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
. 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
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
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
Some examples of the rhetoric, both spoken and visual, employed in
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
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
"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
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
"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
Who is responsible?
I contacted both Albatross Aerial Perspective
, the company
that produced the film, and the Ministry of Tourism, whose name is
I spoke to Yuval, the head of the video department at
, 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
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
The author is a journalist who lives in Israel and who has
written on current issues, including Christianity, the Holocaust