During the week covered by this review, we received 21 articles on the following subjects:
Israeli/Jewish Attitudes towards Christians/Christianity
Christian Perspectives on the Conflict
Various Articles (8)
The proposed Polish law to criminalize any association between the Polish nation and the Holocaust continues to make waves in the Israeli media, and to strain relations between Israel and Poland. Polish officials cancelled the planned trip by Israel’s Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett after he said, “I am determined to say clearly what history has already proven – the Polish people were seriously involved in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.”
One article notes that very little attention has been given to the fact that former Polish President, Lech Aleksander Kaczynski, had himself made such statements that under the new law would be forbidden. After Princeton Professor Jan Tomasz Gross’s book, Neighbors, was published in 2001, which exposed the Polish pogrom in the town of Yadvebne, the Polish President said in response, “We know for certain that Poles were among the persecutors and the murderers of the Jews. Here in Yadvebne, citizens of the Polish Republic died at the hands of other citizens. For this crime we ask for the forgiveness of the victims and their families… I apologize for myself and in the name of all Polish people whose conscience is mortified by this crime, who believe they cannot be proud of Polish history without feeling at the same time pain and embarrassment about the evil crimes committed by Poles against others.”
Gross’s book, discussed in a number of articles, describes the massacre of Jews in the small Polish town of Yadvebne. Jews were led to the town square, where they were beaten and stoned. Some Jews were led outside the town and buried alive. All the rest – men, women, and children – were imprisoned in a large barn that was then set on fire. In a matter of hours, the Jewish community of Yadvebne, numbering around 1,600 people, was extinguished. Asked if he is worried how the new law would affect his book, Professor Gross responds, “If they decide to ban my books or to outlaw them, I will be lucky,” he says; “Books that you are not allowed to read are the books that everyone loves. As a Pole who grew up under Soviet rule, I was raised on forbidden books.”
Some Jews have been critical of his work, however. The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Joseph Schudrich, has accused Gross of aiming to provoke instead of to educate, and that his aggressive style has caused too many people to reject his claims. Gross has responded by saying that murder is provocative.
One article discussed psychologist and Polish writer Anna Bikont’s investigation into Gross’s claims. Bikont went from door to door in Yadvebne, trying to piece together any local memory of the crime. Some residents shut the door on her, but others talked. Her book, Le Crime et le Silence (The Crime and the Silence), won the European Book Prize in 2011. In an interview, Bikont says she is not actually worried the law will be used to attack journalists like her. However, what does worry her is what the law says about an emerging Polish mentality. “The Holocaust has become a theater,” says Bikont, arguing that Poles seem more interested in preserving a memory of their heroism than in remembering the murder of Polish Jews.
This same sentiment is echoed in other articles. One commentator notes that in the Majdanek Death Camp the explanatory plaques mostly speak of the Polish victims and barely mention the Jews. It is also noted that Auschwitz, which served as a prison camp for an array of war criminals, including Polish dissidents, is kept in a better condition than Auschwitz Birkenau, the adjacent death camp that exclusively housed and murdered Jews.
Many note that the Polish Church has done very little to encourage a national reckoning and soul searching. The Church, says one commentator, “…was the most important factor that could have calmed the anti-Semitic storm after the war. [But] it did not respond in a unanimous manner. For the most part, church workers abstained from responding.”
Some commentators, however, want to remind readers that the law does not reflect Polish society as a whole. Holocaust education researcher, Professor Nitza Davidovitch of Ariel University, says she regularly collaborates with Polish researchers, who are “sensitive, nuanced, and cooperative.” Davidovitch argues that Poles are understandably wary of the way in which Holocaust crimes get subconsciously linked with the Polish people, while other nations get off the hook, asking if when Israelis visit Berlin, do they remember what happened there? Or when they visit London, “…do they remember how the British sent Holocaust refugees back to Germany and to the death camps?” Poles, she argues, have a sense of being wronged, of having absorbed the blame from which other nations have dissociated.
Another commentator makes a similar point. In his opinion piece, Eitan Orkivi argues that while anti-Semitism, powered by populism, certainly still exists amongst the working class of Poland, the educated elites tend actually to be pro-Israel. The opposite is true in other Western countries, argues Orkivi, where it is precisely the elite and the educated who associate Israel with colonialism and apartheid. The latter countries, he argues, are more dangerous for Israel, and yet they do not receive the same criticism.
Israeli/Jewish Attitudes Concerning Christians/Christianity
Makor Rishon, 2 February, 2018
This article presents the view of Israeli tour guide and lecturer Yisca Harani, who is also introduced as an expert in Christian theology. Harani argues that while it is often said that Jerusalem is holy for three different religions, this is not actually historically true for Christianity. Harani goes through New Testament passages and through the Christian tradition to make this point. Jesus, for example, predicts that the Temple will be replaced by his very own body. It is in Jesus, not in the Temple, that Christians come close to God. The New Testament envisions the Gospels’ spreading by non-national means, and indeed, Paul chastises Peter for requiring gentiles to abide by Jewish customs. By Paul’s time, in addition, it not seen as necessary to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Church Fathers did not encourage such pilgrimage, and even today only a fraction of Christians choose to visit the city. When they do, their interest in Jerusalem is mostly historical. Even evangelicals, argues Harani, who are unique in their expectation that a third Temple will be built, nonetheless see this Temple only as a means of transition. In the end, there will be no need for the Temple as God’s salvation will be extended throughout the world. As such, Jerusalem is not holy to Christianity in the same way as it is to Jews and Muslims.
Various Articles (8)
Mike Pence’s historic visit and speech in the Knesset continues to produce discussion on the question of evangelicalism, its identity, and its confusing love for Israel. One article examines what it calls “the appropriation and adoption of Jewish symbols, practices and rituals among a growing segment of American Christians.” It focuses especially on Pentecostals. Historically, this kind of appropriation would have been considered a form of “Judaizing,” and would have been seen as a dangerous move towards legalism. However, since biblical scholarship in the 20th century pivoted towards taking the Jewish roots of Jesus more seriously, a belief has followed that in ignoring these Jewish roots, Christians are missing out on a key aspect of faith and practice. This movement, however, is not primarily academic, but is widespread at a popular level. Its import is also political: “Judaization is not just a commercial or theological venture; it is also integral to Christian Zionist politics.” For example, loving the State of Israel is now considered a Christian duty, and as such is cause for supporting leaders who are seen to align with this vision, such as Trump. John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel, even sees support for Israel as a salvation issue.
Another article follows an evangelical tour group visiting Tel Megiddo, the alleged site of the future battle of Armageddon. The group is composed of 40 people, whose itinerary is organized by Sar-El Tours (which specializes in the evangelical market). Led by Pastor David Whiting from Houston, the group discusses why they have come to Israel. One man responds that God has called Christians to bless Israel. Whiting asks the few Israeli Jews who are helping out with the tour if this evangelical love for Israel is confusing. The Israelis respond by saying that they don’t understand how “…evangelicals could love them so passionately, on the one hand, while, on the other, consider them worthy of annihilation if they don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah at the end of times.” In response, Whiting agrees that in the end, only those who accept Jesus can be rescued, but reiterates, “There is certainly no greater friend to the nation of Israel than evangelical Christians,” adding that God has a plan for Israel.
Indeed, a number of articles raise this tension. Can evangelicals really be trusted if ultimately they believe Jews must convert? Furthermore, what are the political implications of this theology? One commentator notes that U.S. Vice President Pence’s “theology” aligns with that of Hagee, who in a sermon once said that God allowed the Holocaust to happen in order to prompt a return of Jews to the Land of Israel. In his address to the Knesset, Pence talked of the “resurrection of the Jews,” and this article’s author thinks that Hagee’s comments are behind Pence’s theology. The author is reticent about the potential consequences of a Pence-Hagee foreign policy: “If the resurrection of the Jews effectively founded a new Israel – a national Israel – to replace the old Israel, then the existence of American Jews who do not identify as Zionists or as part of the State of Israel is an anomaly, even a mistake.” The theology behind Christian Zionism, argues the author, comes close to the theology out of which anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism arose. How will those American Jews be treated who do not fall into the evangelical perception of what makes a good “resurrected” Jew?
Another article argues that in supporting Christian Zionists, Jews are actually aligning themselves with “avoda zara” (foreign worship/ idolatry), because such organizations often have missionary agendas. Furthermore, the author of this article asks, what will the U.S. demand in return for such support? Another commentator agrees that this could be a trap. Christian Zionists are suspect. They need Jews to be in control of the Temple Mount, because if Muslims were in charge, evangelical freedoms would be taken and “their plans ruined” (speaking, presumably, of their eschatological plans – Editor). Furthermore, given Hagee’s vision of a coming war, will he actually encourage American leaders to engage in a war in the Middle East?
One article, however, disagrees. While Jews can never forget what Christians did to them historically, evangelical support requires a fresh start and a basis for renewed inter-religious dialogue. This commentator lists various kinds of historic anti-Semitic attitudes and points out that in evangelicalism we see a totally new Christian attitude towards Jews. Thus, even while we know evangelicals ultimately desire conversion, the writer argues we have no choice but to create some sort of alliance with them. It should be understood from the outset, however, that Jews are “married” to the God of Israel, and evangelicals should have no illusions that this will ever change. As such, evangelicals should agree not to try to evangelize to the Jews.
On a different but related note, a brief article reports that more than 100 Christian Zionists worldwide have donated upwards of $10,000 to plant trees for Tu Bishvat in settlement areas including Hebron. The article states that Christian Zionists donate hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel and its settlement expansion. While once these funds were seen as “suspect” by local Jews, they are being increasingly accepted as a sign of true friendship.
HaShabbat Netanya, 2 February, 2018; HaShikma Holon, 7 February, 2018
The first article describes how Yossi Shenk, a businessman from Netanya, was approached by two people who wanted to rent out his hall for a conference. Shenk was suspicious that they were missionaries, and so turned to Yad La’Achim, a religious group devoted to waging war on missionaries. Yad La’Achim confirmed that the two were missionaries who belonged to a dangerous cult called “Messianic Jews,” who use deceitful means to convert “innocent Jews.” Shenk promptly canceled his dealings with the missionaries, because, as a God-fearing man, he understood that no financial gain is worth assisting in missionary activity. The writer calls the public to be alert and not to be tempted by these dangerous people.
The second article describes how Holon residents received DVDs in their mailboxes this week with “missionary content.” The DVDs, entitled, “My Story,” and “An Inspirational Life,” contain the testimony of Tom Cantor, who tells of having found Christianity as an adult, which changed his life and made him free and happy. A discreet meeting is set up late at night with Mr. Cantor to ask about his faith. “We are persecuted,” says Mr. Cantor in the interview: “We represent a stream in Christianity that many Christians oppose, and who are seen as missionaries by Jews.” This stream within Christianity believes that Jesus is Jewish, believe in the Jewish religion, and desire a closeness with Jews. “We believe that God is not one but three gods, that the Bible was inspired… Jesus is Israel’s Messiah who has come to the world to atone for our sins,” said Cantor. Messianic Jews, the article further reports, pay their taxes and serve in the military. Yad La’Achim estimates their numbers at around 12,000, but members of the community say they are much fewer, and that in Holon there are only 50. Cantor says he is used to being humiliated and cursed. “We are good people who do not want to hurt anyone. It is our right to preach our faith. Do not be violent towards us. We love you,” he says.
Iton Shacharit, 4 February, 2018
It is reported that the Jerusalem Municipality has decided to start requiring that churches and UN buildings pay taxes (“arnona”) from which they have heretofore been exempt. The Municipality estimates that the financial damage caused by lack of taxation hovers around a billion shekels, and that this burden should not fall on Jerusalem residents. If the State attempts to block this move, the Municipality says it will appeal to the Supreme Court.
Christian Perspectives on the Conflict
The Jerusalem Post, February 4, 2018
The attention given to Vice President Pence’s evangelical faith in relation to his pro-Israel stance has caused increasing worry amongst Palestinians. It has been asked if evangelical faith, and its emphasis on a literal interpretation of Scripture, is integrally linked to anti-Palestinianism. The author of this article, a self-professed American-Israeli evangelical, says he wants to correct some misconceptions on this score. First, to take the Bible literally, he argues, means to believe that God loves both Israelis and Palestinians. Second, evangelicals who take the Bible seriously must also be peace-makers. The author gives biblical precedent for both of these points. He concedes that evangelicals are not always good at carrying these principles out, and that often evangelicals take an “either/or” approach rather than a “both/and.” The author, however, says there is some encouraging news. A recent survey amongst evangelicals indeed showed that there is a strong identification between evangelicals and support for Israel, but it also showed a growing concern for the safety of Christians living in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. A majority (59%) also said that Christians should be doing more to care for Palestinian people. The point, said the author, is that evangelical beliefs about Israelis and Palestinians are complex and varying rather than monolithic.