Michele Bachmann: Bring into Christianity as many nonbelievers, including Jews, as we can

Former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann called for an intensified effort to convert Jews to Christianity.

Bachmann, a former congresswoman from Minnesota who ran for the Republican nod in 2012, was in Israel last week on a tour organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group.

Toward the end of the week, she spoke on the council president’s radio program, “Washington Watch,” and discussed the meaning of the recent intensification of violence in Israel and the West Bank. She cast the violence as a signal of the return of Jesus, which would necessitate mass conversions.

“We recognize the shortness of the hour,” Bachmann said on the program hosted by Tony Perkins, “and that’s why we as a remnant want to be faithful in these days and do what it is that the Holy Spirit is speaking to each one of us, to be faithful in the Kingdom and to help bring in as many as we can — even among the Jews — share Jesus Christ with everyone that we possibly can because, again, He’s coming soon.”

The first to report Bachmann’s call was Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, a church-state separation advocacy group.

Israel’s Christian schools reopen after month of strike

On Sept. 28, one of the longest academic strikes in Israel’s history finally came to an amicable close when students enrolled in Israel’s Christian school system belatedly began their school year after 27 days of protests by teachers, administrators, parents and students.

The 33,000 students, mostly Christian Arabs, attending 47 institutions across Israel returned to school one day after an agreement was inked between church leaders who administer ecclesiastical academics and Israel’s Ministry of Education. The deal reinstated $13.8 million that had been cut from the Christian school system’s allocation from the Israeli government last year, established a joint committee to set future government contributions and barred the schools from striking during the next two years.

While communication between government officials and school leaders remained open and positive throughout the closure, according to negotiators in the Joint Arab List who sat in on the discussions, some in the Christian community had hoped to ensure state funding for future years.

“It’s a mixed feeling,” said Yousef Jabareen, a representative with the Joint Arab List, the Arab alliance in the Knesset, and a father of three enrolled in Christian schools. Jabareen was among the thousands of parents left scrambling to find child care during the four weeks of the strike — many of them carted their children to their workplaces. During those weeks, Jabareen brought his youngest son with him to work at the Knesset, while another son assisted at a relative’s clothing store and spent “a lot of time on Facebook and watching television, unfortunately, nothing meaningful,” Jabareen said.

“On one hand, I appreciate the struggle the schools have initiated, and I appreciate their courage to keep the strike for almost one month. On the other hand, I feel some disappointment because I thought we could get a better agreement.”

Jabareen and other parents active on the strike committee had hoped the government would come up with a fixed amount for state contributions in the coming years. Under the new agreement, the amount will be determined jointly by school officials and the Ministry of Education over the next six months.

“I believe this agreement was built by establishing trust between the two sides, and hope it will lead to the strengthening of relations moving forward,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, praising the compromise reached by the schools and state.

“I wish the students and teachers much success for a productive and enjoyable year,” he added.

Days before classes were due to begin last month, the church-run schools announced that, in protest of budget cuts, they would not open their doors. School officials said the Ministry of Education had reduced state contributions from 64 percent of their operating cost to 29 percent over the past two years, and the schools no longer had the resources to educate. Because Israel’s Christian schools are a public-private enterprise, called “recognized non-official,” they are capped at receiving 75 percent of their budget from the state. The remainder of their funding comes from parent contributions, ranging from $650 to $1,300 per pupil annually.

Church leaders had originally asked the government for a total of $52.6 million. They said that amount would cover the full 75 percent maximum benefit from the state, and would match the grants given to recognized nonofficial Jewish schools.

“I look at myself, I am a hardworking person, I pay taxes,” said Leila Haddad, a gynecologist and mother with two daughters enrolled in a Christian school in Haifa, where more than 60 percent of Arab students attend Christian schools.

“I think that everyone is looking for equality and not more. We know that these are sort-of private schools, so we are not looking for 100 percent funding, but the same that other schools in our category receive,” she added.

“This 50 million NIS [$13.8 million] hardly does anything when you divide it by 33,000 students,” said Wissam Asmar, a graduate of the same school Haddad’s children attend, which was founded in the mid-1800s. Asmar is a lawyer and a father of three children who were out of school during the strike. “This is something that we will not accept. This will not solve the problem.”

Church officials who oversee the schools hail from the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant sects. Even so, the curriculums are often secular and noted for an emphasis on culture and civics. “They also exercise values and democracy, community, forgiveness, respecting the other, and being involved, being a caring citizen,” Jabareen said, adding, “I definitely credit my school for my career development.” In addition to serving as an elected official, Jabareen also holds a doctorate in law from Georgetown University.

In fact, Christian schools are regarded as outstanding performers in Israel’s fractured education system, serving, in addition to the Arab-Christian community, a number of Muslim and some Jewish children. Sixty-nine percent of students in Christian schools matriculate, compared to 27 percent of students from government-run Arab schools.

Four percent of Israel’s students are registered at Christian schools, yet among Arab students studying at Israeli universities, 39 percent graduated from the Christian system. What’s more, many graduates of these schools go on to become leaders in Israel’s professional class; alumni include doctors, lawyers and a staggering 89 percent of Arabs in the high-tech industry.

“I had the best education, I think. My school was one of the top schools in Israel,” said Aida Touma-Sliman, another Knesset member and graduate of a Christian school, also in Nazareth. “It’s not by chance that six our of 13 members of the Knesset [from the Joint Arab List] graduated from these schools.”

Israeli police arrest suspects in torching of Church of Loaves and Fishes

Israeli police said on Sunday suspects had been arrested on suspicion of torching a church revered by Christians as the site of Jesus's miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The suspects were arrested overnight, a police spokeswoman said, following a joint investigation with the Shin Bet internal undercover security agency.

The suspects are set to face a remand hearing in the northern city of Nazareth later on Sunday.

As well as extensive fire damage to the church, a verse from a Hebrew prayer denouncing the worship of “false gods” was spray-painted in red on an outer wall of the church, suggesting Jewish zealots were responsible.

The church was built in the 1980s on the site of 4th and 5th century houses of worship that commemorated what Christians revere as Jesus's miraculous feeding of 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ordered the Shin Bet to launch a top-priority investigation, described the incident as “an attack on all of us”.

After the June 18 fire, the Rabbis for Human Rights group said there had been 43 hate crime attacks on churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009.

Dozens of arrests have been made in such cases, but there have been few indictments and convictions, with police and prosecutors acknowledging that the young age of many of the suspected perpetrators has led courts to show leniency.

Ted Cruz enlists Christians for 2016 White House bid

Casting himself as the leader of a grassroots army, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) made an explicit appeal to Christian conservatives on Monday as he became the first major figure to jump into the 2016 presidential race.

Cruz's unyielding tactics in Washington have made him a hero to many on the Tea Party right and a thorn in the side of the Republican establishment. Seeking to break into the front ranks of candidates, Cruz solicited the support of born-again Christians who play a major role in states with early nominating contests.

Speaking at Liberty University, a Christian school founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell, Cruz discussed his Baptist faith in personal terms and urged religious conservatives who have sat out recent elections to get off the sidelines.

“Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values,” he said.

Cruz's prominent role in the 2013 government shutdown made him one of the better-known politicians in America even as he made enemies in both parties on Capitol Hill. Becoming a senator only two years ago, he made his mark last year with a 21-hour speech against Obamacare on the floor of the Senate.

But the Harvard-educated son of a Cuban immigrant starts the race for the November 2016 election as a second-tier candidate. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have locked down deep-pocketed donors and built sophisticated campaigns-in-waiting as they court voters across the country.

Cruz, 44, came in third in an informal poll of activists last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls show him statistically tied with five other potential candidates, well behind Bush and Walker.

As the first to jump into the race, Cruz will get extra attention from the media and voters for several weeks as he tries to position himself as the conservative alternative to more centrist candidates like Bush and Walker.


Campaign aides told the Houston Chronicle they do not expect to appeal to moderate or establishment-minded voters, but instead aim to run strongly among self-identified Tea Party members and pick up support from libertarians and religious conservatives.

That could help Cruz in early-voting states like Iowa, where 57 percent of Republican caucus goers identified as evangelical or born-again Christians in 2012. Cruz will likely have to compete for their support with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who won Iowa in 2012, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who won in 2008.

Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. said many evangelicals have sat out recent elections out of disappointment with the more centrist candidates that have won the party's nomination.

“Certain Republican candidates have promised so much and delivered so little over the last 25 years and I think that's the reason. If someone could mobilize that bloc, it would be amazing,” Falwell told Reuters.

Speaking without notes, Cruz employed the cadence of a preacher as he told an overflow crowd of 11,000 about the religious journey of his father, who left the family when Cruz was three years old but returned after joining a Baptist church.

“If not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would have been … raised by a single mom without my father in the house,” Cruz said.

In his speech Cruz called for the repeal of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law and the abolition of the tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service. He cast divisive social issues in religious terms, referring to the “sacrament of marriage” and the “sanctity of human life.”

Cruz drew some of his strongest applause when he accused Obama of playing down the religious elements of Islamic State and fostering conflict with Israel, an important issue for evangelicals.

“I believe God isn't done with America yet,” Cruz said. “I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America.”

Cruz's birth in Calgary, Canada, has raised questions about his eligibility for the White House. The U.S. Constitution requires that the president be a natural born citizen. Cruz has said he qualifies by virtue of his mother having been an American citizen by birth.

I would have booed Ted Cruz, too

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) must be the gutsiest supporter of Israel in American history, if you believe media accounts of his actions at a recent Christian assembly. After some in the audience booed his pro-Israel remarks, he had the gumption to walk out, saying, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”

But the episode was more complex. The ambitious Cruz is a highly cynical, calculated politician, and nothing could have delighted him more than the chance to storm off a stage in mock disgust at people who wouldn’t cheer his advocacy for a position that’s popular within his party.

I’m a supporter of Israel – a big one. I’m an Israeli citizen whose politics are center-right, and who relishes the staunch support of Israel shown by American politicians, and especially by leaders of my own Republican party.

But this wasn’t a pro-Israel event. Senator Cruz received his jeers at a gathering of mostly Middle Eastern Christians trying to build unity on a crucial issue – the persecution and murder of their co-religionists in the Levant. Nonetheless, the Senator’s remarks repeatedly returned to his devotion to Israel and the Jews.

An excerpt:

“Christians are being systematically exterminated. In 1948, Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today, Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state. Let me say this: those who hate Israel hate America. And those who hate Jews hate Christians.

“And if this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps, that the men and women here will not stand in solidarity with Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals…. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians and behead children are the very same people who target and murder Jews for their faith for the very same reason.”

Of course it’s always good when people praise our People, our Nation, and our Land. I do it all the time. But this specific event existed to garner attention to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East – and hijacking that cause to promote Israel is just as bad as exploiting the world’s disgust for ISIS to attack Hamas, as I’ve written elsewhere.

The persecution and murder of Christians is an affront to good people everywhere. Communities of Christians numbering in the hundreds of thousands in places like Lebanon and Iraq have been decimated. Huge numbers of Christians have become refugees. ISIS is a constant, terrifying threat.

Folks, if there is ever a “V’im ani l’atzmi mah ani?” moment (“If I am only for myself, what am I?”) this is it. As a people that suffered terribly during the last century from persecutions in tsarist Russia, Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Arab lands (among other places), we cannot focus only on our own problems – important as they are.

So for Cruz to ignore the agenda of the gathering and harp on a pet issue of his – knowing that it would resound beyond his immediate audience – was shameful. Politicians simply don’t lecture anti-Obamacare rallies about capital punishment. If I were there, I probably would have booed, too.

Jews, of all people, should understand that morality requires juggling devotion to many challenges at once – some close to home, some more distant. Let’s stop our knee-jerk cheering for anyone who says something nice about Israel and look at the broader context. Because there are non-Jews suffering who need our help, too.

And if not now, when?

A version of this essay appeared in the Daily Caller. David Benkof is a freelance writer and the constructor of the Jerusalem Post crossword puzzle, which appears in this publication. Follow David on Facebook or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Pope says Israelis, Palestinians must seek peace ‘undaunted in dialogue’

Pope Francis told Israeli and Palestinian leaders they “must respond” to their people's yearning for peace “undaunted in dialogue” during an unprecedented prayer meeting among Jews, Christians and Muslims at the Vatican on Sunday.

The pope made his vibrant appeal to Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian Authority counterpart Mahmoud Abbas at the end of a two-hour evening service in the Vatican gardens, an encounter he hopes will relaunch the Middle East peace process.

“Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities,” he said.

The pope spoke after Jewish rabbis, Christian cardinals and Muslim Imams read and chanted from the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran in Italian, English, Hebrew and Arabic in the first such inter-religious event in the Vatican.

At times the chanting made it seem that participants were in a synagogue or outside a mosque in the Middle East rather than a primly manicured triangular lawn, a spot the Vatican chose as a “neutral” site with no religious symbols.

In his strong speech in Italian, Francis called for respect for agreements and rejection of acts of provocation. “All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity,” he said.

Francis, who made the surprise invitation to the two leaders during his trip to the Holy Land last month, said that the search for peace was “an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples” and noted that millions around the world of all faiths were praying with them for peace.


“We have heard a summons and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word 'brother',” the pope said as Peres and Abbas listened intently and read the live translations.

He said the children who have been the innocent victims of wars and conflicts made the search for peace an imperative. “The memory of these children instils in us the courage of peace, the strength to persevere undaunted in dialogue,” Francis said.

It was the first public meeting between the two presidents in more than a year and took place more than a month after United States-led peace talks collapsed amid bitter mutual recrimination.

Peres, who is 90 years old and whose mandate expires next month, departed from his prepared speech in English and Hebrew to say that he was an old man who had “seen war” and “tasted peace” and that all leaders owed their children a better future.

Abbas prayed to God “to bring comprehensive and just peace to our country and region so that our people and the peoples of the Middle East and the whole world would enjoy the fruit of peace, stability and coexistence”.

The pope, the two presidents and Patriarch Bartholomew then planted an olive tree and members of each delegation shook hands as music played. The four later held private talks for about 20 minutes before the two presidents left the Vatican.


The Vatican has played down any expectations that the meeting – billed as a “pause from politics” – will lead to any immediate breakthroughs in efforts to solve the region's tortuous problems and says it is not meddling in regional issues and does not want to get involved in details of negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the key Israeli decision-maker, is not attending and he refuses to deal with the Palestinian unity government, backed by Hamas Islamists, that Abbas swore in last Monday.

Netanyahu has made no direct comment on the meeting, but in remarks on Sunday at a paramilitary police base in Jerusalem he suggested that prayer is no substitute for security.

“For thousands of years, the people of Israel have been praying for peace daily. But until peace comes, we will continue to strengthen you so that you can continue to defend the State of Israel. Ultimately, that is what will guarantee our future and will also bring peace,” he told the troops.

But the fact that Francis's bold move has managed to bring together the two presidents at all shows his desire to engage political leaders, offering inter-religious dialogue as a building block.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by David Goodman

Israelis, Palestinians vie for Latino support during Pope’s visit

The first Latin American pope brought a wave of Latino love with him on his trip to the Holy Land last weekend.

At Pope Francis’ public prayer at Manger Square on May 25 in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, near the site where Jesus is believed to have been born, Spanish was being spoken almost as much as Arabic. Flags from Argentina and Spain flew alongside those of the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican.

Francisco Primero, te quiere el mundo entero! (Francis the First, the whole world loves you!) a group of Spanish tourists chanted as they rushed the square, surrounded by giddy Palestinian schoolchildren. And then, louder: “Viva El Papa! (Long live the Pope!)

On the walls of stone buildings above the tourists, Palestinian Museum officials had hung mural-sized posters mixing images from classic Christian paintings with photos of Palestinian suffering. In one, a re-mixed “Madonna in the Meadow” showed the Virgin Mary huddling with Baby Jesus under the infamous separation wall that now divides Israel and the West Bank. In another, “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” the saint’s hand was replaced by a Palestinian’s holding out his ID for an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint.

“Welcome to Palestine,” a huge banner proclaimed on the local mosque. “The detainees in the occupations prisons are pleading for freedom and dignity.”

So began Day One of the “Hasbara Superbowl” between Israelis and Palestinians, in which the ultimate prize was support of the international Christian community — and, in particular, Christian Latinos.

Joseph Hyman, president and founder of the Center for Entrepreneurial Jewish Philanthropy, made the Superbowl comparison back during the first-ever Israel Summit last January, where 17 pro-Israel organizations were vying for funding from some 100 philanthropists. The star of the summit, Hyman said, was Fuente Latina, an organization that assists Spanish-language media looking to cover Israel and the region. The organization needed a funding boost to provide extra resources during the Pope’s much-anticipated visit to the Holy Land.

Its pitch was a no-brainer. Latinos form the largest minority in the United States — this year, they even surpassed non-Hispanic whites in California.

And in the University of California system, where impassioned debates over whether to divest from Israel have been pushing student-government meetings late into the night (as at many other campuses across the U.S.), more Latino students than white students have been accepted for fall 2014.

That’s not to mention the 21 countries that make up Latin America — whose population is 90 percent Christian, and mostly Catholic, like the pope — plus Spain and Portugal.

Fuente Latina’s director, Leah Soibel, an American with Argentinian parents, founded the organization in December 2012 after working seven years at The Israel Project, another nonprofit that aims to improve Israel’s image abroad. “We’ve been preparing for weeks,” she said in an interview a few days before the Pope’s arrival. “It’s going to be 72 hours of madness when he’s here. A lot of people are going to be watching — all eyes on Jerusalem.”

Even more than his predecessors, Pope Francis has captured hearts beyond the Catholic world: A pop-culture icon for his focus on the disenfranchised and his willingness to break molds of papal opulence, Francis was named 2013’s “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine. He speaks tirelessly of the importance of inter-religious dialogue and of putting social justice before capitalism. At a press conference in Jerusalem arranged by Fuente Latina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the leader of Argentina’s Jewish community and one of the pope’s closest friends, called him “probably the most influential person in the world.” 

Soibel said that the three employees at Fuente Latina normally process 50 to 100 requests in a month. In contrast, during the Pope’s visit, the organization was providing heavy assistance to about 300 media outlets.

Fuente Latina connected reporters with Spanish-speaking experts in Israel, arranged press conferences — most notably, the one with Rabbi Skorka, who co-authored the pope’s book on inter-religious dialogue — and took them on helicopter rides across Israel.

On one such sky tour, Soibel explained the reality on the ground to reporters from Mexico and Columbia, with an emphasis on Israel’s reasoning for building the separation wall and the fear experienced by Israelis near the border. The group also touched down in Sderot to tour a police exhibit of rockets that have been fired from Gaza. “When they don’t feel they’re getting enough attention, they begin to send rockets again,” Soibel said of the terrorists in Gaza.

Fuente Latina Director Leah Soibel with a case of rockets fired on Israel from Gaza. Photo by Simone Wilson

Later, the Mexican reporter wrote in an online piece for her news site, Religión Confidencial, that although the pope would observe the separation wall, in many Israeli cities he would also observe minimal separation — places where Jews, Christians and Muslims live in peaceful coexistence.

Jewish philanthropy leader Hyman said of the helicopter rides: “For journalists to look at the size of Israel and understand its nature, it lends a sensitivity to why Israel is so concerned on the existential front.”

The Vatican also pulled its weight in the battle for public opinion. The pope’s visit was the picture of balance: He ate lunch with Palestinian refugees and spontaneously stepped down from his Popemobile to pray at the separation wall in Bethlehem, which is covered in anti-Israel graffiti. On the other side of the Green Line, he laid a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and blessed a group of gravely ill Christian Arab-Israeli children (at the request of Israel’s branch of the Make-A-Wish Foundation).

The pope also stopped for an instantly iconic photo of three very different Argentinians — the heads of Argentina’s Jewish, Catholic and Muslim communities — hugging at the Western Wall.

“He will try to balance,” Rabbi Skorka said in advance of the pope’s visit at the Fuente Latina press conference. “This is going to be his policy in his speeches and in his acts. Total balance, this is what he is.” 

But while Pope Francis tried to spread his love evenly, Israeli and Palestinian heads of state fought for the upper hand. After the pope’s stop at the separation wall, Israeli Prime Minister Benjaman Netanyah steered him toward a Jerusalem memorial for Israeli victims of terrorism, so he could pray there, too. And both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas argued in their welcoming speeches that life is better for Christians under their jurisdiction.

Abbas condemned “the settlement enterprise, and daily attacks on places of worship including churches and mosques.” He also emphasized his willingness to “work together to strengthen the Palestinian indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land, especially in Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the pope: “The rights of Christians in this state are protected. To my sorrow, that doesn’t happen in other places in the Middle East. … Palestinian terrorists not only hurt us, they also harm Christians.”

Rima Saba, an American-educated Palestinian and “staunch Catholic” from Ramallah, spoke to the Journal in the crowd at the Bethlehem rally — the pope’s only public, open-air event while in the Holy Land. “This is an international, historical moment,” Saba said. “It means a lot for Palestine and its people. This is the land of Jesus Christ, but it also carries a lot of meaning and emotion for us as Palestinians. The fact that [the Pope] chose to come to Palestine first shows he really has clarity of vision, vis à vis the Palestinian question — that we are refugees, that we have been tortured and evicted.”

An increasingly popular annual conference called “Christ at the Checkpoint,” a project of the Bethlehem Bible College, has tried to loosen Israel’s monopoly on Evangelical Christian financial and moral support abroad.

“With every passing month, more evidence is emerging that these anti-Israel Christians are succeeding in reaching beyond the evangelical left and are influencing the mainstream,” David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), wrote after this year’s conference. “In particular, they are penetrating the evangelical world at its soft underbelly: the millennial generation.”

OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano, author of the “¡Ask a Mexican!” column and an advocate of Jewish-Latino relations, agreed that although Israel has wooed many members of the Latino political class, it's losing them at college level: “In the Latin market in general, but especially in the U.S. and among young people, the Palestinians are definitely winning the battle.”

According to Arellano, the “brown people oppressed by white oppressors” narrative is easy for pro-Palestine groups to sell to young Latinos going through their “leftist years where they love all revolutionary causes.”

He said this stems from the reality that “the Israel question registers not a blip for Latinos — not until one side of the other comes to them with their perspective. Kind of like, ‘We’re yours, whoever gets to us first.’”

Pope Francis drives by a crowd holding Palestinian flags in Bethlehem. Photo by Simone Wilson

Separate polls conducted by The Israel Project and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) over the past few years have shown that U.S. Latinos, in particular, are somewhat of a blank slate when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“There’s a lack of awareness” about the region among Latinos in the U.S., Soibel said. “They have more pressing issues, like immigration, health care, economy. We know very well that Israel is down the list of things that matter personally to them.”

But as Latinos become more politically and economically empowered in America, said Dina Siegel Vann, director of the Latino and Latin American Institute at AJC, “they’re slowly but surely becoming a very influential and important group, which will have an impact on decision-making in this country. So it’s important to us that they understand what Israel is about. That they understand we are partners.”

Geraldo Rivera, a columnist for Fox News Latino, likewise pointed out in 2011 that Israel would not be a state, nor would Palestine enjoy “non-member state” status at the United Nations, if not for the Latin American voting block.

“Relations between Latin America and Israel are starting to look like a budding love affair,” World Politics Review commentator Frida Ghitis wrote in February following a wave of cross-globe visits between Israeli and Latin American leaders.

“Israel and Latin America have discovered each other — or, to be precise, a portion of Latin America has,” she added. “Latin America is increasingly falling into two separate camps, and it is one of those camps that has found an affinity for Israel.”

Speaking to the Journal at the pope’s prayer rally at Manger Square, most religious tourists from Spain and Latin America distanced themselves from the Israel-Palestine issue, refusing to take a stance.

“It’s very complicated,” said Laura Rodriguez, a Catholic visitor from Spain. “There’s no one truth about it.”

Also in the crowd was Buenos Aires politician Lidia Saya, who said she had traveled to Bethlehem with a group of 60 dignitaries, including Argentinian religious leaders Father Pepe Di Paola and Rabbi Alejandro Avruj. “The grand majority of us [Argentinians] don’t understand the conflict. The grand majority don’t have a position,” she said. However, “coming here, and having to go through a checkpoint just to get to the plaza — I can see that it’s very bad for the citizens.”

Argentinian journalist Nelson Castro interviews religious tourists from Argentina in Bethlehem. Photo by Simone Wilson

Carlos Boselle, also from Buenos Aires, was on a tour with around 70 Catholics from across Latin America. He said that many Israelis and Palestinians had tried to argue their position to him. Although he called the Israelis “big fanatics,” he said he understood that “Israel has its reasons” for building the separation wall. “They’re protecting their rights, too.”

Another group of sunburned Argentinians heading back through the checkpoint at the end of the day looked rather shell-shocked when all the Palestinians were pulled off the bus and examined for 20 minutes before they could continue on to Jerusalem.

According to Vann at the AJC, missing this prime era for Latino outreach could have big consequences. 

“It could go one way, or it could go the other way,” Vann said. “Because there’s a lack of information out there [about Israel], you have an incredible opportunity, if you do it correctly in a strategic way, to inform. … There’s a sense of urgency and a small window of opportunity to make a difference before Latinos truly become empowered.”

AJC, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, runs dozens of Israel tours for Latino politicians, faith leaders, culture-makers and other dignitaries. But other organizations, like Fuente Latina, have taken a more back-channel approach to reach a greater audience.

“As this area began to heat up in terms of the Arab Spring, which was widely covered by the Latino media — Syria, Egypt, ongoing issues here in Israel — there was a growing demand” for Spanish-language press resources in the region, Soibel said.

And with the pope’s visit to Israel, demand flew off the charts — opening new opportunities for Latino outreach. “When you have a journalist that is taking one stance versus another stance, it’s about making that personal connection,” Soibel added. “That’s why the language is so important.”

Israel encouraging more Christians to join military service

Israel said on Tuesday it was stepping up efforts to encourage military enlistment by Christian Arab citizens, a community long closer to the larger Muslim minority in identifying with the Palestinians.

Israel's Christian Arabs number about 160,000, some two percent of the Jewish state's eight million people, and the expected number of conscripts – now about 100 – will rise in coming months, a senior military officer said.

“We intend to appeal to the Christian population of conscription age (17 and 18) and will send them call-up notices to volunteer for service,” Lieutenant-Colonel Amir Hai told reporters in a telephone briefing on Tuesday.

Being mostly Palestinians themselves, Israel's Christian Arabs have traditionally stood alongside the Muslim community on Israeli-Palestinian issues. The Muslim minority comprises about 20 percent of the population and men of conscription age are largely exempted from military service.

Hai said that all branches of the military, including elite units, would be open for the volunteers as long as they are suitable for the demands of the task.

“No (unit) will be closed to (Christian conscripts) ahead of time, unless there is criteria that limits the recruit's ability to serve,” Hai said. Only males will currently be called, although females were welcome to volunteer too, he added.

“I welcome this important, historical step … for the Christian community to be a member of Israeli society, equal in rights and duties,” Father Gabriel Nadaf, head of the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum, told Army Radio.


Israeli Jews are obliged to serve in the military at age 18, with men serving for three years and women for two. The vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews are exempted on religious grounds, a divisive issue in Israeli society.

Other minority groups that are called up for service are Israeli Druze Arabs and Bedouin Arabs.

Sammy Smooha, professor of anthropology and sociology at Haifa University and a leading expert on Israel's Arabs, doubted

the proportion of Christians in the military would not change.

“The increase sounds impressive because the numbers are so small so far. I don't anticipate this will rise much further. There are greater numbers of Christians going for civilian national service options,” he said.

He described those enlisting as a fringe phenomenon driven by concern at the persecution of Christians in the Muslim Middle East and a desire for social advancement in Israel.

Nadaf, an outspoken and controversial proponent for greater integration of Israel's Christians into Israeli society, said they wanted to be fully viewed as citizens of the Jewish state.

“We are not Arabs. We are not Palestinians. We are Israelis, citizens of this country and we see ourselves as loyal to this country and its institutions as any Christian living in any other place in the world would,” he said.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Tom Heneghan

Year in Review: Highlights of 5773

From wars and elections to scandals and triumphs, here’s a look back at the highlights of the Jewish year 5773.

September 2012

Sept. 19: Islamists throw a homemade grenade into a Jewish supermarket near Paris, injuring one. The incident is part of a major increase in attacks on Jews in France in 2012.

October 2012

Arlen Spector

Oct. 14: Arlen Specter, the longtime moderate Jewish Republican senator from Pennsylvania whose surprise late-life party switch back to the Democrats helped pass President Barack Obama’s health care reforms, dies at 82 following a long struggle with cancer. During his time in the Senate, Specter offered himself as a broker for Syria‑Israel peace talks and led efforts to condition aid to the Palestinian Authority on its peace process performance.

Oct. 15: Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley, American economists with ties to Israeli universities, win the Nobel Prize for economics.

The Israeli Knesset votes to dissolve, sending Israel to new elections for the first time since 2009.

Oct. 17: Jewish groups pull out of a national interfaith meeting meant to bolster relations between Jews and Christians following a letter by Protestant leaders to Congress calling for an investigation into United States aid to Israel.

Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman is arrested at the Western Wall and ordered to stay away from the site for 30 days after attempting to lead a women’s prayer group at the holy site in violation of Kotel rules. The incident, which is witnessed by dozens of American participants in town for the centennial celebration of the women’s Zionist group Hadassah, stokes outrage among liberal American Jewish groups.

Oct. 22: Hurricane Sandy hits the East Coast, killing more than 100 and causing an estimated $50 billion in damages. The populous Jewish areas of New York and New Jersey see extreme damage, and a Jewish man and woman are killed by a falling tree in Brooklyn. Synagogues and Jewish organizations nationwide join efforts to raise money to help victims of the superstorm.

Mitt Romney, left, and Barack Obama

Oct. 25: Israel, a heated issue throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, is mentioned 31 times by Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney at the final presidential debate, which was devoted to foreign policy and held in Boca Raton, Fla. Both candidates sought to score points on the issue, but actual policy differences seemed to be in short supply.

With a charter flight of some 240 Ethiopian immigrants, the Israeli government launches what it says is the final stage of mass immigration from Ethiopia to Israel. The following summer, the Jewish Agency announces that the last Ethiopian aliyah flight will take place in August 2013.

November 2012

Nov. 11: Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center opens to great fanfare.

Nov. 6: Obama is re-elected, with exit polls giving the incumbent about 68 percent of the Jewish vote — down from the estimated 74 to 78 percent in 2008. Many of the campaign battles between Jewish surrogates were fought over Middle East issues, but surveys suggested that like most other voters, American Jews were most concerned with economic issues.

Nov. 7: Major League Baseball player Delmon Young pleads guilty to misdemeanor charges related to an incident in New York in which the Detroit Tigers’ designated hitter yells anti‑Semitic slurs at a group of tourists talking to a homeless panhandler wearing a yarmulke. Young is sentenced in Manhattan Criminal Court to 10 days of community service and ordered to participate in a mandatory restorative justice program run by the Museum of Tolerance in New York.

Nov. 14: After days of stepped-up rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel launches Operation Pillar of Defense with a missile strike that kills the head of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari. In all, six Israelis and an estimated 149 to 177 Palestinians are killed during the weeklong exchange of fire. Egypt helps broker the cease-fire between the two sides.

A constitutional court in Poland bans shechitah, ritual slaughter, along with Muslim ritual slaughter. An effort in July to overturn the ban fails.

Mohamed Morsi

Nov. 27: The decision by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to grant himself near-absolute powers dismays U.S. and Israeli observers just days after Morsi is lauded for helping broker a Hamas-Israel cease-fire. Morsi backtracks in December, but the move helps stoke popular discontent in Egypt with the country’s first democratically elected president.

Nov. 28: The United Nations General Assembly votes 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, to recognize Palestine as a state. Passage of the resolution, which does not have the force of law, prompts condemnations from the United States and warnings of possible penalties, but none are invoked. Israel responds with its own dire warnings and announces new settlement constriction in the West Bank. Over the course of months, the change in status in the U.N. proves largely irrelevant.

December 2012

Dec. 4: After months of occasional cross-border fire on the Golan Heights, including errant Syrian and rebel shells landing in Israel, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian government is violating a 1974 disengagement agreement with Israel by deploying military equipment and troops over the cease-fire line.

Ahmed Ferhani, 27, an Algerian immigrant living in New York, pleads guilty to planning to blow up synagogues in New York City.

Dec. 10: In a case that ignites passions in the Charedi Orthodox community in Brooklyn, Satmar Chasid Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, is found guilty of 59 counts of sexual abuse. Days later, a Chasidic assailant throws bleach in the face of a community rabbi, Nuchem Rosenberg, who advocates for victims of sex abuse. In January, Weberman is sentenced to 103 years in prison.

Dec. 12: German lawmakers pass a bill enshrining the right to ritual circumcision but regulating how circumcisions are to be conducted. The law displaces a ban on Jewish ritual circumcision imposed by a court in Cologne in June.

Dec. 13: Yeshiva University President Richard Joel apologizes for alleged instances of sexual misconduct and harassment by two former faculty members — Rabbis George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon — at the university’s high school more than two decades earlier.

Dec. 14: Numerous Jewish groups call for stricter gun control regulations after a gunman kills 20 first‑graders and six adults in Newtown, Conn. The youngest victim is a 6-year-old Jewish boy, Noah Pozner.

Dec. 18: Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the leader of one of London’s largest congregations and a former chief rabbi of Ireland, is named Britain’s chief rabbi-designate. This fall he is to succeed Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who has served in the post since 1991.

A Paris court orders Twitter to monitor and disclose the identities of users from France who posted anti-Semitic comments online, including Holocaust denials. Twitter later appeals the decision but loses, and the U.S.-based company complies with the demand in July.

January 2013

Jan. 4: Video emerges from 2010 of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi — then a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood — calling Jews “bloodsuckers” and “descendants of apes and pigs.” Morsi tells U.S. senators that he gets bad press because “certain forces” control the media.

Jan. 10: Obama nominates Jacob Lew, his chief of staff and an Orthodox Jew who frequently serves as an intermediary with Jewish groups, to be secretary of the Treasury Department.

Jan. 18: Data released from a 2011 survey of New York-area Jews shows that two-thirds of the rise in New York’s Jewish population over the previous decade occurred in two Charedi Orthodox communities in Brooklyn — a sign that Orthodox Jews will constitute a growing share of America’s Jewish population.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2012.

Jan. 22: Benjamin Netanyahu wins re-election as Israel’s prime minister, but his Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu faction suffers significant losses at the polls, falling to 31 seats. The big winners are two newcomer parties: Yair Lapid’s centrist, domestic-focused Yesh Atid, which comes in second with 19 Knesset seats, and Naftali Bennett’s nationalist Jewish Home, which wins 12 seats. Both later opt to join Netanyahu’s coalition government, which takes nearly two months to assemble.

Jan. 29: Iran and Argentina sign an agreement to form an independent commission to investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and was blamed on Iran. Argentinian and American Jews denounce the agreement as a farce. Iran’s parliament has yet to sign off on the pact.

Jan. 30: Amid concerns that Syrian President Bashar Assad may be transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah, Israeli planes bomb a Syrian weapons transport on the Lebanese border. It is one of several Israeli strikes in Syrian territory during the year.

February 2013

Ed Koch

Feb. 1: Ed Koch, the pugnacious former New York City mayor whose political imprimatur was eagerly sought by Republicans and Democrats, dies at 88 of congestive heart failure. At his funeral, a cast of political luminaries remembers him as a friend of Israel and the Jewish people.

Feb. 5: Bulgaria affirms that Hezbollah was behind the attack in Burgas in July 2012 that killed six people, including five Israelis. The finding adds to pressure on the European Union to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. After concerns are expressed in the ensuing months that Bulgarian officials are backing away from their assertions, Bulgaria’s foreign minister reassures Israel on the attack’s one-year anniversary that Bulgaria still holds Hezbollah responsible.

Feb. 12: The Australian Broadcasting Corp. identifies a man known as “Prisoner X,” who hanged himself in a maximum-security Israeli prison in 2010, as Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier. Zygier is said to have worked for the Mossad.

Feb. 21: A British court convicts three British Muslims of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in the country, including on Jewish targets.

March 2013

March 4: Vice President Joe Biden tells thousands of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) activists meeting in Washington that Obama is “not bluffing” when he says he will stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

March 8: The U.S. State Department cancels plans to honor Egyptian human rights activist Samira Ibrahim after opponents note that anti‑Jewish tweets were posted on her Twitter account.

Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market

March 12: Mike Engelman, the owner of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market in Los Angeles, is videotaped directing his employees to unload boxes of meat from his car while the store’s kosher supervisor is absent. The footage leads the Rabbinical Council of California to revoke the shop’s kosher certification the day before Passover, leaving many kosher consumers in the lurch.

March 20: Obama makes his first visit to Israel since taking office in 2008. In a speech upon arrival at the airport, Obama says the United States is Israel’s “strongest ally and greatest friend.” His trip receives widespread praise from Jewish groups.

March 22: Following prodding by Obama, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu agree to resume normal ties after Israel apologizes for the deaths of nine Turks in 2010 during a clash with Israeli commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara, a ship attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Erdogan later balks, saying normalization will not take place until Israel fulfills its obligations under the agreement.

Berlin’s Jewish Museum provokes controversy with its “Jew in a Box” exhibit (formally titled “The Whole Truth”), in which Jews spend a shift sitting in a glass box and answering questions from visitors.

March 28: A Lebanese-Swedish citizen is convicted in Cyprus on charges of spying on Israeli tourists for Hezbollah. The closely watched trial is a sign of Hezbollah’s expansion of terrorist activities into Europe and fuels calls for European Union countries to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

April 2013

April 10: Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister who was lauded for his technocratic approach toward state building in the West Bank, resigns. He is replaced in June by university president Rami Hamdallah, who announces after two weeks on the job that he is quitting.

French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim

April 11: French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim resigns following revelations that he plagiarized the work of others in his books and claimed unearned academic titles.

April 12: After being asked by Israel’s prime minister to come up with a solution to the Women of the Wall controversy, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky proposes that the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall be expanded and renovated to allow for egalitarian prayer there at any time. Reaction to his proposal is mixed.

April 15: Rabbi Michael Broyde, a prominent legal scholar in the Modern Orthodox community and professor at Emory University, is forced to step down from a leading religious court after admitting that he systematically used a fake identity in scholarly journals. The admission followed a report by The Jewish Channel exposing the ruse.

April 19: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews opens in Warsaw.

April 24: Bret Stephens, a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and now deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, wins the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

April 23: The Jewish Museum of Casablanca reopens following a major renovation funded by the Moroccan government. The renovation is part of a broad effort led by Morocco’s king to restore Jewish heritage sites in the country, including an ancient synagogue in Fez and dozens of former Jewish schools.

May 2013

May 13: Following complaints from pro‑Israel groups, the Newseum in Washington cancels a planned honor for two slain Palestinian cameramen employed by a Hamas affiliate.

Eric Garcetti

May 22: Eric Garcetti, a veteran L.A. city councilman, becomes the city’s first elected Jewish mayor. With his victory, America’s three largest cities boast Jewish mayors.

The Claims Conference is embroiled in controversy after the public learns that officials at the organization failed to adequately follow up on allegations of fraud in 2001, missing an early chance to stop what turned into a $57 million scheme. The disclosure comes during the trial of the scheme’s mastermind, Semen Domnitser, who is found guilty. In July, the Claims Conference board agrees to some outside input in formulating plans for its future but votes to re-lect its embattled chairman, Julius Berman, who oversaw a botched probe in 2001 into the allegations.

Arvind Mahankali

May 30: A 13‑year‑old Indian‑American boy, Arvind Mahankali, spells the Yiddish‑derived word “knaidel” correctly to win the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

June 2013

June 3: U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg dies at age 89 after a long and accomplished career advocating for Jewish issues.

Jun. 10: Yeshivat Maharat, a women’s seminary started by Rabbi Avi Weiss in 2009, graduates its first class of Orthodox women clergy known as maharats.

June 14: The Canadian Jewish News decides to abort a plan announced in April to stop printing the newspaper.

June 21: Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, is arrested on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

June 26: Liberal Jewish groups hail the Supreme Court decision striking down California’s ban on gay marriage, while Orthodox groups express muted disappointment.

July 2013

July 1: In a letter announcing his retirement, Yeshiva University Chancellor Norman Lamm issues an apology for mishandling sex abuse allegations decades earlier against faculty members at the university’s high school for boys. Days later, several former students file a $380 million lawsuit against the university.

July 5: Three campers at the Goldman Union Camp Institute near Indianapolis are injured, one critically, in a lightning strike. A few days later, a Jewish camp counselor is killed by a falling tree at Camp Tawonga, a Northern California camp located near Yosemite National Park.

Michael Oren

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, announces he will return to Israel after four years in the position. He is to be replaced by Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu. Both ambassadors are American born.

July 9: Egypt’s army deposes President Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader. The Obama administration stops short of calling the action a coup, avoiding an automatic cutoff in U.S. aid to Egypt. Morsi had become deeply unpopular among liberal and secular Egyptians but retained deep-rooted support among members of his Muslim Brotherhood.

July 11: Portugal enacts a law of return to make citizenship available to Jewish descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews. The move is intended to address the mass expulsion of Jews from Portugal in the 16th century.

July 18: The European Union issues new guidelines prohibiting grants to Israeli entities in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem, prompting an outcry from Israeli officials.

July 22: The European Union designates the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

July 23: In New York, Jewish mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner admits to engaging in lewd online exchanges after his resignation from Congress amid a sexting scandal in 2011, but he declines to withdraw from the race. Meanwhile, San Diego’s Jewish mayor, Bob Filner, rebuffs calls to resign as he faces a barrage of sexual harassment allegations, including from staffers. Instead, Filner takes a two-week leave of absence to undergo sex therapy. Eventually, he agrees to resign, effective Aug. 30.

July 24: Rabbis David Lau and Yitzchak Yosef, both sons of former Israeli chief rabbis, are elected Israel’s Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis. Days later, Lau is caught on tape using a derogatory term to describe black basketball players.

19th Maccabiah Games

July 27: The 19th Maccabiah Games open in Israel with a record number of athletes.

July 29: After months of intense shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israelis and Palestinians restart direct negotiations for the first time in three years.

August 2013

Aug. 13: In a goodwill gesture to accompany renewed peace talks with the Palestinians, Israel releases the first 26 of 104 Palestinian prisoners, including terrorists convicted of murder.

William Rapfogel

Aug. 14: William Rapfogel, the longtime CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, is fired and apologizes for misconduct and alleged financial improprieties, including allegedly inflating insurance bills and pocketing the overcharges for himself.

Palestinian prisoners are released in advance of peace talks.

Aug. 19: As Egypt’s military rulers kill hundreds of civilians in a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel lobbies behind the scenes against a cut in U.S. aid to Cairo.

History and the war in Syria

While the bloody civil war in Syria rages on, Israel keeps a watchful eye on the Israeli-Syrian border, making sure the fighting between the rebels and Assad’s forces doesn’t spill over into the Golan Heights.

One of the rebel groups calls itself the Martyrs of the Yarmouk Brigades. Yarmouk, it should be noted, is a very loaded word in this region’s ethos. It was on the Yarmouk River, a major tributary of the Jordan River, south of the Golan Heights, where, in August 636 C.E., the Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate defeated the Christian forces of the Byzantine Empire, opening the way to a series of Muslim victories over Christianity.

It was surprising, therefore, to hear a spokesman of the group — which is suspected of having links to al-Qaeda — talk over the phone to correspondents of the Times of Israel, promising that “[t]he Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade has no international aspirations; we are only in conflict with the Assad regime.” The spokesman, Laeth Horan, even went a step further: “There is nothing between us and Israel. We only have demands of Assad, even after the war.”

Only time will tell if this is true, but in the meantime, Yarmouk has more to remind us, this time in the Palestinian context.

In the summer of 1970, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat, in one of his most reckless gambles, challenged the Jordanian regime by trying to establish a “mini Palestine” in northern Jordan. In “Black September” of that year, King Hussein’s loyal Bedouins crushed the Palestinian uprising and kicked Arafat and his followers to Lebanon.

Refusing to learn the lesson, Arafat repeated the same mistake in Lebanon, shattering the already fragile equilibrium between the various religious communities of the country. In 1976, his Yarmouk Brigade was fighting Christian forces in the Tal-al-Zaatar Battle. Robert Fisk of the Independent told the L.A. Weekly in 2002 that the Palestinian troops “were given permission to surrender with a cease-fire. But at the last moment, Arafat told his men to open fire on the Christian forces who were coming to accept the surrender. I think Arafat wanted more Palestinian ‘martyrs’ in order to publicize the Palestinian position in the war.”

All this came to an end in 1982, when Israel had enough of the Palestinian harassment coming from Lebanon. In the First Lebanon War, the Israel Defense Forces defeated the Syrian and Palestinian forces (including the same Yarmouk Brigade) and kicked the PLO leadership out of the country.

Our next stop in the Yarmouk tour is Baghdad. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Arafat rushed to congratulate him in his palace in Al-Yarmouk neighborhood. This turned out to be the most expensive kiss in history, because when Kuwait was freed, it retaliated by expelling 400,000 Palestinians who had worked and lived there (need we mention that some lived in Al-Yarmouk neighborhood in Kuwait City?).

We can go on forever with this historical “Yarmouking,” except that in the meantime there is a human tragedy going on near Damascus and, more precisely, at the Yarmouk camp, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which since 1949 has been trying to alleviate the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees, 130,000 Palestinian refugees have fled their homes in Yarmouk since December 2012, and the remaining 20,000 are being crushed between the forces fighting each other in Syria.

I don’t envy Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. What hope can he offer his brothers and sisters in Yarmouk, or in the other refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza? That they would some day return to the homes they left in 1948, in Jaffa and Haifa? Like his predecessor, Arafat, he knows perfectly well that this is impossible.

Abbas, however, is more sincere than his predecessor (which is not saying much); while Arafat was always talking about the refugee issue from both sides of his mouth, Abbas, who had fled his hometown of Safed (in northern Israel) in 1948, told Israeli Channel Two Television in November 2012 that he wanted to visit Safed: “It’s my right to see it,” he said. But then he added the highly significant words: “but not to live there.”

Then he went on to outline his vision: “Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever ‭. ‬. . . ‭ ‬This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts [are] Israel.”

This is where we can see a ray of hope. Let Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree on a Palestinian state with the ’67 borders, with a fair land swap to compensate the Palestinians for the Israeli settlements that will remain in Israel’s territory. Then a new, ambitious Marshall Plan to settle the Palestinian refugees can be launched. When Syria calms down, the refugees in Yarmouk, supported by generous funds, can decide whether they want to stay in Syria, move to the Palestinian state or regroup in another country. This is not a humanitarian move only; it is in the best interests of Israel: When the kids in Yarmouk refugee camp have a future, my grandchildren will be safer.

Yarmouk can then stand for other things, not for bloodshed and misery only — for example, a soccer game between Maccabi Haifa and the Kuwaiti Al-Yarmouk club; a discussion of the Arab League Peace initiative in Al-Yarmouk district in Riyadh; a cooperation agreement between the Technion and Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan; and more. Insh’Allah!

Uri Dromi blogs at

Egypt: Without a prayer

No one needs a score card to keep track of what happened in Egypt. Mubarak was ousted. An election was held. The Muslim Brotherhood won and Mohammad Morsi became president. Morsi remained in power exactly one year. The popular uprising that ousted Morsi put in an interim government. 

Which brings us to — now.

Mubarak has been let out of prison. Morsi supporters are protesting in the streets. The Egyptian police and army have been acting brutally. But the protesters are hardly peaceful. The pro-Morsi protesters have automatic weapons and are shooting at the police. They pulled over two minivans, filled with twenty-five police. They laid the police face down and executed them all.

The violence and butchery is tremendous, it knows no bounds. The Muslim Brotherhood refuses to yield. For eighty long years they hid in the shadows. Their movement was illegal. Mubarak was ousted and they ran for leadership. And they won.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not willing to give up that power and that victory. They will not return, quietly, to the sidelines. They are going to fight. The best way to regain power, if you are the Muslim Brotherhood, is to identify the enemy and the outsider. And then you crush them. If you are Muslim Brotherhood, that is the way to re-unite Egyptians. 

The primary enemy is the West, the most visible faction of that enemy is the United States. Outsiders are the Christians of Egypt. Christians are paying a very heavy price in Egypt. They are suffering the brunt of Islamist anger. Morsi supporters have targeted Christians in a way that can only be described as pre-modern bone chilling. 

One must ask: Why? How?

Theoretically, the answer lies is the knowledge that in the eyes of Muslim extremists, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, Christians have always been outsiders even though, historically, Christianity arrived in Egypt well before the rise of Islam. Christians now compose 10% of the 90 million people of Egypt The Christians are not like the Muslims, they are different. And history has taught us how powerful differences can be when the objective is to unify the masses.

Politically, the answer lies in the perception that the Christians of Egypt played a disproportionate role in the ousting of Morsi. This might be true. And bolstering that theory is the fact that over the past year some important bridges have been built between Christians and mainstream Muslims in Egypt.

But the most important reason is, simply put, logistics. The Christians in Egypt, the majority of them members of the Coptic Church, are an easy target. Their churches and schools are immediately identifiable. By blatantly attacking those symbols Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood need not attack the other Muslims of Egypt in order to publicly display their strength. Targeting Christians is a win-win for the Islamists. They whip up anger at those who threw Morsi out of office and do not attack or directly threaten the people who actually ousted him. There is visible, physical, evidence that they acted.

The churches of Egypt are being destroyed, they are being ransacked. Over seventy churches have been looted or torched, twenty-three others attacked. Looters have come back a second time to steal even more from the churches. Looters loaded trucks with furniture. Nuns have been sexually abused and marched and paraded as criminals.

Everyone knows that the Muslim Brotherhood is sacking and demolishing churches. And much of the world sits quietly by. But the Egyptian army, the army that is demonized in the Western press, recently declared that it will rebuild every church. The following statement was read on Egyptian TV and radio: 'The Egyptian defense minister ordered the engineering department of the armed forces to swiftly repair all the affected churches, in recognition of the historical and national role played by our Coptic brothers.'

And in response the Bishop of the Coptic Church tweeted a thank you. Bishop Mousa thanked General al-Sisi for his decision and efforts to repair the churches of Egypt. He wrote: 'We thank Gen. Sisi for commissioning the brave Egyptian armed forces to rebuild the places of worship damaged during the recent events.'

The West interferes when it should not and where it should not. But when religious liberties are being taken away, when religious freedom is being trashed, that's when the West decides to remain silent and chooses not to intervene. This is a violent desecration of religious beliefs at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. There should be an outcry against these wanton acts of targeted terror.

I hear very little, I hear almost nothing.

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History's Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).

Lessons for Brotherhood and why Turkey is still the model for Egypt

Let me start by saying that Turkey needs to believe that the right thing to do is to act together with Israel, and that it must embrace the language of friendship. If Turkey is allied with Israel, the scourges raining down on the region would be resolved in a short period of time. The bloodshed in Syria, the turmoil in Egpt and the general downward spiral would not be continuing in this way for long. The region is devoid of an alliance of democratic, secular and reasonable power houses. So I urge Turkey to resolve the Mavi Marmara crisis rather than prolonging the issue at such a tense time and establish a solid friendship and alliance with Israel right away. While Israel is surrounded by countries demanding its annihilation and promoting the most ruthless anti-Jewish propaganda, it is an absolute necessity for Turkey to show the true spirit of Islam with regards to Jews and Christians, and be a true role model for the Islamic-majority countries in the region.

Just like Egypt, the military was a powerful political player in Turkey and had been the most trustworthy institution, and their engagement had always found support among many, so the July 3rd coup in Egypt is a familiar scene for the Turks. Seeing how similar the rhetoric is, it felt as if Chief of Staff Kenan Evren’s long-ago speech was echoing in Egypt: “We want to prevent a civil war, and we are only interfering to stop clashes between the left and the right.”

Turkey suffered for a long time by having two heads, civilian and military, in the legal system but it has since opened the way in firmly establishing civilian jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel since 2009. And now Turkey is about to make another step towards democratization: The Turkish government only a few weeks ago proposed a set of changes to the constitution to eliminate the possibility of the military getting involved in domestic affairs; in other words, this will remove the threat of a future junta. Since 1934 the Turkish military was responsible for “protecting” the Turkish Republic from threats within and abroad. If the change in Article 35 is approved, the military’s responsibility will be limited strictly to threats from abroad.

Considering four coups since 1950 and what the last bloody 1980 coup had brought (650,000 arrests, 50 executions, 171 deaths by torture, tens of thousands of citizens forced to flee abroad,) Turks have had enough. However, democratisation has neither been an easy nor a quick process but it definitely needed uncompromising resoluteness.

Since divisive language has become dominant, the demonizing of the “other” side has become commonplace and since trust has been lost between the political camps in Egypt, a third party — like Turkey — can indeed play a role to facilitate reconciliation. It is not just about Turkey’s experience with coups and democratization efforts but it is about how an Islamic-based party can have a place as a three-time elected government within the democratic arena. Yes, there are serious demands from the Turkish government for a more inclusive style where everyone feels free to express their demands, and they certainly have their critics and so on; and all of this will hopefully progress. Yet despite the recent protests against the AKP government, the model in Turkey can still be a stepping stone for Muslim majority countries like Egypt.

However, since Egypt is going through a historic reform from a dictatorship to democracy, this should be done with a broad-based consultative system made up of all parties, including and reflecting all points of view. Obviously there has to be compromise from all sides for the sake of harmony and unity of Egypt.

The Brotherhood and its political branch, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), however, have many lessons to learn and they indeed have to change themselves a lot. The failure of President Mohamed Morsi was in neglecting very crucial values that have been ignored by almost the whole Muslim world as well. What we have seen in general was a dead, corrupt, bigoted system being espoused and imposed; however, their new goal should be to emphasize the importance of modern, extroverted, loving people and embracing a style that advocates art and science. People are invariably happier with cleanliness, with art, with green spaces, and they seek out music, sculpture, painting, aesthetic architecture and beauty.

Now that this unwanted scenario has happened, the leaders of the Brotherhood should be pioneers for a reform towards a modern understanding of Islam and take a stance against bigotry. They should embrace Jews and Christians in front of cameras; in their speeches they should embrace all people from all walks of life including communists, atheists, etc. They should express the beauties of freedoms, and provide a comfortable atmosphere even for the most vocal critics.

Another crucial emphasis should be for the rights and freedoms of women. They should show their love and respect for women, and bring them to the front, regardless of their style of dress. They should embrace a secular model, as in Turkey, accepting all as equal and first class citizens, and providing religious freedom for all. The Brotherhood being in close coordination with Turkey would be an advantageous way for them to make fast progress.

Finally, the Brotherhood should embrace a policy that will comfort the Israelis and the ones who hold it dear to themselves and they should scrupulously avoid things that could raise tensions. They have to end the anti-Israel rhetoric and show their compassion for Jews and Christians, as a requirement of their belief as well. In point of simple fact, they should not be enemies with anyone, not even with their opponents: This is essential to silence the guns, and to end the division even if it is a one-sided effort. From now on, they should focus on solutions.

I am aware that this is far from what the Brotherhood stands for at the moment, but there could be significant developments through intense educational programs via television and social programs designed to change the fanatical mindset in its administration and social structure, and replace it with a far more inclusive approach. 

Sinem Tezyapar is an Executive Producer at a Turkish TV. She is a political and religious commentator, peace activist and is the spokesperson of a prominent international interfaith organization, as well as its coordinator for international relations with political and religious leaders. She is working with interparlimentary and non governmental organizations for the establishment of the United Nations Permanent Forum for a Culture of Peace and Global Ethics. She can be reached via @SinemTezyapar

The silent killing of Christians

The Middle East may be a raging wildfire, but the eyes of the world are on the revival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace dance — that all-too-familiar game where the Jewish state makes concessions (such as releasing terrorists) for the privilege of talking to an enemy who demonizes Jews, glorifies terrorists and has already rejected three peace offers.

It’s a testament to the general success of the Israeli state that after returning from 10 days there, I am a lot more concerned with what’s happening in the rest of the Middle East.

After the heady promise of the Arab Spring two years ago, the situation in the Middle East is now more like the Arab Volcano — with sectarian violence erupting in many areas and the Iranian nuclear threat hovering like a dark force. Instead of unleashing the power of democracy, the Arab Spring has cooked up a lethal brew of festering hatred, economic misery and vicious power struggles.

In contrast to that chaos, Israel feels like Club Med.

But hidden in all the chaos is a monstrous injustice that has received very little media attention: The rampant persecution of Christians.

“Few people realize that we are today living through the largest persecution of Christians in history,” Bruce Thornton, research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, wrote on the institute’s Web site. “Estimates of the numbers of Christians under assault range from 100 [million] to 200 million. According to one estimate, a Christian is martyred every five minutes.”

It’s odd that prominent Christians like President Barack Obama and Pope Francis have been utterly silent about this humanitarian tragedy.

As Kirsten Powers wrote recently in USA Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel asserted late last year that “Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world,” while former French President Nicholas Sarkozy warned in a 2011 speech that “Christians face a particularly wicked program of cleansing in the Middle East, religious cleansing.”

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg told Powers “he is shocked that American Christians aren’t regularly protesting outside of embassies drawing attention to this issue,” and he called the persecution of Christians in the Middle East “one of the most undercovered stories in international news.”

One Christian who is certainly not keeping quiet is Raymond Ibrahim, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and associate fellow of the Middle East Forum.

In a review of Ibrahim’s new book, “Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians,” Thornton writes that Ibrahim, who is fluent in Arabic, “has been tracking what he calls ‘one of the most dramatic stories’ of our time in the reports and witnesses that appear in Arabic newspapers, news shows, and websites, but that rarely get translated into English or picked up by the Western press.”

Most of this persecution, according to the book, is by Muslims: “Of the top fifty countries persecuting Christians, forty-two have either a Muslim majority or have sizable Muslim populations.”

By documenting “hundreds of specific examples from across the Muslim world,” Thornton adds, Ibrahim “shows the extent of the persecution, and forestalls any claims that it is a marginal problem.”

Muslim attacks, Thornton writes, “result not just from the jihadists that some Westerners dismiss as ‘extremists,’ but from mobs of ordinary people, and from government policy and laws that discriminate against Christians. … These attacks reveal a consistent ideology of hatred and contempt that transcends national, geographical, and ethnic differences.”

The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, for example, announced that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region,” which prompted Thornton to ask, in the wake of Western silence: “Is there no limit to our tolerance of Islam?”

“Tragically,” Powers of USA Today writes, “Christians have been forced to abandon homelands they have occupied for thousands of years. Up to two-thirds of Christians have fled Iraq in the past ten years to escape massacres, church burnings and constant death threats.”

According to Powers, in Iran, U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini has been sentenced to eight years in prison for preaching Christianity. In Egypt, Amnesty International blasted the recently deposed Islamic Brotherhood government for its failure to protect Coptic Christians from discrimination and violence. And in Lebanon, once a majority Christian country, the former president complained of a “genocide” against Christians.  

“The future of Christians in the Middle East is very bleak,” Neil Hicks of Human Rights First told Powers.

The world media is perfectly OK covering Muslims killing Muslims, as is happening now in Syria. But why does it clam up when Muslims persecute Christians? Are we afraid to appear “Islamophobic” or bring back memories of the Dark Ages?

As a people who know all too well about “dark” ages, Jews should not stand idly by. We shouldn’t shy away from unpleasant truths, just because the media does. Jews who believe in social justice should shine a light on the tragic plight of persecuted Christians.

Maybe if we make some noise, the president and the pope will follow.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Bnei Brak resident arrested for ‘price tag’ attack on monastery

A Bnei Brak resident was arrested in connection with the arson and vandalism attack on a Christian monastery that drew international condemnation.

The 22-year-old man, identified by the daily Haaretz as a Jewish right-wing activist, was arrested July 1 in the attack last September on the Latrun Monastery.

The monastery door was set alight and the names of West Bank outposts were spray-painted on the walls along with the epithet “Jesus is a monkey.”

The incident was labeled a “price tag” attack in response to the evacuation last summer of Migron, a West Bank outpost.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremists have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians and Arabs in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions, or for Palestinian attacks on Jews. Several recent price tag attacks have struck Christian sites.

Bnei Brak, a densely populated city of 178,000 near Tel Aviv, has a mostly Charedi Orthodox population.

An administrative restraining order was issued against the suspect, preventing him from traveling to the West Bank, according to Haaretz.

“Ex-Muslim” preaches the Gospel

When Hazem Farraj was 15, he became a Christian. But as a Palestinian Muslim living in East Jerusalem, he couldn’t tell anyone, especially his father.

“For almost three years I was an underground believer,” Farraj told The Media Line during a visit to Jerusalem. “I would go to the local mosque and to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and pray Islamically but in my heart I was praying to Jesus.”

Today Farraj, 27, is very public. He lives in California and hosts “Reflections,” a Christian TV show in English and Arabic. He is grateful for everything in his life, he says, but he has also made sacrifices for his faith.

Farraj was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1984. Like many immigrants, his father insisted the children speak Arabic at home. An observant Muslim, he worked hard to teach his children about Islam.

When Farraj was 12, his father moved the family back to Beit Hanina, a middle-class East Jerusalem suburb. The large family of 13 siblings studied Islam and many of them became more committed Muslims.

“Islam says to pray five time daily – I only prayed four times because I was too lazy to get up for the early morning prayer,” Farraj recounts. “Do the prayers. Memorize the verses from the Qur’an. Go to Islamic class and the mosque. It was all just actions to me. The deeper I got into Islam the more depressing it was for me.”

Farraj decided the solution was to convert some Christians to Islam. He approached his upstairs neighbors, Christians, and they began a discussion that lasted more than a year and a half.

“I said to them, “What if I told you that God can answer your prayers in the name of Allah,” he recalls. “Now he wasn’t answering my prayers but I needed something to hold onto. They told me things I was searching for like 'Cast your worries upon Jesus who cares for you' and 'God so loved Hazem that He gave His only son for him.'”

When Farraj was 15, he attended an East Jerusalem church with these neighbors. He does not want to name the church, fearing it could become a target of attacks.

“I sat in the last pew in the back corner and I saw something I had never seen,” he recalls with a wistful smile. “I saw a guy named Steve singing with a guitar and smiling as if he knew Jesus. I saw people at the altar raising their hands and loving God and it made me mad because I wanted it to be the God of the Qur’an.”

He fled to a downstairs room, where he lay a piece of carpet on the floor and prayed facing Mecca in Saudi Arabia, according to Islamic rules. Nothing happened. He went back upstairs to the church, and, he says, became a Christian.

“I started to pray in the name of Jesus and something happened on the inside that transformed me,” he remembers.

Soon afterwards, the second intifada or Palestinian uprising broke out and his father moved the family back to the US. Farraj continued to practice as an underground Christian. Finally, just before his 18th birthday he told his father that he had become a Christian. His father cut off all contact with him, and Farraj has not seen him since.

The pain hurts even 10 years later.

“You don’t ever get over it, you just get through it,” he says. “It has left me wounded even today.”

He also has no relationship with his stepmother or his siblings.

At age 18 he followed his former neighbors to Alabama, where they had moved.

“I slept for six months and when I wasn’t sleeping I was eating – I weighed 225 pounds and I was so depressed,” he recalls. “Then one day I came across a Christian TV station and there was this preacher. This voice inside me – I believe it was the voice of God – said 'I’ve called you to this.' I knew it meant that I was called to tell people about Jesus and to help them come to prayer.”

His TV show “Reflections,” reaches millions of viewers around the world.

Farraj says there are “many” underground Christians in Arab countries today, and that he gets emails thanking him from around the Arab world. He also gets death threats.

David Parsons, the media director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, says there are “hundreds” if not “thousands” of underground Christians in the West Bank.

“There’s a lot of upheaval in the Arab and Muslim world right now,” Parsons told The Media Line. “Some are saying 'Islam is the answer,' but there are a lot of Muslims who know they tried it for hundreds of years and it’s not the answer. As a Christian I would attribute it to the movement of the Holy Spirit. People are looking for different answers.”

Parsons says the International Christian Embassy has opened branches in “several north African countries.”

Farraj says his recent trip to Jerusalem was to recharge his own batteries and to meet underground Christians.

“I love Jerusalem,” he said with a grin. “I’m here to enjoy the spirituality of Jerusalem and to encourage the believers. I thought I was the only ex-Muslim in the world, but they’re really everywhere.”

Netanyahu thanks Pope for deepening Christian-Jewish ties

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked outgoing Pope Benedict on Monday for his efforts to shore up often troubled relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Jews, including with his 2009 visit to the Holy Land.

That trip, in which the German-born Benedict paid respects at Israel's main Holocaust memorial, was seen by many Jews as atoning for his lifting of the excommunication of a bishop who questioned the scale of the Nazi genocide. On other occasions he visited the Auschwitz death camp and the Cologne synagogue.

The pontiff, who will abdicate on February 28, also changed a Latin prayer for Good Friday services by traditionalist Catholics in 2008, deleting a reference to Jews and their “blindness” but still calling for them to accept Jesus.

“In the name of the people of Israel, I would like to thank you for everything you did in your capacity as pope in the name of strengthening ties between Christians and Jews and between the Holy See and the Jewish State,” Netanyahu said in a letter to Benedict, a copy of which was circulated to the media.

“I thank you also for bravely defending the values of Judaism and Christianity during your papal term,” the conservative premier wrote.

“I have no doubt that these values, which were so crucial to building the modern world, are no less critical for ensuring a future of security, prosperity and peace.”

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Iconic Jewish educator Rabbi David Hartman mourned by all faiths

The revered Jewish teacher David Hartman, who died in Jerusalem at the age of 81 this week, is being celebrated for his success in bringing together diverse thinkers from among rarely-interacting Jewish denominations; Christian and Muslim clerics and secular philosophers. Although a frequent target of derision by co-religionists who defined his work as anything from improper to heretical, those who studied with Hartman credit him with opening minds as well as institutions during the four decades since his life-changing epiphany while serving as spiritual leader of the Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem synagogue in Montreal from 1960 to 1971.

Charles Taylor and David Hartman met when Taylor was Professor of Philosophy at McGill University and the young rabbi came to teach there [he would subsequently receive his Doctorate in Philosophy from the university]. Taylor told The Media Line that, “What impressed me the most was his ability to bring secular Jewish intellectuals with people with deep study of Talmud. He brought these conversations together and was able to break down the wall between secularists and religionists.”

Having immigrated to Israel from Canada in 1972, within four years he had founded the Shalom Hartman Institute, named for his father. Serving as the epicenter of all things Hartman, the institution opened boys’ and girls’ high schools; a center for religious research; and a seminar series that has attracted thousands of clergy from numerous denominations and many religions.

“He was able to delve deeply into medieval philosophy and demonstrate the relevance of an argument for contemporary life,” explained Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation, who first became acquainted with Hartman through his writings on Moses Maimonides, the 12th Century rabbi, physician and philosopher. He told The Media Line that, “The bridging of the classical and contemporary became characteristic of the type of academic atmosphere he created at the Shalom Hartman Institute.”

Muhammad Hourani is a Muslim who taught at the Institute for 16 years. He remembered Hartman for “his attempt to bring the moderate voice of Islam by creating a forum for Jews and Muslims to come together once a week.” Hourani told The Media Line that he is saddened that the seminar no longer meets, but cited the series as an example of Hartman’s ability to “teach people respect for each other.”

The style of learning forged by Rabbi Hartman impacted not only on those who came to Jerusalem to study with him or participate in the programs offered by the institute, but according to leading academics, he is credited with elevating the study of Jewish philosophy from the isolation of Jewish Studies departments to the mainstream departments of philosophy. “That belief,” according to Elizabeth Wolfe, immediate past chair of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and executive of the board of Shalom Hartman Institute, “has impact in Harvard, Princeton and the University of Toronto. He made Jewish philosophy universal.”

Contrary to the classic admonition against discussing religion or politics to maintain harmony, Hartman offered both. Many eulogizing him cited as legacy his ability to bring together those whose organizational and institutional affiliations are normally seen as barriers to such interaction. Longtime Hartman associate Haim Solomon partnered with the late rabbi (and their wives) to build a Jewish school in Montreal and now serves as an official of the Institute in Jerusalem. He told The Media Line that, “the mark he left is that he didn’t go for labels; he was always anxious to break down barriers between sectors of the community.” Solomon noted that the Institute’s annual conference on theology “brings together Christians, Muslims and Jews. It began more than fifteen years ago and is even attended by Muslims from abroad.” For the past five years, Christian academics, clerics, theologians and lay leaders have come to spend a year studying Jewish theology in Jerusalem as part of the Institute’s Christian Leadership Initiative, a program created in partnership with the American Jewish Committee.  

Solomon summed up the essence of David Hartman as revealed to him decades ago in Montreal. “He said, ‘University is fine for intellectual pursuits, but it can’t make Jews. You need an institute to help make Jews.’”

Peres calls peace a top priority at reception for Christian leaders

Israeli President Shimon Peres at a reception for Christian leaders called peace a top priority.

“Peace is not just a desire, it is not just a call from heaven, I think it can be attained and achieved,” Peres said Monday in a greeting to his guests in Jerusalem. “We have to act determinedly, honestly and courageously to achieve it. That was from the very beginning, from the Old Testament to the New Testament and throughout the scriptures.”

Peres at the reception honoring the new year stressed that he opposes negotiations with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, while it rejects the three principles of the Quartet on Middle East peace: renouncing terrorism, recognizing Israel and accepting previous peace agreements.

“There is a Palestinian Authority with which we signed an agreement and there is a separate organization in Gaza, Hamas. They must decide whether they want peace or war, what sort of relationship they want; shooting or building,” he said. “We have no interest in seeing anybody in Gaza suffering, we would be happy to see Gaza be successful.”

His message came a day after he told more than 150 members of the diplomatic corps in Israel that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a man of peace and that Israel can reach a peace agreement with him, angering the ruling government.

Peres on Monday also praised the relations between the Christian community and the Jewish community, saying they are “at their best in the past 2,000 years.”

“I have the greatest respect for the pope and agree with him that peace is not just an earthly demand but a heavenly order, if there is one thing that clearly unites all of us it is the prayer for peace, the hope for peace,” the Israeli president said. “You can have your own prayers, your own way of worshiping, but peace remains the uniting factor. All of us would like to see an end to bloodshed, an end to suffering.”

Ban at interfaith meeting in Vienna offers hopes for lasting cease-fire

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a meeting promoting interfaith dialogue said he hoped the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza would hold.

Jewish interfaith leaders joined Muslim and Christian leaders for Tuesday's meeting in Vienna, which came in conjunction with the opening of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, a project sponsored by the Saudi royal family.

Along with his hopes on the Egypt-moderated cease-fire ending more than a week of escalated conflict, Ban also said that understanding and dialogue between peoples of all faiths was essential to resolving ethnic strife across the globe.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and vice president of the World Jewish Congress, was among the Jewish leaders who attending the meeting.

“While we all looked on with deep concern at the recent events, we know that the strong bonds that exist between our religions will not be defined by violence,” he said. “Our goal is to ensure that the vast majority of the Muslim world, which practices peaceful interaction with peoples of all faiths, will continue to be our partners in promoting greater tolerance and dialogue across the international community.”

Along with Schneier, Jewish leaders attending the meeting included his father, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation; Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee; the chief rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt, who also serves as president of the Conference of European Rabbis; and Lawrence Schiffman, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interfaith Consultations.

Opinion: Christians’ letter was reasonable, worded sensitively

There has long been an unwritten covenant between the Jewish establishment and Christian leaders when it comes to interfaith dialogue: “We can talk about any religious issues we like, but criticism of Israel’s human rights violations is off limits.”

Over the past few weeks, we’ve painfully witnessed what can happen when Christians break this covenant by speaking their religious conscience.

On Oct. 5, 15 prominent American Christian leaders released a letter that called on Congress to make military aid to Israel “contingent upon its government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.”

While most Americans wouldn’t consider it unreasonable for our nation to insist that an aid recipient abide by U.S. laws, some Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, lashed out at their Christian colleagues, eventually walking out on a scheduled Jewish-Christian roundtable. They are now requesting that the Christian leaders come to a “summit meeting” to discuss the situation.

Considering the vehemence of such a response, one might assume that the Christian leaders’ letter was filled with outrageous and incendiary anti-Israel rhetoric.

But in fact their letter is a sensitively worded and faithful call supporting “both Israelis and Palestinians in their desire to live in peace and well-being,” as well as acknowledging “the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions,” the “horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings,” and “the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society.”

Yes, the authors of the letter also expressed their concern over “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, among others.”

As painful as it might be for these Jewish groups to hear, however, these are not scurrilous or arguable “allegations.” They long have been documented by international human rights groups, including the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem. The letter points out that a 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices has detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.

Why has the Jewish establishment reacted so violently to a relatively balanced and religiously based call? Because by speaking their conscience, these Christian leaders had the audacity to break the unwritten covenant: If you want to have a dialogue with us, leave Israel alone.

A recent JTA Op-Ed by Rabbi Noam E. Marans, who serves as director of interreligious and intergroup relations for the American Jewish Committee, provided an interesting window into the mechanics of this covenant. In his Oct. 21 piece, “Christians’ letter is an unworthy tactic,” Marans said nothing about the substance of the letter itself, choosing instead to vehemently attack the Protestant leaders and reject the statement as nothing less than “the opening of a new anti-Israel front.”

Marans went on to surmise that this reasonable, religiously based call for justice was the product of “certain leaders” who are frustrated with “their own failure to convince denominations to use divestment as a club to pressure Israel.” Nowhere did he address the issue of Israeli human rights violations (except to refer to them as “allegations.”) In the end, he suggested that this letter represents “the anti-Israel sentiment of some Christian leaders and their small but vocal, energetic and well-funded following who are attempting to hijack the positive trajectory of Christian-Jewish relations.”

It is difficult to read such a statement without concluding that Marans’ definition of “postive Christian-Jewish relations” means anything other than “no criticism of Israel allowed.”

It is important to note that the letter to Congress was not written by a few angry church renegades; it was authored by 15 prominent church leaders representing a wide spectrum of the Protestant faith community, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee.

While it is painful to read such accusations leveled at respected Christian leaders by a Jewish director of interreligious and intergroup relations, it is even more saddening that some Jewish organizations have chosen to walk away from a scheduled interfaith roundtable, then demand that the Christian leaders attend a “summit” on their own dictated terms.

It is not the role of Jewish organizations to dictate how their Christian partners can live out their conscience or their values, no matter how much they may disagree. Unpleasant realities cannot be discarded simply because these organizations regard such issues as off limits.

We can only hope that these Christian leaders will stand firm and that this sad episode will lead us to a new kind of interfaith covenant — one based on trust and respect, a willingness to face down our fear and suspicion of one another, and a readiness to discuss the painful, difficult issues that may divide us.

Will the American Jewish establishment be up to such a task?

Rabbi Brant Rosen is the co-chair of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace and a congregational rabbi in Evanston, Ill.

Israel promotes first female Christian Arab to combat commander

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) promoted a female Christian Arab to become a combat commander for the first time ever on Oct. 17.

Mona Abdo, 20, grew up in a Christian home in Haifa. She voluntarily enlisted in the IDF when she turned 18 with the encouragement of her family. Upon enlistment Mona was assigned to the Ordnance Corps. However, she quickly realized that she wanted more of an active role and was transferred to the combat unit Caracal—which has both male and female, and Arab and Jewish soldiers fighting alongside each other.

However, despite her family’s support, Mona has faced mixed reactions within her community. “There were people who were very proud of me, but there were those [Arabs] on the street who saw me with the IDF uniform and the fighter pin and told me I was a traitor,” Mona told Israel’s Channel 2 News.

With the IDF commanders training course behind her, Mona is looking forward to becoming a pioneering leader within the IDF.

“I’m very excited and I’m thinking about the fact that soon I’m going to get new troops who will be under my command. I hope to lead by personal example,” she said.

Why the Wiesenthal Center left the interfaith roundtable

This article first appeared in The Jewish Press

Sometimes, only a period of separation will save a troubled marriage. That is why the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish groups are pulling out of the Christian-Jewish Roundtable. Fifteen liberal Protestant leaders, including those of the Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist denominations, chose the Jewish High Holiday season to urge Congress to curtail U.S. aid to Israel.

We were expecting a different initiative from our dialogue partners, one focusing on the tens of millions of Christians under siege from Nigeria to Afghanistan. The oldest Christian communities on earth in the Assyrian Triangle of Iraq have been all but ethnically cleaned. More than ten million Coptic Christians in Egypt live in perpetual fear of a government controlled by the extremist Muslim Brotherhood. Practicing Christians in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are incarcerated on charges of blasphemy; in North Korea, they languish in huge concentration camps. As for the plight of the Palestinians–more have been killed in Syria in the past few weeks than in almost four years of conflict with Israel, since the end of the Gaza War.

After decades of breaking bread together, we would have expected these church groups to ask us to join with them to shake the rafters with a prophetic scream on behalf of a religious minority under siege – Christians.

Instead, these groups stand mute while their own brothers and sisters are persecuted, and seek to invoke the wrath of Heaven and Congress on the Jewish state.

We’re not happy about the breakup of a relationship forged with optimism and sincerity. After WW 2, many Christians felt some responsibility for the theological anti-Semitism that set the stage for the racial anti-Semitism of Hitler’s Germany. For many, in the wake of images of Auschwitz, building bridges of understanding and respect to the Jewish world became a priority. At the same time, Jews saw the need to begin a new chapter in Jewish history, one in which Christian friends and neighbors were able to look to their own theology to find the dignity and validity of the Jewish experience. Decades of fruitful conversation and education followed.

There were always bumps in the road, particularly regarding the Jewish State. Unlike Evangelicals who were enthusiastic in their support, liberal denominations had a hard time fully accepting Israel and understanding its centrality to Jews. When Arab armies threatened Israel’s existence in 1948, ’67, and ’73, these denominations did not speak up, to the deep consternation of their Jewish partners. Both parties, however, remained in a less-than-perfect relationship, believing that a core mutual understanding could guide future dialogue. In the case of some signatories of the letter,there never was a relationship. The Mennonite “peace” church has never had anything but unvarnished contempt for Israel; the Quakers may be friends tomany, but not to the Jewish people.

Now, with the latest threat to vaporize Israel still ringing in our ears from Ahmadinejad's soon-to-be nuclearized Iran, with millions of Israelis livingwithin the target range of Hamas and Hezbollah rockets—these erstwhile friends choose this moment to call upon the U.S. to cut into Israel’s defensecapabilities.

Why the slap in the face? Thank God, their call to Congress will fall on deaf ears. Americans’ support for Israel remains bipartisan and strong. Did these church elite believe their initiative would lead to more scrutiny of foreign aid? Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt and the Palestinians would likely lose more from calls for greater transparency, not the Jewish state. Israel provides U.S. with vital intelligence, technological and military cooperation, and military aid to Israel creates American jobs.

If peace is these churches’ sole objective, shouldn’t they also criticize the PA’s corruption that led to losing the trust of their own people?

Why else release such a letter? Some suggest that the signatories are seeking to placate the entrenched, vocal anti-Israel extremists in their own churches. Those activists were incensed when the rank and file of several denominations adopted a policy not of divestment but of investment, a strategy that actually produces tangible benefits for the Palestinians.

Alas, we sense there is also a more basic reason at play. Some at this table really don’t like us. How else can we account for such a selective moral outrage, pounding the Jewish State for real and imagined sins, but yet to demand that the U.S. take action when their co-religionists face murder andethnic cleansing? Only a deep-seated hatred could turn these leaders deaf to all the other urgent issues raging around them.

We are in no need of staying in an abusive relationship. There are other voices in the Christian world, and other roundtables – with Catholics, with Evangelicals – that have been productive and mutually satisfying. Moreover, we will maintain our affection for the majority of churchgoers in these very same denominations whose table we are leaving. They, too, are being served poorly by the same people who misuse their mantle of leadership.

Why does it all matter? Because, in the past, Christians and Jews working cooperatively helped change the world. Only a few decades ago, Rev. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walked arm in arm in the Deep South, helping the civil rights struggle to reach new heights. An injured world awaits all the good that could come from the positive power of collective religious conviction. When others are ready for a genuine relationship, we will be there.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

© 2012 JewishPress. All rights reserved.

An open letter to Dr. Talaat Afifi, Egyptian minister of religion

Dear Dr. Afifi,

Many of us involved in global contacts between leaders of the world's major religions seek to understand the new Egyptian government views about non-Muslims. Last week, Mohammed Badie, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, gave the world a sample of his. In remarks published both in Egypt's official newspaper, Al-Ahram, and on the Brotherhood website, Badie launched this anti-Semitic call for Jihad: “Jews have increased the corruption in the world, and … shed the blood of Muslims … Muslims must realize that restoring the sanctuaries and protecting honor and blood from the hands of Jews will not happen through the parlors of the United Nations, or through negotiations. The Zionists only know the way of force.”

We then searched online to learn more about attitudes of those in government about Christians, Jews and Hindus. Our search led to you, Dr. Afifi.

We found you on your government's official website, your photograph (under Ministry of Religious Endowments) and contact information providing your website as www.awkaf.org. We learned there that you also head the Faculty of Preaching at Al-Azhar, the venerable first among universities in Egypt, dating back over a thousand years. This means that you are uniquely suited to speak to our inquiries. You represent not only the government of Egypt, but also its theological brain trust.

Back in 1995, a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation had the honor of visiting the then Grand Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. During our meeting we expressed our growing alarm over suicide bombings in the Middle East. While no one expected any major breakthroughs, we remember how we were received cordially and respectfully and that we returned that respect. The Grand Mufti did respond favorably upon our request for him to dialogue with Israel's Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and they did indeed meet eventually in Alexandria.

Frankly, Dr. Afifi, we are trying to figure out what has changed in the last two decades. Sheikh Tantawi spoke the language of diplomacy, but we find little respect or diplomacy on your website.

Under the heading “Non-Muslims,” in a document entitled “Islam and others (sic) monotheistic Religions,” we find open contempt, denigration and mockery of Christianity and Judaism — all the while praising Islam for its universality and fairness.

The essay states, “only Islam possesses an authentic scriptures (sic).” It claims that the other monotheistic religions can only lay claim to corrupted texts and translations, and even what they do have they cannot accurately understand because “the languages of the former revelations to the Jews and Christians have long been dead. Today nobody can speak those languages.” Apparently the people of Greece and Israel are unaware they are speaking dead languages.

Islam is praised for its universality while finding fault with Christianity. “The acceptance of secularism on principle virtually negates Christianity's claim to universality … Christianity's propagation of the doctrine of the Trinity and the vicarious atonement of mankind's sins by Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) nullifies all its moral values.” Is this an example of tolerance?

As for other faiths, it offers the following: “If Muslims cannot regard Judaism or Christianity on a plane of equality with Islam, the non-Muslim will wonder what kind of treatment Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, agnostics and atheists can expect to receive under Muslim rule?” “Only God can give His faith to whom He will, the Muslim regards every non-Muslim as a potential Muslim. For this reason, he is commanded to be fair and just even to those non-Muslims who are his confirmed enemies.”

A far cry from “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Do some “enemies” merit fairness only because they remain potential converts, but not because all humans are created in the image of G-d?

Dr. Afifi, are these your views and the government you serve?

Recently, Egypt's new President, Mohamed Morsi told the United Nations General Assembly, “Insults against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, are not acceptable. We will not allow anyone to do this by word or by deed…”

We respectfully suggest that you and your government spare the world any more lectures about religious insults — until you acknowledge and deal with your own.

This essay was co-authored with Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Director of Interfaith Affairs.

Christians picking on Israel

With Christians being persecuted and threatened across much of the Middle East, guess which country the leaders of several major U.S. Christian denominations have decided to pick on?

That’s right, the country where Christians are safest: Israel.

In case you missed it, in a letter dated Oct. 5, leaders of 15 Christian denominations — including Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans and Methodists — asked members of Congress to reconsider U.S. aid to Israel in light of “widespread Israeli human rights violations.”

The signatories say “unconditional U.S. military assistance” to Israel is a factor in “deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories” that threaten the “realization of a just peace.”

The letter makes no mention of reconsidering U.S. aid to countries such as Egypt, where many Christians fear for their lives and where Coptic Christian families have fled their homes in the Sinai Peninsula after receiving death threats.

As Elliott Abrams writes in National Review Online, the letter is utterly silent on the “deteriorating and truly dangerous conditions for Christians in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.”

Meanwhile, in contrast to the dramatic dwindling of the Christian population in the Arab world, in Israel the number of Christians has grown from 34,000 in 1948 to 155,000 today.

The initiative reeks of hypocrisy: Although they purport to care for Palestinian rights, the Christian leaders ignore the misery of Palestinian refugees being oppressed in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. 

Although they attack the “restrictions on movement” in the West Bank, they fail to mention, as Abrams notes, “the many ways in which the Netanyahu government in recent years has loosened those restrictions … [or] the recent steps by the government of Israel to assist the Palestinian Authority as it faces a financial crisis.”

And, of course, the signatories ignore all context. They say nothing of Israel’s many attempts over the years to make peace with the Palestinians and end the occupation, or of the teaching of Jew-hatred and incitement in Palestinian society, or of Israel’s evacuation of Gaza seven years ago that was rewarded with thousands of terror rockets still raining down today on Israeli civilians.

Even if you count yourself as an unabashed critic of Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians, it’s hard not to see this single-minded invective against the Jewish state as unfair and hypocritical.

Ironically (or stupidly), the letter was sent a few weeks before a scheduled interfaith conference that included many of the signatories, prompting the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to pull out. 

“It is outrageous that mere days after the Iranian president repeated his call for Israel’s elimination,” ADL director Abraham Foxman said in a press release, “these American Protestant leaders would launch a biased attack against the Jewish state. … It is striking that their letter fails to also call for an investigation of Palestinian use of U.S. foreign aid, thus once again placing the blame entirely on Israel.”

Many other Jewish groups, such as the American Jewish Committee (AJC), have expressed outrage.

“When religious liberty and safety of Christians across the Middle East are threatened by the repercussions of the Arab Spring,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, “these Christian leaders have chosen to initiate a polemic against Israel, a country that protects religious freedom and expression for Christians, Muslims and others.”

Why would Christian leaders initiate such an obviously biased attack against Israel, a country that already has more than its fair share of internal criticism and dissent?

Who knows, maybe they’re trying to boost declining attendance at their churches. It’s always a safe bet to follow the global herd and pick on Israel, one of the world’s favorite punching bags.

But it’s possible there’s something deeper going on — like an irrational obsession with the Jews.

Maybe it all goes back to that fateful moment at Sinai some 3,300 years ago, when Jews received God’s Torah and became His first witnesses. Ever since, it seems as if the “chosen people” have attracted an inordinate amount of attention — mostly for the worse — as they have stubbornly refused to abandon their faith. The rebirth of Israel after centuries of exile seems only to have amplified this attention.

This phenomenon of irrational obsession is complex and can be studied at length, but it’s worth noting here that in the case of Israel and Christian America, the obsession has two sides.

Just as you have Christian denominations that are obsessed with rebuking the Jewish state, there are plenty of other Christian groups — such as Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel — that are emotionally bonded with Israel and are obsessed with defending the Jewish state.

I won’t lie to you: I have a decided preference for the latter groups.

As far as those 15 church leaders who’d rather pick on Israel than on the intolerant regimes that are oppressing their Christian brethren, all I can say is: Are you sure this is what Jesus would do?

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com

John Hagee: Christian pastor with a Zionist message

It’s become a standard part of John Hagee’s stump speech, the story of how the evangelical pastor and founder of the 1.2 million-member Christians United For Israel (CUFI) first got started on the path of Israel advocacy.

It began with a trip to the Holy Land in 1978 — “I went to Israel as a tourist and came back a Zionist,” Hagee told the mostly Christian crowd of more than 1,000 at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Aug. 26. And then grew into something bigger with the Israeli airstrike that destroyed the nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981.

“Israel has done the world a favor, and they should be complimented, not criticized,” Hagee said, recalling his reaction to the negative media coverage that followed the Israeli preemptive strike.

That was the inspiration for the first “Night to Honor Israel,” held in 1982 in Hagee’s hometown of San Antonio. He founded CUFI in 2006; today the rapidly growing organization stages about 40 “Night to Honor Israel” events every month in cities around the United States.

In some cases, the events amount to infusing a regular midweek religious service at a local church with a pro-Israel agenda. But at the Saban, CUFI staged its first “Night to Honor Israel” to take place in a non-church venue in Los Angeles, precisely at a time when Israel might be poised to, as Hagee would call it, do the world another favor.

Consul General of Israeli in Los Angeles David Siegel also spoke: “Iran today represents the genocidal hunter, they are on the prowl and they are calling for the destruction of my people, day in and day out,” Siegel told the crowd. “And after 20 years of trying to deal with this diplomatically, it is time to say, enough.”

Last month, Hagee told The Journal’s senior political editor Shmuel Rosner that he is not satisfied with the United States’ current regime of sanctions against Iran; from the audience’s applause, it appeared Hagee’s supporters in Los Angeles found his tougher stance — which is more closely aligned with that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s — more to their liking.

What the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — a lobby singularly dedicated to supporting Israel — is to the American Jewish community, CUFI aims to be for American evangelicals. Both pledge to support the policies of any Israeli government in power, regardless of party, and, to that end, CUFI does not take an official position on the two-state solution. In Hagee’s view, any decision about creating a future Palestinian state should be made by Israel alone.

“God is angry with every nation that does anything to divide the land of Israel; that includes the United States of America,” Hagee said.

The pastor’s position is even more uncompromising on the matter of Jerusalem.

“President Obama told the Jewish people in Jerusalem they could not build homes in East Jerusalem,” Hagee said. “The truth is, Barack Obama has absolutely no authority to tell the Jewish people what they can and cannot do.”

When the applause from the crowd died down, Hagee continued. “Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for the past 3,000 years. That’s before Barack Obama was a community organizer in Chicago.”

Given such comments, it’s hardly surprising to find that Hagee has Republican fans.

“I was amazed and impressed,” Ron Plotkin, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s board of directors, said as he left the Saban Theatre. “I had heard some great things about [Pastor Hagee]; he lived up to all the expectations.”

Having Jews in the audience at CUFI events is of the utmost importance to this organization, which has taken pains to try to reassure Jews that they do not seek to convert them to Christianity.

The members of CUFI, inspired by the passage in Genesis in which God tells Abraham “those who bless you will be blessed, those who curse you will be cursed,” appear genuinely to want to stand with Israel and the Jewish people.

To that end, CUFI has set up more than 100 campus chapters at colleges and universities across the country, in an effort to “level the playing field,” Randy Neal, CUFI’s western coordinator, said. All the money collected at Sunday’s event was directed to CUFI’s efforts to reach out to college students and impact the debate over Israel on American campuses.

“If they’re going to put a fake apartheid wall up on the quad, then we’re going to put a faux Western Wall up on the quad,” Neal said. “And instead of putting prayers on the wall, we’re going to put up signs that show the incredible contributions that Israel’s made to the international community.”

Neal mentioned Israeli contributions ranging from “agriculture, technology, communication, medical, environment, energy,” but his reference to the Western Wall is telling, as that location clearly holds pride of place, not just in the Jewish psyche, but for CUFI as well.

Hagee calls the Western Wall one of his favorite places in Israel, and one of the few videos shown at the event that featured views of Israel — it played near the middle of the evening, as ushers walked the aisles with silver plastic buckets in their hands ready to collect donation envelopes — made generous use of shots of the Western Wall.

As a Christian rock band on stage played the theme song from the film “Exodus” (“This land is mine / God gave this land to me”), the screen displayed Jewish men at the wall swaying and praying in prayer shawls. They lifted Sephardic Torahs and shook their lulavs.

The scenes at the wall were, as it turned out, the primary representation of contemporary Israel in the video. Most of the rest of its footage had been pieced together from black-and-white reels that appeared to be at least 50 years old, showing haggard-looking Jews kissing the earth and, immediately after, folk-dancing Israelis, moving at the slightly sped-up pace of old-style newsreels.

Mahmoud Abbas adviser visits Auschwitz

An adviser to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas visited Auschwitz on Friday.

Ziad al-Bandak, a Christian who advises Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Christian affairs, visited prisoner blocs, gas chambers and a crematorium in the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in Poland, The Associated Press reported.

He visited at the invitation of a private Polish foundation that promotes tolerance.

In 2007, the Palestinian and Israeli ambassadors to Poland made a joint visit to the memorial, according to the Huffington Post.

Al-Bandak, who came at the invitation of a private Polish foundation promoting tolerance, laid flowers at the Death Wall in Auschwitz, where Polish resistance fighters were summarily executed and placed a light at the monument to the camp’s victims.

In Christian version of AIPAC, CUFI draws 5,600 to Washington for pro-Israel lobbying

Seven years on, many Jews still have lingering questions about the addition to the pro-Israel lobbying scene of Christians United for Israel, the project of evangelical leader Rev. John Hagee.

Hagee believes he has a biblical mandate to press on and is undeterred.

“As Isaiah said, ‘For Zion’s sake we will not hold our peace and for Jerusalem’s sake we will not rest,’” Hagee told more than 5,600 delegates at the opening plenary Monday of the CUFI Washington Summit 2012.

The summit stands as something of a Christian version of the annual Washington policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Like the AIPAC conference, the CUFI summit includes a day of lobbying and here, too, the Israeli prime minister is a guest speaker – albeit via satellite.

“We will not be intimated by any person, by any groups of people when Israel is on the line. We are the front line of defense for Israel in the United States of America,” Hagee said to thunderous applause and a few shofar blasts. “The covenant that God made with Abraham is eternal and it cannot be repealed by the president of the United States, by the president of the United Nations.”

Hagee created CUFI in early 2006 after calling 400 fellow pastors to meet him in San Antonio “to form a national organization that could give national unity on behalf of Israel.”

Today, CUFI claims more than 1.1 million members, 754,000 Facebook fans and 96 college campus chapters. It has held events around the country and in Canada, Kenya, Israel and Scotland, according to Hagee.

About one in five Americans – some 60 million people—consider themselves evangelicals, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. A 2005 Pew study found that 41 percent of evangelicals favor Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict versus 13 percent favoring Palestinians (20 percent said they didn’t know; 18 percent said neither, and 8 percent favored both).

Yet many Jews view CUFI’s rank and file, who are overwhelmingly but not exclusively evangelical, with suspicion. Only 21 percent of American Jews surveyed earlier this year by the Public Religion Research Institute said they view the “Christian right” – often a synonym for evangelicals – favorably. By contrast, 41 percent view Muslims favorably.

The Jewish views on evangelicals come in large part from long-standing concerns over proselytizing and end-time theologies that foresee that Jews who do not accept Jesus as their savior will be killed.

Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations for the American Jewish Committee, said Jews should embrace evangelical support even if they don’t embrace their theology.

“It’s important for the Jewish community to welcome support for the State of Israel but not necessarily have to agree on every aspect of that support,” Marans told JTA.

Two years ago, the AJC brought together Gary Bauer – a prominent CUFI executive board member—Marans and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly to talk about evangelical support for Israel.

For his part, Hagee has said repeatedly in interviews that proselytizing is unacceptable for CUFI members.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who addressed the CUFI delegates during a session on the importance of Christian Zionism, told JTA that he has personally spoken with Hagee about the matter and believes him.

Both Christians and Jews believe they are living out God’s mandate and that their understanding of the messiah is correct, said Riskin, an Orthodox rabbi in the West Bank community of Efrat and founder of the Israel-based Center for Jewish Christian Understanding and Cooperation. “They have the right to believe that because I believe at the end of days all of the Christians will convert to Judaism,” he said.

“Christian Zionism is a tremendously important because now we’re in the midst of a religious war,” Riskin said. “There are 1 billion-plus Muslims and there are 2 billion-plus Christians. For us, Christian friendship is critical. ”

Among the Jewish presenters at the conference were Sen. Joe Lieberman (I.-Conn.); former George W. Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer; Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

For participants at the CUFI convention, Jews were secondary; the focus was on Israel.

During a break between sessions on Monday, a choir stood in the center of the large hallway and harmonized songs praising God for his protection of Israel. Nearby, shoppers perused items for sale in the CUFI store, including white onesies for babies with the words “Defend America; vote Israel,” stainless steel rings with the Hebrew Shma prayer and T-shirts with this quote from Isaiah: “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

Elsewhere in the building, some of the children ages 5 to 12 who had come with the evangelical delegates were busy at Camp CUFI, where activities included Israeli dancing, “pray for Israel” sessions and an Israeli movie and entertainment.

Hagee repeatedly has stressed in interviews that CUFI will not oppose decisions of the Israeli government in peace talks, including if it agrees to relinquish portions of the West Bank.
However, the sentiments of many CUFI followers seemed clear.

“The entire territory from the Jordan to the Mediterranean” is God’s “gift to the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, who three decades ago helped Hagee organize his first Christian Salute to Israel event, to strong applause. “It is not stolen land. It is the eternal heritage of the Jewish people.”

Hagee told the crowd, “The Bible is a Zionist text beginning with the fact that God created the world and as the owner of the world he entered into a contract with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants forever and gave them the land. Israel does not occupy the land, they own the land!”

The three-day summit will conclude Wednesday with lobbying of participants’ congressional representatives. The delegates will focus on stopping Iran’s nuclear quest, U.S.-Israeli security cooperation, U.S. security aid for Israel and stopping Palestinian incitement.

Opinion: Stop Christian missionaries at Israel festivals

On Sunday April 29, 2012 at the Israel Festival in Los Angeles, many people visited Jews for Judaism’s booth to acquire literature and show their support for our efforts to keep Jews Jewish.

During the day we received numerous complaints about the presence of three different organizations that were granted booths at the festival.

1) The Mormons / Latter Day Saints

2) The Kabbalah Centre

3) The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries

For this report we will focus on Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries even though we share concerns about the Mormons who are a missionary religion, and the controversial Kabbalah Centre that has gone so far as to claim Jesus was a Kabbalist and the potential messiah of his era who was turned over to the Romans for execution by the anti-Kabbalists. (Source: Audio lecture by Yehuda Berg)

The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries booth was located not far from the Jews for Judaism booth. After receiving our first complaint we visited their booth, obtained two pieces of literature and asked their representatives to explain their mission. Their answer was very revealing. “Our mission is to support Israel and proclaim the truth.”

When asked what the truth is, they replied, “Jesus is the Suffering Servant who died for our sins.”

Another representative of Friends of Israel, who happened to be a Jewish convert to Christianity, told us “Jews and Israelis are mostly secular and don’t even believe they are the Chosen people. They follow Judaism blindly out of tradition and can only know the truth by accepting Jesus.”

The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries has been on Jews for Judaism’s radar for many years. They are known for disguising their missionary activity under the banner of being supporters of Israel. However, their website and literature sheds light on their true agenda.

The Friends of Israel website reveals that their approach of “studying the Scriptures with an appreciation for Israel and the Jewish people” has a goal to enhance “opportunities to minister effectively.”

Also found on their website is Friends of Israel’s Statement of Faith. It says they believe in the Trinity and that Jesus is God. They also believe that mankind is born into spiritual death and can only be saved by accepting Jesus. Whoever fails to accept him will suffer eternal punishment.

The Friends of Israel literature distributed and the Israel Festival is also quite revealing.

In their Israel My Glory magazine the majority of articles are preaching the Gospel.

Additionally, several articles are written by Jews who have converted to Christianity.

Here are some of the most disturbing statements in this magazine:

1) The Jewish Prophet Isaiah alluded to the Trinity and clearly all three entities are God… Page 8

2) Buy the book Zechariah by messianic Jew David Levy and discover that “Zechariah is second only to Isaiah and his prophesies include the future Tribulation and glorious return of the Lord…” Page 12

3) God is a Tri-unity… Page 18

4) We must seek and call on [Jesus] to receive redemption… Page 19

5) Jesus Christ fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies. Isaiah also revealed the Messiah is a God-Man. He is virgin-born, a descendant of Jesse and King David and the Suffering Servant…” Page21

6) Friends of Israel writer and messianic Jew Steve Herzig wrote, “More than 700 years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah prophesied that God would send a unique sin-bearer, born of a virgin… Do you have trouble? No one can help you like He can…” Page 33

7) The book of Hebrews was written to provide evidence of Jesus Christ’s divinity … and the law has been abrogated in Christ…” Pare 36

Friends of Israel also distributed another brochure at the Israel Festival. Entitled Five Facts You Should Know about Israel, the brochure included the following statements:

1) “Messiah will not crush Satan and reestablish God’s rule over the world system until the nation of Israel repents of its rebellion against God. This repentance will involve accepting Jesus as the Messiah Savior…” Page 9

2) “One third of Israel will repent when they see Jesus Christ in His glorious Second Coming and recognize that he is their Messiah…” page 10

There is abundant evidence that The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries is a missionary organization. As their name implies their mission is to spread the gospel to the Jews.

It is our opinion that Friends of Israel and other missionary organizations pose a threat to Jewish survival and continuity. They should not be provided a forum to share their message at community Jewish events or allowed to distribute their literature to unsuspecting Jews.

In conclusion, we have two recommendations:

1) Implementation of a community policy that groups seeking to actively proselytize Jews through deceptive means should not be allowed to participate in Jewish community programs. By allowing them to participate gives de facto communal support for their deceptive activities.

2) Prior to community events, organizers should actively seek to determine if a particular group is problematic. This can be facilitated by investigating the group in consultation with Jews for Judaism, the Board of Rabbis or the BJE who can help evaluate if the group has a hidden agenda that is inconsistent with the goals of the Jewish community.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is founder and director of Jews for Judaism www.JewsForJudaism.org

’60 Minutes’ slammed on segment on Christians in Israel

Thousands of Christian and Jewish supporters of Israel have bombarded CBS executives with complaints about a “60 Minutes” segment that blamed Israel for the exodus of Christians from the West Bank and Jerusalem.

In the segment that aired Sunday, correspondent Bob Simon, Palestinian Christian leaders and others blame Israel and the settlements for Christians leaving cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

The Jewish Federations of North America and Christians United For Israel asked their members to send messages to CBS executives to complain about the segment. JFNA’s action alert, sent before the segment aired, read: “We hope that CBS will be flooded with responses through their inboxes, Facebook, Twitter and mail after the program to express discontent if it is as biased as we anticipate.”

CUFI told its supporters in a Twitter message Monday that “Sunday night ‘60 Minutes’ blamed Israel for Christian flight from the Middle East. Join me in telling them the truth.” CUFI tweeted later in the day that more than 22,000 supporters had contacted “60 Minutes” over the segment.

In the segment, Simon says that “Palestinian Christians, once a powerful minority, are becoming the invisible people, squeezed between a growing Muslim majority and burgeoning Israeli settlements. Israel has occupied the West Bank for 45 years.”

The segment quoted Israeli journalist Ari Shavit as saying that “Israel is not persecuting Christians as Christians. The Christians in the Holy Land suffer from Israeli policies that are a result of the overall tragic situation. And this, of course, has consequences for everybody.”

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren is quoted as saying that Christians are leaving the West Bank due to Islamic extremism. The segment takes Oren to task for calling Jeff Fager, the head of CBS News and executive producer of “60 Minutes,” before the segment ran to make sure that the story would not be a “hatchet job.”

“It seemed to me outrageous. Completely incomprehensible that at a time when these communities, Christian communities throughout the Middle East, are being oppressed and massacred, when churches are being burnt, when one of the great stories in history is unfolding,” that ‘60 Minutes’ would focus on Christians in Israel,” Oren told Simon in the segment.

Simon said that “I’ve been doing this a long time. And I’ve received lots of reactions from just about everyone I’ve done stories about. But I’ve never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn’t been broadcast yet.”

“Well, there’s a first time for everything, Bob,” Oren responded.

Evangelical Protestants sympathize with Israel, survey finds

Evangelical Protestant leaders from around the world said they sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians, although a small majority said they sympathize with both sides equally, a survey found.

Thirty-four percent of respondents in a new Pew Research Center global survey released Wednesday said they sympathize more with Israel, compared to 11 percent who sympathize more with the Palestinians. Some 39 percent said they sympathize with Israel and the Palestinians the same amount.

Sympathy for the Palestinians was strongest among leaders from the Middle East and North Africa, and strongest for Israel among leaders from sub-Saharan Africa. In the United States, 30 percent said they sympathized more with Israel, 13 percent said the Palestinians and 49 percent said both sides equally.

Regarding leaders’ views on other religious traditions, Judaism ranked the most favorable among non-Christian groups, with 75 percent of respondents saying they have a favorable opinion, compared to just 33 percent who said they have a favorable view of Muslims, or 30 percent who said they have a favorable view of atheists.

On their views regarding evangelization, 22 percent viewed Jews as a “top priority” for evangelizing, compared to 73 percent who said the non-religious are a priority and 59 percent who said Muslims are a priority.