The State of Israel is going all-out in honor of the upcoming visit of the Pope – including a video that endorses Christianity.
Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Monday, May 11, and will remain here until Friday, May 15. He will meet with Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger at the Western Wall and at the Heichal Shlomo synagogue, and with President Shimon Peres.
A Money-Making Visit
The Tourism Ministry is hoping to cash in on the visit, and has created the “holyland-pilgrimage.org” website for the occasion. Featured prominently on the Press Room page is a link to “Background Information on the Christian Market,” which contains information on Christian tourism to Israel. The Tourism Ministry plans to allocate some 30% of its marketing budgets in 2009 to the Christian and pilgrim markets. It anticipates that 15-20,000 pilgrims will accompany the Pope on his visit, with a total of 1.2 million pilgrims expected to visit throughout the year – 200,000 more than usual.
The Ministry says that its user-friendly mini-site is “targeted at the potential pilgrim tourist as well as the travel industry,” and is available in seven languages: English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Polish and Portuguese.
The site also features a five-minute video that is essentially a “manifesto promoting Christian doctrine as indisputable truth, Israel as the land of Christianity and Jesus as G-d and the Messiah,” according to journalist Toby Klein Greenwald. “The story of Jesus is referred to as being ‘in fulfillment of biblical prophecy’”, she writes, “not ‘in fulfillment of Christian belief’ or even ‘in fulfillment of New Testament prophecy.’”
Aliyah and Jewish identity activist Yishai Fleisher, who has critiqued an Israeli PR campaign in the past, says, “Our government has no business teaching the gospel or promoting Christianity. Attracting Christian tourists need not come at the expense of presenting the Land of Israel as the cradle of Judaism and the Bible. In fact, since Christianity openly admits that its roots are in Judaism, Israel should promote the Land not only as the ‘place where Jesus walked,’ but as the ‘land of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and King David’ – which is at least as moving for them, and truer for us. Hebron does not even appear on the Ministry of Tourism's list of Christian sites."
“Unfortunately,” Fleisher continues, “Israeli officials constantly make the same mistake, wrongly assuming that foreigners are not interested in the ‘real’ Israel. Instead of kowtowing to foreign interests in the belief that this will impress and attract others, we must promote our own identity – and then others will truly respect us in turn.”
The video quotes freely from Christian scriptures, including verses ascribing divinity to Jesus. The Western Wall, considered the religious symbol of Jerusalem by millions of Jews around the world, is shown briefly – on the backdrop of the narrator’s emphasis on the rebirth of Jerusalem, "as the capital of “modern, democratic Israel.” Even more poignantly, the Chief Rabbi is shown stooping towards the Pope – just after the narrator mentions the “resurrection of the lord Jesus.”
The Tourism Ministry video conveys the impression that religion in the Holy Land is represented by Christianity, while Israel itself stands only for modernity and secularism. “Today, modern Israel too is… fulfilling an ancient prophecy,” the narrator tells us – referring to the fruits with which Israel supplies the world. Scenes of Israel’s modern agriculture are shown, followed by others of Israel’s wide-ranging scientific and technological advances. “At no point do we hear the word ‘Jew’, ‘Jewish’ or ‘Judaism’ in the video,” writes Greenwald.
She further reports that the movie’s writer and director, Daniel Cohen, said, “It’s their [the Ministry of Tourism] thinking… I’m just doing the job as I understand it from them.” Greenwald adds that the Ministry of Tourism did not deny having commissioned the film, but say that their films “depend on who the target audience is.”
Author Ellen Horowitz, of JewishIsrael, told Greenwald, “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."