Outgoing Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is leaving his mark on Jerusalem. After years of negotiations with the Vatican over property and tax issues, it seems that an historic breakthrough is near. Headlines in the Jerusalem Post announced, "Jerusalem is on verge of signing agreement to formalize diplomatic relations with the Holy See".
However, there are conflicting and disturbing reports regarding the status of the "Last Supper Room" (also referred to as the "Upper Room", "Cenacle Shrine" or "Coenaculum"), which sits above the traditional Tomb of King David and is a central part of the Diaspora Yeshiva grounds on Mt. Zion. For many years the Catholic church has been vying for ownership of the room which is considered by many Christians to be the traditional site of the location of the last supper. The room itself is a 12th century Crusader structure, built on top of the traditional Tomb of King David.
Whereas The Jerusalem Post claims that the two sides have "essentially decided to agree to disagree on the matter", Israel Hayom is reporting that the agreement will grant the Pope "an official seat" in the Upper Room, as well as giving the Vatican "a special modicum of control over the site". Algemeiner reports that Israel "did not give up sovereignty", but "will allow the Vatican control over the site".
The Israeli Foreign Ministry makes no mention of Mt. Zion in their report of January 29th.
Jewishisrael contacted the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mt. Zion for their reaction to the incoming news reports. The Tomb of King David and the room of the purported last supper are on Yeshiva grounds. For decades, the Diaspora Yeshiva has never interfered with the considerable Christian tourism to the "Upper Room" and has even taken steps to renovate the area.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, son of the Diaspora Yeshiva's founder, who teaches at the institution as well as serves as the rabbi of the community of Metzad in Gush Etzion, reacted with shock to the possible compromising of the area. He told JewishIsrael that these reports infer "a change in the status quo and will disrupt the Yeshiva environment". He said that "church chanting and services would disturb the Jews who come from all over Israel and the world to pray and recite psalms at the tomb of King David –which is directly below the Upper Room".
Rabbi Goldstein noted that the Diaspora Yeshiva directors have never been consulted or included in the negotiations nor have they been kept abreast of developments by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
We contacted Rick Halpern, director of the Mt. Zion Redevelopment Project, who has been instrumental in developing and renovating the Diaspora Yeshiva grounds and the area in and around the Tomb of King David. The following is his response to the incoming reports:
"Having worked with the Diaspora Yeshiva to restore several of their buildings on Mt. Zion, I am very disturbed to hear this, though I am not surprised. One of the outstanding features of Mt. Zion is the peacefulness of its setting. Though the Yeshiva maintains a dominant presence, other groups from other denominations are also there, and all have coexisted respectfully. The Vatican has aggressively sought the Last Supper Room and other sites in Israel for years, using whatever means they have to get them. Though the Last Supper room has been a non-denominational tourist destination for Christians of all sects, this latest move is an affront to that as well. In the real estate business, location-location-location is the key. The Vatican has their whole infrastructure in Rome, while Jerusalem is where the "action" is. This strategic move by the Vatican will be used to openly promote their agenda, regardless of the placid Jewish environment & the non-denominational Christian atmosphere that surrounds David's Tomb."
JewishIsrael has repeatedly expressed concern over any negotiations which would compromise Mount Zion. We have been especially concerned over Daniel Ayalon's position as chief negotiator on Vatican issues, since he is a maverick when it comes to ventures to grant Christians special status in Israel. Both Daniel Ayalon and his wife, Anne, are intimately involved with the Evangelical and Catholic communities and have comfortably appeared on missionary television . Anne has significant business and real estate dealings with the Christian community and was listed as a "Talking Head" for the Pope's Visit on Christian-Israeli Relations” in a pamphlet put out by The Israel Project (T.I.P.) at the time of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in May 2009.
In November 2005, this writer reacted to reports of an apparent swap deal between Israel and the Vatican which would grant the Vatican control of the Upper Room. I was in correspondence with David Chappell, then deputy managing editor of the Times of London, who confirmed my concerns of a draft agreement. At the time, a number of activists formed the Committee to Save Mt. Zion and effective pressure was exerted on the Israeli government to abandon the plans to relinquish control of the Upper Room.
Jewishisrael will continue to seek clarification on this matter and we encourage our readership to contact Daniel Ayalon and write to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs :