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Op-Ed: All for the Pope

Have we no red lines?
Published: Thursday, April 30, 2009 11:15 PM


I received an e-mail 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
This is not about friendship. It's not even about Christians.
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 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, our 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 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."

Then it states that Israel, too, "is being transformed. 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.

There are two visuals of Menorah sculptures and a long shot of the Kotel (Western Wall) that dissolves to a close-up of the previous pope inserting a note between the stones.

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 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, the name of the company that produced the film, and the Ministry of Tourism, whose name is on it.

Albatross 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, who said that the films they make "depend on who the target audience is," and with Tamara Feingraff, of the marketing department. They said that Albatross wrote the script, and consulted with experts in Christianity. Leena Chadad, a Christian, was consultant to the film.

Adi Graff, assistant to Kaveh, wrote back, "The site is about the visit of the pope and therefore it is targeted and it addresses the Christian audience abroad." She also replied, "The site in general and the film in particular were viewed by all the relevant bodies."

She did not say whether or not the film had been approved 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
Our Ministry of Tourism has produced a video that is a manifesto promoting Christian doctrine as indisputable truth.
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.

"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: "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... the name and reputation of the State of Israel is at stake."

Israel is always seeking more tourists, 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.