During the week covered by this review, we received 10 articles on the following subjects:
Christians in Israel
Israeli/Jewish Attitudes towards Jesus
Haaretz, December 28, 2018; Israel Hayom, December 31, 2018; The Jerusalem Post Lite, January 2, 2018
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a trip to Brazil in honor of the swearing in of Jair Bolsonaro, the new President of Brazil. Netanyahu hoped to secure the transfer of Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem by offering the new president assistance with internal Brazilian security. Bolsonaro is a controversial figure, and some in the Brazilian Jewish community planned to demonstrate against Netanyahu’s embrace of the new leader, who is known for making inflammatory statements against women and the gay community. For example, Bolsonaro once said that he would rather see his son die in a car accident than see him with another man. Bolsonaro is a supporter of President Donald Trump and, like Trump, enjoys the wide support of an Evangelical Christian base. During his visit, Netanyahu met with church leaders and spoke about the positive turn in relations between Israel and Brazil. Netanyahu said: “We have no better friends in the world than the Evangelical community. You are brothers and sisters… and we defend Christian rights just like we defend the rights of all religions. We have the same roots.” Netanyahu said that during his visit, Bolsonaro had committed to transferring the Brazilian embassy, and that it is not a matter of “if” but “when”.
Christians in Israel
The Jerusalem Post, December 28, 2018
Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, met with the spiritual leaders of various Christian churches – a gathering that happens annually around Christmastime. Rivlin said that Israel had no intention of infringing on churches’ property rights, a statement made in relation to the past year’s controversy over the proposal to nationalize lands sold by churches to private investors. Assurances were made that the status quo will be maintained. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, said he feared the proposed law may come up again in the future, but was grateful that the legislation had been withdrawn. He clarified that the Greek Orthodox Church is always open to dialogue. He also expressed gratitude to Rivlin for his work in clearing the mines in the land surrounding Qasr al-Yahud, the area traditionally associated with the baptism of Jesus. Rivlin said that it is not always easy for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to live together, but that it is “the most moral thing to do”.
Haaretz, January 2, 2019
A judicial court has dismissed from evidence the confession of a minor accused of torching the Jerusalem church, Dormition Abbey, in 2015. The minor had confessed to being a part of a Jewish terror network, to torching the church, and causing property damage. The judge dismissed the confession, arguing that the minor had been deprived of a lawyer, was starved and tortured by the Israeli Police and the Shabak until the confession was procured.
The Jerusalem Post, January 4, 2019
The pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, which numbers 45,000 congregants, was honored by the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem for his support for Israel and the Jewish people.
Yavniton, December 28, 2018; Hamevasser, January 2, 2018
Hundreds of Yavneh residents received fliers saying: “If your life is empty, it can be filled abundantly.” The fliers were reportedly distributed by Messianic Jews, who want to “lead Jews astray” and convert them to Christianity. One resident said in response: “… the missionaries know that to come with a cross in order to try to Christianize Jews is passé. So instead, they come with more clever methods and repackage Christianity in a Jewish wrapping.” Residents were invited to report similar incidents to Yad L’Achim’s hotline.
Yad L’Achim has also warned that the season of Christmas and New Year’s Eve provide occasion for the presence of Christian symbols in Jewish spaces. Jews who have immigrated from France, the United Kingdom, and countries from the former Soviet Bloc have complained that they expected to arrive in a gentile-free country, but have since been disillusioned. For example, the municipality of Haifa has invited the broader community to attend “Christmas tours” at local churches in order to learn about Christian customs. While the municipality considered this initiative an act of reconciliation, the article argued that it draws Jews into spheres of idolatry.
Israeli/Jewish Attitudes Concerning Jesus
Haaretz, December 31, 2018; Yedioth Ahronoth, December 28, 2018
Both articles were opinion pieces expressing disappointment at the level of Israeli ignorance about Jesus and Christianity. Jesus is a controversial figure, argued the first commentator, noting that there are debates over whether he existed, what he actually said, whether he claimed to be the Messiah, etc. But one thing is not debated, and that is that Jesus (whether a person of fiction or not) was Jewish. While the State of Israel has made sure to “appropriate” Jews from various times and places, such as Freud, Einstein, and Moses, it has ignored the “greatest Jews in history.” Israeli schools teach almost nothing about Jesus or Christianity, and kids know very little about this famous Jew. During the Christmas season, it is argued, it is “worth remembering that Israel systematically represses the fact that the ‘nativity’ happened here, that this land is the cradle of Christianity, and that Jesus was our flesh and blood, a Jewish superstar”.
The second opinion piece made a similar argument. Israelis are conditioned to be afraid and even to hate Jesus, even though he is one of the most successful people of all time, and is “one of ours”. It is true that Jesus sowed the seeds that would later turn into violent animosity between two religions, but he himself did not found Christianity, it is argued. That was “Paul’s fault”. In Israel, there is a “staggering ignorance” about places like the Via Delarosa, the Jordan River, or Bethlehem, and their significance within Christianity. One “researcher” of Christianity is quoted as saying: “There is an intentional vacuum of knowledge. When we became a state, we said: ‘Finally no gentiles, we don’t need to know anything about them!’ We wake up 70 years later and find that we haven’t understood anything about global culture without Christianity.” High school curricula focus almost exclusively on Jewish history, and nearly nothing is taught about Islam or Christianity. The “funny” thing is, argued this commentator, in the current political climate, Christianity is playing a massive role. Netanyahu’s greatest allies are Evangelicals with money and political power.