January 8 – 2017

During the week covered by this review, we received 25 articles on the following subjects:


Christians in Israel


Political Issues

Anti-Missionary Activity

Christian Tourism


Christian and Jewish Holidays



Christians in Israel

Index HaEmek VeHaGalil-Nazareth Ilit, December 16, 2016


The article reports additional detail on the Christian Empowerment Council’s annual Christmas and New Year’s conference held in Nazareth Ilit. (See last week’s Media Review.) Among those present were Father Gabriel Naddaf, the council’s founder, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Nazareth Ilit mayor Ronen Plot, Costa Rican Ambassador to Israel Esteban Penrod Padilla and his wife, Sepouan Mariah from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and Yaakov Haguel, vice-chairman of the World Zionist Organization. Jewish and Arab municipality heads, Muslim sheikhs, and Christian clergy were also present. A recorded greeting from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was shared with the group.


Naddaf’s speech called upon both Christians and Jews to share equally in both the duties and the privileges of civil life, and reiterated his determination to act for Christian integration “despite the slander and threats against him.” Shaked praised the council’s members for “causing Ben-Gurion’s vision to come true by collaborating in defending the country as well as breaking down walls between Christians and Jews.” The Council gave awards to people whose advocacy for human rights and for Israel has been exemplary, such as Muslim youth Mohammad Zoabi and Matan Peleg, head of the “Im Tirtzu” movement. Jonathan Alkhouri, one of the council’s long-time members, stated that “the Christian community is at a crossroads,” that “they cannot sit on the fence for much longer,” and that “the time has come to take care of their own future.”


The article also mentions an initiative of Plot, who suggested incorporating the Christian IDF veterans in the advocacy work abroad, following Yuli Edelstein’s similar initiative to send young adults from all sectors of society “to present the beautiful face of the country.” The group received Plot’s idea enthusiastically.


Passport, December 20, HaIr Kol HaIr, December 23, Israel Hayom, The Jerusalem Post, December 25, Yedioth Ahronoth, December 26, Makor Rishon, December 30, 2016


The Central Bureau of Statistics states that some 170,000 Christians live in Israel, about 2% of the population. 78.9% of the Christians in Israel are Arab. The cities with the highest Christian Arab population are Nazareth (22.3 thousand), Haifa (15.3 thousand), Jerusalem (12.4 thousand) and Shfar’am (10 thousand). The Ministry of Tourism estimates that these numbers will be augmented in December by some 120,000 Christian pilgrims, showing “stability, in spite of the complicated situation in the city during the past year,” according to Ilanit Melchior of the Jerusalem Development Authority.


Tourism Minister Yariv Levin held a reception for Christian leaders last week, and among those present were Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Custos of the Holy Land Fr. Francesco Patton, Vatican nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Latin Patriarchate representative Bishop William Shomali, and executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem Dr. Jürgen Bühler. The ministry will offer a shuttle free of charge between Jerusalem’s Carta parking lot and Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, as well as financing a fireworks display on Christmas Eve in Nazareth.


However, even though Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah will fall on the same night this year, this time has not been without elements of conflict, as Rabbi Elad Dokow of the Technion forbade students to enter the student union building because it was decorated with a Christmas tree. Father Gabriel Naddaf responded to Dokow, and called upon him to “act toward unity and not divisiveness and segregation.” The last two articles mention other condemnations of Dokow’s statement as well, one saying that it seems customary “for the chosen people to require over-consideration” and that as the lighting of a hanukkiah and a Christmas tree “both symbolize nearness between nations”, “it shames us to try to limit others’ freedom of religion”. In addition, those articles note that contrary to the pronouncements of Dokow and others comparing a tree to the image placed in the Temple in Maccabean times, it in fact is “neither an idol icon nor a decoration of an icon,” as it has no part in Christian ritual. This last article continues and quotes the Jewish religious law on Ashera trees, which says that “it is forbidden to sit under it if it was worshipped or used for worship,” that there is therefore no problem in enjoying Christmas trees, and that, on the contrary, the majority of the population has the responsibility of “showing its minorities that they have a place in society.”


HaIr Kol HaIr, December 23, The Jerusalem Post (three articles), December 25, 2016


These articles report on the Christmas celebrations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Tel-Aviv.


The article on Jerusalem covers the Christmas carol concert held at the YMCA, which included Prof. Gabi Scheffler’s playing of the bells, as well as three different choirs. “We tried to make something different out of this year’s concert,” said Salome Rebello, director of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, “since Jews, Christians and Muslims are all singing together.” Some of the works were performed by one ensemble performing alone, and others by all the choirs together.


The articles on Bethlehem describes the many local residents, including some Muslims and foreign tourists, who arrived at the Church of the Nativity for Christmas and the carol singing in the plaza. The story noted that other sites important to Christianity, such as the Holy Virgin’s Well, St. George’s Church in Burkin, and Zacchaeus’ House in Jericho, seem to attract only a few hundred visitors each month.


Christmas in Tel-Aviv’s Neve Sha’anan was marked by the municipality-sponsored “Chrismukkah” Night Light Festival, which included 22 art installations as well as some musical performances meant to recreate the original 1920s urban plan of the neighborhood. The festival drew many visitors. However, some Jewish residents, who have become the minority in the area in recent years, held a protest about what they see as the municipality’s abandonment of them to the 30 different nationalities also residing in the area. The interaction between the different ethnic groups and the visitors appeared minimal, but Yasha Rosov, one of the festival’s organizers, said he thinks that “anyone living in the neighborhood, Israeli or African, should be able to get access to all services, including culture, and every year when we do the festival, the municipality makes a bit more effort to fix the neighborhood.”



The Jerusalem Post, December 28, 2016


President Reuven Rivlin recently held his annual Christmas gathering for senior Christian leaders. While the gathering has in previous years been “an opportunity for Christians to air their complaints via Greek Patriarch Theophilos III,” this year no criticism whatever was heard, except for the general reference to “all peoples to have their own legitimate rights to self-determination and freedom.” Addressing Rivlin directly, Theophilos said, “We take the opportunity of this holiday gathering to express our gratitude to you for the firmness with which you defend the freedoms that lie at the heart of this democracy-especially the freedom of worship,” adding that Christians are “encouraged by Rivlin’s commitment to the sacredness of life, and his condemnation of all forms of terrorism.” On his part, Rivlin spoke of “the ongoing effort to build good relations between Christians and Jews, saying that Jews, Christians and Muslims alike share many common values and a deep respect for mankind ‘created in God’s image’.” However, Rivlin also termed the current period “a challenging time for anyone who loves Jerusalem and the justice and peace that this holy city stands for.” He said that he “sees his role and the role of the State of Israel as guardians of Jerusalem,” and condemned the United Nations Security Council’s recent decision on Jerusalem.


The Jerusalem Post, December 29, 2016


Yad VaShem held a conference on December 26-29 to discuss “the challenges of Jewish identity, Jewish history, perspectives on the Holocaust and its place within Jewish consciousness,” particularly as the number of survivors continues to shrink as the years pass. Some 200 educators from 34 countries on 6 continents were present. Dr. Eyal Kaminka, director of Yad VaShem’s International School for Holocaust Studies, stated that “as one of the most significant events of Jewish history, the Holocaust is part of the mosaic” of Jewish identity, and that “our understanding of the Holocaust should consist not only of horror of the Nazi genocide, but understanding of the responses of those who experienced it,” specifically “how people chose to live.” Kaminka also said that “a critical part of Holocaust education must be to provide a monument ‘to the faceless people who died and who the world didn’t want to remember’.”


Political Issues

Maariv, December 27, 2016


Media in the US has been occupied recently over a Christmas greeting from the Republican party, which appeared to refer to President-elect Donald Trump as the “new king.” Some of Trump’s most senior critics among the Republicans accused the greeting’s signatories of politicizing the holiday. However, Sean Spicer, recently appointed as the White House spokesperson for the incoming administration, said that “the greeting was not connected to Trump,” and that “Jesus is the new king of the Christian faith.”


Anti-Missionary Activity

HaModia, December 29, 2016


The anti-missionary activist organization Yad L’Achim cautions the public to be aware, following missionary activity in Jerusalem, Beitar Ilit and Beit Shemesh. Yad L’Achim has also sent teams to the relevant areas “to explain the trap and call upon the residents to destroy the missionary material.”


Christian Tourism

Haaretz, December 28, Haaretz, December 30, 2016


The Way of the Pilgrims tourist site was officially opened on Tuesday, December 27th with a candle-lighting ceremony also meant to launch the celebrations marking 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem. This dig has been controversial, since some think the tunnel has been opened prematurely, as only 100 of the total 700 meters have so far been uncovered. Some think the dig has been carried out improperly, as it is not being done from the top layer down, as is established procedure. Some, both residents of the area and others, consider the scaffolding supporting the ceiling, which is the underside of the main street in the Silwan village, to be insufficient in strength.


The second article states that the “Way of the Pilgrims” is in fact a Roman stepped street, dated after Herod the Great. Its paving stones have been removed at various points, apparently so that rebels could hide in the sewer beneath it. Archaeologists have found a coin dating to Pontius Pilate’s time – a generation after Herod – in this sewer. Another issue is that contrary to Professor Michael Avi-Yonah’s model, which placed the poorer sector of the city in the vicinity of this street, the structures alongside it were built of large stones and architectural details, along with luxury items such as imported pottery and magnificent glass articles. “The road appears to have been used for a short time only, and no later than Great Revolt.”


Haaretz, December 28, 2016


A First Temple-era stone wall, composed of original ancient stones and reconstructed ones, located at the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, recently collapsed due to heavy rains. A team of restorers has been called in “to prepare a plan to repair the artifacts.” The ancient settlement at Tel Dan reached its most prominent period approximately from 3,000 to 500 BCE. Excavations began in 1966 under Prof. Avraham Biran, and continue intermittently to this day. Tel Dan is known for being the site of the discovery of an extremely rare inscription dating to the ninth century BCE, mentioning the conquest of the area by Hazael king of Aram, “who seized it from the House of David.” It is also known for an ancient Canaanite gate, built of mud bricks, the arches of which are considered the oldest of their kind in the world.


Globes, December 28, 2016


This article mentions a variety of tourist sites, concentrating particularly on sites related to nature.  Sites highlighting specific wildflowers include the narcissi in Ahu Nov in the southern Golan and the Hula Valley, the cyclamen near Gilad in Ramot Menashe and the Ben Shemen Forest, and the anemones in various places in the Negev. Sites focused on water include the Ze’elim and Og Rivers. The article reminds readers that caution regarding possible flooding is essential when visiting.


The Hula Valley, Eilat, Ma’agan Michael and Kfar Ruppin are known for their migrating birds. Sites that are drab in summer but beautiful in winter include the Yatir forest, the Piran-Talkid river and Mount Sartaba. During the rainy season, sites of note include the Odem forest and the peak of Mount Meiron. In the winter, beautiful pools of water form along the beach by Netanya and Herzeliya, as well as in the Hadera forest. Hikers in the Kfira river and the Carmel can see annuals and trees growing from among the ashes following forest fires. Lastly, the archaeological tels of Megiddo, Arad and Gezer boast intriguing artifacts, testifying to the rich history of each region.


Kol HaIr-HaIr HaAtika (two articles), December 23, Yedioth Ahronoth, December 26, 2016


These articles present a number of tourist sites in Jerusalem, including the Tower of David, the City of David, the Western Wall tunnels, the Old City Walls Promenade and the Accra fortress. The second article mentions many specifically Christian sites, such as Christ Church, the Armenian Cathedral of Saint James, the Franciscan San Salvador church, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the Ethiopian Orthodox monastery Dir a-Sultan on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the French Catholic Assumptionist Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu, the Hagia Maria Sion Dormition Abbey, and the French Dominican convent and basilica of Saint Stephen.


The Jerusalem Development Authority has launched a phone application for walking tours in the Old City, complete with an audio guide in four languages for 21 routes, five of which have adjustments for wheelchair accessibility. There is also a wireless internet network available for visitors’ convenience in the area of Jaffa Gate, the Kishleh, the Karaites Street, the Burnt House and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher plaza. The Authority, along with the Office for Jerusalem Affairs, the Jerusalem Municipality and the National Insurance Institute, have been working on making the “picturesque alleyways” wheelchair accessible as well.



The Jerusalem Post, December 26, 2016


This article is an interview with Rev. Timothy Keller for the New York Times, in which he was asked a number of questions about Christian theology, such as the essentialness of the virgin birth to Christian belief, whether the Resurrection “must be taken literally”, the issue of faith versus skepticism, the issue of faith versus science, the issue of doubts, and whether “people go to heaven only if they have a direct relationship with Jesus.”


Keller begins by describing how the idea of a virgin birth “led to a new emphasis on the importance of the individual person and on love as the supreme virtue because Jesus was not just a great human being, but the pre-existing Creator God, miraculously come to earth as a human being.” He goes on to explain “without a real resurrection Christianity is useless” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The failure of Mary Magdalene and the two disciples on the way to Emmaus to recognize Jesus “has the ring of eyewitness authenticity”; and that the mere fact that Mary was the first to see the risen Jesus is another “surprising aspect,” since “as women’s testimony was considered inadmissible in a court of law at the time, the gospel writers would never have put women in an invented narrative aiming for plausibility.”


Regarding faith and skepticism, Keller states that “they are not opposites,” and that all people “base their lives on both reason and faith.”  He does not see faith as inconsistent with science, and notes, “to prove miracles could not happen, you would have to know beyond a doubt that God does not exist. But that is not something anyone can prove.” Keller admits that he has had doubts regarding faith and that doubts should not be stifled, since “re-examining our reasons” can, in the end, “lead to stronger faith.” He adds that secular people should be open “to doubt the faith assumptions that drive their skepticism,” since “a supernatural reality beyond this world” can neither be proven nor disproven empirically, but “both entail faith.”


Regarding the fate of a person after death, Keller says that “being good” doesn’t determine “where you go,” but rather “coming to God through faith in what Christ has done.” For God to accept people on the basis of good works would be unfair, since abusers, haters, feckless and selfish people “have often had abusive and brutal backgrounds” themselves. Keller states that universal salvation isn’t a possibility either, since that would mean that “God wouldn’t really care about injustice and evil.” He says that the Bible is clear about how “salvation must be through grace and faith in Christ,” and how “God is fair and just in all his dealings,” but doesn’t directly explain “how both of these things can be true together.” He ends by saying “if we have a God big enough to deserve being called God, then we have a God big enough to reconcile both justice and love.”


Christian and Jewish Holidays

The Jerusalem Post, December 30, 2016


This article presents the arguments in favor and against the celebration of the Gregorian New Year from the Jewish standpoint. Orthodox Rabbi Gideon Shloush of Congregation Adereth El in Manhattan says that even though “we value and appreciate and respect what’s going on around us,” still “it’s not our Rosh HaShana.” Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Manhattan Jewish Experience adds that “the Jewish calendar carries tremendous spiritual weight,” and that since “the Gregorian calendar carries more of a Roman tradition,” for Jews “it simply does not contain the same spiritual significance.” While both Wildes and Reform Rabbi Marc Katz from Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn agree that Rosh HaShana and the New Year both “present new opportunities for growth and positive change,” Rosh HaShana is the time for more spiritual resolutions and New Year’s is the time for more physical resolutions. Katz said that “a parallel can be made between both holidays,” as they both are about rededication. Shloush, however, doesn’t see this connection, and states the importance of Hanukkah for Jews in light of such things as the recent UN Security council decision, saying that the existence of the State of Israel is “a miracle that is still very much alive.”



Maariv Mekomonim, December 23, 2016


Brazilian footballer Marcos Tavares and his wife Leticia were recently hosted by Shimon Sabag at the Warm Home for Holocaust Survivors, which is operated by the Yad Ezer L’Chaver Foundation. The Tavareses visited some of the residents, including 97-year-old Binyamin Ginzburg, survivor of the Leningrad ghetto. They also visited the Survivors’ Memorial Museum and heard at length about the activity of the foundation from Sabag. One of the climaxes of the visit was when the Tavareses met with a group of survivors together including 98-year-old Auchwitz survivor Shoshana Kolmar. Kolmar showed the Tavareses her tattooed number, and said, “This is what the Nazis called me – 80277.” Tavares told the survivors, “I love you very much, and admire the story of your brave survival against the Nazi oppressor. You are the true heroes of us all. Be strong, you are not alone. The Christian Church will always stand with you.”


Tavares is “a devout evangelical Christian and Zionist, and an ardent supporter of Israel.” He came as representative of the Christian Embassy in Slovenia. He has been playing for the Slovenian NK Maribor since 2008, and captaining the team since 2009. He has previously played for the Malaysian Kedah FA, the Brazilian Gremio and Porto Alegre teams and the Cypriot APOEL Nicosia.