May 12 – 2014

During the week covered by this review, we received 41 articles on the following subjects:


The Pope and the Vatican
Jewish Attitudes Concerning Christians
Christians in Israel
Status of Holy Places
Christian Tourism
Book Reviews


The Pope and the Vatican

Yated Ne’eman, May 11, 2014

The Vatican has expressed concern about the recent wave of price-tag attacks, and has submitted to the Israeli government an “urgent request” to protect the Christian holy sites. The increase in attacks is seen as connected to the pope’s upcoming visit.


Yediot Ahronot, May 12; Israel Hayom, Haaretz, May 16, 2014

These articles survey the itinerary for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit. Among other things, it will include a visit to President Shimon Peres, a visit to the Western Wall, and a visit to Yad VaShem. The pope’s visit in Israeli territory will be for approximately 24 hours only, but sources in the Vatican say that for Pope Francis an important purpose of the visit is to repair breaches from Pope Benedict’s visit in 2009. The pope will be accompanied by Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a friend from his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires, with whom he has always enjoyed open and free conversations on theological and philosophical subjects.

Other sources, calling the pope a “trailblazer,” cite his uncompromising attitude toward issues such as corruption and pedophilia, and say that, as in other instances, another main purpose of the visit is to draw Catholics who have left the church, and to emphasize to the Christians in the region, such as the Syrian community, that “they are not alone.”

Still other sources say that the pope’s main purpose is to underscore the historic meeting 50 years ago between Pope Paul XVI and the Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople (Istanbul). This meeting will be reconstructed during Pope Francis’ visit in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, to demonstrate that “Jerusalem can not only divide but also unify.”


HaMevaser, May 12, 2014

This article is a response to the recent press conference held by Catholic clerics in Haifa, “in which Israel was accused of intentionally increasing tensions ahead of the pope’s upcoming visit.” The article considers these accusations as “impertinent” and “hypocritical,” and clearly states that the attacks are reprehensible and worthy of punishment, not only because of “criminal activity, taunting against the law and increasing tension,” but because they give Jews “a bad name” and encourage anti-Jewish activity around the world. However, the article also states that at the same time, the entire Jewish people, and Holocaust survivors in particular, “have a long account to settle with Christianity.” In view of this, the Catholic officials in the country should have expressed themselves differently.


Yediot Ahronot, May 13, 2014

Preparations are almost complete for Pope Francis’ visit to Bethlehem, but the population is not very excited. The city is hoping that the visit will lead to more tourism, but otherwise do not expect a material change. The pope’s visit is expected to last 7 hours; some of the planned events are visits to the Church of the Nativity and the Dahaisha refugee camp.


Haaretz, May 13, 2014

On May 12, The Economist quoted a papal spokesman as saying that Israel’s measures for Pope Francis’ visit will “drive a security wedge between him and the masses of Christians coming to greet him.” Israeli authorities, however, insist that the measures are necessary, particularly in view of the threat of attacks by radicals during the visit.


Makor Rishon, May 16, 2014

In spite of Hezbollah opposition, Beshara Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, is set to accompany Pope Francis to Israel. He will visit former members of the South Lebanon Army, but also intends to visit Jerusalem and declare it to be an Arab city like any other.


Jewish Attitudes Concerning Christians

Kol Nes Tziona, May 9, 2014

Arieh Rosenberg, “a Jew who loves his people” and the son of Holocaust survivors, writes in opposition to the price-tag attacks, saying that Jews, as the chosen people, “cannot allow deeds that are not a pride to Judaism but rather a shame,” and that “we are commanded to uproot the plague.”


Koreh BaKinneret, May 9, 2014

A cross and some benches were recently defaced in the Tabgha church in Tiberias. The church’s priest has filed a complaint with the police, but no arrests have been made yet.


Haaretz, May 11, 2014 (Hebrew and English editions)

Hate graffiti has been sprayed recently near a Romanian church in West Jerusalem, mentioning King David, rather than Jesus, as the king of the Jews. This accentuates the high tensions in Jerusalem over the past few months due to Pope Francis’ upcoming visit, as do the steep increase in hate crimes and the rumors of a possible handover of control of King David’s tomb on Mount Zion. Israeli officials have denied these rumors, but the opposing campaign continues, and has made reference to the Holocaust, the Inquisition, and missionary activity. On the same day, author Amos Oz roundly opposed the growing hate crime phenomenon in a series of controversially worded comments at an event in Tel-Aviv, calling the groups “neo-Nazis” and saying that “there is nothing in the world that the neo-Nazis do in Europe that these groups do not do here.” To Oz’s mind, the only difference is that the groups here receive support from some elements in authority. Additionally, Oz said that “the time has come for us to look this monster in the eye.”


Yediot Ahronot, May 11; Israel Hayom, May 16, 2014

In December 2013, price-tag activities were declared “forbidden.” Since then 78 files were opened, 102 suspects arrested, and 37 suits submitted. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Domestic Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich will soon be submitting their conclusions to the government, who will then decide whether or not to define price-tag activity as terrorist activity. This would allow expedited action against suspects. The government is also considering additional action in this matter, such as an amendment to the Courts Law, which would allow people suspected of hate crimes to be brought before a single district judge, and not three. The punishment for people found guilty of hate crimes is 10 or more years of imprisonment.

Additional action has been taken by the Shabak [domestic intelligence organization] against the price-tag perpetrators. Although in many cases the evidence is not yet sufficient for a suit, many attacks have been prevented. Cells have been penetrated and both attackers and suspects found. One such case is Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg from Yitzhar, who has been suspected in the past of supporting illegal activity. Most other rabbis, from across the spectrum, roundly oppose the price-tag attacks, calling them blasphemous.


Makor Rishon, May 12, 2014

In this article Asaf Golan gives a round rebuttal to Amos Oz’s statement (see above). Golan is convinced that Oz was speaking – out of his desire to win a Nobel Prize for literature – to the European community rather than to Israelis or Arabs, the same European community which “was educated according to the culture that sees every Jew as the murderer of God’s son.”


The Jerusalem Post, May 12, 2014

Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, spoke out on May 11 against the price-tag attacks. Twal accused the authorities of insufficient action against the attackers, but praised Justice Minister Tzipi Livni for her actions against the attacks, as well as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon for calling the attacks acts of terrorism. Twal called for “greater police enforcement” but also spoke against “official discourse that insists that the state is only for one group of people.”


Yediot Ahronot, May 13, 2014

Yoaz Hendel writes in stiff opposition to the threats and “price-tag” type attacks that Fr. Gabriel Nadaf and Captain (res.) Shadi Khalul have been subject to for their attempts to encourage Christian Arabs to volunteer for service in the IDF, particularly a Facebook page where their pictures were posted, titled “Most Wanted.” Hendel writes to raise awareness concerning these actions, particularly since they have received hardly any media coverage, and says that “hate is hate … regardless of religious background.”


Ma’ariv, May 13, 2014

Riyad al-Maliki, Foreign Minister for the Palestinian Authority, recently wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the Arab League, the Islamic Cooperation Organization, the U.S. State Department, the European Union, Russia, and Canada, requesting that they add the hilltop youth and the price-tag perpetrators as terror organizations. These, however, are not actual organizations but local actions, seemingly increasing in number due to Pope Francis’ upcoming visit. It must be noted, though, that some 550 young people – Jews, Muslims, Druze, religious, and secular – spent some hours on May 12 cleaning the beaches around Hadera, Jasr a-Zarka, and Givat Olga as a solidarity statement against the price-tag actions.


The Jerusalem Post, May 15, 2014

Faydra Shapiro, director of the Galilee Center for Studies in Jewish-Christian Relations at the Max Stern Jezreel Valley College, recently took a group of her students on a visit to Bishop Marcuzzo, the Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel. The purpose of the visit was “to express solidarity, concern and friendship in light of recent anti-Christian violence and vandalism.” The visit was warm and friendly, and all present were able to discuss subjects ranging from Pope John XXIII to local vehicle traffic. During the visit the bishop outlined action on three possible levels in order to combat the violence: police, education, and politics. He was happy with police actions regarding this issue and with the success the Galilee Center has had in its educational sphere. However, the visiting students were “surprised and embarrassed” to learn that no politician has specifically spoken out against anti-Christian violence, although they have done so regarding anti-Muslim violence. Shapiro closes the article by saying that it isn’t enough for the country to content itself with being better than other Middle Eastern countries as regards the status of minorities, but that “we must ask ourselves, what kind of country do we envision for our children?”



BeSheva, May 8; Olam Katan, May 9; HaMevaser, May 15; HaModia, May 16, 2014

Amit, a religious man from Eli in Samaria, was recently expelled from the current Israeli Defense Force officers’ course. The initial reason cited was “extreme religious behavior” – specifically requesting to be absent from a discussion hosted by a Messianic Jew, and asking to be excused from an exercise where women were also present. In both these cases Amit was given permission to be absent by his immediate commanders, but these requests were still held to his discredit. Amit appealed the expulsion decision and was invited to a hearing, where the expulsion was upheld. The expulsion document was leaked to the Internet, where the reasons given were “problems in behavior and discipline” and that “there is no room in the IDF for officers who are too radical.”

This incident has caused a storm of comment, particularly in the religious community. Amit’s rabbi, Rabbi Natanel Eliashiv, called this incident a “red line,” saying that “the IDF is shooting the religious soldiers in the back” and that “there are things a religious officer candidate cannot compromise on.” In a further response, Eliashiv cited his own service record, emphasizing that he went through a full term of service and many years of reserve duty, and that he “educated his students to show flexibility where possible.” However, being unable to ignore the current trend in the IDF that has cropped up in other instances as well, Eliashiv says that the solution is “to neutralize the influence of all sorts of ideological groups,” whether ultra-Orthodox or ultra-secular, and “to concentrate on defending the country.”

The anti-missionary organization Yad L’Achim has also responded by sending a letter to the defense minister, urging immediate action against missionary activity in the IDF, and citing another instance where a group of soldiers was hosted by Yakov Damkani [a Messianic Jewish leader] for a meal in a hotel. The Chief of Staff’s bureau responded by saying the group was hosted by Damkani since one of the group was related to him, and that the gathering had no religious atmosphere. However, Yad L’Achim was warned of Damkani’s continued contact with the group, and the organization has also since turned to the state comptroller’s office for additional immediate action.


Christians in Israel

The Jerusalem Report, May 14, 2014

This four-page article surveys different opinions regarding Christian Arab identity, specifically as regards the IDF enlistment issue. Rajaa Natour of Jaffa, who gave her national identity as “Arab Palestinian,” said that the differences between Muslim and Christian Arabs are “superficial” and that the new government legislation regarding Arab Christians “is simply creating internal divisions that don’t exist.” Jafar Farah of Haifa, director of the Mossawa Center for promoting Arab rights, added that the law is “irrelevant” as regards employment opportunities, that “no one in the Arab community cares very much about it” and that the real difference, economic and otherwise, is between Arabs and Jews. He also said that “what Israel needs is peace with the Arabs. Dividing them won’t help.” However, some supporters of the enlistment have formed a new political party, called “Sons of the New Testament.” The leader of the group, Bishara Shlayan, said that “he is not interested in a political show” but rather simply believes that Christians should be part of Israeli society. He believes the new legislation will increase employment opportunities, and is confident that through this move Israeli identity for all will be strengthened. Others, such as Aya Ben-Amos of the Abraham Fund, say that the legislation will weaken Israeli civic identity. However, the article ends by saying that Natour and Farah, as well as Nora Mansor, a teacher from Acre, all agree that the rifts should be healed, and that this should come from the population itself, rather than from legislation imposed by the government.


The Jerusalem Post, May 15, 2014

Students at the Hebrew University at Mount Scopus held two simultaneous demonstrations on May 14, one for and one against Christian Arab enlistment. The demonstration against enlistment included slogans such as “We will not serve in the Israeli army,” while the demonstration in favor of the enlistment had slogans such as “We’re not leaving here.” Amier Kardosh, one of the demonstrators against enlistment, said, “This is a policy of divide and conquer … in order that they forget their roots in the Palestinian people.” Matan Peleg, one of the demonstrators in favor of enlistment, said that “it is hypocritical for Arab students to demonstrate with Palestinian symbols when Arab, Jew, Christian and Druze all study together and respect each other at the university.” MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), who arrived towards the end of the demonstrations, said to the media, “We want to encourage moderate elements in the Christian community who want to integrate into Israeli society.”


Status of Holy Places

Haaretz, May 11; The Jerusalem Post, May 12; Yediot Yerushalayim, May 16, 2014

David’s tomb on Mount Zion – also holy to Catholics as the site of the Last Supper and to Muslims as the site of a 16th century mosque in honor of “the prophet Daoud” – continues to be the focal point of fierce controversy. Pope Francis, like his predecessors, will pray there during his upcoming visit, but certain Jewish ultra-Orthodox groups remain convinced that control over the tomb will be given to the Vatican and the structure will become a de facto church. Official government sources have denied that any handover is being contemplated, and that the only thing under negotiation is the possible increase of Christian days of prayer from 2 to 3 in a year. Right-wing activists are convinced that the actual number is between 20 and 60. Although Judaism was the last religion to sanctify the structure, its importance grew after the War of Independence, when it was the only holy site to remain in Jewish hands. Increased interest in the tomb caused the appearance of many traditions connected with it, such as it also being the tomb of the kings of Judah. Some ultra-Orthodox are even convinced that the Catholics are trying to hijack King David and turn him into a completely Christian figure.

Other groups are calling for “a more proactive role” from Israeli officials, with “increased police presence and clear rules for prayer times” so that “no religious group would be allowed to intimidate another.” Some church officials have even said that they felt their lives are in danger.

The police forces are most troubled by the increasing tension, as they are responsible for order on Mount Zion.



The Jerusalem Post, May 14, 2014

The Anti-Defamation League has recently completed its Global 100 Index, surveying anti-Semitism around the world. The Index surveyed over 50,000 people in 102 countries. Among the conclusions arising from the poll were the following: 25% of adults worldwide are “deeply ant-Semitic”; 35% of respondents said that Jews have “too much power in the business world”; 70% of those whom the survey labeled as anti-Semitic stated that they have never met a Jew; respondents markedly overestimated Jewish world population; when surveying anti-Semitism by region, Laos was least anti-Semitic (0.2%), and Gaza and the West Bank most anti-Semitic (93%). Abraham Foxman said that “it is difficult to tease out whether anti-Semitic attitudes were caused by the conflict with the Palestinians or whether the conflict was an ‘excuse’ for such beliefs.” Foxman further said, “We were profoundly disappointed about the resilience of anti-Semitism in many countries where we had hoped to see lower numbers.”


Christian Tourism

Pausa, April 30, 2014

This article is a survey of different sites to be seen in Nazareth, such as the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, the Synagogue Church and Mount Precipice. The Al-Babur spice shop and the ceiling paintings at the Al-Manouar house are also attractions for visitors.


Derech Gezer, April 30, 2014

The Cistercian (Trappist) monastery of Latrun, located at the approach to Jerusalem, is noted for its history and the beautiful views it affords, especially to the south. The monastery vineyard, founded in 1895, is one of the oldest in Israel and produces some 300,000 bottles of wine a year. The monastery also produces olive oil. The location is noted for the nearby fort, which was a key point during the War of Independence; a monument stands by the fort for the fallen of Brigade 7, who fought in the area during that time.


Modi’in News, May 8, 2014

Zohar Baram is the founder of the Hasmonean Village near the city of Modi’in. A geographer by profession, he became convinced of the need for better advocacy after hearing Sir Peter Ustinov, whom he had known previously, saying, during the Yom Kippur War, that “this is the time to wipe out the State of Israel because the Jews are weak.” Baram began his activity with the cinematic sphere, and was able to receive support from Warner Brothers and Michael Douglas. However, since the importance of advocacy was still not clear to many in Israel, this support did not materialize, and he decided to strike out on his own. He founded the Hasmonean village, which includes reconstructions of houses, an oil press, a well, a synagogue, a mikveh [ritual bath], a prehistoric village called Noah, and a Roman area. Activities for children include candle and mosaic making workshops, as well as spear throwing and archery. The site also includes a Bedouin village. Baram is meticulous about research, and says that each item on display represents years of research. “This is my life’s work,” he says, “this is our inheritance, that I see as a privilege to pass on to the coming generations.”


Haaretz, May 15, 2014

Murals from the 19th century have recently been discovered in the Saint Louis Hospital opposite the Old City in Jerusalem. The paintings are by Count Marie Paul Amedee de Piellat, who considered himself to be the last crusader “who would salvage Jerusalem’s honor.” Accordingly, the paintings are filled with themes and motifs such as flags and knightly coats-of-arms. The hospital site itself is identified as the campsite of Prince Tancred, who took part in the first crusade. After the hospital was conquered by the Ottomans during World War I, the paintings were covered with black paint, but De Piellat himself returned after the war and spent the remaining time until his death uncovering the paintings. Although the paintings were known to exist, they have now been found to extend over a much greater area than was previously supposed.


Ma’ariv, May 16, 2014

This article surveys the Memshit National Park, so named after the Nabatean city Memphis on the Spice Route. The ruins include a palace, watchtowers, and an entrance gate, but is particularly notable for its churches – the Nile Church with its beautiful mosaic floor and the Church of Martyrs, so called after the bones found inside it. Both churches were built during the Byzantine period after the city’s inhabitants accepted Christianity.



The Jerusalem Post, May 9, 2014

A ceremony was held at the Hebrew University last month commemorating the Armenian genocide of 1915. The even was hosted by the university’s Armenian studies department, the Jerusalem Center for Genocide Prevention, and the Combat Genocide Association, and consisted of speeches, musical performances, and Scripture and poetry recitation. An address was read on behalf of the Armenian patriarch, Nourhan Manougian, which emphasized the parallels between the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian genocide, and underscored the patriarch’s concern that Israel has not formally recognized the Armenian genocide, and that Turkey not taken responsibility for her actions. Additional subjects mentioned were the fact that “genocide is not only the physical destruction of a people but the destruction of its language, history and culture”; the context of the genocide in the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the distrust between Muslims and Christians; how a direct connection can be seen between the role of physicians in the Armenian genocide and their role in Nazi Germany; and how early gas chamber technology appeared at this time. The article ends by calling on the international community to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide by doing the morally right thing and recognizing it.



Yediot Ahronot, May 11, 2014

The district municipality of the Verena valley in Switzerland is currently seeking a hermit monk, to live in a cave located in the Verena river channel, near Solothurn. An advertisement has been put out, specifying that applicants must “be able to meet strangers, dispense wisdom to passersby, hold a meditation course, perform baptisms and marriages, and be physically fit,” since the path to the cave is rugged. This advertisement is meant “to preserve an important part of the religious legacy of the area.”



Makor Rishon, May 16 (x2), 2014

An advertisement protesting a summer camp run by the Ministry of Education in participation with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews was published by Makor Rishon. This advertisement quotes leading rabbis, who are convinced that the fellowship is a missionary organization in disguise and should therefore be boycotted.

Makor Rishon also published, on the same day, a biographical article on Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder and president of the IFCJ, who is “puzzled by the way some entities have turned him into ‘a dangerous missionary in disguise.’” Eckstein, born and raised in Canada, received a religious education, and began his career working with the Anti-Defamation League. He began his work in interfaith dialogue when he was sent to Chicago by ADL to combat Ku Klux Klan activity. This gradually led Eckstein to found the IFCJ, which has grown to be one of the largest philanthropic organizations in Israel. Eckstein emigrated to Israel in 2000, and has since been awarded many prizes for his work. He is also widely criticized by religious Jews, who are convinced the Christian contributors are secretly seeking to convert Jews. Eckstein, on his part, is determined to continue his fundraising activity.


Book Reviews

Haaretz, May 16, 2014

Eight conversations between Bible scholar Yair Zakovich and Serge Roser, a scholar of early Christianity, have recently been compiled into a book called In the Beginning Was the Word: Eight Conversations on the Fourth Gospel, published by Magnes Press. The book surveys the way in which the Gospel of John “shows Jesus’ Messianic biography.”



Teva HaDvarim, May 13, 2014

A Byzantine monastery was recently found in a salvage dig in the northern Negev. The monastery, measuring 35 by 20 meters, is singular especially for its mosaics, which are in a particularly good state of preservation. The mosaics state the names of four of the abbots – Elijah, Nonos, Salomon, and Hilarion – and date the monastery to the second half of the sixth century CE. Storage vessels such as amphorae and clay pitchers were also found on the site. The monastery is to be moved to the Wadi Atir tourist site near Hura.


Israel Hayom, May 14, 2014

This article surveys the TV series “The Naked Archeologist,” which looks at biblical stories and their archeological proofs – the intent being to make the topic accessible to anyone. The current episode deals with the burial location of the apostle Peter. In 1950, Pius XII declared this to be in the basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, after a headstone in Peter’s memory was found during renovations. However, in 1953, during the building of the Dominus Flevit Church on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, an ossuary was found saying explicitly “Shimon bar-Yonah” [Peter’s Hebrew name]. The episode does not resolve this contradiction.