Caspari Center Media Review………….January 3, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 34 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activities, Christians in Israel, and Christian Zionism. Of these:
2 dealt with Messianic Judaism
4 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity (Christmas)
3 dealt with anti-missionary activity
17 dealt with Christians in Israel
6 dealt with Christian Zionism
1 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 dealt with archaeology
This week’s Review continued to focus on Christmas-related issues – tourism, Christians in Israel, and attitudes towards Christianity – and also included several articles relating to the Jewish Agency’s cooperation agreement with a Christian Zionist group.
Jerusalem Post, December 26; Ma’ariv, December 21, 2007
The Jerusalem Post (December 26) printed a letter from a Jewish resident of Philadelphia in response to an article in the Jerusalem Post (December 26) entitled “Should we fear faith?”. In it, Paula Gates raised the eternal specter of evangelism among Christians. As part of the argument, she stated that: “A born-again acquaintance said of the Messianic Jews, ‘We call them “Complete Jews.”’ I remarked that we have a phrase for them too: We call them ‘Christians.’”
A rather strange piece in Ma’ariv (December 21) entitled “Liora” appeared to be an interview with Anita Falleli, whose life was recently saved when she left her apartment to feed the cats outside at three o’clock one morning and her balcony collapsed. The article opened with the statement that Anita “has found salvation precisely in the New Testament, and it turns out that it’s effective.” Anita herself asserted that, “I turned to our Lord, Yeshua the Messiah – because I believe in the Bible and the New Testament and belong to the Messianic congregation in Yafo.” In response, the interviewer asked if she had recited the prayer said when one has been delivered from danger – a question that might be put to any Jew, which she obviously considered Anita (still) to be. The latter’s answer was yes, although her version might have been different from the regular one: “‘Our Lord has let Anita go on living.’”
Attitudes towards Christianity
Zman Haifa, December 21; Ma’ariv, December 23, 25, 2007
In response to the “Festival of Festivals,” Moshe Budek in Haifa wrote to the local paper Zman Haifa (December 21) that while it is well and good that the three religions can demonstrate to the world that “their similarities are greater than their differences,” there’s a sting in the tail: “According to Maimonides, Christianity is idolatry because of the Trinity, while Islam – like Judaism – is a monotheistic religion, apart from the fact that Muhammad was a false prophet. In fact, we share more in common with Islam than with the thunderous fire of Christianity – although unfortunately Islam today has become fundamentalistic.” Budek’s conclusion: “As Jews, we have no choice but to ally ourselves forever with the Christian world, since despite everything, it still has more sympathy for the people and State of Israel.”
Two articles in Ma’ariv (December 23, 25) reviewed Christmas celebrations worldwide – barely mentioning Jesus at all in favor of its commercial and political aspects. Matan Oren’s recommendation of events to attend at Christmas in Tzomet HaSharon (December 21) took a more serious approach. He indicated some (albeit partial) knowledge of the subject – “… millions of believers will celebrate the Messiah’s birth in a celebratory mass (the Catholics) or simply public sing-alongs and festival psalms (the rest)” and cautioned his readers before they set out: “The lives of converts in Israel are difficult. The chances of having a road named after you in a Hebrew city will diminish sevenfold if you convert to a gentile religious minority … For the Protestants amongst us, it’s worthwhile going to the quaint Emmanuel Church. Although you won’t find a mass there, you’ll have an enjoyable evening with lots of music and sermons which are relevant …And in conclusion some general recommendations: Christmas eve is a serious event, so it isn’t not proper to eat or use your mobile phones inside a church; modest clothing never hurt; and the holy bread isn’t a snack so don’t chew it. Be respectful.”
Mishpaha, December 20; HaModia, December 21; Merkaz HaInyanim, December 17, 2007
According to a report in Mishpaha (December 20) (cf. also HaModia, December 21), the claim was made at a recent emergency meeting convened by Yad L’Achim that “120 branches of the sects ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ ‘Messianic Jews,’ and Adventist sects – whose common denominator is their shared call to innocent Jews to be baptized into Christianity and to believe in ‘that man’ and to remain Jewish – are operating in Israel.” The anti-missionary organization maintained that it received 3000 appeals during the course of the year for the “rescue of Jewish souls from the mission,” its director asserting that, “‘There isn’t one neighborhood in which there isn’t one ‘dead person.’” Yad L’Achim has consequently determined upon the establishment of a special unit with the purpose of “recruiting groups of volunteers to go out on strengthening and renewal shabbats in places where there is a need of such.”
A similar piece in Merkaz HaInyanim (December 17) included the information that together with home Bible studies throughout the country, the “missionaries” also distribute “free periodicals and newspapers (among the most prominent: ‘Kivun,’ ‘Hitorerut [Revival],’ ‘Uru [Arise],’ ‘Mashehu Acher [Something Else],’ ‘Mi-Et le-Et [From Pen to Time],’ ‘Yaldei Ya [God’s Kids],’ ‘HaMetzapeh [The Expectant],’ and ‘Shabbat Shalom’).” Describing the missionaries’ method, the writer stated: “Teams which have been trained and brainwashed go from door to door and in parallel spread out over busy locations such as hospitals, universities, public events, train stations, etc.” (The report also noted that a Muslim missionary organization has recently been established – to convert Jews to Islam.)
Christians in Israel
Yediot Ahronot, December 27; Israel Post, December 25; Haaretz, December 1, 25 (English and Hebrew editions), 26; Jerusalem Post, December 21, 23 (pp. 3, 13), 25, 26; Business Post, December 25; Globes, December 26; LeIsha, December 24, pp. 132, 204; Zman Holon-Bat Yam, December 21; Makor Rishon, December 25, 2007
Many of the articles in this section related to Christians in Israel in light of the Christmas season – some focusing on the demographic aspects, others on the “social.” Several of the latter included pieces on the celebration of the holiday in Bethlehem, noting the increase in tourism and full occupancy of all its hotels (Haaretz, December 25 [Hebrew and English editions]). Globes (December 26) quoted the “authorities” as saying that “this was the quietest Christmas in Bethlehem for years” (cf. Jerusalem Post, December 25, 26).
Christmas also provided the occasion to review the Christian population resident in the ‘Holy Land.’ The Business Post (December 25) – a Hebrew section of the Jerusalem Post – and Israel Post (Israel’s only afternoon paper) (December 25) both reported the results of a survey conducted this week, according to which the Christian community in Israel currently numbers 152,000 million – 2.1% of the total population. 80.5 of them are Arab Christians, the rest having immigrated under the Law of Return. 59% are resident in the North, the largest community (15%) resident in Haifa – although Jerusalem comes close with 11%. Despite the Arab majority, the age distribution approximates the Jewish population rather than the Muslim: more Christians than Muslims are over 65, while the 0-19 age group in the Christian and Jewish communities is identical (around 33%) but lower than the Muslim (around 52%). In contrast to previous years, which saw a reduction in the overall Christian population, 2006 saw an increase to 1.9% – still not as high as the 2.5 % between 1990 and 1995, however. This fact may explain the decrease by over 50% of the number of children born by Christian women since the 1960’s – 2.1% in 2006. The percentage of Christian families with at least one child up to the age of seventeen lies at around 47% – in contrast to the approximately 72% within the Jewish population. In 2006, 55.3% of the Christian population of age 15 and above were employed in the work force – in comparison to 38.6% and around 36% in the Muslim and Jewish communities respectively. According to the report, the 11% Christian proportion of the total Arab 12th grade school population lead the rest with the highest grades: in 2006, around 60% passed their matriculation exams, in comparison with 55% of Druze students, around 44% of Muslim students, and around 55% of the total student population in Israel. 92% also achieved the university entrance level, against 72% of Muslim students and around 70% of Jewish students. Regarding their religious observance, the survey indicated that in 2006 around 73% of those 20 and over defined themselves as religious, 31% not very, and around 53% as not religious. Finally, of this same population, around 73% declared themselves content with their lives – in comparison with 76% amongst the same Muslim population and around 85% of the Jewish population.
The Jerusalem Post (December 23) also ran a feature story on the ‘little town,’ in which Lela Gilbert – author of numerous non-fiction Christian books – noted in relation to the security at the crossing that “The last two suicide bombers that struck Jerusalem came from Bethlehem and had reached their target through a then-unguarded back road. In fact more than half the terrorists who struck Jerusalem in 2005 came from or through Bethlehem.” While more and more Christians are leaving the city – as increasing numbers of Muslims are moving in – she “reflected” on a Catholic congregation worshiping in the Church of the Nativity (on a previous visit in June): “They may be leaving town, I thought, but they haven’t stopped worshipping together.” Asking the question whether the incoming Muslim population won’t suffer from the same economic disabilities caused by the security fence as those from which the Christian population has suffered, she suggested that, “A closer look at the facts suggests that the fence and other Israeli security procedures are not the real reason Bethlehem’s Christians are struggling, despairing and fleeing.” Although not giving a direct answer, the remainder of the article focused on Muslim harassment and persecution of Christians in numerous parts of the PA-controlled territories – including beatings, shootings, threats, extortion, vandalism, rape, honor killings, and murder of converts. In light of a statement made by Sheikh Abu Sakir, leader of an Islamic outreach movement – “I expect our Christian neighbors to understand the new Hamas rule means real changes. They must be ready for Islamic rule if they want to live in peace in Gaza” – she quoted a conversation with Justus Reid Weiner of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: “‘Now that donors have pledged $7.4 billion to the PA, perhaps it is time that strings were attached to this enormous influx of money. Those strings should include, among other things, a demand for provision and protection for the Christian minority in the territories.’”
A report in Makor Rishon (December 25) noted that 520 Christian Palestinians from Gaza were granted permits to enter Israel over the holiday season.
The women’s magazine L’Isha (December 24) reviewed the events taking place during the “Festival of Festivals” in Haifa, largely focusing on the artistic elements which it also comprises.
According to a report in Zman Holon-Bat Yam (December 21), Christmas was the source of actual conflict and violence in the latter city. Bat Yam has a large non-Jewish community composed of spouses and families of Jews who made aliyah under the Law of Return – and a large veteran Orthodox community. Although living in Israel, the former are Gentiles accustomed to celebrating Gentile holidays, including Christmas and Silvester. The question raised was how publicly this celebration may be expressed – and tolerated. The city’s “silent and holy night” was recently shattered by the attempted burning of a Santa doll and a Christmas tree one shopkeeper placed outside his store. In response, Bat Yam’s Deputy Mayor took exception to the Christmas trees and Santa Claus dolls and sought to ban their sale in the city, citing the offence they cause to its Orthodox residents in justification of the proposed move.
Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, contributed an opinion piece in honor of the holiday (Haaretz, December 25 [English edition]). Entitled “Let there be peace,” he called for a recognition of its need: “‘Political and religious leaders must begin by understanding the universal vocation of this land in which God has brought us together throughout history. They must know that the holiness of this land does not consist in the exclusion of one of the other of the religions, but in the ability of each religion, with all of their differences, to welcome, respect, and love all who inhabit this land.’” (For Jewish reactions to Sabbah’s pre-Christmas speech, see below under “Christians in Israel.”)
In a piece in Yediot Ahronot (December 27), Yehuda Litni’s engaging – if not very sanguine – piece on his invitation to Christmas dinner with an Arab Catholic family in the north also reflected the anomalous position of Christians in Israel. He set the tone of the article in an opening quotation from Atalla Motzner: “The Catholics in Israel are a minority within a minority within a minority: a Christian minority within a Muslim majority and a Catholic minority within a Greek Orthodox majority.” In contrast to similar occasions, this dinner differed in the family’s willingness to express views not usually articulated in public. Only half in jest, one of the adults announced that he wasn’t actually a Catholic but a Muslim, while another declared that perhaps the next generation would be forced to pretend to be Muslims, “‘like the forced converts in Spain.’” The host added his own voice to the ‘choir’: “‘If you [Jews] think that the Muslims hate you, you’re wrong. The people they hate most is us, the Christians. They quote us the well-known proverb: “After Shabbat comes Sunday” – in other words, we’ll take care of the Jews first and then you, the Christians. We know and keep silent, because what can we say? But it’s well known that before the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, they “divided” our property and wives amongst themselves because they believed that they would win and Israel would lose. Fortunately for us, they didn’t manage to execute their schemes.’”
Apparently unrelated to Christmas – although maybe in its spirit – Haaretz (December 1) ran a lengthy story on Brother Olivier, a Benedictine monk living in monastery in Abu Ghosh, close to Jerusalem. Born in France, Brother Olivier arrived in Israel as a Benedictine monk on the date commemorating the day on which the “Exodus” set sail from France on its way to Palestine. Having watched the film of the book when he was young, Olivier immediately associated its images with those familiar to him from Scripture: Zion, Jerusalem, Israel. He knew that at some point he would need to come to the country to discover the roots of his Christian faith. Now thirty years in the country, he serves as a tour guide in the monastery, as well as a ceramicist and herbalist – he studied pharmacy before joining the navy and then giving up that career to become a monk; he was the first monk in the country to receive an Israeli passport. In an “association questionnaire,” he was asked the meaning of various terms: Messiah – “We believe that Yeshu is the Messiah of Israel.” Israeli-ism – “It’s not just to eat humus in Abu Ghosh [famous for its humus]. Let’s say that courtesy isn’t the most prominent trait here. We’ll call it ‘nerve.’ I’ve also become more ‘rude.’ I like the fact that you can know what an Israeli thinks. He’s straightforward and if you give him love he knows how to return it.” Peace – “We can’t lose hope and we have to believe in miracles.”
One of the stars of the Israeli equivalent of “American Idol” this year was an Arab Christian girl named Miriam Tukan. In a pictorial review of her life in L’Isha (December 24), a brief section was devoted to “Yeshu and me.” Relating to a picture of her dressed as a nun, the caption read: “‘When I was eight, at mass in church. There are 9,500 people in our village and everyone knows everyone else. My family belong to the Catholic minority, there are Orthodox Christians and Muslims and we are all in good relations. My first mass was a significant and moving experience. In the ceremony the priest conducted for me it was as though I received the body and soul of Yeshu in my body. My friends and I eagerly looked forward to the ceremony – we even dressed up as nuns in its honor. In a small wooden room I made confession before the priest.’”
The continuing saga of Theophilos III’s still-unconfirmed appointment as Greek Orthodox patriarch was covered – yet again – a story in the Jerusalem Post (December 21). The same paper (December 23) also covered Jewish responses to Michel Sabbah’s remarks concerning Israel’s Jewish character, reported in last week’s Review. The US’s largest Orthodox umbrella organization has protested to Catholic officials: “‘We hope that Catholic Church officials will publicly denounce these remarks by Patriarch Sabbah, whose words are as painful as they are slanderous. Under Israeli rule, each Abrahamic faith has full access and control over their holy shrines. We are mystified at the suggestion by Patriarch Sabbah that Israel, which has lived each day of its existence under siege and at war, should be the party at fault in his eyes when each day men, women and children are under rocket attack, living in fear of suicide bombings and sniper attacks, and struggling against radical regimes that seek to literally wipe it off the map.’” The ADL criticized the remarks in similar fashion: “‘We are deeply disturbed that Father Sabbah would politicize the holy season of Christmas by denying the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state. His comments are particularly ironic considering that he represents a Catholic state and a theocratic monarchy … It is startling that Sabbah would deny a Jewish state when there are many other sovereign religious states. In contrast, all of Israel’s citizens[,] Jewish and non-Jewish[,] enjoy the privilege of modern democracy, freely and openly practice their religions and are afforded equal rights under Israeli law.’”
Jerusalem Post, December 25, 26; Haaretz, December 21 (English and Hebrew editions); Yated Ne’eman, December 26, 2007
According to a brief report in Haaretz (December 21 (English edition), around 100 hundred Palestinian Christian families in Bethlehem will become the recipients of the International Fellowship of Jews and Christians’ first contribution to Palestinians in the West Bank. Just ahead of Christmas, the IFJC insists that “the gesture is not political, but rather an ongoing effort to help needy people in the region.”
The Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus will mark its fourth anniversary next week as it is both flourishing and meeting growing challenges (Jerusalem Post, December 26). “The increasingly influential parliamentary lobby, currently made up of 13 Knesset members from seven political parties from across the political spectrum, has come to epitomize Israel’s newfound interest in garnering the support of the Christian world, especially the largely pro-Israel evangelical community, at a time when radical Islam is on the rise.” The Caucus was established in January 2004 “amid a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings,” and since then has formed – or is in the process of forming – “sister pro-Israel caucuses” in ten countries around the world: the US, Canada, Uruguay, Brazil, Korea, the Philippines, Malawi, South Africa, Britain, and Norway. While its activities have helped make positive relations between Jews and Christians a fact in this century, “its main limitation to date has been that it primarily deals with the supportive evangelical Christian community, and has failed to make major inroads with the Catholic Church or mainstream Protestant communities. However, a major event with Mormon Church leaders is planned for this coming year.” Opposition to Jewish cooperation with Christian evangelicals has come from the Chief Rabbinate in Israel and mainstream American Jewish leadership, while the evangelical side has been criticized by local Roman Catholic officials for its support of Israel.
The Caucus’ work is now being extended by the appointment of Christian representatives to the Jewish Agency (Haaretz, December 21) in the wake of an agreement signed with the International Fellowship of Jews and Christians. Despite the opposition mentioned above, “Eckstein has managed to purchase amongst us, by means of tens of millions of dollars channeled to the State every year, a position of influence and an open door amongst the State’s leaders. On the basis of monies donated to the Agency, among other places, Eckstein was even appointed a member of the Agency’s administration a decade ago.” According to the recent agreement, the IFJC has committed itself to raising 180 million shekels in the next three years for aliyah and absorption – in return for a greater role in the Agency’s administration, including the appointment of a non-Jewish member. The Agency’s Director noted that, “‘This is a mark of respect to the non-Jewish Christian Israel-support group across the world, which has placed the strengthening of the State of Israel at the top of its list of priorities.”
Opposition to the move was quick in coming in the religious press. Yated Ne’eman (December 26) ran a story entitled “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” According to this report, the Fellowship’s appointee will serve as a member of the Agency’s financial committee and of the liaison committee between the Agency and the government. The Fellowship will also transfer 45 million dollars to the Agency’s budget in exchange for a position of equal partnership. Even more detestable in the writer’s eyes was the press report which quoted an Agency official as saying that, “‘The agreement obligates the Agency to work towards the advancement of the Christian cause in Israel and abroad.” In an ironic statement, he noted that at least the Agency wasn’t motivated by ideological concerns – merely by greed. Equally as offensive in his eyes, however, was the stated purpose of promoting cooperation between Jews and Christians, since the latter are clearly acting as agents of “that man, may his name be blotted out.” While the cooperation of non-observant Jews might be understandable due to their lack of knowledge of their own religion, it was intolerable that Orthodox groups themselves should ally themselves with the IFJC: “Most unfortunately, it’s hard to come with complaints against non-Orthodox bodies when the situation is even worse within our own ranks.”
According to a piece on the same story in HaModia (December 25), a broad campaign is being planned to advertise the new cooperation between the two organizations. Yad L’Achim responded to the report by stating that “behind the fellowship in whose name the evangelistics are working on Israel’s behalf lie false and specious ‘beliefs’ under whose framework they have been presenting all these years their massive support of Jewish aliyah when their open headline states ‘The International Fellowship’ – from whom the Rabbis and Torah Sages from all parties have long ago forbidden us to receive any contribution.” The planned “cooperation” will merely end in the “Jewish Agency” becoming the “Christian Missionary Agency”: “‘In exchange for financial grants, they are giving the missionaries control of Israel and sacrificing them [Jews], God have mercy, to their aspiration not to leave any memory of the Jewish people.’” Yad L’Achim is planning a campaign of letters to the leaders of Jewish communities in the diaspora and members of the Agency’s administration encouraging them to publicly protest the agreement and do everything possible to bring about its annulment. Sectors within the Jewish Agency itself are also unhappy with the agreement.
Further evidence of the burgeoning alliance is the fact that Elwood McQuaid, a prominent Christian Zionist leader, regularly contributes to the Jerusalem Post. One of his pieces was printed in the paper on December 25. In it, he contrasted the trappings of Christmas in Jerusalem and New York, in favor of the former: “Gaudy though it may be, the sea of Christmas finery illuminating New York, the hinterlands of America, and the entire Western world declares resoundingly that the smallest beginning sometimes produces the greatest result. In this case, Christmas represents a triumph of faith so monumental that no one could have predicted it. No one, that is, beside the seers of ancient Israel who scanned the corridors of centuries yet unborn to tell us exactly what to expect and what the final outcome would be.” He applies the Christmas message precisely to Gentiles: “Collectively, we Gentiles were more akin to the Canaanites than to people of progress and enlightenment. Thus, whatever contemporary neo-pagans tell us about the nobility of the ‘enlightened’ heathen, more than 2 billion people worldwide – a full 30 percent of the world’s population – contradict them by professing Christian as the source of their spiritual enlightenment. And let’s be clear about it. If there had been no holy night at Bethlehem, we would still be staggering under the weight of debilitating, hedonistic, pagan degeneracy … For people like me, that small beginning in the hamlet of Bethlehem transformed our lives. And we revel in this season of celebration and commemoration. Without Bethlehem, there would be no Christians, no Gentile Zionist believers, virtually no real friends of Israel and few who would dare take sides with the beleaguered and buffeted people of the book … Because of that small beginning in a stable in a faraway land, I can in all sincerity say to you, ‘Merry Christmas.’”
Pope and the Vatican
Jerusalem Post, December 25, 2007
According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (December 25), “Signs of impatience have come from Vatican officials recently regarding the seemingly endless negotiations over a bilateral financial agreement (article 10, No. 2 of the Fundamental Agreement) that should have been concluded shortly after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See 14 years ago” (see previous Reviews). Following the latest failure of talks in a meeting of the Bilateral Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel, Vatican officials “dismissed the prospect of a visit to Israel by Pope Benedict XVI as unfeasible for 2008 not only because his schedule already included major trips to the US and to Australia, but also because of the state of ‘relations between the Catholic Church and the local authority [in Israel]’ and ‘the need for more peace in the general area.’” The foot-dragging on Israel’s part is largely due to disagreement in the country over the Catholic Church’s status in Israel: “One view is that Catholicism is just one of the recognized religions and therefore cannot be awarded greater privileges than others. The opposing view is that the Catholic Church is represented by the Holy See, which is a state, and since the 1993 Fundamental Agreement is an agreement between states, it holds international validity that goes beyond Israeli laws applying to its various religious communities. The juridical history of the Fundamental Agreement clearly favors the latter interpretation.” The Israeli government has clearly failed to fulfill its side of the agreement by failing to make the Agreement statutory in Israeli law. While the Vatican is seeking Knesset ratification of the agreement, Israeli negotiators are claiming that “this is not possible and hold that a small commission of ministers appointed by the prime minister himself would be much more likely than the Knesset to produce results in a short time. However, enough people on both sides are convinced that only an intervention on the highest political level – by the prime minister or the president himself – could solve the problem.”
Jerusalem Post, December 25, 2007
In the spirit of Christmas, we have included here a story run in the Jerusalem Post (December 25) regarding the discovery of an underground grotto in Rome. A top Italian scholar claims that a church built on the site “was where Christmas was first marked on December 25 – making it a symbolic place in efforts to link pagan practices and Christian celebrations.” The shrine was dedicated to Rome’s legendary founders, Romulus and Remus, and the church – one of the most important basilicas to Christians in Rome in imperial Rome – was “‘built to christianize these pagan places of worship,’ Carandini said. ‘It was normal to put a church near these places to try to “save” them.’”