October 23 – 2008

Caspari Center Media Review – October 23, 2008

During the week covered by this review, we received 29 articles on the subjects of attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, Jewish-Christian relations, and the Pope and the Vatican. Of these:

3 dealt with attitudes to Jesus and Christianity
1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
8 dealt with Christian Zionism
1 dealt with Christians in Israel
4 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
12 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
This focus of this week’s Review lay primarily on Pope Pius XII and Christian participation in the Feast of Tabernacles.
Attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity
HaZofeh, October 10; Modi’in, October 16; Ma’ariv, October 17, 2008
Menahem Ben, an ardent advocate for the beauty of the New Testament, is not as well pleased with Jesus’ name as it is pronounced in Hebrew. Writing in Ma’ariv (October 17) in relation to the recent JFJ publicity campaign (see last week’s Review), he stated: “In the run-up to the Feast [of Tabernacles], a large advertisement appeared in the press on behalf of ‘Jews who believe in Yeshu,’ who are careful to define themselves as ‘Jews who believe in Yeshua’ and are insulted when people use the term ‘Yeshu.’ But with all my love for Christians, Messianic Jews, and the New Testament (even though I don’t in any way believe that Yeshu is the messiah), their claim that the word ‘Yeshu’ is an acronym for ‘May his name and memory be blotted out’ is groundless. It may be true that some Orthodox Jew coined some insulting term with regard to the name ‘Yeshu,’ but this is still his rightful, natural, and lovely name – and not the ridiculous term “Yeshua’ (which sounds to every Israeli ear like ‘the wild Yeshua’ [Ye(ho)shua ha-paru’a – a popular children’s book]). Why don’t you understand this?”
Moshe Feiglin of the Likud, founder of the “This is our land” and civil disobedience movements in Israel, recently came out strongly against any Israeli/Jewish relations with evangelical Christians. According to a report by Mordechai Sugerman in HaZofeh (October 10), Feiglin is convinced that Christianity poses a greater threat to Israel (people and land) than does Islam. As a result, he advocates cutting off all relations with Christian Zionist supporters. In his eyes, “contacts with the evangelical community ‘allow Christianity to enter [Israel] and to dominate the Israeli experience.” In Sugerman’s words, “Feiglin’s demand to cut off all contacts with the American Christian community and not to accept any funds from it effectively constitutes an attempt to widen the collective Israeli borders to include the [social] norm which categorizes friendship with Christian bodies or the receipt of funds from them as a form of illegitimate social behavior, part of his endeavor to classify such contact as contradictory to the Israeli ethos. He fears that the ‘Christian conquest/occupation’ is much more dangerous than the Muslim, because it is indirect. He even takes pains to point out that the Christian intention is to send millions of people to Israel to become citizens and ‘to convert everyone.’ This Christian sector will ‘consume the children of Israel and take control of its [the State’s] mind.’”
Sugerman took issue with Feiglin’s opinion, commenting that Feiglin finds it easy to refute baseless accusations when he cannot adduce a single example of Christian funding which is conditional upon anything which might justify his fears. He likewise accused Feliglin of irresponsibility in ignoring the Iranian and Hizbollah threat, further appealing to the example of Herzl, Haim Weizman, Haim Arlozorov, and Abba Hillel Silver, all of whom made great efforts to “come close to Christian circles in the Western world, because they understood the importance of their influence on policy makers in the United States and Europe in everything relating to relations with the Jews and the creation of the State of Israel.”
In a column entitled “10 things you didn’t know about Sukkot [the Feast of Tabernacles],” the local paper Modi’in (October 16) included the fact that “it is also celebrated by a Christian minority which has decided to start observing the biblical festivals again. As proof [of the necessity of doing so], they claim that Yeshu also celebrated Sukkot (Jn 7:10) [sic; in fact that reference was given as 7, 10:26]. The date on which they celebrate the festival is close to its Hebrew date and is called [the] ‘Feast of Tabernacles’ in English [the name was written here in English].”
Anti-missionary Activity
Yated Ne’eman, October 12, 2008

Orthodox ire has been raised by the participation of Christian Zionists in the annual Sukkot Jerusalem March, primarily due to the fact that the group was due to wave flags carrying the image of the “Lion of Judah.” Despite its biblical origins, according to Mina Fenton this symbol carries “prominent Christian theological significance.” “The fact that the Christians intend to wave the flag with the lion removes all doubt, if there were any, about the purposes, intentions, and practical plans of the ‘International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem,’ which is the umbrella organization under whose auspices all the missionary organizations and various messianic congregations operate.”
Christian Zionism
Jerusalem Post, October 17, pp. 4, 18 (x 2); Haaretz, October 15, 19 (Hebrew and English editions); Yediot Yerusahlayim, October 17; Israel HaYom, October 15, 2008

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (October 17, p. 4), “Using the Feast of Tabernacles event in the capital, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem announced on Thursday that a growing list of prominent Christian ministries has joined the effort to indict Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad for incitement to genocide against Israel.” The initiative was inaugurated by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs two years ago, and the ICEJ now joins politicians, ambassadors, and Nobel Laureates whose support has already been garnered. In addition to submitting the initiative to the US Foreign Relations Committee, “a global petition signed by more than 55,000 Christians from over 120 countries was delivered by the ICEJ to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon last month.”
The same paper also interviewed the ICEJ’s current director on the same day (October 17, p. 18), during which Michael Hedding asserted that the Embassy should not be considered a “radical” Christian Zionist group: “‘This is a more Eurocentric ministry, and we believe in biblical Zionism, which recognizes that there are a lot of things playing out in Israel over which we have no influence,’ he says. Hedding trusts that God will ultimately fulfill his promise to bestow the Land of Israel on Abraham’s descendants, but that the Land of Israel goes well beyond Judea and Samaria … ‘So while there may be a more complete fulfillment of this promise in the future, we will leave that to God.’” In Hedding’s view, while the Embassy once inclined towards the “political, eschatological” form of Christian Zionism, under his leadership it now advocates the position that “‘Israel is not a theocracy, it is a democracy. We believe that the people of Israel, through their elected representatives, have the right to make their own decisions on this country’s future, and we have said that we will support the State of Israel wherever it chooses, or chooses not, to extend its sovereignty’ … the rigid demand by many evangelicals that Israel hold onto every inch of territory ‘is highly dangerous,’ he says, ‘because then Jews become pawns in your religious agenda.’”
More practically, Christian Zionists have helped “save” Israeli tourism in the north this year (Haaretz, October 19 [Hebrew and English editions]). While the number of Israeli visitors is down 30% from last year, the number of evangelicals has risen 20%, with over 7,000 visiting the region. Local tourist officials opine that the rise is largely due to identification with Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations, although the improved security situation has also contributed to the growth. The numbers this year have even exceeded the peak figures of 2000. The evangelical camp was similarly responsible for filling 20,000 hotel rooms in Jerusalem over Sukkot, an influx expected to “infuse some $18-20 million into the local economy” (Jerusalem Post, October 17, p. 18). According to Haaretz (October 15), the Christian Feast of Tabernacles includes “a visit and stay at Kibbutz Ein Gedi, the Jerusalem March, prayers and lectures on religious topics.” A brief report in Israel HaYom (October 15; see also Yediot Yerushalayim, October 17) noted that the pilgrims have come from over one hundred different countries to demonstrate solidarity with Israel against Iran’s intention to become the nuclear power.
Christians in Israel
Yediot Haifa, October 17, 2008

A new party in Haifa, named the “Haifa Coalition,” is putting forward a list of candidates for the local municipal elections which includes both Jews and Christians. The former are primarily pensioners, the latter environmental and neighborhood activists. The party is a lobby of the “Justice for the Elderly” group and is laying emphasis upon “full cooperation with the Christian sector in the city, which includes 24,000 residents, 12,000 of whom are eligible to vote.” Christian candidates are placed third and fifth on the list – truly viable places; the latter spot is filled by the son of Archbishop Elias Chacour. If the party wins seats, it will demand that it be given the post of Deputy Mayor, thereby enabling more funds and assistance to be devoted to the Christian sector of the city.
Jewish-Christian Relations
Jerusalem Post, October 15; Yediot Haifa, October 17; Haaretz, October 10; A La Gush, September 25, 2008

A group of students studying Judaism at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow recently visited Israel in order to learn about the country close up and to discover in greater depth the “common roots” between Judaism and Christianity (A La Gush, September 25). The trip was initiated and accompanied by the Academic Center in Israel. In a visit to the Experimental High School in Jerusalem, which regularly sends its students to Poland, the Polish visitors explained that many Poles are now studying Judaism because of its great influence on Polish history and culture and endeavored to explain “in every possible way that Jewish history in Poland should not be studied solely through the lens of the Holocaust; you have go back a thousand years prior to the war.
Isi Leibler commended Haifa Chief Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen in an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post (October 15) this week, praising him for “diplomatically but forcefully” raising the “most sensitive issue on the Catholic-Jewish agenda” when he spoke before the synod of Bishops at the Vatican (see previous Reviews). “Many Jews being honored as he was by the Church would have taken the less hazardous path of avoiding controversy. But Cohen has a track record of courageously expressing his views and refusing to bury his head in the sand. Clearly, he has no interest in meddling in the internal affairs of the Church. But he does have a sense of history and feels that for the record, even if Catholics proceed on the path to beatification [of Pius XII], Jews are obliged to make their voices heard on such a burning issue. Cohen also maintained that if our reconciliation with the Catholic Church is truly meaningful, it should understand the depth of our feelings on such a matter and not take offense or permit such expressions to inhibit ongoing good relations.” In Leibler’s view, “The achievement of constructive goals in our interfaith activities is frequently undermined by internal handicaps. Many Jewish lay representatives active in the field are ignorant of their own religious heritage and thus incapable of presenting an authentic Jewish position. On the other hand, some rabbis are insufficiently experienced with the world to be able to effectively participate in interfaith encounters. Another problem is that many lay Jewish activists are tempted to regard access to Christian or Muslim groups as an end in itself. They fail to appreciate that sharing platforms and obtaining photo opportunities can be counterproductive if it imposes an obligation to remain silent on ‘sensitive’ issues so as not to ‘destabilize the relationship.’” A report in Yediot Haifa (October 17) also covered the same event. According to Haaretz (October 10), “An editorial in the Vatican newspaper defended Pius two days after the first Jew to address a Church synod … told the gathering that Jews ‘cannot forgive and forget’ Pius’s silence. The Osservatore Romano called him a ‘man of peace’ who tried to do his best during one of the most violent periods in history.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Jerusalem Post, October 10, 19, 20; Haaretz, October 13, 19 (Hebrew and English editions), 20; Ma’ariv, October 10, 19; Yediot Ahronot, October 19; Israel HaYom, October 19; Dakot 24, October 19, 2008

In the midst of current efforts towards Pope Pius XII’s beatification, the Vatican issued a appeal this week for Yad Vashem to conduct “‘a new, objective and in-depth review’ of the caption [in the Holocaust museum], which says Pius did not protest the Nazi genocide of Jews and maintained a largely ‘neutral’ position” (Haaretz, October 19). According Haaretz (October 19, Hebrew and English editions), the dispute is not expected to prevent a possible pontifical visit to Israel, however – although this was the understanding expressed in Dakot 24 (October 19), Yediot Ahronot (October 19), Israel HaYom (October 19), and Ma’ariv (October 19) on the basis of a statement made by Cardinal Peter Gumpel, the official responsible for the beatification process of Pius XII. This announcement was denied by the Vatican, however. Gumpel also declared that Benedict XVI has frozen the beatification process “in order not to anger the Jewish world” (Ma’ariv, October 19). According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (October 19), “There was no official response from Jerusalem to the latest comments from the Vatican. An official said that Israel is following developments closely, but he doubted that there will be any request from the government for Yad Vashem to change the contentious caption. ‘Israel is not involved in the rewriting of history,’ the official said, expressing doubt that Yad Vashem would consider rewording the caption. Yad Vashem had no response to the latest Vatican objections. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy stressed that the pope would be welcome in Israel but said as long as Vatican archives on Pius’s papacy remain closed to researchers, ‘the debate over Pope Pius XII’s actions or inaction in that horrendous period remains an open and painful one.’” The article also quoted David Rosen, director of Interfaith Relations at the American Jewish Committee, as saying that the greatest obstacle to a papal visit lies in the “lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.”
Several other reports cited Benedict’s defense of his predecessor. According to a piece in Ma’ariv (October 1), Benedict XVI cited a sentence from a letter of condolence from Golda Meir at the mass honoring Pius XII: “‘When the horrific martyrdom visited our people during ten years of Nazi terror, the Pope made his voice heard on behalf of the victims. We lament the death of this great servant of peace.’” Benedict explained that, “‘Golda Meir’s letter of thanks was only one of many Jewish leaders sent to the Pope at the end of the Second World War.’” The Jerusalem Post (October 10) stated that, “Pope Benedict XVI gave WWII pontiff a push towards possible sainthood Thursday and defended his memory from accusations that he did little to spare Jews from the Holocaust … The Vatican has been using the 50th anniversary of the death to mount an aggressive campaign to rebut decades-old accusations that Pius did not sufficiently wield his moral weight against Adolf Hitler’s regime …” A similar report appeared in Haaretz (October 13). According to a report in the same paper on October 20, however, “Benedict has so far not signed the decree [recognizing Pius’s ‘heroic virtues’] – approved last year by the Vatican’s saint-making department, opting instead for what the Vatican has called a period of reflection.” In response to the controversy over a possible papal visit, the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, “yesterday urged the Vatican not to let a contentious reference to Pope Pius XII stand in the way of a visit to the Holy Land … Peres yesterday stood by Israeli criticism of Pius but told reporters the issue should not be a barrier to a trip by Benedict. ‘We have reason to believe that Pius XII didn’t do enough to save Jewish life. I don’t want to pass judgment. If there is evidence then it should be checked carefully. The visit to the holy country is nothing to do with anger or disputes. It’s holy all the time, it is holy for all of us.’” The same article indicated that Yad Vashem had issued a statement saying that “a papal visit is strictly a political matter and the museum display has no bearing. ‘Pope Pius XII’s activity during the Holocaust is an issue debated among historians throughout the world. The presentation of the subject in the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem is based on the best research regarding this topic.’” In a similar report in the Jerusalem Post (October 20), the spokesman was further quoted as saying that “‘Yad Vashen’s historians are attentive to any research developments and new relevant documentation, and continue to delve into every aspect of the period. Yad Vashem is certain that the opening of Vatican Archives on the relevant period would help further research on the subject, which would clarify this historical issue.’”