During the week covered by this review, we received 22 articles on the following subjects:
Christians in Israel
Israel Hayom; The Jerusalem Post (x3), October 23; Maariv; Haaretz, October 25; Yated Ne’eman; The Jerusalem Post, October 27; Israel Hayom, October 28, 2016
The controversy continues concerning the UNESCO resolution regarding Judaism and Jerusalem (see previous review). The resolution was initiated by the Palestinians, who have “pushed since 2015 to change the language UNESCO uses to speak of Jerusalem and the holy sites, so they are referred to almost exclusively by their Arabic names.” The Palestinians have also demanded that “an international delegation of experts be sent to the holy sites to survey Israel’s destruction of the historical and archaeological heritage.” An additional vote has now been carried as well, with slightly amended phrasing, in which Israel is no longer described as an “occupying power.” However, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO has still been recalled for consultation.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Israeli committee to UNESCO, suspended relations with the organization. However, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova sent a letter to Bennett, stating “her belief in the 3,500-year-old connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem, and promising to act against anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activity.”
In a public address on migration on Wednesday, October 26, Pope Francis spoke of “the people of Israel, who from Egypt, where they were enslaved, walked through the desert for forty years until they reached the land promised by God.” However, Pope Francis “has yet to issue a clear statement on UNESCO’s Jerusalem resolutions.” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein sent a letter to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, saying that UNESCO’s resolution is “an affront to Judaism and Christianity both,” and “urging the Holy See to use its best offices to prevent the recurrence of developments of this sort.”
Matteo Renzi, prime minister of Italy, has stated that “saying that the Jewish people have no connection to Jerusalem is like saying that the sun creates darkness.” In an interview with a local Italian radio station, Renzi stated that Italy’s abstention during the vote was not due to an anti-Israel stance, but rather due to wishing to vote in unity with the European Union, and that he would have preferred it if Italy had voted against the resolution. Renzi has also said that Italy would “try to influence other European countries to vote against these types of anti-Israel resolutions in the future.” Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked Renzi for his remarks, adding that “this is not an issue of politics, but of historical facts.” Additionally, 23 international parliamentarians, in Israel for the annual conference of the Israel Allies Foundation sponsored by the World Jewish Congress and the International Christian Embassy, have signed a document condemning UNESCO’s resolution and declaring support for a united Jerusalem.
“Another testament to UNESCO’s absurdity is the sheer number of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem at Sukkot,” declares another article, as they are following the Prophet Zechariah’s invitation to do so, given around 520 BCE. An example of this is the International Christian Embassy’s Feast of Tabernacles celebration, held annually since ICEJ’s establishment in 1980 and now constituting “the country’s largest tourist event and solidarity mission.” Jerusalem’s sanctity to Christianity and Islam “comes out of its sanctity to Judaism,” and Israel does not expect either one to “give up Jerusalem,” as Israel has shown since 1967 that it “separates between sovereignty over earthly Jerusalem and Jerusalem as holy to all three religions.”
However, one article suggests that the UNESCO resolution should stand, in order “to show the world the lack of logic in the Arab claims, and the futility of the international community.” By this move the Palestinians “have proved again that the Israeli fear of negotiation is justified,” and “there really is no one to talk to.” Intriguingly, this article also analyzes the background to Russia’s and China’s vote against Israel in UNESCO, and is of the opinion that these countries votes were not based in anti-Semitism, but rather in order to not antagonize the Muslim bloc, whose support they feel they need.
The Jerusalem Post, October 28, 2016
The Knesset Finance Committee has authorized a tax break for 76 different non-profit organizations. Most of the organizations received a break for three years, but some, including Amnesty International, received this break for one year only. This move passed after “a heated debate,” during which MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), supported by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, proposed a bill allowing only organizations that “act for the good of Israeli citizens and not against the State of Israel in the world” to receive the tax break. During the debate Smotrich stated his objection to renewing Amnesty’s tax free status, saying that “the organization is against the state and IDF officers,” while Meretz head Zehava Gal-On said that all 76 organizations “meet the standards of the law.” Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) suggested the compromise by which Amnesty’s tax break would be for one year only.
Praising the committee’s decision, Amnesty said that “the charges against it were raised by the lunatic right in the Knesset,” and its spokesman also “thanked Smotrich for the free publicity.”
The Jerusalem Institute for Justice was removed from the list, since it advocated for Messianic Jews and “concerns have arisen that it engages in missionary activity.”
Chadashot Haifa VeHaTzafon, October 26, 2016
A choir of Holocaust survivors from the Holocaust survivors’ shelter in Haifa performed the shelter’s anthem before 7,500 attendees from 85 countries at the International Christian Embassy’s Feast of Tabernacles at the Pais Arena this week, receiving a standing ovation. “You hear the speakers from all over the world and you see the affection, and you can’t remain apathetic,” said Shimon Sabag, head of Yad Ezer L’Chaver, the non-profit organization that administers the shelter. “The Christian Embassy helps the shelter all year, and did so this year as well.”
The shelter houses some 100 residents in five-star conditions, including medical care and social activities, with almost no cost on their part. “Hearing the survivors sing the shelter’s anthem is something I will never forget,” said Dr. Jürgen Bühler, ICEJ’s executive director.
Haaretz, October 23, 2016
The Samaritan high priest, Abdullah Wasef Tawfiq, received a group of Palestinians this week for Sukkot, followed by Jewish visitors as well. One of the oldest minorities in the world, the Samaritans nevertheless manage to successfully straddle the Arab-Israeli conflict most of the time, and both Palestinians and Jews feel comfortable with them. Samaritans carry both Israeli and Palestinian ID cards, giving them more access to the country than most people, but this can occasionally be a burden, as Palestinians can sometimes mistake them for Jews, and Jews can mistake them for Palestinians.
The Samaritan community in Israel numbers about 700, and live near Nablus and in Tel-Aviv.
Christians in Israel
The Jerusalem Post, October 28, 2016
This article tells the story of the Korean Christian community in Israel, which numbers some 800 people. Although the reasons drawing each family to Israel are different, each one “had something to do with God.” Those interviewed mention being inspired by the country, wanting to help, and believing that the Jews are still the chosen people. Some, however, came to Israel to study, as they value the dialogue present in “Jewish education,” and often education in Israel is “cheaper than in Korea.” Some of those interviewed for the article reported “rough edges” that they had to get used to due to the differences between cultures, but have built their lives in Israel in different ways.
The Jerusalem Post, October 28, 2016
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was recently mentioned in the media, as National Geographic reported that “a large amount of fill material was found beneath the stone slab” where, according to tradition, “the body of Christ was laid.” The report “suggests that analyzing the rock could give scholars a better understanding of the original tomb’s form and how it came to be a center of worship.”
The original church, consecrated by Constantine on September 13, 335, was destroyed during the Persian invasion of Jerusalem, and the tomb of Jesus was destroyed in 1009. The church was rebuilt during the Crusades, and suffered fires and earthquakes in the succeeding centuries. During the 1967 war, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan gave specific orders that the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aksa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were not to be hit by artillery or air strikes, declaring immediately after the war that Israel “did not intend to possess herself of the holy places of others.” The Protection of Holy Places Law was passed a few weeks later. Six Christian denominations now celebrate rites in the church, the current restoration of which is apparently being financed by Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Israel Hayom; HaModia; Maariv; HaPeles; HaMevaser; Yediot Ahronot, October 27; Haaretz, October 28, 2016
The Department for the Prevention of Antiquities Theft has recovered an ancient papyrus document explicitly mentioning Jerusalem in Hebrew. The document has been dated to the 7th century BCE, making it the oldest extra-biblical mention of Jerusalem in ancient Hebrew writing. The Israel Antiquities Authority has stated that this is a notification of taxes paid or merchandise sent from Na’arata, on the border between Ephraim and Benjamin, to warehouses in Jerusalem. Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy head of the department, stated, “This document is a rare testimony of an ordered bureaucracy in the kingdom of Judah. It emphasizes Jerusalem’s centrality as the kingdom’s economical capital in the second half of the 7th century BCE.”
Some scholars dispute the find, however, saying it is no more than a forgery, and that its date has so far been insufficiently verified.
Haaretz, October 27, 2016
An archaeological conference took place on October 27 at Hebrew University. Some of the artifacts presented were found at the Temple Mount over the past decade, including the remains of a large Muslim building found at the northern end of the Temple Mount, potsherds, animal bones, and olive pits. By exhibiting these artifacts, the Israel Antiquities Authority wishes “to disprove UNESCO’s claim that Israeli archaeologists are damaging Muslim remains on the Temple Mount and Judaizing Jerusalem.”
It is particularly intriguing to note that the potsherds and olive pits were found by the IAA as the result of a Waqf excavation for laying an electrical cable on the Temple Mount. The potsherds and olive pits were dated without the laboratory being aware of where they had been found, and both were found to be 2,500-2,600 years old. These First Temple-era remains are the first to have been found in situ.