April 17 – 2009

Caspari Center Media Review – April 17, 2009

During the week covered by this review, we received 22 articles on the subjects of attitudes towards Christianity, anti-missionary activities, Christian Zionism, Christians in Israel, the Pope and the Vatican, anti-Semitism, and archaeology. Of these:

2 dealt with attitudes towards Christianity
3 dealt with anti-missionary activities
1 dealt with Christian Zionism
3 dealt with Christians in Israel
8 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
1 dealt with anti-Semitism
3 dealt with archaeology
1 was a book review

This week’s Review focused on events surrounding Easter and the pope’s scheduled May visit to Israel.
Attitudes towards Christianity
Yediot Ahronot, April 7; Haaretz, April, 14, 2009

In an article suggesting that the festival of freedom (Passover) in actual fact merely celebrates continuing Jewish bondage, Gideon Eshet noted under the subtitle, “It’s better to quarrel with the Gentiles,” that in his book Two Nations in Your Womb (an allusion to Gen. 25:23), Israel Yuval argues that parts of the Haggada constitute “an attempt to dispute with Christianity. ‘The bread of affliction/poverty’ is nothing other than a pointed reference to Yeshua who, at the Last Supper, the Passover Seder, raised the matza [unleavened bread] and said, ‘This is my body’” (Yediot Ahronot, April 7).

Ayal Gil in Haaretz (April 14) contended that the Turin Shroud best exemplifies another controversy, this time not between Judaism and Christianity but between science and religion, claiming that the “similarity” between the image on the cloth and Yeshu is in fact “amazing.”
Anti-missionary Activities
HaMavarer, April 8; Dati Dromi, April 2; HaModia, April 8, 2009

All three of these reports carried stories from previously-run reports: HaModia (April 8) and HaMevaser (April 8) both noted the Passover Seder celebrated by “survivors of the mission,” while Dati Dromi (April 2) reported on Netanyahu’s alleged pledge not to support the anti-mission bill.
Christian Zionism
Jerusalem Post, April 8, 2009

Christians are putting their money where their mouths are even in the current economic crisis. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post (April 8), the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is increasing rather than reducing the amount it is contributing on behalf of Israel: “‘We are in what I believe is a unique situation,’ IFCJ founder and president Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein told the Post this week. ‘Not only have our donations not been hurt [by the economic crisis], we are actually up by 39.8 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to last year. The bottom line is that we are one of the few organizations where our giving has increased.’” In practical terms, “Just this week, the ICFJ launched a NIS 7m. initiative aimed at supplying needy families both here and in the FSU with basic staples for Pesach. Roughly half, or some NIS 3.2m., went to humanitarian aid organization Latet to distribute 20,000 food aid packages to needy families in Israel, and a further NIS 4m. was given to various programs run by the JDC, JAFI and Chabad, for distressed Jewish families and individuals in the FSU.”
Christians in Israel
Jerusalem Post, April 12 (pp. 5, 7), 13, 2009

Much of the media in this category focused on Christian celebrations of Easter. Thus, the Jerusalem Post (April 12, p. 5) noted that, “Thousands of Christian clergymen, worshipers and pilgrims thronged the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City, chanting hymns and bearing crosses as they marked Good Friday by retracing Jesus’ final footsteps. Hundreds attended prayers Friday morning at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christian tradition says Jesus was crucified and resurrected … A group of pilgrims from Orange Country, California performed an annual reenactment of the events of Good Friday. A man dressed as Jesus, wearing a loincloth and a crown of thorns, was taken through the streets by two men dressed as Roman legionnaires … One of the key dates in the Christian calendar, Good Friday marks Jesus’ crucifixion and death, as recounted in the Bible. It is followed by the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday.” In a second article (p. 7), entitled “Pesach-Easter overlaps boosts tourism to Israel,” the paper commented that “In 2008, Christian tourists comprised two-thirds of the three million visitors to Israel, and this year, a new record is expected as Pesach, which began on Wednesday evening, overlaps with Easter, which is celebrated today. Among the Christian tourists visiting in the last few weeks was a group of 630 Catholic pilgrims from the United States, Canada, Britain and Ireland who arrived on a cruise ship bound for holy sites in the Galilee, Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The tour was organized by the world’s only pilgrimage cruise operator to the Holy Land.” Among the events taking place were the Via Dolorosa walk and the John Paul II Pilgrimage Peace Marathon.
The following day (April 13) the same paper reported that, “Christians prayed at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and sang in the Garden Tomb outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City as they marked Easter Sunday in the city where they believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The city buzzed with religious activity. Orthodox Christians, who observe a different calendar, marked Palm Sunday … Roman Catholics held Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed to mark the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and then resurrected on Easter Sunday. Brown-robed friars marched into the church to the sound of bagpipes, followed by clergymen in purple capes and others bearing crosses. Pilgrims stood by, some filming with small video cameras … Another group of pilgrims chose to mark Easter Sunday outside the walls of the Old City at the Garden Tomb, which some Protestants sanctify as an alternative site for the last events of Jesus’ life … ‘Risen lord Jesus, the lamb upon the throne, we join with all of heaven in declaring your glory,’ [Peter] Wells [head of the Garden Tomb Association] said. ‘We welcome you to our resurrection garden, and invite you to have your way among us. As we celebrate today, and as we serve you tomorrow, we rejoice that you conquered sin, death and the grave, and that now you reign victorious, forever glorious.’ Also Sunday morning, Orthodox priests in black robes and beards and carrying palm fronds filed into the Holy Sepulcher for their Palm Sunday ceremony.”
The Pope and the Vatican
Jerusalem Post, April 7 (Hebrew and English editions), 13 (x 2); Makor Rishon, April 8, 12; Ma’ariv, April 10; Haaretz, April 7, 2009

According to a report in Haaretz (April 7 [Hebrew and English editions]), only 10,000 pilgrims are expected to accompany the pope on his visit to Israel in May in contrast to the 47,000 who visited the country with John Paul II. The same brief article also noted that Genesis Tours have been given exclusive rights to fly and find accommodation for the pilgrims; most of whom will stay in the north.
Nazareth is not waiting for the government to provide the funds necessary for the preparations for the pope’s mass but has already completed 50%-60% of the work (Ma’ariv, April 10). “Construction under way includes an ampitheater on 25 dunams of Mount Precipice (Mount Kedumim) for the pope’s mass, which include 7,000 permanent seats, and an additional 35,000 terraced plastic seats” (Jerusalem Post, April 7).
While Nazareth is not planning to be upstaged, Gaza is indeed likely to be excluded from the pontifical visit (Jerusalem Post, April 13). According to this report, “Graduate theological students at the University of California at Berkeley are leading a petition urging Pope Benedict XVI to visit Gaza during his trip … The international Caritas group campaigned against Israel during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead campain in Gaza, blaming the IDF for endangering the lives of medical personnel and civilians. It also called for an end to rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas terrorists. Church Times also reported that most of the petition’s signatories are Roman Catholics but that Muslims, Bhuddists, humanists and atheists also have signed the petition. The petition states, ‘When we ask, “Whose dignity is most unequally ignored?” or “Whose equal rights are most unequally threatened?” the faces of the people in Gaza clearly arise’ …While the Vatican has yet to make an official comment on the matter, the pope’s spokesman in Israel, Wadie Abunasser, told The Jerusalem Post that the pope would ‘absolutely’ refrain from visiting Gaza during his upcoming trip, regardless of initiatives to convince him otherwise.”
In similar vein, the same paper (April 13) noted that, “The northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel has announced that it is ‘boycotting’ Pope Benedict XVI’s visit next month, while an official from the more moderate southern branch said it intended to participate in the event. However, there was no indication that the northerners plan to protest his arrival or try to block the pontiff’s path to al-Aksa Mosque which he is scheduled to visit. The decision of the northern branch apparently stems from a speech the pope made at a German university in 2006 … it [the Movement] had concerns about the pope and his views in which ‘he insulted the Prophet Mohammed’ … ‘Our position is a religious and legitimate perspective and not a political perspective and it has no connection to courtesies or public relations. As long as the pope is insistent in his position and does not apologise and erase the mentioned insult from the Vatican record, we, the Islamic Movement, announce in all frankness that we will not participate in any activity to receive him or during his tour,’ the statement said … If the pope was considerate regarding the feelings of Jews regarding the Holocaust then he should be ‘all the more concerned with the Gaza Holocaust – the Holocaust of the 21st century – for one hour or an hour-and-a-half of his visit, or is it just submission to Israeli dictates and threats.’”
In a lengthy interview with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat in Makor Rishon (April 8), the latter was asked what the pope’s visit would do for the city: “It has several great advantages. Firstly, the very fact that he will stay in Jerusalem and visit parts of the city is good news. It will also be a great encouragement to Christians worldwide to come to Jerusalem, to make a pilgrimage to see the sites most sacred to Christianity. It can certainly promote the subject of tourism to the city. I see a strategic goal in serving the needs of Christian pilgrims in such a way that they will leave here as good ambassadors and demonstrate to the whole world that Jerusalem is united under Israeli rule, knowing how to promote the interests of all the religions in the city, not one at the expense of the other but one alongside the other. We need to exploit this dynamic and see how we can connect the Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Jerusalem. In this sense, the pope’s visit is immensely significant.”
Makor Rishon (April 12) reprinted Hillel Weiss’s article condemning the pope first carried in Israel HaYom (April 6) (see previous Review).
Haaretz, April 8, 2009

Yaron Harel reviewed the history of modern anti-Semitism in Syria, starting with the Damascus Affair in 1840 and continuing into the first decades of the twentieth century (Haaretz, April 8). The Damascus Affair arose against a political background in which Ottoman rule had been replaced (temporarily as it turned out) by Egyptian rule. Muhammad Ali’s close ties with the European powers greatly magnified the influence of the latter in the Middle East, the Egyptian ruler’s elevation of the Christian minority providing France in particular with an excuse to intervene in the region on behalf of Catholic Christians. This rise in prestige, as well as fears that it might be lost with a return of Ottoman rule, led the Christian community to take radical steps to ensure its status – including the spreading of blood libel accusations and incitement of the Muslim majority against the Jewish community, the latter eventually also charging the Jews with use of human blood for ritual ceremonies as well. Ultimately, according to Harel, Muslim anti-Semitism, in Syria at least, must be considered a direct consequence of the intervention of anti-Semitic Christian European powers.
Haaretz, April 7, 12 (Hebrew and English editions), 2009

According to a report in Haaretz (April 7), “Two days before Passover, a University of Haifa archaeologist has unearthed foot-shaped structures he believes were constructed by the Israelites at the time of the Exodus from Egypt and move into the Promised Land. The large structures were found in the Jordan Valley by Prof. Adam Zertal, who describes them as ‘the first structures the Israelites built on entering Canaan, and [which] testify to the biblical idea of ownership of the land.’
Zertal’s excavating team exposed five such complexes, all of which he has dated to the beginning of the Bronze Age (1200–1300 B.C.E.), and which he collectively identifies with the biblical Gilgal, the site the Israelites reached after crossing the Jordan River. As described in the Book of Joshua, the Israelites were ordered to take 12 stones from the river, one for each tribe, to commemorate the event for posterity … Zertal said the foot carried significance for ancient peoples in the region as a symbol of ownership over territory and superiority over their enemies. He believes the ‘foot’ complexes he has discovered served as meeting places for Israelite communities after entering Canaan. Zertal said even after Jerusalem became the center of worship, and the Israelites were commanded to make pilgrimages there, the ‘foot’ concept had not vanished, as evidenced in the Hebrew term for pilgrimage, ‘aliyah la-regel’ – literally, “ascending on foot.”
Under the headline, “Archaeologist: Way to Cross began in Armenian Quarter parking lot,” Ofri Ilani reported in the same paper (April 12) that, “In 29 C.E., the first year of Pontius Pilate as Roman procurator in Jerusalem, a young Jewish man from the Galilee, who had come to Jerusalem shortly before, was brought before him. According to the New Testament, the man, Jesus of Nazareth, had aroused the ire of the city’s Sanhedrin because of his messianic declarations, and they turned him over to the Roman authorities on charges of subversion … The place where Jesus’ trial before Pilate was held, the Antonia Fortress, became one of Christianity’s most sacred sites, and was eventually identified as the first of the 14 stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa … For the past thousand years, the Antonia Fortress has been pinpointed as a site in the Muslim Quarter overlooking the Temple Mount from the north … However, an Israeli archeologist now claims that the accepted location of the Antonia Fortress north of the Temple Mount is mistaken, and that the Via Dolorosa is not where tradition has located it for centuries. According to Dr. Shimon Gibson of Jerusalem’s Albright Institute, the site where Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate and condemned to death is located near the Old City’s western wall, next to the so-called Tower of David. Thus, the Via Dolorosa should actually begin in what is now a parking lot tucked away in the Old City’s Armenian Quarter, where Gibson has identified the stone pavement (gabbata is the Aramaic word used in the New Testament) where procurators held their trials … Gibson, who presents his arguments in his recently published English-language book, “The Final Days of Jesus,” says the tradition about the real location of the Via Dolorosa was distorted during the Crusader era. The Crusaders massacred many of the city’s Muslims, Jews and Orthodox Christians, leading to the effacing of centuries-old traditions. The city’s ‘sacred geography’ was reorganized, and a chapel was built on the site now identified by most people as the Antonia Fortress. But according to Gibson, excavations at the site show that the structure that stood there in Roman times was small and could not have held the palace of the Roman procurators.” Meir Ben-Dov, “a senior archaeologist who has excavated in Jerusalem’s Western Wall Tunnel,” has called Gibson’s theory “‘utter nonsense,’” citing Josephus’ description of the Antonia Fortress at the corner of the Temple Mount. “‘I myself unearthed the foundations of its towers in the 1980s.’”
Book Review
Yated Ne’eman, April 7, 2009

Arnon Yaffe reviewed the republication of François-René de Chateaubriand’s 1811 book translated into English as Travels in Greece, Palestine, Egypt, and Barbary, during the years 1806 and 1807. The diary was originally published after the French politician’s six-day visit to Jerusalem in 1806. According to Yaffe, “French Jews can discover through it the poverty in which Jerusalem was then steeped, and take pride in the description of the Jewish people as living eternally by virtue of the Torah, and understand their condition in today’s France. Chateaubriand wrote: “It is astonishing to see Jews scattered throughout the world, but I am filled with wonder when I see them in Jerusalem. Strangers and slaves in their own land and yet nonetheless awaiting redemption in their sufferings. The Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans have vanished from the earth, while such a small nation as this, which preceded them all, still exists without having assimilated into other peoples following the destruction of their homeland. If one could imagine a miracle in the lives of nations, this would be one here …” This, and other similar statements, did not prevent Chateaubriand from expressing anti-Semitic sentiments when he returned to France, however: “Perhaps he discovered that as a Catholic writer, he didn’t belong in any way in Jerusalem.”