During the week covered by this review, we received 7 articles on the following subjects:
Anti-Semitism (& Christian Zionism)
Yedioth Yerushalayim, March, 2018; Globes, March 3, 2018
In the weeks since the crisis erupted over the sale to private buyers of leased land by the Greek Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, it has emerged that the solution to the problem is hidden in a clause contained in the original lease. The land, originally owned by the churches and leased by the National Jewish Fund (KKL) in the 1950s, became a massive source of revenue for KKL, who built 1,100 housing units on it, and as a result made hundreds of millions of shekels. As part of the original agreement, KKL reserved the right to extend the lease by 49 years – a move which KKL could decide to make even now.
The private buyers, represented by real estate lawyer Avraham Aberman, said they turned to KKL prior to purchasing the land in order to enquire as to whether KKL intends to extend the lease. KKL allegedly said in response, “Come back to us in 2050 when the lease is up.” The ambiguity of KKL’s position has caused the real estate value of properties located on the land to drop by 30%. Residents wanting to sell their apartments now find themselves in a difficult situation, as values have plummeted, and banks will not approve a mortgage on a property tied to a lease that is to expire in 2050. It is argued that only KKL knows how this will end, and that it needs to take action.
Aberman claims the private buyers, the Ben David family, are not the “bad guys.” He says: “Supposing we hadn’t bought the rights, and KKL hadn’t taken the option of extending the lease… then what? In contrast with KKL, we did buy the land, we did not lease it, such that asset owners now have the option they didn’t have before, to buy their property for themselves.” In any case, now that the lease has been sold to a third party, KKL will no longer be able to negotiate its extension with the churches, but will have to face off with the private buyers.
Anti-Semitism (& Christian Zionism)
Haaretz, March 9, 2018
This article makes the argument that the Balfour Declaration (the statement issued by the British Government in 1917 in support of establishing a national homeland for the Jews in Israel) was primarily a product of “positive” anti-Semitism. This interpretation bucks the narrative that the Balfour Declaration was the result of Christian Zionist beliefs held by such leaders as Prime Minister David Lloyd George as a result of his Christian faith. In 1917 Britain, it is argued, there persisted a belief that Jews had an international network of powerful connections. Documentation from the proceedings of the British Cabinet from this time show this to be the case. It was thought that Jews had immense influence and that their network could be used in two ways. First, Russian Jews could be used to influence Russian state policy, a valuable asset during the First World War. This was, say the authors, nonsense. Jews did not possess this kind of political clout and could not direct state policy, nor did those Jews who were involved in Russian politics represent the vast majority of Russian Jews. The previous Tsar’s regime had in fact persecuted Jews and most were disenfranchised. Nevertheless, British politicians believed, without much evidence, that they could sway Russian policy by appeasing the requests of the Zionists. Second, it was believed that American Jews could also influence state policy, and the British wanted to make sure the United States would remain committed to the war it had just joined. The authors argue that this too was an inflated view of Jewish influence in the United States.
The assumption of Jewish influence is seen in the memoirs of Prime Minister Lloyd George. With regards to his motivation to issue the Balfour Declaration, Lloyd George wrote, “The Zionist leaders gave us an explicit promise that if the allies would commit to the possibility of establishing a national home for the Jews in the Land of Israel, they would do their best to rally Jewish support throughout the world.” But why should Lloyd George have believed that Zionist leaders could deliver on such a promise? Did he not know that they were, at that time, a minority voice?
The assumption made by Lloyd George goes back to a common anti-Semitic trope, bolstered in 1903 through the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Even among those who believed the Protocols to be an exaggeration, there was still a widespread belief that Jews had a worldwide political network and aspired to global domination. Jews were thought to have power and wealth, as was supposedly evidenced by such Jewish representatives as the Rothschild family. Indeed, the Balfour Declaration, when issued, was addressed not to leaders of the Zionist movement, but to Lord Walter Rothschild, who had already retired from politics.
“Positive” anti-Semitism, it is argued, has its origin in Christian anti-Semitism. Early Church Fathers identified Jews with Satan, claiming that it was only through satanic power that the Jews could have overcome Jesus. After all, who could kill a god? The Jews represented Satan’s power in the world, and this mythological account of Jewish influence and power lasted over the centuries. Eventually, the myth of supernatural influence became an asset, in the form of the Balfour Declaration.
The article goes on to argue that this idea of Jewish power and influence still persists, and examples are given from American political life. Even the contemporary notion that there are three monotheistic religions in the world that are on equal footing is evidence for this disproportionate view Jewish influence. There are 13 million Jews in the world, 1.8 billion Muslims, and 2.38 billion Christians. Jews represent a miniscule percentage, and yet are considered extremely important. The myth also plays into the Evangelical push to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Evangelicals made such a demand because of their belief that Jews are the key to the final phase of history. Without Jewish rule in the Holy Land, Armageddon will not take place. The Israeli Government has happily latched onto this kind of “positive” anti-Semitism. But “positive” for whom? It is worth rethinking, argue the authors.
Haaretz, March 11, 2018
This article argues against the idea, promoted by both Dror Ider (columnist for Israel Hayom) and Vice President Mike Pence, that the establishment of the State of Israel was a miracle. A miracle is something that we cannot explain without recourse to the supernatural, and there is nothing supernatural about all that led up to the foundation of the State of Israel, which “did not just fall from the sky.” In his speech at AIPAC, Pence suggested that the establishment of the State of Israel was the fulfillment of a prophecy. The author asks: “Are the six million massacred in the Holocaust also included in that prophecy?” Neither Ider nor Pence concern themselves with that question. Instead, the Holocaust is used as a means to an end – a symbol around which Jewish identity ought to be galvanized to support nationalist sentiments. The article goes on to critique this instrumentalist view of the Holocaust, which too often goes hand in hand with a religious interpretation of the founding of Israel.
Maariv, March 11, 2018
This is a recapitulation of a similar article by the same author submitted in English a few weeks ago to The Jerusalem Post. The author, Itzhak Rabihiya, who previously worked as a spokesperson for the Israeli Labor Party (Avoda), argues that we cannot “hug Evangelicals” who support Israel, and who fill important roles in the Trump administration, while simultaneously “putting a knife in the backs of Messianic Jews.” Rabihiya argues that fair treatment of Messianic Jews is important to Israel’s continued good standing with American Evangelicals, on whom Israel depends for political and financial support. Messianic Jews pay taxes, serve in the military, and contribute to society. Yet, instead of embracing Messianic Jews, the Israeli government treats them with disdain and the Ministry of Interior refuses to recognize them. This double standard is not in Israel’s best interest.
Israel Hayom, March 15, 2018
A recent Gallop poll indicates that support for Israel amongst Americans is higher than it has been since the 1990s. 74% of Americans hold to a positive view of Israel. The real difference is along party lines. About 83% of Republicans have a positive view of Israel, in contrast with 64% of Democrats. 27% of Democrats have a high view of Palestinians, in contrast with just 12% of Republicans. The survey conductors link the high support for Israel amongst Republicans to their Christian faith.
Haaretz, March 9, 2018
This is an exposé on Qasr el Yahud, the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist (as well as the site where the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River, and where Elijah the Prophet ascended into heaven). UNESCO declared the official site of the baptism to be on the Jordanian side of the river, but the vast majority of tourists decide to visit the Israeli side. As such, there are two sites, right across from one another, one “official,” the other “fake.” About half a million religious tourists visited the Israeli site in 2014. Pilgrims who visit often want to recreate the baptismal scene. Some even bring doves with them to symbolize the descent of the Holy Spirit. The author tells of a time when one of the doves dove right into the river, and the crowd of onlookers joked that it was symbolic of the peace process taking a dive.
The main thrust of the article is to ruminate on how religious sites get constructed, obtain meaning, even while there might be no real evidence of connection to the actual historical event that is being recreated. In this case, not only is there no evidence that Jesus was actually baptized here in this particular spot, but the traditional site is on the other side of the Jordan. Furthermore, it is asked, how does the Jordan River not disappoint more visitors when the current is so weak, the water so dirty, and the river expanse so narrow? Some visitors accidentally swim to the Jordanian side because it is so close and they get confused. Nevertheless, visiting the site seems to strike a spiritual chord with pilgrims, many of whom fill up little vials of “holy water” to take home with them, continuing a tradition begun by pilgrims centuries ago. The author jokes that it is a wonder that there is any water left, given the number of tourists who take some home with them.
In the end, despite the theatrics of religious tourism, the author ends on a sympathetic note. Even while religious sites cannot produce awe in terms of grandeur, what they allow is for pilgrims to recreate an event and listen to a familiar story in a new way. The manager of the site, Aviam Atar, puts it this way: “I see, for example, tourists who come to a place like the Qumran Caves. They stand to the side under a covering that we built for them, while their pastor tells the story of the scrolls and the connection between Judaism and ancient Christianity. They haven’t come for the stones or the architecture. They came for the story.”