How Politics Created an Unnecessary Dispute between Jerusalem Churches and the Israeli Government

March 12 2018

On February 25, the Greek Orthodox, Franciscan, and Armenian clergymen who jointly control Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher took the unprecedented decision of closing the church to protest the municipal government’s plan to begin taxing church land—that is, the real estate that Christian churches own and rent out as a source of income, not the actual properties used for religious functions. Thanks to the intervention of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the parties have since reached a solution, and the church was reopened after three days. Amit Barak explains how the dispute spiraled out of control:

The situation surrounding the lands threatens the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III’s seat. . . . [T]o satisfy [his critics within the church and without], he bashed Israel. He launched an international campaign, meeting with various world leaders and accusing Israel of persecuting Christians. I am of the opinion that he does not believe his own condemnations of Israel. . . .

To understand what is behind the controversy, one must understand the land issue. On some of the church lands in Jerusalem (especially those held by the Greek Orthodox patriarchate), residential neighborhoods were built after the lands were leased by the church to the Jewish National Fund (JNF). In recent years, the Greek Orthodox church decided to sell the land. This is a highly sensitive and very political issue. The church’s previous patriarch, Irenaios I, was unseated after he carried out such a move. Once news spread that the current patriarch, Theophilos III, was offering land for sale as well, various elements within the Greek Orthodox church began to protest and thus threaten Theophilos [who promptly bashed Israel].

These elements identify completely with the pro-Palestinian movement [and] with the Joint Arab List [in the Knesset], which are coordinating their actions with their allies in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. In addition to their political opposition to selling land to Jews, they also criticized the low prices at which lands were [previously] sold in order to gain support among an Arab public that does not necessarily identify with their political line. . . .

Over the last five years, there is a process under way within the Christian Arabic-speaking community of integrating into Israeli society and enlisting in the IDF or in national service, [offered by the Israeli government as an alternative to conscription]. . . . It should be self-evident that the current dispute harms such positive developments.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Christians, Jerusalem, Jewish National Fund

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times