17 July 2012
I write, as I hope to more than once, from the very pleasant terrace of the café at the Prima Hotel in Jerusalem. For those who know the city it is about a block south of the YMCA and King David, in a quiet neighborhood that I explored at some length this morning. Found an ATM, a 24 hour convenience store and toothpaste. The little square where 6 years ago my students participated (while I observed) a protest against Israeli settlements by the Jewish organization “Women in Black.” Did not find an open coffee shop – although I didn’t go in the Y. (I didn’t bother with the King David. My one experience there, at the expense of a well known and well to do rabbi, suggested that its a bit rich for my blood. . .
You could hardly find a better place to walk than this part of Jerusalem, which rises over the old city and consists of lovely stone apartment buildings, hotels, and homes interspersed with lovely gardens with pine trees, olives, ash, and sycamore.
Alas, a look into today’s Jerusalem post suggests that all isn’t so peaceful and beautiful. The short-lived government coalition between the Likud and Kadima, which promised the possibility of a government not in thrall to the ultra-orthodox parties, may fall apart today. The issue is how many ultra-orthodox Jewish men will be required to serve in the military, not to mention Arab Muslims and Christians. Kadima wants more and faster. The Likud, recently in coalition with ulta-o’s, wants to go slow. The ulta-o’s want the number to be 0, and so page two tells of radical ultra-o’s holding massive rallies of little boys handcuffed together in protest against having to do military service.
It may surprise American readers that these most Jewish of the Jewish are actually anti-Zionist, and regard Israel as illegitimate because it isn’t run in strict accordance to the Torah. They do, however, accept the massive amounts of social welfare necessary when your whole male population refuses to do any work so that it can study the Torah. This creates a little social tension – especially as these anti-Zionists may make up 30% of Israel’s working age population in the next decade.
An Arab woman writing in the JP herself opines that Arab Israelis should be required to do government service (it is voluntary now). But there are Arabs who say that until they are treated better than second class citizens they shouldn’t serve the state.
Other articles detail problems with settlements. Apparently the Defense ministry legalized another one in the Jordan Valley, secretly because they didn’t want the news to hit while Hillary Clinton was visiting. It did. This is in defiance of several Israel government promises to the US, but in accordance with a recent government report saying that Israel had a legal right to the entire West Bank.
There is huge internal opposition to this report in Israel by Israelis, a majority of whom (polls show) want a two state solution and know it isn’t possible if you take all the land for the second state. One such group is Peace Now, whose director (page 4) received yet more death threats from pro-settlement groups. 40 US Rabbis and other Jewish leaders also weighed in with a letter against the expansion of settlements and a call for Israel to obey international law.
Not that this is easy. Page 2 had the government closing down the camps of homeless people protesting their homelessness outside the Knesset. Because Israel has a problem with homelessness, and that doesn’t mean Palestinians whose homes have been destroyed by the Jerusalem city government because they don’t have permits. It means a growing number of Israeli Jews who cannot afford the exorbitant price for a flat. Bear in mind that Israel has absorbed more than 1 million folks from the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, not all actually Jews. It is as if the entire populate of France moved to the US in a period of half a dozen years.
Speaking of the Knesset. Its members received in their mail this week a Hebrew edition of both the Jewish Bible and the New Testament. Complete with thousands of references to show the relationship of the New Testament to the Jewish Bible. This courtesy of the Bible Society in Israel, a “Messianic Jewish organization. . ” You might have guessed that this didn’t go over well, and led to calls for further legal restrictions on evangelizing Jews. The director of the BSiI says they aren’t missionaries. They only encourage the reading of holy texts.
So let’s review, as we get ready for 10 days in Israel, placed on this lovely balcony. A cool breeze, swaying trees, and an elderly gentleman on the piano playing light classics and pop hits running toward Mancini and Streisand. Birds chirping and waiting to take a crumb from you and of course lot of folks in one of Israel’s indigenous dress styles. (more on this later) And by 8:00 a.m. We’ve learned that Jewish Israeli’s are divided into several major factions, one of which protests or goes to court or threatens to leave or join the government daily. Of these the left wing wants an end to both homelessness and settlements, while the right wing wants settlements but not for layabouts that can’t pull their own weight. The ultra-o’s believe the state is illegitimate, but that it should pay them to study the Torah. The Arab Israeli’s are divided in their loyalties. And the government is about to fall apart. Unless, of course, they all convert under the influence of their new annotated Hebrew New Testaments.
I think it should be an interesting week. Now I have a free day to roam before the seminar proper starts. Probably the Old City – which is a good walk from here. It will be nice to wander without a group to keep track of. .
Tomorrow, insyalla, I’ll talk about Israeli fashion and service, both of which are distinctive. . .
Dr. Robert Hunt
Director of Global Theological Education
Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations.
Southern Methodist University
(Text published with the kind permission of the author.)