ALL FOR THE POPE: Have we no red lines?

By Toby Klein Greenwald
(the following article appears in Jewish publications in Israel, New York, New Jersey, Boston and Cleveland)

I received an e-mail this week from a friend, Ellen W. Horowitz, author of The Oslo Years, a Mother’s Journal. Ellen’s mail is never junk.

She sent me a link to the website recently created by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism in honor of the coming of the Pope, in May (holyland-pilgrimage.org). She added a terse, “Don’t miss the video”.

My credentials: I am an Orthodox Jew and a Zionist who believes that we should welcome people of all nations and religious persuasions to Israel, as long as they do not try to missionize us. I have some dear Christian friends, including one who is a deeply religious Catholic nurse.

This is not about friendship. It’s not even about Christians. It’s about Israel and the image we want to present to the world.

During a time that Israel is struggling, both within and without, to maintain an image as the Jewish state, and as a state for the Jews, her Ministry of Tourism has produced a video that is a manifesto promoting Christian doctrine as indisputable truth, Israel as the land of Christianity and Jesus as G-d and the Messiah.

What I saw in this video left me speechless -- actually, feeling ill -- and whereas the latter occurrence happens occasionally (especially when following the news on the Middle East), the former never does.

Some examples of the rhetoric, both spoken and visual, employed in the film:
The story of Jesus is referred to as "in fulfillment of biblical prophecy" (not "in fulfillment of Christian belief" or even "in fulfillment of New Testament prophecy").

The narrative declares: "The Heavenly Host appeared and said, ‘Here is born to you this day, in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ, the Lord.’"

After Jesus is baptized, we hear: "...and a voice came from Heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Afterwards, Jesus began the ministry that would transform the world." All of this is over magnificent aerial scenes of Israel (the video is a visual treat to the eyes), including of Christian pilgrims arriving on foot and by sea; the cross is prominent.

Then it moves to passive voice, stating that Israel, too, “is being transformed”. (By whom?) “Israel's hi-tech and biotech industries help make the world a better place to live.” Not our contribution through the Bible, through our prophets, through our continuing spiritual wealth. As a matter of fact, at no point do we hear the word “Jew”, “Jewish” or “Judaism” in the video. I watched the 5.14 minute film four times.

"Today Israel is also fulfilling an ancient prophecy..." we hear, over some shots of hi-tech, agriculture, seascapes and immodestly dressed girls.

There is a visual of the menorah that stands outside the Knesset, of a sculpture with a Menorah emerging from a Magen David, and a long shot of the Cotel that dissolves to a close-up of the previous pope inserting a note between the stones. There is also the obligatory shot of the pope laying a wreath at Yad Vashem. Note: The Menorah was stolen by the Romans when they destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem; Yad Vashem recalls the Jews’ 20th century destruction. So there are images of modern Israeli life and images of destroyed Jewish life, but no images of modern Jewish life – no study, no synagogues, no holidays. The sub-text here (I'm a theater director) is that religion is the realm of Christianity. Crops and bio-technology and computers belong to modern Israelis.

And then: "In the Galilee, Jesus drew his first disciples and performed many great miracles...On the mount of the Beatitudes, the words of the Lord's Prayer were heard in the world for the first time...'Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven'.

"When it was his time, Jesus traveled up to Jerusalem. Entering the city as a savior, here Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, to be reborn in triumph, as promised."

There you have it. The theology that Judaism disputed for two millennia, offered here, on a silver platter, by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

The film continues: "Today, Jerusalem is also being reborn, as the capital of modern, democratic Israel. With the religious rites of all faiths protected throughout the land, thousands of Christians come to Israel every year to freely celebrate the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ." This is spoken over shots of Christian pilgrims and the pope, and a split second later we see the pope with a group of rabbinic figures, one of whom is graciously bowing his head to the pope as he shakes his hand. (I wonder what those rabbis would say if they knew that their images are being used in a video that declares that Jesus is God and the Savior.)

"Come, visit his land. Make real the words of the psalm, 'Our feet will stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem', just as his feet did, 2000 years ago."

This video is being promoted in seven languages, and on YouTube. So whether you are a member of the UN, or of the EU, or of the international community (including 22 Arab states), you can now hear Israel’s Ministry of Tourism negate the ideal of the Jewish state in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Polish or Portuguese.

Who is responsible?

I contacted both Albatross Aerial Perspective, the company that produced the film, and the Ministry of Tourism, whose name is on it.

I spoke to Yuval, the head of the video department at Albatross, who sent me to the man who wrote and directed the film, Daniel Cohen. Cohen said he received the brief from the Ministry. “It's their thinking behind the brief; I'm just doing the job as I understand it from them.”

I spoke to Shira Kaveh, spokesperson of the Ministry of Tourism, and with Tamara Finegraff, of the marketing department. According to them, the films they make “depend on who the target audience is”. They said that Albatross wrote the script, and consulted with experts in Christianity. Lena Hadad, a Christian, was consultant to the director on the film.

Adi Graff, of the spokesman’s office, wrote, in answer to my questions, “It was written by Daniel Cohen (she confirmed), a professional script writer, who consulted with an expert in Christianity.” (She did not reply to my question as to whether or not the Ministry had provided him with a brief.) “The site is about the visit of the pope and therefore it is targeted and it addresses the Christian audience abroad…The site in general and the film in particular were viewed by all the relevant bodies.” She did not answer my question about whether or not the film had been approved directly by the director of the Ministry, or by the past or present Ministers of Tourism.

I actually don’t believe there is an anti-Jewish missionary lurking at the highest echelons of the Ministry of Tourism. Ministry bureaucrats don’t care about theology. I think it is a thoughtless case of, “Let’s get the Christians to come – whatever works”, without foreseeing as to how this material can be used against what we claim is the Jewishness of our state. Why confuse economic issues with belief?

"Carelessness comes at a tremendous cost,” says Horowitz, who sent me the original link. She is part of the JewishIsrael.com team - educators and community leaders who take a critical look at Israel’s alliances with Fundamentalist Christian groups. They provide a platform for monitoring real time responses to missionary campaigns targeting Jews for conversion. “As Jews living in a Jewish land, we can never disregard who we are and where we are standing. Our endeavors with the Gentile world should be approached with a sense of pride combined with an acute sense of self-awareness, purpose and responsibility. All the more so when the name and reputation of the State of Israel is at stake."

Israel is always seeking more tourists and apparently someone thinks this video will do the trick in the Christian world. But there are Christians with integrity who respect the right of the Jewish people to proclaim Israel as a Jewish country, and who do not expect us to tell the world that Jesus is God.

I wonder if they won’t think that the State of Israel, through its Ministry of Tourism, is selling our birthright for a fistful of silver.

The author is a journalist who lives in Israel and who has written on current issues, including Christianity, the Holocaust and terrorism.

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