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

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

The United Methodist Church is currently holding its General Conference in Tampa, Florida. The Methodists will be voting on a controversial resolution to divest from 3 multinational companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. Below is an excerpt from Yossi Gurvitz’s article at +972 Israel’s not-so-stellar record on treatment of Christians which he wrote in response to the recent CBS “60 minute” episode on the plight of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.  ~AR

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.

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.


About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani
Posted in Activism, BDS, Israel/Palestine, Middle East, Nakba, Occupation, US Politics

{ 20 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. seafoid says:

    Gurvitz has a great grip on the ugly side of Israel. And it’s just going to get uglier.
    Israel is like a family where the parents are addicts and the kids have been neglected and are now entering their teenage years . The future will be far less rosy than the past.

    • yeah, gurvitz is the bomb. he’s huge in my book.

      • Hostage says:

        yeah, gurvitz is the bomb. he’s huge in my book.

        A lot of the things that he has to say sound strangely familiar to me;-)

        On a related note, former Shin Bet head Diskin has just joined the Greek Chorus to explain this tragedy to us onlookers in the audience. He blasted Netanyahu and Barak as untrustworthy. He says after watching them up-close that they make their decisions based upon “messianic feelings”.

        Here is another interesting comment that the article highlighted along the same lines as Gurvitz’ observations:

        Regarding relations between Israeli Jews and other groups, Diskin said, “Over the past 10-15 years Israel has become more and more racist. All of the studies point to this. This is racism toward Arabs and toward foreigners, and we are also become a more belligerent society.”

        Diskin also said he believed another political assassination, like that of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a Jewish extremist, could occur in the future. “Today there are extremist Jews, not just in the territories but also inside the Green Line, dozens of them who, in a situation in which settlements are evacuated… would be willing to take up arms against their Jewish brothers.”

        link to haaretz.com

        • the shin bet said their were jewish terror cells operating in israel last fall.i wrote up a draft and somehow it didn’t get published. then a couple weeks later lizzy wrote one. it was around the time the director of peace now (i think it was peace now), her life was threatened. they said the terror cell had a data base of targets. and they were targeting palestinians inside of jerusalem (they called htem arabs in the article, residents). but their were no reports of those attacks so i went to the jewish press and translated some articles and it was reported there.

          yes, i read Diskin’s article this morning. the whole thing is a nightmare.

        • speaking of racism have you read: Community shaken after night of arson attacks on African refugees

          link to 972mag.com

          from the comments:

          I live in this neighborhood. In the night of Independence Day I went out to the midrahov Neve Sha’anan at about 1am. There I witnessed a police van full of Magav randomly pull up at Bnei Barak road, and MAGAV officers jump out and begin harassing someone. An officer was yelling at the individual they held in Arabic very loudly and with hate. Then, the van pulled to the end of the midrahov along with four other vehicles. Then a unit of ten armed Magav rolled out in a formation, led by one blue uniform officer and one all-black outfitted individual. They literally began to cleanse the street, going from alley and doorway to doorway, entering systematically, but without warrant. They kicked people out of residences and gathering places. Then they would march two by two swinging their clubs and yelling at people to go home. Note, they told Africans standing next to me to get out, but said nothing to me (white). A magavnik pulled a taser on one man and I heard it shoot and click, as well as witnessing the strobing red light that flashed as he did it. The streets cleared quickly. They continued to storm in buildings. 11 at a time with a female officer guarding outside.

          I have only seen this before in the West Bank where I have lived before. It was not unlike Hebron day-to-day or Ramallah during an invasion. This was all in Independence day, which is typified by celebrations because of a day off of work. Another person was witness to this with me and we sat watching with only one parallel image in mind. I’m sorry to say it’s an image of Germans as much as I hate the comparison.

          This is the ghetto and the police oppress like the ghetto and now the Lieberman Youth are taking price tags here too. Do we not have the right to arm ourselves against these terrorists? Why are leftists arrested for reading names, while an area the police totally control allows Jews to make bomb attacks? This would be national furor in the USA, like travyon. What we are likely to get is continued oppression. I never thought leaving the West Bank for Tel Aviv I would find the exact same racism and state sponsored complicity in violence. It now seems clear, nationalist racism is the leading product of Zionism, in word and in deed.

        • Hostage says:

          have you read: Community shaken after night of arson attacks on African refugees

          No I had not. I’ve gotten behind on reading the news sites. I’ve been busy reading a good book and gotten interested in an on-going Opinio Juris symposium on the topic of a Functional Approach to the Law of Occupation. The latter started out routinely enough, but a Research Fellow from the Hudson Institute and the former head of the IDF’s International Law Department have chipped-in on the subject of Gaza. So I’ve chimed-in a few times too, e.g. link to opiniojuris.org

          Here’s some links for those who might be interested in that sort of thing:

          *Symposium on the Functional Approach to the Law of Occupation
          link to opiniojuris.org

          Related Posts
          *April 27, 2012 — Operationalising Functionality: Questioning the Term ‘Functional’
          *April 27, 2012 — The Status of the Gaza Strip – a Short Response
          *April 26, 2012 — Occupation Law Symposium: Response by Matthew Saul
          *April 26, 2012 — Responsibility without Control; Control without Responsibility
          *April 26, 2012 — The Binary Approach to Occupation: A Double Bind?
          *April 26, 2012 — Israel, Gaza, and the End of “Effective Control”
          *April 25, 2012 — Is the Gaza Strip Still Occupied by Israel?
          *April 25, 2012 — The Functional Approach to the Occupation of the Gaza Strip and the Right to Self-Determination
          *April 24, 2012 — Disingenuous ‘Disengagement’: Israel’s Occupation of the Gaza Strip and the Protective Function of the Law of Belligerent Occupation
          *April 24, 2012 — In Reluctant Defense of the Law of Occupation
          *April 23, 2012 — Rethinking Occupation: The Functional Approach

        • thanks hostage, bookmarked.

  2. pabelmont says:

    If only Phil’s hosts had presented this essay (or Gvurtz’s) to the guests at the Sabbath dinner / conversation as a pre-talk study.

    One problem in talking to well meaning folks (and we always hope that’s whom we are talking to) is their lack of information.

    This is great stuff. (“And then everyone pretends it ever happened.”)

    Remember when families used to lock their crazy, their retarded, their criminal relatives in the attic and hide them away? Israel has locked the parents in the attic and put the crazies in charge of the house. And AIPAC supports this!

  3. W.Jones says:

    Mistake
    “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 Ethiopian-Orthodox Church and the Coptic-Orthodox Church are not Protestant, they are “Oriental Orthodox Christian.”

    The Protestant Reformation happened in the “Occident” out of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century or so, whereas the Coptic and Ethiopian “Oriental Orthodox” separated from the Greek/Roman Church in the 6th century or so, in Egypt and Ethiopia.

    This unintentional mistake is a reflection of the small awareness in Western countries that millions of Christians exist in and around Middle Eastern countries, and this in turn has led to misunderstanding, stereotyping of Middle Easterners as radical Muslims, etc.

  4. dahoit says:

    The old chicken and egg story;What came first,anti goyimism or antisemitism?
    Could all us goyim be like MLKs daughter?

  5. ritzl says:

    Israel is playing a very very dangerous game by falsely portraying and/or politicizing its treatment of non-tourist Christians. It only takes one vocal Baptist minister somewhere in the heartland to flip his switch based on information in an article like this and the contrived allegiances of the US-Israel support system blows up. That wouldn’t be at all bad except for the real anti-semitism that would come with it. Good article, bad portent.

    • Citizen says:

      ritzl there are a few Evangelical ministers who have already flipped that switch. You need to google around, but they are already speaking up on some web sites.

  6. Blake says:

    Spitting is the least of the native Palestinian (Christian or Muslim) issues. They can lose their homes at any time to the incoming aliens with a sense of entitlement to their land and end up another refugee statistic whilst the world just looks on and does nothing. This ethnic cleansing has gone on for 64 years without so much a peep in the complicit media.

  7. Think this will make any difference to the unspeakable Reverand Hagee and his deluded flock? Think again. Alas.

    • Citizen says:

      Yep, I’ve tried to inform Christian fundies I know but it’s like talking to the proverbial wall–they only like to be fully informed in every little detail of any Muslim who wants to install Sharia law in America and take away their privacy to chat with baby Jesus every day.

  8. Blake says:

    Annie I have heard from a Palestinian native in “Israel” that even though they have an ID and a passport that passport states next to nationality there is just a couple of ** (not “Israeli citizen”) and that in the “Israeli” national anthem they sing of being a “Jewish state”. Something your readers may not be aware of.

  9. RE: “The Methodists will be voting on a controversial resolution to divest from 3 multinational companies profiting from the Israeli occupation” & “the recent CBS ’60 minute’ episode on the plight of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.” ~AR

    ♦ UNITED METHODIST KAIROS RESPONSE ♦
    Endorse the Resolution
    Aligning United Methodist Investments with Resolutions
    on Israel/Palestine

    • Read the resolution here.
    This is a endorsement form for individuals, both United Methodists and all others. We welcome endorsements by everyone who would like to support this action for justice and peace in the Holy Land.
    • ENDORSE THE RESOLUTION HERE.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    ♦ Thank CBS for Telling the Story of Palestinian Christians! ♦
    CBS reporter Bob Simon highlighted the story of Palestinian Christians on the April 22nd episode of 60 Minutes. Express your appreciation to CBS for telling the often forgotten story of Palestinian Christians by sending them an email (pre-written and editable).
    • TO SEND EMAIL - link to org2.democracyinaction.org

    • ALSO: CLICK HERE to sign JVP’s petition which has already gathered over 7,500 signatures in a few hours. (Jewish Voice for Peace is a national grassroots organization dedicated to promoting equality, democracy and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians.)

  10. Walid says:

    “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. ”

    Yossi lightly skated over how Palestinian secular and religious leaders have directly or indirectly contributed in helping Israel with its dirty tricks; in this instance, it involves the 2 Greek-born present and past Greek Orthodox Patriarchs of Jerusalem.

    The former one, Ireneos, was deposed in 2005 by the current one, Theophilus III that as of last year, it’s said that he has held him captive under lock and key at the Jerusalem Patriarchate. Food and water are sent up to Ireneos by rope and his only communication with the outside world is via his cell phone that he’s allowed to keep. This would make a good movie. It’s said that he is being held captive because he refuses to to relinquish his claim to the Patriarchate but there could be more behind this story. Greek Orthodox Patriarchs have to be approved by Palestine, Jordan and Israel and it’s the Israeli approval of Theophilus III that was withheld for some blackmailing purpose or other that Gurvitz politely called “recognition”. I’m guessing keeping Ireneos locked up along with other arm-twisting tactics may have had something to do with Israel having approved Theophilus III after 3 years. What had Ireneos and Theophilus III done to be equally despised by Palestinians?

    The Greek Orthodox Church is the biggest private land owner in Jerusalem and is the owner of the West Bank land on which most Christian churches of all denominations are built. This ownership dates back to the late 1800s. Over the last few decades, the Greek Orthodox Church under the watch of Ireneos had increased sales of land to the Israeli government or had leased lands to it for 999 years and it’s on these sold or leased lands that Israel has built its large East Jerusalem settlements that effectively cut off the city from the WB. When Athens sent in Theophilus to replace Ireneos after his deals with Israel were exposed, Israel held up the approval until ( as Haarerz wrote) he gave Israel the first right of refusal on all church-owned land up for sale and agreed to maintain the church’s Jaffa Gate tenants Jewish. Greek Orthodox lands are prone to shady deals because they are controlled locally by Palestine and Jordan whereas lands owned by the Catholic Church or the Russian Church are controlled by the Vatican and Russian governments. This points to how the church leaders may have helped with the settlements expansion, especially as far as Jerusalem is concerned.

  11. Citizen says:

    This web site gives a summary of quite a wide variety of Christian sects’ take on the I-P Conflict: link to wildolive.co.uk

    Check it out. Do you think its content is reliable?