November 4 – 2010

Caspari Center Media Review – November 4, 2010

During the week covered by this review, we received 12 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, anti-missionary activity, Christian Zionism, Jewish-Christian relations, and conversion. Of these:
1 dealt with Messianic Jews
4 dealt with anti-missionary activity
1 dealt with Christian Zionism
4 deal with Jewish-Christian relations
2 dealt with conversion
This week’s Review included reports on the arson attempt on the CMA church in Jerusalem and Caleb Myers’ alleged political ambitions, as well as further fallout from the Vatican Middle East Synod.
Messianic Jews
Haaretz, October 29, 2010
In the regular column looking at families living in various parts of the country, this week’s observation of the Pilip-Hirschbergs in Isfiya – “A community located on Mount Carmel with a population of over 10,000, about 80 percent Druze, 15 percent Christians, 5 percent Muslims and a few Jews, mainly students,” a section entitled “Jews and Druze” stated: “About 300 Jews live in this town, they say. Most of them students, along with the Light of Carmel community of Messianic Jews. Relations are good, they [the Pilip-Hirschbergs] note.”
Anti-missionary Activity
Ma’ariv, October 29; Yom L’Yom, October 28; HaMevaser, October 29; HaModia, October, 27, 2010
The main story of this week was the attempted arson against the CMA church on Prophets St. in Jerusalem. According to Ma’ariv (October 29), “Police suspect that the church that caught fire on Friday morning is the result of deliberate arson by the ultra orthodox. Fire fighters that arrived at the location evacuated 12 people that were injured in the fire to get treatment in the hospital. The police are investigating the crime scene. The fire department received a report that smoke was coming out of the church on Niviim St. in central Jerusalem. 12 people were evacuated from the burning building and 12 fire teams were dispatched to the scene and by the help of a crane the fire department evacuated people who were trapped in the building. Additional forces found where the fire originated from and it was on the floor that was used as a hostel for tourists that come to visit. After a while the fire department managed to take control of the fire and stop it from spreading to different sections of the building. The main sanctuary was not damaged. According to the initial investigation by the Jerusalem district police the fire was started by people belonging to the Ultra Orthodox community in the City. It is noted that in the past the church had received threats that their property would be damaged.”
According to a report in Yom L’Yom (October 28), Caleb Myers is intending to enter politics, having already been nominated as one of the judges of the “Likud Prize” for 2010: “For years, “messianic believers” in Israel have been talking about the need to get involved in politics in order to advance their agenda. Now they’re doing something about it.
At a conference held three years ago on Messianic Jews and politics, speakers emphasized that the only way to affect change in Israel was by entering the political fray.
Calev Myers, a pastor in Jerusalem, who heads an organization that carries the innocent-sounding name Jerusalem Institute of Justice, told the conference that the best way to integrate into Israeli society was by gaining a foothold in the Knesset.
According to a report in ‘This is the Covenant,’ a newsletter put out by Messianic Jews in Israel, Myers told the conference: ‘I believe that if we want to have influence, we have no choice but to be active in this area. I am unequivocally in favor of political and social Messianic activities … I say “yes” to Messianic activism, “yes” to involvement [in the political arena]… A Messianic Jew or non-Jew will join one of the political parties and be able to influence the party and get elected to the Knesset.’ Unfortunately, Myers has put his plan into action. Masking his true intentions, he succeeded in becoming a known Likud activist, managing to blend in and even to make headlines. In a news item on the Mimouna festivities last spring, Myers was mentioned almost in the same breath as the party’s ministers and Knesset members, as one who graced the event with his presence.
Myers is also reportedly using his access to donor funds to further his agenda in the Likud. He has helped sponsor events for party members at the American Zionist House and schoolbags for children of immigrants that are distributed by the Likud in towns located on the periphery. It goes without saying that the funding comes from messianic groups abroad that are encouraging him to gain votes and power in the party’s central committee.
Recently, Myers was chosen to serve as one of five judges who determined the winner of the ‘Likudnik Prize for 2010.’” The report states that Yad L’Achim has sent letters informing the Likud of these circumstances and of Myers’ “true intentions,” warning them of the “satanic ‘honey trap’ which Myers and his colleagues are sneaking into the Jewish people via the Likud party.” The anti-missionary organization was also horrified to learn that, according to “missionary publications,” “more Jews have converted within the past nineteen years than over the preceding nineteen centuries,” its director emphasizing once again that, “the only way to put a stop to this dangerous and destructive activity is to promote the mission bill in Israel.”
HaMevaser (October 29) and HaModia (October 27) both reported the story that R. Binyamin Wolken was released from hospital this week with “light but painful bruises” allegedly sustained in an assault by a “missionary activist” in Rishon L’Tzion. As part of Yad L’Achim’s own “missionary work” amongst Jews visiting “missionary” premises, a pair of activists was sent to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city “in order to distribute literature to Jews intending to enter the missionary grounds. “‘All of a sudden, one of the members of the cult jumped me from behind and began beating me heavily. He vented his rage on me, completely surprising me from behind, and thereby succeeded in attacking me brutally and cruelly.’” Wolken immediately lodged a complaint with the police, despite being convinced that it would prove fruitless, “‘as in other cases of missionary violence.’”
Christian Zionism
Haaretz, October 29, 2010
In a lengthy article entitled “Chosen peoples,” Akiva Eldar interviewed Todd Gitlin, “one of the most prominent communications researchers in the world,” who suggested that the close relationship between America and Israel is based not on “common values or interest but on the sense that ‘we have been chosen’”: “‘What is particularly striking is that, after American Jews, the most fervent – and the least critical – supporters of Israel are fundamentalist Christians, evangelicals, and their ilk. They feel an affinity with Israel not only for ideological reasons: for them, it’s a matter of identity, of identifying with the people from whom Yeshu came, the people of the Holy Land. They may not acknowledge that Yeshu was a Jew but they know that the Jewish Bible is the promo for their holy scriptures.”
Jewish-Christian Relations
Jerusalem Post, October 25, 26, 28, 31, 2010
In the wake of the Vatican Synod on the plight of Christians in the Middle East, the Jerusalem Post (October 26) published a second report: “The coming together at the Vatican of over 200 bishops from Muslim countries for a two-week synod on the Middle East that ended Sunday is bound to leave its mark. Arab Christians view Israel and dialogue with Judaism in more radical terms than does the Roman Curia. Although the pope, Vatican officials and spokesmen attempted to close the door to politics (Benedict XVI defined the synod’s character as ‘pastoral’), obviously they managed to slip back in.” While “the difficulties and dangers encountered by Christian minorities living under Islamic law and above all, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, occupied major space on the sidelines through press conferences and panel discussions organized within and outside the Vatican … in the final message and list of proposals, as well as in the pope’s message itself, there remain only generic allusions to these grievances. References are made to ‘the rights of citizenship, freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and freedom in education, teaching and the use of the mass media.’ Gone is the repeated call, in synod discussions, for a separation between religion and state, ‘a secular state’ and ‘civic society.’ Evidently caution and fear of reprisals on Christian minorities prevailed … Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s director for interreligious affairs, who delivered a keynote speech on October 13 as the synod’s special Jewish guest, had this to say: ‘I regret that the bishops in their closing statement do not have the courage to confront the most serious challenges confronting Christians in the Middle East. Even if the State of Israel didn’t exist, the depleting of the Christian presence would not be any different. To make the Palestinian-Israeli conflict the No. 1 issue is disingenuous’ … The Synod Message and a list of 44 propositions – many connected to bolstering Christian life and unity in the region – will be sifted and edited by Benedict and appear as a papal document at a future date. Some proposals have already been accepted, such as the addition of Arabic to the Vatican’s official languages. A de facto innovation is the creation of a Hebrew language website that functioned throughout the synod under the direction of Hana Bendcowsky, program director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations, hired by the Vatican for the occasion. The growth of a Hebrew-speaking Christian population in Israel, mainly due to immigration, spurred this decision.
The same paper devoted an editorial to the subject on the following day (Jerusalem Post, October 26): “In the name of radical Islamic-inspired nationalism, Mideast Christians of all denominations, including Catholics, have faced devastating persecution for their religious convictions. From the Gaza Strip and Egypt to Iraq to Turkey, Christians have been murdered, had their churches burned to the ground and their holy books destroyed, and have been demoted to second-class citizens exposed to libels and exploitation by Muslim neighbors. Ostensibly with the purpose of addressing these injustices and stemming the tide of a dwindling Christian population in the Mideast, Pope Benedict XVI convened a special Vatican Synod in Rome, composed of about 200 bishops mostly from Muslim countries. Yet these bishops hijacked the synod and issued a statement Saturday that all but ignored the plight of Catholics living in Muslim lands while singling out Israel’s ‘occupation’ for special castigation. One of the synod’s leaders, Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, even reiterated anti-Semitic theological positions that contradicted official Catholic positions as stated in Nostra Aetate, a groundbreaking interfaith document drafted in October 1965 during the Second Vatican Council that radically revamped the Church’s previous negative views of the Jewish people. Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s International Director of Interreligious Affairs, has now called on the Vatican to issue a clear repudiation of Bustros’s ‘outrageous and regressive comments.’ We firmly join him in that call … if radical Islam is the principal persecutor of Christians in the Mideast, why was Israel singled out? Apparently, by bashing Israel, Arab Catholic bishops as a persecuted minority in the Mideast are attempting to go out of their way to prove their loyalty to their Muslim brethren … Arab Christians have attempted to emphasize their ethnic and cultural loyalties above their religious affiliation, not only out of strongly heartfelt emotional ties to the Arab people, but also as a way of neutralizing religious tensions … We can muster some understanding, if not empathy, for Mideast bishops’ disingenuous and ultimately self-defeating behavior, which will only perpetuate the persecution of Christians by kowtowing to Muslim extremism. We cannot, however, excuse the Vatican for allowing itself to be hijacked. Bishops from this region have distorted both church teachings and the facts to sully Israel, while the Vatican has remained silent, in the process turning a blind eye to Christian suffering. Pope Benedict XVI still has a chance to distance himself from the synod’s declarations and make it clear that Bustros’s comments deviate from Church teaching. That is the right and necessary thing for the pope to do – not just for Jewish-Catholic relations, but also for the sake of the Middle East’s persecuted Christian minority.”
In his “Fundamentally Freund” column (Jerusalem Post, October 28), Michael Freund took the Catholic Church to task, asking “What Bible is the Vatican reading” and answering: “This past Saturday, a synod of bishops in Rome tossed the theological equivalent of a hand grenade, threatening to blow up decades of efforts to improve Catholic- Jewish relations … in one fell swoop, a senior Church official sought to deny the unique, covenantal relationship between God and the Jews, rejecting the divine promise to restore the people of Israel to their Land. One cannot help but wonder: What Bible is the Vatican reading? Whichever one it is, it must be missing a few pages, as even a cursory glance at the Scriptures makes clear that the Jewish people’s right to the Land of Israel is indisputably ordained … There is no getting around the fact that this convocation of bishops was called by the pope himself. Moreover, the perception around the world was that the Vatican had officially delegitimized Israel while assaulting Judaism itself. As Catholic writer William Doino Jr. noted: ‘In a statement meant to be fully and intensely Christian, Israel was singled out for blame and criticism. That’s not fair, much less Christian’ … My Christian friends tell me that the words ‘Palestine’ and ‘Palestinians’ do not even appear in the New Testament. So the learned bishops could not have come up with the idea of the ‘occupation of Palestine’ while attending Sunday school. Furthermore, by Bustros’s own definition, the founder of Christianity would also have to be considered an ‘occupier’ and a ‘settler,’ for according to Christian belief, Jesus the Jew was born and raised in Bethlehem. That is the very same Bethlehem that Bustros would now like to see become part of a Palestinian state. No matter how one looks at it, the synod’s unbridled insult to Israel and the Jewish people cannot be allowed to stand. If it is not denounced and corrected forthwith, it will quickly be exploited by Israel’s enemies to stir up still more hatred … Given the Catholic Church’s long and dark history of anti-Jewish persecution, it is only fitting that the pope himself speak out loudly and clearly on this issue. It is incumbent upon Pope Benedict to transform this turn of events into a profound opportunity to atone for what the Church has done to the Jewish people through the centuries.”
In response to the Synod, Bridge for Peace ran an advert in local papers, stating: “ARE ALL CHRISTIANS ANTI-ISRAEL? NO! Millions of Bible-believing Christians worldwide stand faithfully in support of Israel. Bridges for Peace thoroughly rejects recent anti-Israel statements from the synod of Catholic bishops and other Christian leaders” (Jerusalem Post, October 31).
Yediot Yerushalayim, October 29; Yediot Ashdod, October 29, 2010
Both these articles feature Ole Brunel, a former Finnish pastor who has been “reborn in Israel as an observant Jew.”