk.” For its part, Israel delayed his appointment for two years on suspicion of his being “too sympathetic to the Palestinians.”
The Jewish resistance to Theophilos’ appointment was discussed at great length in an article in Ma’ariv (December 14) examining Yitzhak Cohen’s change of attitude towards the subject. Cohen, a Shas MK, serves on the committee in charge of approving church nominees. Having displayed great indifference to his task, Cohen recently became very active in objecting to Theophilos’ appointment – due to the pressure brought to bear on him by that very group seeking to expand its presence in the Arab sector. The article also suggested that while Jewish religious sentiments are firmly attached to the issue, so also are private financial interests.
Despite these reports, two later ones, in Haaretz (December 20) and Makor Rishon (December 20) indicate that Theophilos’ appointment is still being held up. The Ministry of the Interior must await a discussion in the Supreme Court regarding his predecessor – due to be held next week – before it can issue formal recognition of the patriarch’s position. The discussion is in response to an appeal by Irineos, protesting the government’s decision to recognize Theophilos.
Church relations with Israel were also part of the Roman Catholic discussion this week. In his Christmas address, Latin patriarch Michel Sabbah stated that, “‘If there’s a state of one religion [i.e., a Jewish Israel], other religions are naturally discriminated against … This land cannot be exclusive for anyone.’” According to a report in Haaretz (December 20), “In his address, which he read in Arabic and English, Sabbah said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews.” Sabbah is the first Palestinian to hold the post of Latin Patriarch and “has frequently been critical of Israel.”
The Anglican Church was also not absent from this week’s news. According to a report in Yediot Haifa (December 14), church officials in Haifa are negotiating the purchase of a large property in the city in order to establish a community center. The building is currently owned by a private businessman who has made it available to an organization providing sporting and cultural activities to the city’s disadvantaged youth – Jews, Christians, and Muslims, without discrimination,. Having attempted to sell the premises to the municipality without success, the businessman was pleased to receive a reasonable offer from the Anglicans. The latter intend to keep the building as a community center and, despite the fears of local residents that they will confine its activities to those who adhere to their own beliefs, have announced that – if the deal goes through – the center will be “open to all.” Although the municipality has provided alternative premises to the organization presently running the community center, these are much further out and residents currently enjoying the activities provided claim that it will cost them travel fare to get there and thus prevent them from continuing to benefit from its services. The organization is also apprehensive that for this reason many people will continue to participate in the new, Anglican-run center, “even when this is liable to influence their faith and religious identity.” The only comments quoted by Anglican officials, in addition to the statement that the center would be open to all, related to the fact that the sale is far from closed.
In a side column, the paper also reported on Anglican Bishop Riah Abu al-Asal’s recent visit to New York to take part in Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s cessation of the fast of Ramadan. Having spoken of the need for religious dialog in bringing Iran and the West closer, Ahmadinejad allegedly invited the Bishop to head a delegation on an official visit to Iran. He has visited Iran twice in the past year “at Admadinejad’s request on the one hand and out of concern for church matters on the other.” Al-Asal stressed that all his trips have been “‘conducted legally for the sake of the countries and for peace. Ahmadinejad is not a simple man, he’s very sophisticated. The Iranian President doesn’t deny the Holocaust, but has to rethink everything related to its consequences. In the wake of the Holocaust and the Jews’ arrival in Israel, the Palestinians were forced to flee. The Holocaust was perpetrated by the Europeans, not the Palestinians, who have paid the price.’”
In a very different vein, a brief report in HaDaf HaYarok (December 13) noted that the Israeli organization ELAH, originally formed to provide psychological and social help to Dutch immigrants, has recently expanded its scope to include non-Jewish (and non-Dutch) persons living in Israel. Since many of those whom it helps are resident on kibbutzim, the organization became familiar with the many volunteers living and working on the latter. Some of the volunteers married and establishing families on the kibbutz. Under the initiative of Carola Dargan, a social worker in the organization, herself from a Dutch Christian family (her father was imprisoned in Birkenau for his underground activities, which included helping Jews), ELAH intends to run workshops for around 900 former volunteers on issues relating to their identity and reception in Israel as non-Jews and mixed-marriage family life.
Haaretz, December 19; Yediot Ahronot, December 19; Jerusalem Post, December 16, 19, 2007
According to numerous reports, Bethlehem is anticipating an influx of 60,000-65,000 pilgrims for the Christmas festivities – up from 40,000 last year and four times the number who arrived in 2005. In order to facilitate their attendance, the Tourism Ministry is “coordinating with both its Palestinian counterpart and the security services” and planning to run a regular bus service to Bethlehem, to “collect the necessary data for members of group tours in advance,” and to establish a “situation room to handle problems tourists encounter over the holiday season” (Haaretz, December 19). Likewise, “Almost 100,000 permits to stay in Israel for a period of two to four weeks have recently been distributed to both Christian and Muslim residents of the Palestinian territories who plan to visit family members during the holiday season and attend Christmas masses in Nazareth” (Jerusalem Post, December 19). According to the latter report, more permits will be given during the coming days, no limit being put on their number “aside from security considerations.” Head of the District Coordination Office in Bethlehem, Lt.-Col. Camil Whbee was quoted as saying that, “‘We have been told that the PA police will be present and in charge of the order inside Bethlehem and at the Church of the Nativity. We hope the cooperation will be efficient. Unfortunately, there are always alerts on terrorist activity, but we hope people will not take advantage of the lift of restrictions in order to execute terror attacks’” (ibid). Bethlehem’s mayor is optimistic: “‘We’re all set to move ahead,’ Batarseh said. He attributed the tourist upsurge to churches abroad urging their congregations to visit Bethlehem, and word-of-mouth by tourists who had already visited the cobble-stone city” (Jerusalem Post, December 16). Despite the fact that the city has not yet been properly decorated – due to “problems between Bethlehem city hall and the Palestinian Authority” – the “Authority has set aside a budget of $50,000 to deck out the town, and it’s expected to be decorated by next week, Batarseh said.” According to Haaretz, “Altogether, 1 million tourists are expected to visit Israel this year, an increase of 20 percent over 2006. About half of them are believed to be pilgrims.”
Ratzui uMatzui, December 14, 2007
The International Fellowship of Jews and Christians recently contributed 30,000 shekels to help heat the houses of 120 elderly in Kiryat Tivon. Last year, the Fellowship matched the sum given by the National Insurance to the elderly throughout the country. A similar campaign was run this year, resulting in the bestowal of a heating grant to 48,000 of Israel’s elderly residents. “The heating grants are made possible due to the generous donations of Christian supporters of Israel, who seek thereby to express their firm support for the State of Israel and its citizens.”