During the week covered by this review, we received 16 articles on the following subjects:
The Pope and the Vatican
Christian Holy Sites
The Jerusalem Post, January 15, 2018
On January 13th, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, the incoming African National Congress president, reaffirmed the ANC’s December 2017 commitment to downgrade the country’s embassy in Tel-Aviv to a liaison office as a show of support for what he called “the oppressed people of Palestine”. He noted that this was meant to send Israel a message: “There is a price to pay for its human rights abuses and violations of international law”.
The article notes Ramaphosa’s statements came after Rev. Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, penned an open letter to Ramaphosa objecting to such a move “…because it would be detrimental to any future peace negotiation role South Africa might play, and would not impact Palestinians’ lives.” Meshoe noted that Israel could be of great technological assistance to South Africa, and suggested that singling Israel out for punishment is hypocritical “…when there are so many glaring human rights abuses on the African continent.” Meshoe added, “Millions of South African Christians would view such a move by the ANC as a direct attack on their right of pilgrimage.”
The Jerusalem Post, January 15, 2018
On Friday, January 12, the Central Council of Jews in Germany condemned Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for likening Israel’s policies to those of an apartheid state, suggesting that to do so exceeded the bounds of legitimate criticism. Hamas retweeted the statement. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Gabriel’s statement “…was not only entirely false but also delegitimizes and demonizes the Jewish state.”
Uwe Becker, Christian Democratic Union deputy mayor of Frankfurt, said Gabriel had committed a new blunder. Becker noted Gabriel’s attacks can be explained by the fact that his Social Democratic Party is close to Fatah. The Merkel administration declined to comment and Katharina Ziegler, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to the Post’s queries.
Gabriel has been designating Israel an apartheid state since 2012, when he posted a Facebook comment to that effect after visiting Hebron. Gabriel made his most recent remarks at an event in December hosted by the Kreuzberger Initiative Against Anti-Semitism.
Yedioth Ahronoth, January 15, 2018
Argentinian vice-president Gabriela Michetti visited Jerusalem’s Alyn Hospital during her recent trip to Israel. Michetti is wheelchair-bound since she was injured in a car accident and has been working to advance the issue of mobility in Argentina. She was moved to tears to see how the children there were inspired by her life. As a devout Catholic, Michetti also visited the holy sites.
Michetti met with President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and a group of Knesset Members. The article notes that when Michetti entered the Knesset plenum, she was met with applause and a standing ovation.
The Jerusalem Post, December 17, Yedioth Ahronoth, January 18, 2018
UK tourist Oliver McAfee, 29, is missing in the Negev. He was last seen near Mitzpe Ramon on November 21st, and some days later his bicycle and personal belongings were found. McAfee appears to have wished to reconstruct the route of Jesus’ 40-day desert fast. Pages of New Testament passages as well as personal reflections in his handwriting were left under rocks all along McAfee’s route, leading the Har HaNegev extraction unit to suspect that McAfee suffered from Jerusalem Syndrome, although this remains unproven. McAfee’s family stated that he has recently lost his mother and has been combatting grief by extensive bicycle travels. He is thin, with shoulder-length ginger hair, a goatee, and glasses. Searches are ongoing, and the public is requested to contact the Dimona police station with any pertinent information as to his whereabouts.
Haaretz, January 14; Yediot Yerushalayim, January 19, 2018
The first article surveys the ongoing Jerusalem church lands controversy. The article focuses on the information found in a 1951 protocol of a Keren Kayemet L’Israel directorate meeting, which describes how the Greek Orthodox Church first sold lands following the Bolshevik Revolution, the First World War and the British conquest of Jerusalem, but chose to lease its lands during following years in order to avoid drawing Arab criticism. The Greek Orthodox Church also feared a possible international government of Jerusalem slanted in favor of the Western churches, leading it to cooperate with Israel, which also had no desire for a UN government. The state bodies further appear to have been of the opinion that the issue could be solved after the lease ended, while the church bodies seem to have considered the contract an investment, as they would receive the land, developed, after the lease expired.
One possible solution to the issue currently being considered is a bill for state confiscation, with compensation, of the lands that Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III recently sold to an entrepreneurial company, which now holds the leases. Theophilos is enacting a vigorous campaign against this bill in European media outlets, as he fears the measure could “torpedo” completion of the land sale. In a recently published video clip, Theophilos claimed that radical settlers are trying to oust Christians from Jerusalem. Theophilos has drawn stiff criticism from some in his congregation for selling these lands, and his motorcade was stoned on the way to Bethlehem for the Christmas celebrations. The patriarch’s detractors also claim that the purpose of this campaign is to improve his position and conciliate the Palestinian Authority.
Haaretz, January 15, Haaretz, Yated Ne’eman, January 18, 2018
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently made two speeches in which he violently attacked the U.S. and Israel. Speaking to the Central Palestinian Council meeting in Ramallah about U.S. President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, Abbas stated that the Oslo Accords are finished. Abbas also called the speech a slap in the face, and said the Palestinians will return the slap. He noted that in 1948, “…Europe, Britain and the U.S. wished to solve the Jewish problem after the Holocaust at the expense of the Palestinians.”
Speaking at Al-Azhar in Cairo, Abbas called upon the Arab countries to take steps to support Palestinian identity. He said that Trump’s Jerusalem declaration “…has disqualified the U.S. from any future role in the peace process,” and said that Trump’s support for settlements constituted a violation of international law. Other Palestinian officials issued statements on normalization coming after an agreement, and recognition of Israel depending on PA evaluation of Israel’s conduct towards the Palestinians. Abbas emphasized that he is not encouraging violence, but is encouraging opposition at the international courts and the UN Security Council.
Trump and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have issued conflicting statements regarding the date of the embassy transfer, Netanyahu saying it would be within a year, and Trump saying that they are looking at other scenarios.
The Jerusalem Post, January 19, 2018
Dr. Mike Evans, the founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center, awarded Guatemala President Jimmy Morales with the Friend of Zion award for deciding to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem. Evans has previously given the same honor to U.S. President Donald Trump. Evans continues to mobilize his supporters to influence world leaders to support Israel and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The Pope and the Vatican
Haaretz, January 16, 2018
This article surveys current concerns among U.S. Catholics that extremists are “hijacking the denomination’s conservative wing”. These concerns arose after First Things magazine published an essay by Dominican priest Romano Cessario, defending Pope Pius IX’s 1858 order to abduct Edgardo Mortara, 6, from his Jewish family in Bologna because when he was a seriously ill toddler, he was secretly baptized by his Catholic nanny. The article writer notes, “The controversy appears to be merely the latest chapter in a growing rift between supporters and opposers of Pope Francis’ perceived liberal policies” on such things as divorce and homosexuality. The article notes that those who oppose these policies tend to reject any change in Catholic teachings, including the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. While this group remains marginal in numbers, their broad reach via Internet presence is “really scary,” said Massimo Faggioli, a Church historian, and professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University in Philadelphia.
The kidnapping caused international outrage at the time, and according to David Kertzer, resulted in the formation of the first Jewish self-defense organizations.
Maariv, January 19, 2019
This article describes the current controversy in France over Galimar Publishing’s now retracted intention to publish the writings of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, avowed anti-Semite and supporter of the Nazis. While some cite Céline’s unique literary style and others say that legitimate debate should take precedence over censorship, others say that Céline’s content, such as his avowed support for the destruction of the Jews, should be the determining factor. Céline’s works were forbidden for publication until they began to enter the public domain. Serge Klarsfeld, historian and Nazi hunter, stated, “Commentaries will change nothing [concerning meaning and reception]. People are not interested in footnotes.”
Haaretz (Hebrew), January 15, Haaretz (English), January 18, 2018
The Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site is considered by many to be the third in importance in Israel, after the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The articles describe some of the site’s history and how it contains seven monasteries and other structures. On January 7th and 18th, thousands of Christians visited the site for the Catholic and Orthodox Epiphany feasts. However, much of the site remains mined, only one access road exists, and there are rumors that the monasteries have been booby-trapped. As a religious site, there is no entrance fee, but the surrounding area is under military control. Although a Wall Street Journal article in 2016 stated that an agreement had been reached for removing the mines, nothing has happened since.
Merkaz Ha’Inyanim Yerushalayim, January 15, 2018
This article reiterates the story about how the anti-missionary activist organization Yad L’Achim is acting against The Ezekiel Option, by Joel Rosenberg, distributed at an event organized by the Association of Concentration Camp and Ghetto Survivors in Israel (see last week’s MR). The book, which includes a recommendation by Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, is alleged to contain blunt missionary content. Rabbi Shmuel Lifschitz has sent a letter to Sharansky asking him to retract his endorsement, as well as a warning to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and Jewish communities all over the world, to prevent dissemination of the book.