During the week covered by this review, we received 17 articles on the following subjects:
Conversion to Christianity
The Lower House of the Polish Parliament has approved a bill, proposed by the conservative Law and Justice Party, which forbids mention of the Polish nation in association with crimes committed during the Holocaust. The law would also criminalize the use of the phrase “Polish death camp” to describe Nazi death camps built on Polish soil. Violation of the law could result in a fine or even imprisonment.
The law still requires approval from President Andrzej Duda, who has voiced his support for the law and has argued that there was “…no systematic support, from the Polish side, for the Holocaust, only the fight against it – we need to insist on compliance with the basic truth; it is our right as a nation, just as it is the right of the Jews to combat anti-Semitism.”
Israeli Foreign Ministry minister, Emmanuel Nahshon, tweeted the following in response: “The issue is NOT the death camps. Of course they were not Polish. Those were German death camps. The issue is the legitimate and essential freedom to talk about the involvement of the Poles in the murder of Jews without fear or threat of penalization. Simple.” Leaders from Israel and Poland have met to try to negotiate a way forward.
Many articles in the Israeli media included testimonials from Holocaust survivors. Survivor Itzik Yaakovi, for example, says that he was as afraid of the Polish Kapos as he was of the Germans, and states that the Kapos raped many of the children in his camp. He recalls begging for food from Polish onlookers during the Death March from Poland to Austria, but received nothing. Yaffa Pe’er, another survivor, argues that those Jews who wanted to return to their homes after the war were told by the government that they would be killed if they returned. Survivor Shoshana Brier, in a letter addressed to President Duda, writes: “Mr. President, this would not have happened in a nation that loved the Jews.” Survivor Israel Stein, on the other hand, says that while he has no special love for Poland, and that it is clear that Polish people were anti-Semitic and did little to help the Jews, it is nonetheless important not to twist history. “The concentration camps were German and not Polish,” he states, and “in Poland there was not a Nazi-supporting government in the same way there was in France, Norway, Slovakia, and Croatia.”
Not everyone agrees with that interpretation. A couple of articles analyzing the bill cite the work of Professor Jan Tomasz Gross, based out of Princeton University, who has argued that Poles participated in the massacre of Jews in smaller towns, so that 200,000 Jews were already murdered by the Spring of 1942. He further estimates that hundreds of thousands of Jews were turned in by Poles. This is provided as proof of systemic Polish involvement in the murder of Jews. Polish officials, however, have claimed that the Poles actually saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives through their heroic acts of protection. In response to this, one Israeli commentator notes, “Poland needs to teach its darker history, which does not mean it cannot at the same time tell those stories of Polish people who helped to save Jews.”
A number of commentators see this bill as an attempt to re-write history by a conservative, nationalistic, Catholic Polish party. These commentators note the danger of the law is that it threatens the press, shuts the mouths of critics, and ignores the rapid spread of local fascism in Poland. They argue the law should concern all citizens of the world and supporters of democracy, not just Israelis and Jews.
The Jerusalem Post, January 29, 2018
Representatives of the Jewish and Christian communities in Latin America and North America met with the Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to show support for his decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. The meeting was initiated by two American Rabbis in response to mounting pressure from groups opposed to the decision made by Morales. Also in attendance was former U.S. Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. “God will bless Guatemala like never before,” said Bachman, making reference to Genesis 12:3. Guatemala has long been a known for its support for Israel, and was one of the first countries to recognize Israel as a state in 1948.
A number of articles this week focused on Mike Pence’s evangelical Christian faith, elaborating on the historical relationship between Israel and evangelicalism. What sets Pence apart, argues Dr. Emmanuel Navon, Professor of political science at Tel Aviv University, is that his support for Israel is not motivated by political interests, but by his evangelical worldview and his faith commitments. Navon notes that this is why the Israeli government has put its hope in him as a true ally. Pence is seen to be the man behind the decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. In an effort to understand Mike Pence’s worldview and faith, a number of articles provide a biography of the Vice President, as well as an introduction to evangelicalism.
According to one article, evangelical “religion” is defined by the following characteristics: Faith in the personal revelation of Christ as a result of conversion, a spiritual rebirth, a belief in the total authority of the Bible without any possibility of error, attaining salvation and forgiveness through belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and social activism as a means of spreading the Gospel. Furthermore, evangelicals are said to believe that an apocalypse is imminent, and that even though the Jews remain God’s chosen people, during the battle of Armageddon, most Jews will perish except those who agree to convert to Christianity. Prior to Armageddon and the return of Jesus, however, it will be necessary for Jews to return to their ancestral land and rebuild the third Temple. This is the reason for evangelical support for Israel. Evangelicals are also described as conservative – in support of patriarchal family values, in opposition of the study of evolution, abortion, and LGBT rights. One commentator notes that Pence proved his evangelical conservatism by opposing education reform and healthcare provision for the poor.
One commentator praises Pence, writing, “We could not have prayed for a better ally for Israel.” Another commentator, however, views this alliance between Israel and evangelicalism with reticence. Netanyahu has allied himself with the evangelical right in order to bypass the need for Jewish-American support. In so doing, he has divided the Jewish community in the U.S., which mostly despises the American right and Trump himself. In the long run, it is argued, this alienation of Jewish-American support will hurt Israel.
Status Yavneh, January 26, 2018
In the last few weeks the residents of Yavneh have found “missionary material” from so-called “Christian cults” in their mailboxes. The article describes Yavneh residents as “shocked and appalled.” One unnamed Yeshiva student describes the missionaries who did this as “…bad people who brainwash… by making up strange and false facts.”
Another unnamed religious leader said missionaries “…distribute colorful and attractive fliers, but inside is heinous Christian propaganda….We cannot let this material hurt our children. The Christian religion has murdered millions of Jews and yet it presents itself as a religion of love.” The same source argues that missionaries are more dangerous that an “Arab coming at you with a knife” because missionaries come under the disguise of love, noting, “They better not come to our homes. We here are the Jewish nation and we are not afraid of anyone.”
One secular resident said the material disgusted him. He said, “Christianity has only done harm to Israel. They can live with their religion, but they should not try to convert innocent Jews and children.”
HaMevasser, January 30, 2018
A Synagogue in Volos, Greece, has been vandalized and spray-painted with hateful inscriptions. Police rushed to investigate the incident and find the perpetrators. Volos is said to be one of the oldest Jewish communities in Greece.
Etrog, January 31, 2018
A recent study out of Berlin has stated that anti-Semitism is rampant among Muslim refugees and immediate attention is needed. The study found that this stance towards Jews was shared by refugees who have resided in Germany for some time as well as new refugees. For example, a common belief held among refugees is the conspiracy that Jews are aiming for world domination. Beliefs such as these were even held amongst those who said they respected Judaism and did not mind living alongside Jews. In response to the study, there have been calls to charge educators in integrated classrooms in Germany with the task of instilling the message that Germany has a special tie with Israel as well as a shared commitment to democratic values.
Haaretz, January 30, 2018; Yedioth Ahronoth, January 31, 2018
As predominantly Roman-Catholic Poland prepares to pass its controversial bill about Polish involvement in the Holocaust, Pope Francis has urged the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust. Though Francis did not make mention of the Polish law, he did recall his own trip to Auschwitz in 2016. He stated that it is “…our responsibility to hand down [the memory] in a dignified way to young generations,” as well as to ward off indifference, which “…impedes us from doing what is right even when we know what is wrong.”
The second article recounts a meeting between Pope Francis and Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress. In this meeting Lauder praised the pope’s commitment to peace in the Middle East, his stance against anti-Semitism, and for his contribution to strengthening the ties between Jews and Catholics. Lauder said the Pope was one of the Jewish People’s best allies. Lauder also expressed his concern for the increased attacks on Christians in the Middle East, emphasizing the need to protect all minorities. Pope Francis agreed to participate in the #WeRemember campaign commemorating the Holocaust. Other participants include heads of state, politicians, athletes, and celebrities.
Conversion to Christianity
Etrog, January 31, 2018
In a report published by ex-Mormon Helen Radkey, the Church of the Latter Day Saints has been continuing its practice of baptizing Holocaust victims posthumously. Radkey has been investigating this phenomenon for years. This practice first came to light in the 1990s, and after strong opposition from the Jewish community, the Mormon Church agreed to halt the practice. Such baptisms could only take place if families gave consent, instructed Mormon leaders. However, Radkey says this instruction from up high was not heeded by individual parishes and the practice continues to take place. The Anti-Defamation League has said in response that Mormon leaders are in touch with them consistently and do all they can to prevent the practice. However, others argue that if one researcher easily found evidence of widespread practice, how was it not easily caught by church officials?