During the week covered by this review, we received 8 articles on the following subjects:
Jewish Christian Relations / Jerusalem
Christian Jewish Relations / Jerusalem
Yedioth Ahronoth, March 2, 2018; Yediot Yerushalaim, March 3, 2018
The church lands and tax crisis reported last week, which brought about the closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for three days was temporarily resolved, one journalist argues, only when Benjamin Netanyahu “… finally found time to devote himself to the crisis… only after the foreign press got hold of the story and started reporting live.” While it is not illogical, this commentator points out, for churches to pay taxes on certain properties, the way in which the Jerusalem Municipality went about executing the shift in policy showed a total lack of professionalism and sensitivity. Churches were not given any explanation for how the Municipality arrived at the sum total of 650 million shekels owed for seven retroactive years. How did the Municipality arrive at this number? How did it decide which church buildings should be taxed and which should not?
Fareed Gibran, special counsel to the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, says the churches are requesting dialogue. “We are saying: sit down with us and we will make a list of definitions in terms of what is a business and what is not a business; what is a hotel and what is a guesthouse. Everything should have different rates.”
One high-up official in Jerusalem did not hesitate to criticize Mayor Barkat, saying, “This crisis was totally unnecessary. These are brutal steps on the part of the Jerusalem Municipality,” in reference to the Municipality’s decision to freeze the churches’ assets and bank accounts. These actions were taken without any formal coordination with the Government of Israel. At some point, says this official, certain church facilities will indeed be taxed – but only after negotiations with the Vatican. “You can’t just change the status quo that has been upheld since the establishment of the state.” One article notes that the status quo is hundreds of years old – having been upheld by various ruling powers.
A neglected part of the story, it is reported, has to do with Mayor Barkat’s feud with the Ministry of Finance over a demand to enlarge Jerusalem’s budget. Just a few months ago, Barkat blocked the Ministry with trash, and hung signs across the city saying “Kachlon has given up on Jerusalem” (Kachlon is the Minister of Finance). Barkat, according to this theory, used the churches as a means of putting greater pressure on the government. Sources claim that Netanyahu did in fact know of Barkat’s intentions in advance, but refused to act until the issue became widely reported.
One vendor from the Old City asks: “Why did they choose to take action in this season?” This is a reference to the Lenten season, which draws in nearly half a million Christian tourists from around the world and is considered one of the busiest tourist seasons in Israel. Given the volume of religious tourism, it is argued, more care should have been taken in attacking those churches that facilitate much of the hospitality and who draw in tourism. A representative of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land says the issue is not about making money: “The assets of the church are used for prayer houses, monasteries, education, and community centers…. Our income goes back into the community in order to fund different needs and maintenance. The Israeli Government does not support us financially, and we don’t ask for it. But you have to understand that millions from all over the world make use of our facilities, and we have operational costs.” This representative adds, “The action taken by the Municipality was sudden. They didn’t discuss it with us. That is why we took action that was painful and saddening for us.”
Makor Rishon, March 3, 2018; Haaretz, March 6, 2018; Maariv Mekomonim, March 2, 2018
The first two articles have to do with Guatemala’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem in the wake of President Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy. Guatemala has long been known as a strong supporter and ally of the Israeli State, and the first article explores why. It is reported that half of Guatemalans identify as Evangelical – an important social force, and the very contingency that encouraged President Jimmy Morales to make the move.
This tradition of support for Israel goes back to a famous story amongst Guatemalan Evangelicals (and little known in Israel) about Dr. Jorge García-Granados, who was Guatemala’s ambassador to the UN during Israel’s plea for statehood. Granados mobilized a lobby of eleven Latin American countries to vote in favor of the UN resolution to recognize Israel, which provided the majority needed. Granados also coordinated with Israeli politician and diplomat, Abba Eban, helping to postpone the vote until November in order to assure there was enough time to secure swing votes. On May 14, 1948, Granados announced that Guatemala recognized the State of Israel, becoming the second country, after the US, to recognize Israel. History is now repeating itself with the recognition of Jerusalem. Granados’s actions became part of the nationalist lore in Guatemala, and the role played by the country in assisting Israel was taught in schools as part of the curriculum.
Israel has returned the favor in various ways, including becoming the main weapons supplier during Guatemala’s civil war in the 1980s. The US Government denied military assistance at the time, and it is argued that it was Israel’s assistance that brought about the defeat of guerilla forces and facilitated the subsequent peace agreement. When asked what Israel could do in return for the embassy move this time, one official said: “Fight hunger… On this issue the division is not over left or right, Catholic or Evangelical, Jewish or non-Jewish. Everyone needs to help with this important issue in Guatemala.”
The Guatemalan Embassy plans to move to Jerusalem in May, just two days after the US moves its embassy.
The third article reports that the International Christian Embassy has blessed the decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. The Christian Embassy, the largest Christian Zionist organization in the world, issued a statement, saying, “We are grateful to Trump’s Government that made due on its promise to transfer the American Embassy to the capital – where it should be… We hope that other countries will follow suit, and we are acting to achieve this goal through our representatives and activists working throughout the world.” The article notes that the Christian Embassy moved to Jerusalem already in 1967, where it did much to support Holocaust survivors.
HaMevasser, March 7, 2018
The battle waged by the people of Yad L’Achim against the “Messianic Jewish Christian cult,” accused of trying to “hunt” as many Jews as possible, did not stop over the Jewish festival of Purim, it is reported. Yad L’Achim activists were informed that missionaries planned to hold events on Purim, and so organized alternative Jewish events. Yad L’Achim sent Purim gift baskets to Jews who managed to “escape” the cult this year, or to those who are still in the cult but making their way out. These were delivered personally, thus providing an opportunity to make house visits, talk about Purim, and explain why Jews must overcome those who intend them harm. On Purim Day, Yad L’Achim organized banquets in four different cities. The story of Esther was read from the megillah, and food was served. Jews who had left the missionary cult were in attendance, as well as Jews who secretly still attend the missionary cult. The banquets organized by Yad L’Achim prevented Jews from going to events planned by the missionaries (who disguise themselves as Jews) during the same hours. Based on the enthusiastic feedback from attendees, the article concludes, “We are sure they are on their way to leave the cult and return to the way of Israel.”
HaModia, March 2, 2018
Many tombstones were overturned in Chicago’s Jewish Waldheim cemetery. An official complaint was made to the police. No anti-Semitic inscriptions were found on the tombstones, so it is not yet possible to establish that the motive was anti-Semitic. The Anti-Defamation League has reported a 60% increase in anti-Semitic activity in the city of New York (from 236 events reported in 2016, to 380 in 2017). It is argued that this event in Chicago could indicate that the same trend is true elsewhere.
The Jerusalem Post, March, 2018
This exposé explores the phenomenon known as “Jerusalem syndrome” – a term coined to explain the behavior of those visitors to Jerusalem, mostly Christian and Jewish, who experience hallucinations, take on biblical names and characters, and refuse to leave (among other bizarre behaviors). Tourists who experience this syndrome often end up in the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center, where they are treated. The syndrome made its first appearance in a medical book dating to the 1930s, written by Jerusalem-based psychiatrist Heinz Herman. Since then, there has been a debate over whether the syndrome arises spontaneously, or out of preexisting conditions. Psychiatrists Eliezer Witztum and Moshe Kalian believe the latter is true. Of those patients who arrive at Kfar Shaul, 50% are schizophrenic, and nearly all have preexisting mental health issues. Mental health is aggravated, or triggered, by the experience of visiting holy sites in Jerusalem, a city already imbued with historic and mythic significance, and a city where, some believe, the end of days will take place. The syndrome can be triggered by unrealistic expectations – that is – tourists who are disappointed by the city. Or, the expectations can be so built up that upon visiting a holy site, those susceptible become delusional. Something similar has been reported by Muslims who visit Mecca, but the phenomenon is by far mostly studied amongst those adherents of Judaism and Christianity who visit the Holy Land.