Israel’s not-so-stellar record on treatment of Christians

Much has been made of the inept appearance of Michael Oren – American Jew turned Israeli ambassador to the United States  – on 60 Minutes, in which he admitted that from time to time he calls up senior TV brass to make certain they censor the work of their writers and editors. This morning, Haaretz reported (Hebrew) that the Prime Minister’s Office was intimately in the loop. Why? Because Oren claimed the show was a “potential strategic terrorist attack” against Israel’s image in the US.

Lo and behold: at the same time Oren was biting his nails, an American Hasbara organization, The Jewish Federations of North America, sent an APB to its activists, calling upon them to prepare for a blitz against CBS. It sent that message before the show was aired. May we now openly voice the suspicion that the Israeli embassy is activating Jewish organizations in the United States in order to manipulate the press there? That would be perfectly legitimate, as far as the embassy is concerned – that’s what it’s there for. But it’s much more problematic, when it comes to organizations composed of American citizens.

The Federations were trying to argue that Christians abandoning the West Bank due to the Israeli occupation do not do so because of their being Christians, but because of the occupation (which they refer to under the euphemism of “Israeli security policy”). They are correct. If someone wants to see truly anti-Christian Israeli policy, he’d better look at Israel proper.

The 2010 State Department report on religious freedom in Israel and the occupied territories found that the Israeli Ministry of the Interior (MOI) is harassing Christian priests by demanding they renew their visas time and time again. It limits the number of visas Christian religious workers receive, and makes onerous demands on them. The visa application process, when successful, takes months. During 2010, the MOI refused to renew the Jerusalem Anglican bishop’s residency permit, claiming that he was involved in forgery. The bishop denies the claim, and it is noteworthy that he was not indicted.

The MOI further refuses to grant recognized legal status to several old churches in Israel, all of them Protestant. Four Christian churches are waiting years for recognition of their legal status: the Ethiopian-Orthodox Church, the Coptic-Orthodox Church, the Evangelic Lutheran Church, and the United Christian Council.

The MOI, left for many years to the Orthodox parties, is collaborating with a hate organization, “Yad Le’Achim,” which has a clear anti-Christian agenda (Hebrew). The MOI sends “queries” about Israeli citizens and tourists to Yad Le’Achim, for it to decide whether they are suspected of “missionary activity.” Now, Israeli law does not forbid religious preaching: it merely prohibits a conversion made in exchange for goods, and the conversion of minors without the permission of their parents. Yet, when your country is officially termed Jewish and your Minister of the Interior is an Orthodox Jew, the law matters little. In 2009, according to the State Department report cited above, 30 percent of the tourists who were stopped for questioning in Ben Gurion Airport were questioned about their religious beliefs, at the instructions of the MOI. This was probably an attempt to intimidate them from proselytizing.

Possibly the most fantastic event in the relations of the Jewish state with a Christian church is the controversy surrounding the appointment of the Greek Orthodox patriarch. During the Sharon and Olmert governments, in a scene seemingly taken from a medieval chronicle, the government delayed its recognition (Hebrew) of Theophilius as Patriarch until the latter would give his consent to some shady land deals of the radical ultra-Orthodox Jewish right. Minister Tzachi Hanegbi admitted he demanded Theophilius refrain from torpedoing a deal with the extremist yeshiva Ateret Cohanim as a condition to his appointment. Hanegbi’s successor in dealing with the church, minister Raffi Eitan, was suspected of coercing the patriarch into agreeing the church would suspend a lawsuit against Himnuta, the JNF’s dirty-tricks department, which buys lands for settlements. Himnuta would later demand Theophilius fulfill his part of the deal – which he quickly denied making. Bear that in mind the next time they tell you Israelis enjoy freedom of religion.

The situation of the Messianic Jews, a sect of Jews who accept a version of Christianity – ironically, re-creating the most ancient Christian community – is even worse. They suffer from endless molestations, both by the MOI (aided, again, by Yad Le’Achim) and by the general Jewish Orthodox population. In 2008, one such family suffered a terrorist attack  – a real one, Ambassador Oren, bomb and all (Hebrew) – and Jewish terrorist suspect Jack Teitel is suspected of carrying it out. Unlike other Jewish families which fall victim to terrorist attacks, this family did not become the focus of media or official attention.

During the same year, Yad Le’Achim managed to prevent a Messianic Jewish girl, Bat El Levi, 17, from participating in the International Bible Quiz, even though she won her way fair and square through the quizzes in the secular school system (Hebrew). The words of Martin Luther King – ” when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people”  – come to mind. Reportedly, the Minister of Education – Labor’s Yuli Tamir – publicly boasted that all of the participants in the quiz were checked and found to be Jews.

The spitting by yeshiva boys on priests has become a Jerusalem phenomenon, recognized by the courts (Hebrew), who deplored the police’s inaction. The police hotly denied this claim: it proudly replied it deported from Israel priests who refused to turn the other cheek and slapped those who spat at them. Should you happen to speak with priests in Jerusalem, you’re likely to hear of another lovely habit of our ultra-Orthodox brethren: urinating and defecating on churches. From time to time, a church is set on fire: the last noted case was some 18 months ago (and cited in the State Department report above). The police reacts to this with even more than usual indolence.

Christian clergy in Jerusalem are often spat at by yeshiva boys (Photo: Yossi Gurvitz)
Christian clergy in Jerusalem are often spat at by yeshiva boys (Photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

Usually, when Jewish violence  and discrimination against non-Jews is reported, the defenders of Israel often argue this is the result of the conflict. But Israel is not in conflict with the Christian world: it couldn’t survive without it. This hatred, this violence, is the result of thousands of years of anti-Christian hatred by a radical stream within Orthodox Judaism that wishes to create a theocratic state based on Jewish law (which crept into its daily liturgy – the infamous “informers’ blessing”).  It blows up not because of some cause, but because it can, and the weak response of the authorities is the result of their understanding that a large segment of the population supports such acts. The evangelists who signed a devil’s pact with radical ultra-Orthodox Jews fail to understand that those extremists are their preferred target; that they don’t hate the Palestinians merely because the latter happen to live here, but their hatred of Christianity is the real thing, which sometimes bursts to surface.

And then everyone pretends it never happened.

Read also:
CBS Report on Christians and Israel propels Ambassador Oren into damage control mode