Caspari Center Media Review………….March 19, 2008
During the week covered by this review, we received 22 articles on the subjects of attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activity, Jerusalem, Christians in Israel, the Pope and the Vatican, anti-Semitism, Christian Zionism, Jewish-Christian relations, and conversion. Of these:
4 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
5 dealt with anti-missionary activity
1 dealt with Christians in Israel
4 dealt with Christian Zionism
4 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 dealt with anti-Semitism
1 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
2 dealt with conversion
This week’s Review included a mixed bags of subjects, ranging from the ongoing controversies over the “pope’s prayer” and the Ministry of Tourism’s alleged distribution of “missionary literature” to the US primaries and other matters related to Christian Zionism and the treatment of Christians in the Gaza strip.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Ma’ariv, February 29; BeSheva, March 6; Yediot Ramat-Gan, February 29; Haaretz, February 29, 2008
A very brief piece in Ma’ariv (February 29) noted that Christians are about to begin observing the 40-day period of Lent. “During this period it is customary to partially fast or to give up luxury items such as chocolate and smoking. In this spirit, the head of the church in Britain issued a call for a ‘carbon fast’ to reduce the damage to the environment. On the first day, believers are summoned to cut out one light bulb.”
Speaking of “the world in my palm,” Tal Niv wrote in Haaretz (February 29) of her experience with sickness and cure – in specifically Christian terms: “About 14 years ago, I discovered three red blisters on the palm of my hand that turned into cuts that healed within a few days and eventually disappeared. Speaking to my boyfriend, my young, dramatically inclined mind prompted me to compare these wounds to the stigmata – the crucifixion wounds of Jesus that are described in the New Testament. The locations of the stigmata are: on the head where the crown of thorns sat, the back, and on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. There are people whose religious psychosis causes them to insist that stigmata wounds have appeared on their bodies, and there are others who inflict such wounds on themselves. The 13th-century figure St. Francis of Assisi is considered the first person to have stigmata wounds; he is said to have been embarrassed by them and to have worn gloves to hide them. In any event, the wounds on my hands were real.”
Just after Jerusalem returned to Jewish hands in 1967, Rabbi Moshe Botchke visited Geneva, where he met with a group of church leaders and theologians, both Catholic and Protestant. According to his opinion piece in BeSheva (March 6), when they asked him to explain the principles of Judaism to them, he responded by noting their sad faces: “I said to them: Your faces are not like yesterday. Jerusalem’s fall into Jewish hands seems to be a considerable blow to your faith, according to which the Jewish religion is dead and its place been taken over by Christianity. Yet here it has been resurrected! And I saw that I had read their faces well.” Botchke understood the fact that no nation was prepared to have an embassy in Jerusalem as indicative of Christianity’s belief that it “was the heir of the eternal people. They engaged in all sorts of schemes in order to remove from Jerusalem any sign of the people of Israel, because according to their belief, the people and religion of Israel had both expired.” He included Bush amongst those who have lent their support to the “haters of Israel” in being willing to divide Jerusalem – “and all in aid of establishing their faith.”
The controversy surrounding prayer in schools is not confined to the United States. The Knesset Educational Committee recently debated the prohibition against prayer in State schools in relation to information which reached it concerning a school in Ramat Gan, which has allocated a place on the premises in which its students may pray (Yediot Ramat-Gan, February 29). While the city’s mayor is committed to the idea, he is aware of the problematic issues it involves: “‘It should be noted that Ohel Shem [the name of the school in question] also has Christian and Beduin students. If I give a place to pray to Jewish students it may well be that I shall also have to give a place to pray with a cross to Christians.’” According to the supervisor of the Education Board in Tel Aviv, “‘The Ministry of Education enables prayers to be said during school time to everyone who so wishes, irrespective of religious distinctions.’” The premises must, however, not be on school grounds, although not further than ten minutes walk away in any direction; the time spent traveling and praying is considered to be part of the students’ break.
Yediot Ashdod, February 29; Yom L’Yom, March 6; HaModia, February 29, March 3; BeKehila, February 28, 2008
Yom L’Yom (March 6), HaModia (February 29), and BeKehila (February 28) all ran the story of the Ministry of Tourism’s alleged distribution of “missionary literature” in Norway (see previous Reviews). Having attempted to ascertain some of the facts in this case, CC was unable to discover any current brochure in Norwegian. While the UCCI did produce some material in 1999 in preparation for the millennium, it has no knowledge of its translation into Norwegian, recently or otherwise.
HaModia (March 7) carried the story of Yad L’Achim’s recent publicity campaign (see previous Review), listing the successes which it appears to be gaining in such places as Dimona, Katzrin, and Ma’a lot.
While large numbers of Israeli are streaming to Sederot to do business in order to demonstrate their support for the kassam-beleagured city, Yediot Ashdod (February 29) reported that a “group of Christian friends of Israel” there “absorbed curses and insults from yeshiva students in the city who claimed that they were engaging in missionary activity.” One Sederot resident quoted in the article claimed that the group are resident in Arad and that the crowd was enjoying their music and conversing with them until “‘at a certain point yeshiva students arrived and attacked them with the claim that they were missionaries, cursed them, tore pages out of their hands, and shouted at them.’” According to the report, this resident considered this a very serious incident: “‘We got up to defend them [the ‘missionaries’] because such behavior seemed very inappropriate to us. We invited them to sit down with us and protected them so that they wouldn’t get hurt.’ According to his report, the Christians stayed in Sederot until late in the evening and only then left the city.”
Christians in Israel
HaModia, February 29, 2008
Noting that, “While everyone’s preoccupied with what’s happening in Sederot and the firing of missiles over the western Negev and Ashkelon, virtually no attention is being paid to the Palestinians’ other acts, who have began a massive persecution against several thousand (Arab) Christians living in the Gaza Strip – and they do exist,” HaModia (February 29) reported on the recent Palestinian violence against the Christian community in the Gaza strip (see previous Reviews). The piece reported that several organizations identified with the World Jihad – an organization which in the past has attacked institutions and individuals identified with Christianity – are operative in Gaza. Thus during Bush’s visit to Israel this January, the American International School was attacked twice by an organization calling itself the “Army of Believers, an Al Qaida organization in Palestine.” These were preceded by the murder of a Christian office worker and an attack on two cafes frequented by Christians. According to an editorial in Al-Kuds al-Arabi, published in London, Hamas also knows the identity of the person(s) responsible for the burning of the YMCA library, its author calling on the party to bring them to trial.
Haaretz, March 5, 7; HaZofeh, February 20; Jerusalem Post, March 2, 2008
Next to a picture of Ehud Barak, the current Minister of Defence, shaking hands with an elderly accordion-toting resident, Haaretz (March 5) noted the dedication ceremony this week of 1,700 bomb shelters in Shlomi, on the northern border, whose renovation was funded by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Barak “compared the residents of the north who in the past had lived under the massive rocket attacks from Lebanon to the residents of Sederot, Ashkelon, and the area around Gaza: ‘Who but you can understand the test which these people are undergoing and withstanding with true dignity.’”
According to a lengthy piece in HaZofeh (February 29), “an international demonstration of support for Israel of Christian lobbies from all over the world is due to take place on 1 May in Washington.” The first of its kind, so the report claimed, the demonstration is to be preceded by a preparatory meeting of parliamentary lobby leaders in Israel working for the advancement of relations with Christian communities worldwide, with Benny Alon of the Knesset Allied Caucus at their head. The Knesset Caucus spawned a parallel body in the States in 2006, known as the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus (CAIC), a body which will be intimately involved in the upcoming demonstration. The uniqueness of the scheduled demonstration lies in the fact that it is intended to bring together an international gathering of leading Christian politicians and figures. In praising the leaders who signed an agreement of cooperation in Jerusalem, Benny Alon stated: “‘They travel the world with their message, meet with King Abdullah, with Abu Mazzen, and speak as “Christian Zionists” who are concerned about the State of Israel … It’s another level of international concern, which I confess that, as long as the government in Israel is not ours, the Right’s, seems right to me.’” Questioned regarding the wisdom of cooperating with potential “missionaries,” Alon responded: “‘It’s simply not responsible to suggest such a thing when we’re talking about international relations. Bush isn’t a Christian? The Muslim world is seeking to destroy us, so I’ll tell the Christians, “No thanks, I’m afraid that you’ll exploit me?”’” While he is aware of the missionary threat – and has turned down invitations to participate in events he suspected of being associated with missionary activity – Alon is clear that this threat is minimal in light of the gains. Nor is he concerned about Christian funds: “‘There are people who accept [such donations] and there are those who don’t. I personally, as a politician, endeavor not to get into money matters. It’s a peripheral issue, The main point is that I need their [the Christian Zionists’] political power, and today there’s no country in Europe which doesn’t have Christian friends of Israel, even in countries where there are no longer any Jews … We are surrounded by millions of Arabs and Muslims who are preparing an atom bomb, and I can deal with this and fight for Israel only with the help of international opinion, which is Christian.’”
Under the headline, “Pro-Israel Christian leader Hagee backs McCain in presidential race,” the Jerusalem Post (March 2) reported that “Pastor John Hagee, the evangelical leader who founded Christians United for Israel and a 19,000-member megachurch in San Antonio, Texas, on Thursday endorsed Republican US Sen. John McCain the president [sic].” McCain, for his part, “issued a statement Friday saying he had unspecified disagreements with Hagee. ‘However, in no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all Pastor Hagee’s views, which I obviously do not,’ McCain said in the statement.”
In a lengthy article on a strange wedding which took place in an apartment building in the center of Tel Aviv (Haaretz, March 7), the author described how a group calling itself the “Returnees” had apparently gathered to celebrate a marriage. The sect, whose members reside primarily in North American, are Christian Zionists who come to Israel regularly. “Although they are Christians, their purpose is to assist Jews, and enable them to return to Zion. They buy them air tickets and organize group trips to Israel. Now, they also want to help them find places to live in the country.” Having finally established the group’s identity, the author asked about the event, to be surprised by the response that it wasn’t a wedding at all but “a ceremony designed to bless the real estate agency that they are about to open in a nearby shop.” The “groom” was in fact the person destined to run the agency, while the “bride” was “simply blessing him [the ‘groom’] so that he would succeed on our behalf in every step he takes, that the business will succeed.” As the author concluded: “Apparently one should always clarify what appears obvious. What looked like a wedding of an especially modest nature actually turned out to be the evangelical parallel of the ceremony of affixing a mezuza to a place of business.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Mishpaha, February 21; HaZofeh, February 29; Yom L’Yom, February 28; Jerusalem Post, March 5, 2008
The first three papers carried the story of the pope’s “conversion” prayer (see previous Reviews).
It is not only the Jewish community which has been offended by the subject. John Pawlikowski, currently visiting professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and president of the International Council of Christians and Jews based in Germany, and a long-time interfaith activist, contributed a piece to the Jerusalem Post (March 5) in which he complained about the Jewish criticism of the pope: “I for one am getting annoyed.” Pawlikowski’s annoyance, it appears, stems from what he perceives as a refusal in at least certain Jewish circles to acknowledge the “profound turnabout in official Catholic thinking” that has occurred since Vatican II. According to Pawlikowski, “The 1970 Missal prayer for the Jews used on Good Friday represents this sea-change in Catholic theology on the Jewish question.” He concluded his piece by stating: “The 1974 Vatican guidelines on Catholic-Jewish Relations issued for the tenth anniversary of Nostra Aetate called on Catholics to come to understand Jews ‘as they define themselves.’ I would expect that in the future Jewish scholars writing on Catholic beliefs would heed the same advice from their side.”
Jerusalem Post, March 9, 2008
According to this news item, “The UK’s Home Office has banned Likud central committee member Moshe Feiglin from entering Britain … According to the Jewish Chronicle, the Home Office would not elaborate on why or how the decision was made. The letter did, however, cite a number of extracts from Feiglin’s articles.” It seems as though it was remarks that appeared in some of these that formed the grounds for the decision – such as: “‘The basis of Islam is not the quality of mercy, but of justice. If Christianity bridges the gap between sin and moral by automatic benevolence (that over long periods were sold by clergy), Islam does this in a far simpler way. It abolishes both benevolence and morals – their holy Muhammad is strong, cruel and deceitful.’” According to the article, “These comments brought the leader of the Likud’s dissident Jewish Leadership faction ‘within the scope of the list of unacceptable behaviors,’ the letter read. ‘It is considered that you are seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK,’ the letter added.” It would appear that in bending over backward to appease its Muslim population, the British government is unafraid of running the risk of becoming anti-Semitic. The article concluded with reportage of the fact that the British government recently “granted permission to Ibrahim Mousawi, chief foreign new[s] editor for Hizbullah’s Al-Manar television station in Lebanon, to enter the UK to participate in a number of political events.” Mousawi has been accused of anti-Semitism and incitement and barred from entering Ireland, while Al-Manar alleged that the World Trade Center attack was master-minded by Israel.
Yediot Ahronot, March 4, 2008
Israeli industrialist and former Knesset member Stef Wertheimer is due to be awarded the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal by the German Coordinating Council of Societies for Christian-Jewish Cooperation at the opening of its annual “Week of Brotherhood” in Düsseldorf this week. The Council is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year and its annual Week of Brotherhood has served as a forum for dialogue between Christians and Jews since 1952.
Haaretz, March 7, 2008 (English and Hebrew editions)
In a lengthy article interviewing Israel Prize winner Zev Sternhell, much of the discussion focused not on the intellectual contribution he has made to the State in studying the roots and nature of fascism but on his personal history. Sternhell was born in eastern Poland and was five when the war broke out. His father, who served in the Polish army, died – of natural causes – a few weeks after its defeat. The town in which the family lived fell to the Russians, and half the house was confiscated. When the Germans arrived in 1941, Sternhell, with his mother and sister (thirteen years older), was transferred to the ghetto. When an “action” was conducted for those without work permits, his mother and sister decided that they would go, leaving Zev with an aunt and uncle. The latter, miraculously, managed to find the family refuge with a non-anti-Semitic Polish family. Sternhell – virtually an orphan – found solace in the Catholicism whose adoption was the only way to survive the anti-Semitism rooted in Polish society. “‘So it is precisely then [after the war], with the Nazis already gone, that it became clear that the Jews have no future in Poland. And after all we saw, it is clear that we have to be done with it, to change identity absolutely, and do it so that it will be anchored in the church.’” At this point the interviewer intervened in order to clarify Sternhell’s motives: “What you are saying, then, is that you not only posed as Catholics, you actually became Catholics. You really and truly converted to Christianity.” To this, Sternhell responded: “‘I was formally baptized as a Christian. As far as the Church is concerned, I am a Catholic.’” The interviewer was still confused, however: “I still don’t understand. Are we talking about a game of survival, like the Marranos in Spain, or are we talking about a true act of belief?” Sternhell then provided a more detailed explanation: “‘During the war it started as a game … But then, little by little, it stopped being a game. I started to like it. Easter, Christmas. The Christmas presents. And the story of Jesus, the picture of the Virgin. You know, it is a religion of genius, Catholicism. Jesus sacrificed himself for mankind, and also for you personally, and Mary watches over the world and you pray to her and you want her to help you. You feel that there is a source of salvation here. You are not alone, like the Jews and the Protestants. You appeal to some human entity, not something abstract. And when you are a boy in the midst of a terrible war, and all around is horror, and your father has died and your mother is gone, you easily seize on that religious faith and hope that rescue will come from it. You are not alone, not forsaken. You have someone to turn to, someone to look to. And you look at that altar and you genuflect in front of it and you utter whatever is supposed to be uttered.’” Sternhell served as an altar boy in the Cathedral of Krakow and erased his Jewish identity completely: “‘I wanted to forget that I was a Jew. To be a Jew was to be constantly on the run, to hide things, to lie [even after the war]. I cut myself off from that. In order to live I was compelled to be a Catholic. That is why I erased my being Jewish. I cut myself off completely from being a Jew. I think I can say that at that time I was not a Jew. In those three years I was not a Jew.’” The “re-conversion” came when Sternhell was included in a Red Cross children’s train which took him to France – again alone, aged eleven. “‘When I got to France, I erased everything that had existed in Poland. I did not want to remember anything from Poland. I even erased Polish, my mother tongue. And in erasing that whole past, I erased the Catholicism with it. Suddenly it looked ridiculous to me, ludicrous, humiliating. For a long time I did not want to remember that I had ever been part of it.’”