During the week covered by this review, we received 15 articles on the following subjects:
The Pope and the Vatican
The Jerusalem Post, May 15, Israel Hayom, May 17, The Jerusalem Post, May 18, 2017
A senior U.S. official told Reuters anonymously that President Donald Trump does not plan to announce a transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem during his upcoming visit to Israel, apparently because the administration “…does not want to complicate attempts to nurture a resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has recently stated, “(Trump) has taken a very deliberative approach to understanding the embassy issue.” Ambassador David Friedman, speaking to Israel Hayom, said, “Trump has clarified that he wants to see the parties sitting together and talking without preconditions, with the hope that this will lead to peace,” but he is not planning to roll out a diplomatic plan during the visit.
Tillerson has also recently questioned whether Israel wants the U.S. embassy relocated to Jerusalem at this time. However, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu countered this, noting, “Israel has stated its position on this issue to the world multiple times,” and emphasized that moving the embassy would “…shatter a Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem isn’t Israel’s capital.”
Right wing leaders in the U.S. are calling on Trump to fulfill his campaign promise to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem in response to his change of position on the issue after he took office. The reason for the change has been reported that Trump was advised that doing so would undermine attempts to launch peace talks. Marc Zell, chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, confirmed that Israel wants the embassy moved, but is questioning the timing of such a relocation. Zell also said Trump cannot afford to alienate the Evangelical Christian community by reneging on his pledge to transfer the embassy.
Pastor John Hagee has similarly stated that Trump’s campaign promise on this issue was necessary for getting Evangelical support. In an open letter published by the Washington Times, Hagee called Trump’s decision to transfer or postpone the issue is similar in historic gravity to the decision about the founding of the State of Israel which Harry Truman faced in 1948.
Maariv, May 17, Yom L’Yom, May 18, The Jerusalem Post, May 19, 2017
Opinions are divided as to the purpose and consequences of US President Donald Trump’s expected visit to the Western Wall during his upcoming visit to Israel. On the one hand, a visit to the Wall is a break with the protocols of the past. However, if Trump does visit the Western Wall, it will be without the presence of any senior Israeli politicians. This symbolic snub will distance Trump’s visit from official U.S recognition that the Wall is a part of Israel.
Attempts have been made to downplay the embarrassing diplomatic incident in which a U.S. consulate official in Jerusalem called the Western Wall “conquered territory” and “part of the West Bank.” Sean Spicer, White House spokesman, said that the official’s words do not reflect the position of the U.S. government nor of the president. U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who presented his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin on May 16, met with Netanyahu and vice-Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely immediately afterward. Herbert McMaster, Trump’s national security advisor, speaking at a press conference on that day, said that the reason Trump’s visit will be private is to honor Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Following the consulate official’s statement, McMaster was asked whether the wall is under Israeli sovereignty. He responded that he was unable to make a pronouncement on this question of policy.
Trump will arrive in Israel on Monday, May 22, after visiting Saudi Arabia. He will meet with President Reuven Rivlin, visit Yad VaShem and meet with Netanyahu at the Israel Museum. Trump will then meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Jerusalem Post, May 14, 2017
On Wednesday, May 10, a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim IDF reservists and former National Service members had to be escorted by police out of a Students Supporting Israel speaking event at the University of California, Irvine, following a massive protest by some 50 pro-Palestinian students. The reservists were on campus as part of Reservists on Duty’s Project Gideon initiative to counter Apartheid Week. “They were provoking with whole speeches about how bad Israel is and finishing with an antagonizing question and cheering and yelling and interrupting,” said Leor Golan, who headed the reservists’ group. Eventually, the pro-Palestinian group were kicked out of the meeting but waited for the Israeli delegation outside the doors. “The cops escorted us out for protection because they were really getting in our faces and there was a lot of tension and fights almost broke out,” Golan recalls.
Golan added that the tension was not going to deter them from pursuing their pro-Israel activities, “We have a lot of passion for this issue,” he said. Golan described how there was no opposing voice to the activism of the pro-Palestinians students, other than his group and one Christian student who supported them. Golan is convinced that his group had much impact, however, since as veterans they can speak from personal experience and show photos. Jonathan Nizar Elkhoury, son of a former South Lebanon Army officer and another member of the delegation, added that Apartheid Week is not pro-Palestinian but rather pro-hate, since the activists do not discuss ways to help the Palestinians, but simply “…promote hate against Israel, Jews, the IDF and everyone that works with Israel.”
Amit Deri, CEO of Reservists on Duty, said, “We do not apologize for defending Israel, and we will continue to arrive at any campus that invites us without fear or concern.” UCI stated that the Office of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct is reviewing the situation and will recommend an appropriate course of action, if any. “We believe members of the campus community have a right to meet peacefully and express ideas in a safe environment. The safety of our students, faculty and staff is our utmost priority,” said the statement.
Israel Hayom, Yedioth Ahronoth, The Jerusalem Post, Ha’Ir Kol Ha’Ir, Yediot Yerushalayim, May 19, 2017
This Jerusalem Day, Wednesday, May 24, marks 50 years since the unification of the east and west parts of the city. Therefore, a rich variety of cultural and tourist events are planned for this week, including the traditional flag parade. These articles give short historical surveys as well as tour route suggestions both within the city and in the areas surrounding it. Of note is the fact that on May 24 the Jewish Quarter sites will be open to the public free of charge. The Davidson Center is offering an exhibition entitled “Touching the Moment,” in which visitors can listen to recordings made by a Voice of Israel journalist visiting the Western Wall for the first time, the shofar used by Rabbi Shlomo Goren at the declaration, and a copy of Jerusalem of Gold in Naomi Shemer’s handwriting. A festive prayer service will take place on May 20th at the Great Synagogue, and an interfaith prayer service will be held on May 24th at the First Station. On the evening of May 24th, the Tower of David will be holding the premiere of the 50 Years 50 Faces documentary collecting 50 faces and stories about Jerusalem through the years that reflect the city’s history. History aficionados will be able to enjoy a visit to the Castel National Park and sites along the Burma Road, such as the Harel overlook.
The Pope and the Vatican
Yom L’Yom, May 11, The Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2017
These articles are both opinion pieces on a visit recently made to the Vatican by a delegation of American Hassidic rabbis. The group apparently came to the Vatican by invitation to discuss the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in Europe. However, the Yom L’Yom article finds it “nauseating” that while they were there, the rabbis danced before the pope to a Hassidic tune typically sung to honor a righteous person or “someone great in Torah.” It reminds readers that popes for hundreds of years encouraged and commanded the Crusades. During that period, tens of thousands of Jews were slaughtered.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach mentions in the Jerusalem Post article that a new Chabad scholar, Rabbi Dobver Pinson, one of the visitors to the Vatican, was removed from the international roster of emissaries because he took part in this visit. However, Boteach sees no problem with the visit, and asks, “Where is the scandal in spreading the light and joy of the Jewish faith to one of the most prominent men on earth”? Quoting a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson in 1988, Boteach says that Schneerson’s original objection to Jews meeting the pope was merely a desire that they should not meet him as inferiors. He also says that even at the height of Catholic Jew-hatred, Jews still “…actively sought to influence them with the light of Jewish beliefs and values.” Boteach cites the example of Rabbi Avigdor Karra, who was the first to attempt to share the Jewish faith with Jan Huss, a leader in the Protestant Reformation. In the face of the Catholic Church’s outreach effort, Boteach asks Jews to follow Karra’s example.
Haaretz, May 15, 2017
This article surveys the question of the comparatively small number of Christians who visit Israel for pilgrimage. The pilgrims are not afraid of the conflict, flights are relatively cheap, and infrastructure in Israel is excellent, says one pilgrim from Sweden. The apparent consensus in the tourism industry is that there is potential for 10 million annual pilgrims. However, only some 700,000 people visit Jesus’ birthplace each year while Lourdes receives eight million pilgrims annually.
Prof. Noga Collins-Kreiner, an expert in religious tourism from Haifa University, is convinced that Israel does not invest enough in Christian pilgrimage, although the precise reasons for this remain elusive. Father Juan Solana, who was instrumental in the development of the Magdala site, is of the opinion that the holy places in Israel and hotels in the Galilee are ill-equipped to receive high numbers of visitors. Solana cites the fact that visitors to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher must sometimes wait two or three hours to enter. He thinks this can be solved by better management, such as longer hours at the holy sites. Hana Bendcowsky, a tour guide, agrees with him, adding that churches must be assisted in developing their infrastructure. Shmuel Smadja, owner and head of the Sar-El travel agency, says that there is great potential for visitors from Third World countries, but the visa process imposed upon them is unnecessarily complicated. The mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun, notes that in the city the problem is not the number of visitors, but the fact those visitors don’t stay to see the many attractions the city has to offer outside Manger Square, and added that the checkpoints make visitors feel insecure.
Amir Halevy, the general manager of the Tourism Ministry, says it is paying particular attention to religious tourism, but marketing Israel solely as a religious destination focuses only on an older audience. Emphasizing the holy sites as well as Israel’s other attractions widens the audience to younger people as well, who would visit for religious reasons but “who also want to integrate a holiday.” For this reason, the numbers are misleading since many of these people do in fact visit all the holy sites, but do so independently and without a spiritual leader.