Caspari Center Media Review – May 11, 2009
During the week covered by this review, we received 33 articles on the subjects of attitudes to Jesus and Christianity, Christians in Israel, Christian tourism, Jewish-Christian relations, and the Pope and the Vatican. Of these:
1 dealt with attitudes to Jesus and Christianity
6 dealt with Christians in Israel
1 dealt with Christian tourism
5 dealt with Jewish-Christian relations
20 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
This week’s Review continued to focus on the approaching papal visit to Israel.
Attitudes towards Jesus and Christianity
Jerusalem Report, April 27, 2009
Anne Roiphe, a contributing editor to the Jerusalem Report, included a brief reference to Jesus in some observations “On Disproportionality”: “[Words] are bendable, adaptable to the needs of the particular mind through which they float. This is a discouraging fact of human discourse, and our discourse includes firing rockets and shooting civilians as they cross the road. If I were a Christian, I would see Jesus as a bearer of love, a teacher of peace and bearer of salvation for humankind, at least for those of our species wise enough to see him as the son of God. Since I am a Jew, I see him as a man whose followers sent millions to their early deaths, in the crusades, in the pogroms, in the Holocaust. I fully understand there is another point of view. I can appreciate the glory of a Michelangelo, and I am more than willing to crane my neck to see that hand of God reach out for my ancestor, but I am repelled by Vatican statements about AIDS and condoms or the value of the all-male priesthood. Is my deafness disproportionate to the volley of virtue coming from Rome? Maybe.” [Editor’s note: the concept of “disproportionality” is commonly applied in political circles to the “acceptable” amount of “force” exercised by Israel against the Palestinians, it frequently being maintained that Israel uses “disproportionate” force.]
Christians in Israel
Yediot Haifa, April 24; Yediot Tel Aviv, April 24; HaMekoman, April 23; Haaretz, April 22, 24; Makor Rishon, April 24, 2009
The English edition of Haaretz (April 22) ran last week’s report in which Fr. David Neuhaus was interviewed (see previous Review).
According to Yediot Haifa (April 24), while Jewish organizations endeavor to fill the holes in the government budget and thus ensure that people have sufficient to eat, particularly over the holidays, “in Haifa there are also Christians and Muslims who live below the poverty line and are also in need of food. ‘Beit Hesed’ is a Christian organization which operates from a church in the lower city and provides assistance to all the religious communities. Within the framework of its food distribution project, many needy Christians received food this month. The organization’s primary focus is on helping and rehabilitating prisoners, assisting youth at risk, and distributing food. It helps all communities, religious and national, despite being a Christian organization. This month, as noted, it distributed food packages to Christians before Easter and to Jews before Passover. At the same time, food packages were also distributed to needy Muslim families.”
Following the robbery of valuable religious artifacts from a Yaffo church recently (see previous Reviews), Yediot Tel Aviv (April 24) reported – under the headline, “Holy Jesus – they have no God” – that Joseph Diq, head of the Working Committee of Orthodox Christians, has declared that, “‘If the robbers came from Yaffo, there will be serious consequences – whether they are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim.’” The same article also reported on a more directly internal Christian quarrel: an alleged attack by the former head of the church in the city, Talal Abu Maneh, on the current head, Gabi Kadis, as part of the conflict generated by recent ecclesiastical elections. The deposed head, for his part, claims the dispute to be a familial one, his sister being married to his successor’s brother, although he has been questioned by the police regarding the matter. HaMekoman (April 23) further reported Talal Abu Maneh as stating, “‘No one will buy pictures stolen from a church … Whoever buys a picture stolen from the church, may a curse fall upon him and upon his family.’”
Another lengthy article appeared in Makor Rishon (April 24) relating to Christians in Israel, this time examining “Christian journeys from the Land of Israel.” The piece poignantly presented the plight of Arab Christians in Israel, pointing out their lack of land, jobs, professions, money, and – above all – “hope for a future.” Against this background, thousands of Israeli and Palestinian Christians are migrating, on the premise that living anywhere else will prove better and easier.
According to a lengthy article in Haaretz (April 24) in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day, “Over 500 Jews from Palestine, who were caught in Europe as World War II erupted, were spared probable death and returned home, thanks to an exchange agreement involving German Templers living in the Holy Land … The German women and children who were deported from Palestine were Templers – members of a Protestant religious movement founded in Germany in the mid-1980s. The Templers worked to bring about salvation and the second coming of Jesus Christ, and believed the only way to do this was to live a productive life in the Holy Land. By World War II, the Templer population in Palestine was already in its third generation … Although they lived in Eretz Israel, they maintained their German citizenship, studied in German and identified as Germans. Many supported the racist-nationalist ideology of Adolf Hitler; indeed, after Hitler’s party rose to power in 1933, some Templers joined the Nazi cause. The Nazi regime decreed that their party would run all German affairs in Eretz Israel and placed Nazi activist Cornelius Schwarz at the head of the local community. ‘They went from religious messianism to political messianism,’ says Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi, rector of the University of Haifa and a professor in its Land of Israel studies department. He believes that the Nazi episode in Templer history has been blown out of proportion. ‘The members of the younger generation to some extent broke away from naïve religious belief, and were more receptive to the Nazi German nationalism. The older ones tried to fight it’ … The British wanted to expel the German citizens from the country they controlled. And so the road was paved for an exchange of German citizens in Palestine for British subjects – Jews from Palestine, who had left for Europe just before the war and were stranded there, unable to return … The number of Germans deported from Palestine was greater than the number of returning Jews … The total number of Jews extricated from Europe this way was about 550, in exchange for some 1,000 Templers sent back to Germany … Despite the swap, Ben-Artzi notes, most of the Templers remained in Israel during the war. ‘They lived in open detention camps in Beit Lehem Haglilit, Waldheim and the other [Templer] communities, and went to work every day under escort. The Yishuv pressured the English to expel them. When the fighting between Arabs and Jews broke out in 1948, they were caught in the middle. On April 17, Waldheim was captured, and a local couple was killed. The Templers realized that they could not stay here, and they left. Waldheim was taken when the Israeli-Palestinian war was at its peak. That is, many of them did not think they needed to get out.’”
Israel HaYom, April 22, 2009
This brief note reported on the opening of the “Jesus Trail” (see previous Reviews).
HaModia, April 22; HaMevaser, April 24; Mishpacha, April 23; BeKehilla, April 23; Jerusalem Post, April 27, 2009
A 29-member Jewish and Christian delegation from the 2009 Greensboro Interfaith Study Mission is currently in Israel in order to tour “religious and historical sites, borders, schools and community centers.” It is comprised of politicians, neighborhood activitists, religious leaders, and educators, and sponsored by the Greensboro Jewish Federation, the National Conference for Community and Justice, and the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro. “Among the issues participants have been exploring are religion as a force for justice, ways to establish dialogue and ties between communities, and methods for conflict resolution … For many, the casual interaction among the participants was an essential part of the mission … Throughout the trip, the group has learned how to build relationships between diverse communities.”
Another bishop has been identified as participating in the ranks of Holocaust deniers (HaModia, April 22). The Brazilian Archbishop Dadeus Grings, from Porto Alegre, recently upset the local Jewish community by making anti-Semitic remarks and denials of the Holocaust, including the claim that the Nazis killed more Catholics than Jews – although their chief victims were in fact the Gypsies, in his view. Porto Alegre is home to one of the three largest Jewish communities in Brazil, numbering around 12,000.
Three religious papers – HaMevaser (April 24), BeKehilla (April 23), and Mishpacha (April 23) all ran the story of Yad L’Achim’s appeal to the pope to “act to discover ‘Holocaust children.’” In a public letter addressed to Benedict XVI, the anti-missionary organization requested that, “‘In light of the facts – which shock every Jewish heart – regarding the Holocaust orphans whose holy parents entrusted their children into the hands of Christian families with the explicit intention that they be returned to their Jewish families at the end of the war – to our great sorrow and distress and bitter disappointment, these adoptive families have refused to disclose their Jewish origin to these holy children, thereby preventing any possibility of their returning to the Jewish people. We have no doubt that continuing silence on this sensitive matter will immemorialize the suffering of the Jewish people and the Nazis’ success in attempting to annihilate the Jewish people. We therefore appeal to you to issue a call declaring it an obligation on every Christian to disclose their Jewish past to these Holocaust orphans and provide them with all the information possible about their families.’” This is not the first time Yad L’Achim has sought to restore Jewish children to their original families. Several years ago it conducted a campaign to “locate thousands of Jews across Europe who had been handed over to the church or Christian families in their childhood.” Yad L’Achim director, Shalom Dov Lipshitz, personally founded an organization named “Roots” in order to locate such “lost Jews” in Holland, said to number around 1000. The Dutch and British monarchies, together with the President of France, are all said to have responded favorably to a request made to them by Lipshitz, declaring their willingness to exert their influence “to call on the churches to reveal the names hidden in archives and restore the lost brethren to the bosom of the Jewish people.” According to Lipshitz, “‘Today, we can still ‘reconcile children with their parents’ [Mal. 4:6]. [What’s happening is] a direct continuation of the Holocaust of children whose parents were gassed. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the pope while visiting Israel to put an end to the bad relations which have prevailed up until now, by means of the most significant gesture possible to the Jewish people.’”
For other Israeli and Jewish attitudes towards the pope’s visit, see below.
The Pope and the Vatican
HaModia, April 27; Yediot Ahronot, April 23, 24 (pp. 2, 18), 26; Haaretz, April 23 (pp. 3, 15), 26 (Hebrew and English editions); Calcalist, April 23, 27; Yediot HaGalil, April 24; Yediot Yerushalayim, April 24; Jerusalem Post, April 22, 23, 24; Mishpacha, April 23; Ma’ariv, April 21, 22, 23, 2009
This section is replete with reports on various aspects of the upcoming papal visit to Israel at the beginning of May. According to HaModia (April 27), the new Tourism Minister, Stas Misezhnikov – much in the news this week due to his appointment as the person responsible for coordinating the governement offices involved in the pontiff’s visit – has promised the deputy Health Minister, as representative of the Orthodox parties – that Benedict’s mass on Mount Precipe will not interfere with the Lag B’Omer celebrations on Mount Meron (see previous Reviews).
Misezhnilov “also became embroiled Wednesday in a fierce discussion as to whether Pope Benedict XVI should meet with Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ghanaim” – whom Misezhnikov claims is a “terror supporter” (Jerusalem Post, April 23). ‘If the information regarding the pope’s meeting is correct, it would stand in complete contradiction to the goal of the pope’s visit, to advance peace and dialogue among nations and religions.’ The pope reportedly invited Ghanaim and a Christian citizen of Sakhnin to fly to the Vatican in advance of the pope’s visit to Israel and speak with him about the status of Israeli Arabs … Misezhnikov met Wednesday with Vatican representatives who arrived for a preparatory trip.”
Not least among Misezhnikov’s worries are a herd of goats, acommodated in a goat pen in the middle of the land on which the papal mass near Nazareth is scheduled to take place. If the goats’ pen is removed, 40,000 people will be able to attend; if they are left in peace, only half that number will be able to celebrate the mass. “‘I’m worried about how it will look. The pope will hold prayers in the middle of a goat pen.’”
Another widely-pictured figure to appear in the news in respect to the papal visit – in very visual form – was El Al chairman Amikam Cohen, whose photograph (together with his CEO, Chaim Romano) as he presented Benedict with an official invitation to fly with the company on his return to Rome was spread throughout the media, as though representative of the kudos considered to attach also to a Jew being photographed with the pope. As already reported, the flight crew will include Jews and Christians (Calcalist, April 23; Yediot Ahronot, April 23; Ma’ariv, April 23; Haaretz, April 23).
The importance of the pope’s photograph found additional expression in an article in the Calcalist (April 27) entitled, “One picture is worth a $10 million campaign.” Herein, Yasmin Gil suggested that, “While he isn’t as popular as his predecessor, two weeks before Pope Benedict XVI’s visit many people are waiting for a single picture of him, whose PR influence will endure for years to come … The goal is to capture a ‘winning photo’ from the visit and to disseminate it throughout the media.” If the number of pilgrims expected to arrive with Benedict has decreased, the Ministry of Tourism is still hoping that following it, another 200,000 will arrive during 2009: “‘We’re talking about the best thing that could happen to Israel [in tourist terms].’” The Tourism Ministry’s hope that the visit itself will prove as valuable as a $10 million PR campaign might simply be wishful thinking, however, as Benedict XVI has not (yet) issued a call for pilgrims to visit the Holy Land in the wake of his visit, as did his predecessor, John Paul II.
Nonetheless, Benedict is already being plied with presents. According to a note in Yediot Ahronot (April 26), Israel is due to present the pope with a “seed the size of a pinhead containing the whole of the Hebrew Bible.” The same report indicated that the negotiations over Catholic estate and premises in Israel have almost reached a successful conclusion (see previous Reviews). On the other hand, according to Haaretz (April 23), “Pope Benedict XVI met in the Vatican on Wednesday with a group of Palestinian Catholics who presented him with a kaffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf, as a gift. The 27 faithful from a Bethlehem parish were among thousands attending the pope’s weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square. At the end of the service, two youths from the group were brought to the pope and draped the black-and-white checkered scarf on his shoulders. Benedict chatted briefly with them while wearing the scarf, which an aide later removed.”
The papal visit is also being “fought over” by tourist guides hoping to win the right to guide the expected pilgrims (Ma’ariv, April 22). “Tourist guides in Israel are threatening to disrupt the visit … if prior to its occurrence they are not enabled to take part in guiding the many pilgrims expected to arrive in the Holy Land … The roots of the problem stem from an agreement concluded between Israel and the Vatican in the 1980’s, according to which Catholic religious figures are defined as ‘spiritual pastors.’ Pilgrims coming to the country are consequently not obligated to employ Israeli guides.” Apart from the damage to their livelihood, the guides also warn that their exclusion in favor of foreigners or Palestinian guides will have an adverse effect on Israel’s image, permitting it to be presented from a Palestinian perspective. Since Israeli guides are claiming that more and churches are preferring Palestinian guides, “‘the pope’s visit is particular important for us and for the State – but we aren’t afraid of disrupting it.’”
Despite his own intentions, Benedict XVI’s trip is being viewed from widely divergent perspectives and with very mixed feelings. According to the Vatican itself (Jerusalem Post, April 22), “Pope Benedict XVI will visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan next month not only as a pilrim to the Holy Land but also to promote interfaith relations and to discuss the possibilities for ‘promoting peace’ with local leaders, a media coordinator for his visit said Tuesday. The pope would deliver ‘a very clear message’ to the leaders and their people about the importance of trying different methods to achieve peace, Wadie Abunassar told journalists during a briefing at the Latin Patriarchate … Abunasser added that the pope, the local church and local Christians believe that nonviolence is the only solution … Benedict will perform masses in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem … in addition, the pope will meet with spiritual leaders from varioius religions, including Chief Rabbis of Israel Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger, and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, to promote interfaith dialogue. The pope will also meet in Jerusalem with a number of representatives from organizations that promote interfaith dialogue, where he is expected to deliver a message ‘not only of encouragement, but a real push to hold more activities to strengthen their presence in society,’ Abunasser said. He is also scheduled to speak with religious leaders in Nazareth, a meeting that is likely to be followed up by councils for interreligious dialogue in Rome. In addition, the pope will visit the Armenian and Greek Orthodox patriarchates. At the latter, he will meet with heads of various churches to promote ecumenical dialogue.
On the same page, however, another piece noted that “Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday demanded that Pope Benedict XVI apologize ahead of his Middle East tour, for his previous remarks about the Prophet Muhammad that many Muslims interpreted as insulting their faith.” Muslims in Nazareth are likewise opposing his visit to that city on the same grounds (Yediot HaGalil, April 24) (see previous Reviews), while a piece in Yediot Yerushalayim (April 24) reported that “the voices calling for a boycott of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit are increasing in the city [Jerusalem]. Numerous religious members of the coalition are calling for a boycott of the welcoming ceremony scheduled to take place when his helicopter lands on the Mount of Olives” and appear determined to absent themselves. At least one asserted that his objection stems from the pope’s recent support of “Durban II.”
A further example of Orthodox sentiments regarding the pontiff was found in an article in Mishpacha (April 23): “The people is coming to visit, ‘everlasting joy’ is on our heads! The average Israeli is completely unaware that, despite the white yarmulke which he wears, he also represents the greatest spiritual threat to the people of Israel today.” If previous popes may have shown compassion to the Jews for one reason or another, this one cannot be said to have done so. “Essentially, even his present visit to the country constitutes a ‘missionary’ journey … The sad thing is that people here aren’t aware of the nuances of the indirect propaganda which the church disseminates in such a sophisticated manner.” People are impressed with the ceremonies and their ceremoniousness – to such an extent that they fail to distinguish between “light and darkness. Thus, from our perspective, and from that of minimalist Judaism in the State, this visit is superfluous, even harmful.”
While Israeli security forces might not have such forceful religious opinions, they, too, are concerned about the visit. According to a report in Haaretz (April 26, Hebrew and English editions), “The Shin Bet security service does not want Pope Benedict to use his so-called pope mobile in Nazareth next month, saying it may not be enough against any attack by radical Islamic groups … The Holy See told the Israeli government that the pope wants to get as close as possible to his followers, so the Vatican hopes the pope will use the vehicle. But the Shin Bet opposes this, citing pamphlets in Arab towns in the north calling for demonstratons during the visit. Other pamphlets by radical Islamists allegedly call for physical attacks on the pope. The Vatican said it understood the security concerns and wanted to find a solution.”
Menachem Gantz contributed an insightful opinion piece to Yediot Ahronot (April 24) evaluating the importance of the papal visit. Following Benedict’s open show of support for “Durban II” this week – another gesture threatening Jewish-Christian relations – Benedict has his hands full in preparing for what promises to be a heavily symbolic and significant visit: “Whoever thought in Jerusalem that his upcoming visit would soften his position regarding Israel, was joking … In another two weeks, Benedict will depart on the most difficult visit of his office so far … a visit which will have decisive impact on his whole office. The tension in circles close to him is high. His – few – devoted followers understand that if this trip also earns criticism and denunciation, he will find it extremely difficult to improve his image. History, they fear, will represent him as the radical, conservative pope who undermined already precarious inter-faith relations … A top-ranking political source confirmed this week that strong Palestinian pressure is being exerted to prevent the pope from expressing any identification with Israel. ‘The Palestinian apprehension is that the German-born pope will feel guilty about Israel,’ the sources said.’ They’re already complaining that the visit is pro-Israeli and that the pope isn’t showing any sensitivity to Palestinian suffering.’” While the Vatican is emphasizing Benedict’s belief that it is not coincidental – and certainly a circumstance which will not reoccur – that a German pope was appointed immediately following a Polish pope, Israelis “understand very well the significance of the fact that, in contrast to his predecessor, who was a victim of the Nazis, was forced to work in a labor camp, and saw his Jewish friends sent to the concentration camps, Benedict is related to the Nazi murderers. ‘He can’t make any mistake regarding this sensitive issue,’ says Andreas English, a veteran reporter for the Bild at the Vatican. ‘If he is succeessful in explaining himself well and gaining the approval of Jewish leaders that will be a new beginning in inter-faith relations. The Williamson affair hurt him very badly, and he’s looking for atonement in Israel. His adherents’ support is already not enough. The top ranks of the Holy See have betrayed him. Now, only a successful visit to Israel can help him. He needs Rabbis who will say, You are the proper person to lead inter-faith reconciliation and dialogue’” In Jerusalem, they are expecting the pope to make a distinction between Christians living in Israel, who enjoy freedom of religion, and those living in Arab countries, where they are frequently oppressed. Some people are even expecting him to say that Hammas constitutes a danger to the region and to the Christian community. The Shin Bet have already received the name of Benedict’s code used by the Vatican’s intelligence service, and in the coming days the coordinating network in Israel will soon become accustomed to the letters HV, symbolizing the words Heilige Vater – Holy Father – in German … On his trip to Israel he will be accompanied by the person responsible for papal visits world wide, the Vatican spokesman, two Swiss guards, two officers from Vatican City, another personal bodyguard, Bishop James Michael Harvey, who is responsible for every unofficial detail, several top-ranking officials from the State Secretariat, and priests active in Jewish dialogue.”
The papal “race” has already begun. A caption under a picture in the Jerusalem Post (April 24) stated: “Italian and Israeli activists run during the sixth annual Pope John Paul II Pilgrimage Peace Marathon outside Jerusalem’s Old City today. The marathon began at the Church of the Nativity plaza in Bethlehem and finished at the capital’s Notre Dame Church.” According to another report in Ma’ariv (April 21), a well-known Italian football star arrived to run in the race, together with the head of the Italian Football Association, the two laying a wreath at Yad Vashem beforehand.