During the week covered by this review, we received 17 articles on the following subjects:
Arab Believing Community
Christians in Israel
Arab Believing Community
Maariv, December 29, 2013; HaMevaser, January 3, 2014
Yair Kraus writes about the changes taking place in the Christian Arab community in Israel and how these changes are causing an identity crisis within this small minority. The Christian Arabs in Israel, says Kraus, are caught between a rock and hard place, by being a minority within a minority in the Middle East. There are about 30 million Christian Arabs in the world, most of them living in the Middle East. What characterizes this group is the high percentage of people who choose to emigrate to Western countries, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring. For example, ten years ago, there were about 2 million Christian Arabs living in Iraq; today there are barely 500,000 – most of them have left, or have been killed by Muslim extremists. And the Christian Arabs in Israel understand the changing dynamics in the Middle East: “They see these things and understand who it is that is watching over them.”
However, not all Christian Arabs living in Israel see things in this way. MK Hanna Sweid says: “We see ourselves as part of the Palestinian people. … Perhaps there are altercations between Muslims and Christians from time to time, but it is important for us to clarify that we will not allow these divisions to be used against us in order to disconnect us from the Muslim Arabs.”
Father Gabriel Nadaf, of the Greek Orthodox Church, disagrees with Sweid. “Arabs are those who speak Arabic, but having this language in common does not turn them into a nation,” says Nadaf. “For many years we had Arab nationalism forced upon us; but now we are trying to fix this. I see myself as an Israeli Christian who speaks Arabic. My history and roots are in Christianity – long before Islam even existed.” Nadaf claims that the Jews’ history is what enables Israel to take care of its minorities – Israeli Jews understand what it is like to be persecuted. “No other Middle Eastern country treats its Christians the way Israel does,” says Nadaf. “I live in this country and respect it because it takes care of us. There is no other democracy like this in the Middle East.”
Yisrael HaYom, January 1, 2014
In this article, Aharon Lapidot takes a closer look at the Christian Arab community in Israel, saying that they are more similar to Israelis than to Palestinians, even though historically they have always been connected to the Palestinian Muslim community. He writes about the growing desire within the Christian Arab community to integrate into Israeli society. But instead of focusing on the opposition coming from within the Arab camp, Lapidot says that this small faction of Israel-supporting Christian Arabs has also faced quite a few challenges from the Jewish Israeli side. He refers to the continuing harassment of Christians by Jews, including the “price tag” attacks as well as the now-common practice of religious Jews spitting on Christian clergy. “Every decent Jew ought to be ashamed,” writes Lapidot. These acts of antagonism put the Christian Arab community between a rock and a hard place. However, if Israeli Jews encourage the Christian Arab community to integrate into Israeli society, everyone will benefit.
BaMachane, December 26, 2013
BaMachane also addressed the issue of Christian Arabs serving in the army, this time focusing on a Christmas event organized by the IDF in honor of its Christian recruits, at which a greeting from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was showed on video (see December 29, 2013, Media Review).
Christians in Israel
The Jerusalem Post, December 31, 2013; The Jerusalem Post, January 1, 2014
Speaking at a New Year’s reception given in honor of the Christian community living in Israel, President Shimon Peres said that “‘price tag’ aggression against Christian clergy and desecration of Christian holy sites will not be tolerated by the authorities of the State of Israel.” In response, the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, said that he appreciated Peres “for the determined and strong voice that he has raised in condemning the wave of ‘price tag’ crimes.” Theophilos III added that “all such acts are abhorrent, whatever their target, and undermine the efforts of all those in our country who are working for reconciliation and peace.” He then called on everyone present to “rededicate themselves to the fundamental principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and the equal care of all their people, ‘that the light of this Holy Land may shine brightly in a dark world and give hope and life to all.’”
Peres also addressed the political situation in the Middle East, saying that he has noticed a growing trend among people of all backgrounds of returning to a life of prayer. He “lamented the harassment and persecution of Christians in certain countries and declared that in Israel they are more united than divided.”
The Jerusalem Post, January 2, 2014
Yoram Dori writes this article in condemnation of the small faction of extremist religious Jews who have taken to spitting on Christian clergy and harassing them in other ways. He says there is “no room for leniency” for those who treat Christians in Israel with such disrespect, referring back to Jewish history as well as the Torah to make his point. No other Jewish law, writes Dori, is repeated as often as the call to love the stranger as oneself.
The Jerusalem Post, January 2, 2014
Reuven Hammer takes issue with the controversial statement made by the deputy minister of religious affairs, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, that the souls of Jews are superior to the souls of Christians. Hammer writes that if the statement were reversed, Israel would have “made a fuss.” But this statement has passed over without a single denouncement from any faction within the government. Hammer writes: “A government that had an ounce of integrity or shame would have insisted on the resignation of a person in charge of religious affairs who dared to make such a statement. How can he represent Israel to leaders of other religions or be allowed to represent Judaism to Jews?”
Hammer then conducts a study of the Jewish concept of what it means to be human – that all are created in the image of God and therefore all are equal, whether Jews or Gentiles. He explains that, in light of this, “the pernicious doctrine that Jewish souls are higher than other souls is a perversion of these Jewish teachings and should be denounced as a dangerous heresy.” He adds that Ben-Dahan should resign, or should be asked to resign: “We are constantly asking others to condemn those who speak disparagingly against Jews or Judaism. … Should we not ask the same thing of ourselves and denounce any Jewish teaching that denounces non-Jews?”
The Jerusalem Post, January 2, 2014
Elena Shafran writes about St. James Church in London, which is hosting the “Bethlehem Unwrapped” festival. This festival, she writes, is “one sided and dogmatic” in its “hostility toward Israel.” The festival “features anti-Israel campaigners” who have spoken out against Israel’s human rights violations against the Palestinians. Shafran writes that “a search of the church’s website shows that regarding some of the most horrendous human rights violations in the Middle East, St. James has little or nothing to say.” She then asks how the church can claim “a moral high ground.”
Much of the rest of the article is dedicated to an examination of the various anti-Israel organizations that are working hard to conscript churches in order to “further their agenda.”
The Jerusalem Post, January 3, 2014
Reverend Alan Culpepper writes that “many were appalled” by Bishara Shlayan’s plan to build a 100-foot statue of Jesus on the top of Mount Precipice in Nazareth, where the population is 70 percent Muslim. According to Culpepper, this is a clearly political act, not a tourist-related one, and is, therefore, “grossly inappropriate.” He explains: “There is much we don’t know about the historical Jesus and most claims serve one political or ecclesiastical agenda or another. If we know anything about Jesus, however, it’s that he rejected political acclaim. According to the Gospel of John, ‘When Jesus realized that they [the crowd of 5,000 in the Galilee] were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself’ (John 6:15).” Culpepper also quotes from the Gospel of Mark, about Jesus overturning the tables in the temple because they were using “his father’s house” as a marketplace. “How sadly ironic,” concludes Culpepper, “that the prophet who refused power and condemned the desecration of the temple for commercial purposes should now be depicted for political and commercial purposes.”
Culpepper then goes on to write that the Christian minority’s role in Israel should be that of peacemakers and mediators. “Christians have often been truest to their faith when they were in the minority, fulfilling Jesus’ metaphors of salt, light and leaven. … What if Christians in Israel and Palestine found their role as mediators and peacemakers? … The image of Jesus all Christians should work to present is not that of the Christ triumphant over all, but the Jesus who worked as mediator, reconciler and servant in what has always been a contested center of religious and at times world history.”
The Jerusalem Post, December 27, 2013
Greer Fay Cashman reports on the various Christmas events in which President Shimon Peres participated. A few days before Christmas, Peres went to Ramle, where “he was greeted by a large group of excited children dressed in Santa Claus costumes.” The mayor of Ramle was also there, together with a variety of representatives from the Christian community. In his message, Peres “emphasized that Israel was both the cradle and the center of the three great monotheistic faiths. ‘We all pray to the same God,’ he said. ‘We pray that he should bring peace upon us and upon our children and that we should not know hostility and animosity. The Lord commanded us to live in peace, and I pray that by next Christmas, we will have peace in our region, and I hope that there will be unity among us.’”
The Jerusalem Post, December 31, 2013
Jonathan Feldstein reflects on Mahmud Abbas’s controversial remarks last week that Jesus was a Palestinian (see December 29, 2013, Media Review). “I’m no theologian,” writes Feldstein, “and, as an Orthodox Jew, certainly no expert in Christianity or the Gospels. However, I know a dangerous and offensive ambush on both Judaism and Christianity when I see it, and when those called Palestinians today erase and rewrite whole sections of scripture that are the foundation of Judaism and Christianity, it must be called what it is: a dangerous lie that is a hybrid between Palestinian nationalism and the ultimate Islamic replacement theology.”
Feldstein then delves into a variety of examples that illustrate his point, including, for example, the Palestinians’ denial that there ever was a temple on the Temple Mount. He then asks, “Why do I care? Why do I write this? It’s simple: Israel is the birthplace of both Judaism and Christianity. Jews and Christians have a common bond that’s based biblically, and has never been more important.” It’s true, says Feldstein, that the church has not been kind to the Jews; but the “awakening in the past century of Christians who understand the biblical injunction to bless Israel, and who know that Israel’s rebirth is fulfillment of prophecy, needs to be met with open arms by Jews, and reciprocated.” This is why Feldstein has chosen to write an article denouncing Abbas’s statement: When the image of Jesus dying on the cross is replaced with an image of Jesus dying “with a suicide belt packed with explosives at a 2,000 year old Jerusalem café,” it must be “challenged at every turn.”
Giving a brief history of the term “Palestinian,” Feldstein concludes by saying that “by claiming that Jesus was a Palestinian, what Abbas has actually accomplished is to debunk the myth of a ‘Palestinian people’ as the term is abused today; everyone knows Jesus was a Jew. The latest ‘Palestinian’ lie underscores the reality that if Jesus were a ‘Palestinian’ it is the indigenous Jews who have the rightful claim to Israel, going back to those who lived here in Jesus’ time.”
Hadashot Haifa veHaZafon, December 25, 2013
This article describes how a group of Christian German volunteers working at the Carmel Hospital was treated to a day trip to Nazareth in honor of the Christmas holiday. These German volunteers come to Israel with the one intention “to do good,” and they have had a great impact on both the patients and the staff because of their willingness to serve wholeheartedly and without reserve.
Maariv, January 3, 2014
In the wake of Christmas and New Year’s, Hanan Harif gives a history of the Christian calendar and how the Jewish calendar has had to bend to it over the centuries. Every calendar expresses the cultural world in which it was created, writes Harif, and the Christian calendar is no exception. The Christian calendar has its roots in the Roman calendar, which was based on the sun rather than on the moon (the Jewish calendar is lunar). The Christians took the Roman calendar and Christianized it, slowly but surely moving away from the Jewish calendar. While the Christian calendar revolved around the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish calendar revolved around the Exodus.
As the Christian calendar spread throughout Europe, the Jews had to adapt themselves to it in order to survive. This included, for example, not trading on Christian holidays – and working on Jewish holidays, when the Christian markets were open, in order to survive. But the Jews of the Middle Ages found interesting ways to work around these dual calendars, often re-naming Christian holidays in derogatory terms: Christmas, for example, could be referred to as “Wine Night.” It is only with the secularization of both the Christian and the Jewish calendars, which occurred in modern times, that the tension between these two calendars was finally relaxed.
The Jerusalem Post, December 30, 2013
This short snippet warns against missionary material recently distributed in Jerusalem. The material bore the official logo of the Jerusalem Municipality, “giving the impression that the information is sponsored by the Municipality. Yad L’Achim commented that this is not the first time that missionary organizations illegally use official symbols of public institutions in order to mislead the public.”
Yahadut BaSharon, December 18, 2013
This article reported on Yad L’Achim’s successful bid to put an end to missionary activity at the Yad LaHayal hostel in Jerusalem (see December 9, 2013, Media Review).
Haim Aherim, December 17, 2013
Ofer Har Tov reflects on the spiritual aspects of light through the Christian lens. He begins his journey in the village of Ein Kerem, situated on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where “the Christian language” helps one think about the significance of preparing to receive the light. “In Christianity,” writes Har Tov, “Jesus is the manifestation of light. He is the crystallized expression of God. He is the light that is in each one of us, in the most internal sense. But apart from him there are two other important characters who are used as tangible instruments through whom Jesus can be revealed: his mother Mary and John the Baptist. We find the meeting point between them in Ein Kerem.” Har Tov explains that it is in this village that Mary met her cousin Elizabeth, who was the mother of John the Baptist. He quotes from John chapter 1, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came for testimony to bear witness to the light that all might believe through him,” explaining that Jesus did not know he was the light until John testified about him. Har Tov then journeys through the different churches in Ein Kerem that commemorate this intersecting of the light with man.