During the week covered by this review, we received 23 articles on the following subjects:
Christians in Israel
These articles describe the Christmas events in Nazareth, Jerusalem, and Jaffa. Initially, Mayor Ali Salam had considered cancelling the celebrations in Nazareth in protest of U.S. President Trump’s Jerusalem declaration. However, the festivities took place as usual, and included a parade of Catholics, Anglicans, Maronites, and Orthodox Christian groups, as well as hymns and fireworks afterward. The celebrations in Jerusalem included a banquet at the city’s American Colony Hotel, accompanied by carols, drinks, and a Santa Claus for the children. There were Christmas fairs and concerts at the YMCA and holiday events in churches all over the city. A parade took place in Jaffa as well.
Father Francesco Patton, Vatican Custos of the Holy Places, addressed the public via Yedioth Ahronoth, and called for members of all the religions in Israel “…to look beyond the differences and choose cooperation and the giving of honor to all the different identities.” He noted, “We all need more light in our lives to light our journeys and our relations with each other.” He expressed his wish that this Christmas would bring peace to all the inhabitants of this land, and that the new year would be one of “tolerance, cooperation, and fraternity founded on truth, justice, righteousness, and freedom.”
In his Christmas address, Pope Francis focused on conflicts affecting children in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ukraine, and Venezuela. Of note, however, was Francis’ call for a negotiated two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Francis said, “We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Two opinion pieces were published expressing the authors’ cautious approach to Jews having Christmas trees or any other kind of holiday decorations. The first author considers it ridiculous that some people make a point of searching for Christmas trees in Jewish homes, but finds it difficult to connect with a Jewish mindset that would enjoy such decorations. The second writer states that though he doesn’t like the idea of Jews celebrating Christian holidays, he considers that Jews can learn from the Catholic masses in the vernacular language – evidenced by the significantly lower attendance that followed the decision – and not make Jewish observance easy, since “…(Jewish) people want continuity, tradition and for their spiritual observance to be demanding.”
The Jerusalem Post, December 24, The Jerusalem Post, December 26, The Jerusalem Post, December 29, 2017
Ten countries are considering moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Although the names of these remain unpublished at this time, it is known that Guatemala, which had voted against a UN resolution condemning the decision, has decided to move its embassy. The Czech Republic, the Philippines and Romania have mentioned the possibility of such a move or of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Honduras, which also voted against the UN resolution, might be the next to announce it is moving its embassy.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told the Post, “Some of the Palestinian rhetoric in response to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem has been ugly, needlessly provocative and anti-Semitic.” The Palestinians have rejected U.S. involvement in the peace process following Trump’s speech, but Israel “has made it clear that they will not engage under the sponsorship of any other nation,” said Friedman. He remains convinced that U.S. credibility in the region has not been irreversibly damaged, and said that Trump made his statement based on the conviction that “…American foreign policy was best served by adopting a reality-based approach to Jerusalem and by being faithful to the expressed will of the American people.” Friedman stated that there is no reason why the Palestinians cannot stop paying stipends to terrorists’ families and encouraging prosecution of Israelis in the ICC, noting that if they did, “…it would greatly advance the peace process.”
This week’s analysis article focused on how many of the leading European news outlets have sided with the Palestinians in their coverage of Trump’s declaration. It quotes examples of this support in headlines and leads from the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Swiss Neue Züriche Zeitung and Austria’s Die Presse, the British Guardian, and the British Telegraph. It also states that media coverage of the issue from the Jewish point of view ranged from non-existent to lukewarm. However, the writer of this article says that the position taken by some of the Israeli media on the subject, as well as incompetence and inaction of the Foreign Ministry, are to blame for the damage as well.
The Jerusalem Post, December 24, Israel Hayom, December 29, 2017
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently invoked Jesus on two occasions. The first of them was in a meeting with other Arab leaders in Turkey on December 13 concerning US President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, and the second was in a Christmas message released by Wafa News on Friday, December 22. On the first occasion, Abbas described Jesus using Palestine Liberation Theology terminology, saying that he was a Palestinian and that the city of Jebus was promised to the Canaanites by Allah, and therefore it belongs to the Palestinians. This opinion piece opposes these statements, noting, “Were it not for the Bible, no one would have heard of Jebus – the Jews made the city what it is.” It further states, “Muslims consider it as shaming that Jews, whom they consider to be barely human, should have defeated the Arab countries as soundly as they did in care for their residents, advancement of science, economy and higher education.”
On the second occasion, Abbas said that Palestinians who are fighting Trump’s declaration are inspired by Jesus’ example to do so. Abbas stated, “The U.S. was supporting Israel in having an exclusively Jewish Jerusalem rather than one of inclusion and respect.” He alluded to the Greek Orthodox church land controversy by saying that church property and future in east Jerusalem is being threatened by “the occupier and groups of Zionist fundamentalists.” Abbas also said that indigenous Christians in the Holy Land are the descendants of the first followers of Jesus Christ and an integral part of the Palestinian people, and for this reason, insist that Christian leaders around the world should heed their words. He concluded by calling on his audience “…to rescue the message of hope that emerged from a humble grotto in Bethlehem to work for a better future…where freedom, truth, peace, justice, coexistence, and construction prevail over oppression, power, occupation, apartheid, exclusivity, and destruction.”
Christians in Israel
Maariv, December 25, Yedioth Ahronoth, December 25, 2017
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Christians in Israel number approximately 170,000, comprising 2% of the population. As of the end of 2016, 78.6% of Christians were Arab, and the rest had immigrated with family members under the Law of Return. 70.7% of Arab Christians live in the north, 13.2% in Haifa and 9.6% in the Jerusalem area. Of the non-Arab Christians, 42% live in the center of the country, 13.7% in the south and 10.7 in the Jerusalem area. In 2015, 877 couples married. In 2016, 2,613 babies were born. In 2016, of those 15 years of age and older, 68% were employed. 73.9 of Christian school students were eligible for matriculation.
The Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2017
In this article, Tuly Weisz describes how the Christian Schindler Society, having introduced ongoing Bible study in the U.S. Congress, has begun sponsoring a Bible study at the Knesset as well. Although joint Bible study is “a classic missionary tactic,” Weisz speaks warmly of this new initiative, noting that Pastor Jim Garlow and his wife Rosemary Schindler Garlow have proven themselves to have unconditional love for the Jews over the past twenty years. The Garlows have stated that their support for Israel stems from their desire “to support God’s wonderful plan for the Jews to return to Israel,” underscoring that Christians are there “…to listen, not lead. We come as learners.” Weisz, therefore, sees this as a fulfillment of Isaiah 2, as “…non-Jews are coming to Jerusalem to study Torah.”
The Jerusalem Post, December 25, 2017
Yael Eckstein, vice-president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has stated that US President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem announcement was the result of Evangelical pressure and that the Evangelical community “is a stronger supporter of Israel than the American Jewish community” at the moment. Eckstein is of the opinion that while much of this support is a result of shared faith values, some of it is also due to the realization that US and Israel interests are intertwined. However, as “ardent” as this support is, it is important to not take it for granted, says Eckstein, and “reach out our hand” in return.
HaModia, December 28, 2017
The anti-missionary activist organization Yad L’Achim held a Hanukkah party in Ashdod, as part of its efforts against alleged missionary activity in the city. Around fifty people attended. Yad L’Achim is jubilant over the fact that a few attendees announced that they were “forsaking the missionary center being built in Ashdod” from that moment and that the majority of participants asked to participate in Torah lessons or study Judaism with Yad L’Achim activists.
The Jerusalem Post (two articles), Maariv, December 24, 2017
These articles continue the discussion concerning the tension between Israeli-ism, Jewish religious law, belonging to the Jewish people, the Law of Return, and the ongoing controversy regarding Messianic Jews in Israel in particular (see MR November #4, December #3, December #4 2017). The articles on Messianic Jews cover the whole spectrum of thought on this subject, from saying that Jewish ethnic origin does not necessarily make one a Jew, to saying that it is a double standard to not allow Messianic Jews “to decide for themselves” while demanding that the world allow Israel to choose for itself regarding its capital.
A more general article calls for Jewish nationality listings to be based on ethnicity rather than religion because in this way the government would be including the national and cultural components of Judaism’s definition, instead of basing it solely on the religious element. One article cites the deportation of Rebecca Floer, who had been baptized as a baby. Another mentions the recent incident of Yehudah Kimani of Kenya, leader of the Jewish Conservative Kehilat Kasuku in the country, whose visa was denied by the Interior Ministry despite it being issued twice by the Israeli consulate in Nairobi.
The Jerusalem Post, December 28, 2017
This article covers the current state of Ethiopian immigration to Israel. The last 119 people of the 1,300 approved for aliyah in 2017 were scheduled to arrive in the third week of December. These 1,300 appear to be the first of 9,000 Falash Mura who may be brought to Israel by the end of 2020. However, the final number is disputed, and it is possible that not all of the 9,000 would be approved by the Interior Ministry. Activists for Ethiopian aliyah, such as MK Avraham Neguise (Likud), are working for a cabinet decision to bring more immigrants. However, this is yet to happen, and the reason for the delay is unclear. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has said that once the cabinet approves additional immigrants, “…it stands ready to raise the money needed to sponsor this second year of renewed Ethiopian aliyah.” ICEJ has already invested $1.2 million in the process of Ethiopian aliyah this past year.