During the week covered by this review, we received 13 articles on the following subjects:
The Pope and the Vatican
Haaretz, September 14, 2017
There is a proposal to create a new status in Israel for people who have Jewish roots or belong to ‘emerging Jewish communities’. This proposal is being welcomed by leaders of communities that may be affected (see MR September 2017 #1). These communities, who are currently unable to immigrate or spend extended periods of time of time in Israel under the Law of Return, would thus be able to remain in Israel longer in order to explore their Jewish heritage and learn about the country. Examples of these emerging Jewish communities include the Abayudaya in Uganda; descendants of Crypto-Jews in Italy, Spain, and Portugal; the Bnei Menashe of northeastern India; the Kaifeng Jews; the Jews of the Amazon; the Lemba of Zimbabwe; and the Igbo of Nigeria. However, opinions seem to differ as to the degree of desire to immigrate to Israel among these communities, especially the Kaifeng Jews.
The committee in charge of this initiative recommends that the status “…be applied to people who practice Judaism, consider themselves Jewish and are considered by those around them to be Jewish.” This proposal would exclude those who “…have converted to, or believe in another religion even if they still identify as Jews, such as Messianic Jews who believe in Jesus.” The proposal must be approved by Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennet, as well as being passed by a majority vote in the cabinet. Most view this proposal as a long shot, as Orthodox parties in Israel will likely not accept it based on the way in which it could potentially expand the definition of “who is a Jew”.
The Jerusalem Post, September 14, 2017
This article describes the various objections to a mixed-gender worship area at Robinson’s Arch near the Western Wall. The Islamic Wakf has stated, “Such harm to the al-Aqsa Mosque’s surroundings is likely to incite a violent atmosphere, as well as cause grave damage to antiquities that are greatly significant to Islam.” Ultra-Orthodox Jews object to a mixed area for religious reasons. Christian churches could also object, as they recognize this area as the place where Jesus was presented as a baby, as well as being involved in praying and teaching there later. Jerusalem’s archaeological community objects to a mixed prayer area since both Jewish and Muslim archaeological treasures have been uncovered in the area, including an Umayyad palace and a Hebrew inscription proclaiming “You shall see and your hearts shall rejoice. Their bones shall flourish like grass.”
The article states construction near Robinson’s Arch “…will cause irreparable damage to the crown jewel of Jerusalem’s archaeology and a lifetime of work and violate the government-designated purpose of this area.” In light of all these things and especially the unique status of the Robinson’s Arch area, the writer calls upon the Supreme Court, soon to discuss petitions on this subject, to avoid taking a stance supporting a mixed prayer area.
HaDerekh, September 7, The Jerusalem Post, September 11, Yated Ne’eman, September 12, 2017
At the request of the anti-missionary activist organization Yad L’Achim, the rabbinical court of Rabbi Nissim Karelitz has republished its position against accepting contributions from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, stating, “As the IFCJ is a Christian missionary organization accepting contributions from it is blasphemy according to the Gemara and subsequent rulings.”
However, the IFCJ has recently welcomed its 10,000th immigrant, Viktoria Pokutnia from the Ukraine, who arrived in Israel with her mother and grandmother. “We’re deeply grateful that our Christian supporters around the world are helping us rescue Jews who face serious challenges and fulfilling their dreams to build a new future in the Jewish state,” said the IFCJ’s founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.
Maariv, September 15, 2017
This five-page article provides an in-depth survey of the history and current activities of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and includes interviews with various figures from the organization. Of note is executive director Dr. Jürgen Bühler, son of Albert Bühler, a German soldier whose life was saved in a Russian prison camp by a Jewish doctor. The elder Bühler taught his children, “As a family they owe their lives to the Jewish people, first because Jesus was Jewish and second because of what the doctor did for him.”
The younger Bühler visited Israel in 1991 and “fell in love with the country,” later completing a Ph.D. in physics at the Weizmann Institute. Another figure of interest is ICEJ international director Juha Ketola of Finland, who became a believer in Spain and joined the ICEJ in 1996. A third is Abdou Maiga of Mali and Senegal, born to a Muslim family, who is responsible for the embassy’s activities in West Africa since 2012. “We are here to bless Israel,” said Bühler, “to bless the Jewish people. God is everyone’s, and we see with our own eyes that he is fulfilling all his promises to the Jewish people.”
Globes, September 14, Makor Rishon, September 15, 2017
These two articles investigate anti-Semitism in Germany and Poland.
The article on Germany focuses on the political positions and social reactions to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party in light of the upcoming elections. The party is officially pro-Israel, but its founder, Dr. Alexander Gauland, has recently made statements against foreigners in Germany, specifically targeting Muslims, “elitists who are leading Germany to destruction,” and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to receive hundreds of thousands of refugees in the summer of 2015. Gauland, who has visited Israel twice, stated that he does not understand the accusations that his party is anti-Semitic, noting that their party platform is not at all anti-Semitic, adding he wouldn’t say Judaism is part of Germany, “…but Jewish life is absolutely part of Germany and German history.”
Others in the party have stated their support of free speech for Neo-Nazis and for the idea that Germany’s rich culture and history, including its Jewish history, should not be ignored because of the barbarism of the Holocaust. However, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of German Jews, stated, “They have no borders. If it will help them, they will not hesitate to attack Jews.”
Sergei Chernov, a Jew from the former USSR and currently number eleven on the party’s list in Niedersachsen, says that he has never experienced anti-Semitism in the AfD. Georg Pazderski, head of the party in the state of Berlin and of partial Jewish background himself, told Globes that German shame and guilt over the Holocaust may have been the reason for Merkel’s decision concerning refugees. Pazderski added that although he is against displaying Nazi symbols or Holocaust denial, only removal of the legal prohibition of these things will make it clear that there is no place for Nazis in Germany and that there is nothing more to fear. He noted that most of the party platform deals with opposition to immigration, and that this platform isn’t racist since it focuses on opposing Islam, which it deems responsible for the situation in the Middle East. “I admire Israel,” said Pazderski, “what you’ve done in the Middle East. The fact that you are succeeding in being in only democracy in the area. Israel was very influenced by the European Jews- perhaps that is the reason it is so successful.”
The article on Poland deals with the rising anti-Semitism in the country, specifically, in attacks connected to football events. Dr. Raphael Pankovsky of the organization No Longer, which monitors these incidents, stated that the Warsaw government is partially responsible by its silence about the attacks, and bears responsibility along with the media and the Polish football union. Polish Jews, who had felt relatively secure in the decades following the fall of communism, are now seeing a rise in anti-Semitic incidents after the victory of the Law and Justice party in 2015.
Of particular note is Bogdan Rzonca, a member of the party, who gained media notoriety after stating on Twitter “I wonder why, despite the Holocaust, there are so many Jewish women who have an abortion.” Another is Antoni Macierewicz, who has issued statements partially supporting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. After an attack on members of HaPoel Petach Tikva last month Anna Chipczyńska, president of the board of the Jewish community in Warsaw and Lesław Piszewski, president of the union of Jewish communities in Poland, wrote a letter to Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of Law and Justice, protesting the government’s silence and demanding stiff action. Chipczyńska has underscored this position in subsequent media interviews.
Others in the community have objected to the letter, saying that Poland is safe for Jews. The findings of Institute for the Research of Prejudice at the University of Warsaw show an increase in anti-Semitism, however, with a general correlation between the degree of right-leaning and anti-Semitic opinions. When asked about the level of anti-Semitism in Poland, Łukasz Łapczyński, speaker of the general public prosecutor’s office, said he could not answer accurately. He added, “Anti-Semitic crimes were included in the category of hate crimes against a nationality or ethnic group, so he could not provide statistics about anti-Semitic crimes specifically.”
Iton Shacharit, BeSheva-Mitchalef Yerushalayim, September 14, 2017
The publicity department of Yad L’Achim has been publishing a magazine entitled Mechapsim, (which means “seeking”), which they say is intended for people who come in contact with “the Christian missionary cults.” The articles cite three individuals’ conversion to Judaism without mentioning their names. The first is a former missionary from Greece, who converted to Judaism with his family “…after discovering significant mistakes in the Christian writings.” The second is a rabbi frequently mentioned in missionary literature as a “convert”, who allegedly stood trial in the U.S. for pretending to be a rabbi and proved to be a farmer who escaped Hungary after being suspected of thieving. The third example is a Jewish woman who was “…dragged into Christianity by a missionary after the fall of the Iron Curtain,” became a church leader in Kiev, and returned to Judaism “after discovering the lies of Christianity.” The articles proclaim that Yad L’Achim activists distribute the magazine at the entrance to some 150 missionary congregations, and “…it has caused many to leave.” They intend to further distribute it in English and Russian as well.
The Pope and the Vatican
Shvi’i, September 8, 2017
In this article, Rabbi Retzon Arussi, speaking for the Chief Rabbinate, states some of the reasons for the meeting recently held at the Vatican to mark the anniversary of Nostra Aetate (see MR September 2017 #2). Arussi describes how Pope Francis has condemned anti-Semitism, and how the Chief Rabbinate is attempting to strengthen dialogue supporting the shift resulting from Nostra Aetate and the declarations that followed it. He assures Shvi’i, “The purpose of the meeting was not to blur the differences between Judaism and Christianity, but to encourage and nourish the understanding being formed in the Catholic Church concerning our people’s uniqueness, destiny, and chosen-ness as the people of God.”
Israel Hayom, September 14, 2017
Members of a delegation from the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy (ISGAP), arriving at a conference in Rome where they were to meet Pope Francis, were prevented from entering the meeting by the pope’s staff, who said the meeting had not been approved by existing protocol. Among the Israeli delegation members denied entry were Dr. Mordecai Keidar, Dr. Sergio della Pergola and Knesset Member Anat Berko (Likud).
Ha’Ir Tzomet HaSharon-Kfar Saba, September 8, 2017
A project to foster interfaith tolerance and understanding is currently underway at the Bar-Lev Junior High School in Kfar-Saba. Conceived and implemented by English teacher Hagit Goldstein, students at the school prepare video clips and posters in favor of equality and tolerance and post them on a website for public viewing. So far, Jewish and Arab students in Israel, joined by others from the US, France, and India, have taken part in the project.
Goldstein began the project two years ago, in the wake of the murder of Shira Banki at the Jerusalem Pride Parade, the murder of the Dawabsheh family at Duma and the arson at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha. This year, Goldstein intends some of the participants to meet face to face. Eventually, she hopes to hold a youth conference focused on tolerance.