See Update Tourism Minister Landau Denies Having Endorsed Jesus Statue for Na... (posted Jan. 2)
See Update to JewishIsrael’s Recent Report on the Nazareth Statue (posted Dec.29)
Plans are in the works for a giant statue of jesus to be erected on Mount Precipice (also known as "Mount of the Leap of the Lord" or “Har Hakfitsa” in Hebrew, also known in Hebrew as "Har Kedumim") near Nazareth. Israeli, international, as well as Christian news sources are reporting that the proposed monolith will be akin in scale to, or even larger than, the huge iconic statue of "christ the redeemer" which towers over the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
Israeli Arab Christian Bishara Shlayan is behind the proposed monument and according to several news sources he has apparently received an endorsement from Minister of Tourism Uzi Landau, who reportedly told Shlayan, “start it, and we will bless it.” Indeed, Shlayan has told news sources that he has "created the Diglei Habrit [Flags of the Covenant] organization, in order to carry out the statue project" and he has begun to raise funds for the endeavor. The site for the proposed statue sits on Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) land.
JewishIsrael has written a very strong letter to Minister Landau opposing such a project, stating quite clearly that, "such a demonstrative and visible statue of a Christian deity in Eretz Yisrael will be an eyesore and heartache to those who cherish their Jewish faith and heritage, and to those who uphold the integrity of the land of Israel…"
We suggest that our readership issue their objections in writing at this time to Minister Landau, the Office of the Chief Rabbinate and to the JNF, as it is a lot easier and far more civil to go through diplomatic channels now than to protest for the icon's demolition after the fact.
Upon hearing of the project, JewishIsrael's Rabbinic Director Rabbi Sholom Gold said that, "every Jew should feel profoundly pained by the mere prospect of such a project in Eretz Yisrael".
A symbol of the Jewish Rejection of Jesus, or of Christian "love and peace"?
According to Christian legend, in Chapter 4 of the book of Luke, Mount Precipice marks the location where the Jews of Nazareth rejected Jesus as he preached of being the son of god and the messiah. The new testament account describes how an angry mob from a synagogue “mobbed him [jesus] and forced him to the edge of the hill,” where “they intended to push him over the cliff,” but "he passed through the midst of them and went away."
Yet Bishara Shlayan sees the statue as a "symbol of love and peace" and appears unconcerned that such an icon may be viewed as idolatrous, stating “people who are against it, it comes from jealousy”.
Mount Precipice is a popular tourist and pilgrimage site. Standing at 395 meters, it is clearly visible from a major highway and offers sightseers a panoramic view of the Jezreel Valley, Mount Tabor, Afula and Nazareth. If Shlayan gets to realize "his dream", the monument will be larger than its Rio De Janerio counterpart which stands at 38 meters high with an arm span of 28 meters.
JNF/KKL Land – throwing grandma off the cliff
It may be more than a little perplexing for Grandma, but a good number of those coins collected from the JNF little blue box are now being spent promoting Christianity in the Holy Land. We are not referring to proper maintenance of non Jewish religious sites in order to welcome and accommodate an influx of Gentile tourists, but rather to a full-blown promotion of jesus and Christianity in Eretz Yisrael. The Gospel Trail being but one example, with a path that begins at Mount Precipice, the very same site of the planned statue.
From what JewishIsrael has garnered from its numerous reports and video clips of JNF/KKL collaboration with messianic and evangelizing entities, it is doubtful whether the organization will take any active measures to prevent Judaism from being dragged to the precipice over this project. In 2009 and 2010 JewishIsrael repeatedly tried to contact JNF representatives over such concerns, but we never received answers to our inquiries.
Difficult to say "No"
JNF is not the only Jewish organization which will have difficulty saying "no" to Captain Bishara Shlayan, a man who happens to be very pro-Israel and pro-active. Back in July 2013, Shlayan announced the founding of a new political party which, among other things, supports IDF enlistment of Arab Christians. The party was originally called B’nei Brit Hahadasha, which translates into “Sons (allies) of the New Testament/Covenant.” In August the Jerusalem Post reported that the name was changed to just B'nei Brit in order to get more Jewish support, because "talk of a new covenant disturbed some Jewish supporters, as the name in Hebrew also means the New Testament." It should be noted that some recent reports , including one which appeared in the December 2013 issue of the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, continue to use the original name.
Shlayan's endeavors to promote Christian IDF recruitment and a Christian political party are enjoying support from the B'nai B'rith World Center in Jerusalem which has formed the Liaison Committee with the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel in order to promote Jewish-Christian understanding. Prominent Diaspora Jewish leader Robert Goldberg who sits on the boards of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Agency was cited by Shlayan in the Jerusalem Post as having shown support for the new political party.
JewishIsrael has written to both Robert Goldberg and to Alan Schneider the Director of B'nai B'rith World Center Jerusalem with the hope that these leaders will use their association with Bishara Shlayan to broach the problematic nature of the statue project with him.
Greek Orthodox evangelical messianic endorsement
Bishara Shlayan has set up a Facebook page for his new political party with an emphasis placed on the statue project with its "Deglei Habrit" logo of crossed Christian and Jewish flags. Varying versions of a sculpture of jesus on Har Kedumim (Mount Precipice) –based on the Rio model- appear throughout the site.
Bishara Shlayan and his movement is affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Church. However, Shlayan is apparently also coordinating his efforts with evangelical and messianic parties. His Facebook page features a picture of a meeting in Nazareth that he had with a representative of the European Christian Political Movement. In addition, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America is enthusiastic about Shalyan's efforts, reporting that he has asked Avi Lipkin (aka Victor Mordechai) to head the Jewish component of the "Judeo-Christian" party. For years Lipkin has been trying to establish a Judeo-Christian party in the Knesset with the assistance of messianic evangelical lawyer Calev Myers.
Onward Christian Soldiers, a lack of Jewish foresight
Last month, before Bishara Shlayan's statue venture made headlines, one of JewishIsrael's academic advisors asked for our thoughts regarding Arab-Christian enlistment in the IDF and cited the article "Christians Queue to Join Israeli Army". At the time, JewishIsrael outlined the following thoughts and concerns we had with the content of that article:
JewishIsrael also noted that the members of the Arab Christian community are, for the most part, not evangelizing Christians. These Arabs belong to Orthodox Christian sects which, for obvious reasons, were not committed to spreading Christianity (a dangerous venture in the Islamic world). A number of Orthodox Arab Christians have been suspect of evangelicals because they challenge tradition and do openly proselytize. Nevertheless, the messianic/evangelical community is trying to initiate a reconciliation with them, and there are a number of evangelical Arab congregations such as HolyLand Missions, directed by Stephen Khoury, who works closely with Rabbi Riskin's CJCUC, which are made up of born-again Christians, Muslim converts and missionaries from Europe or North America.
Yet certain Jewish leaders and the Jewish Press seem to have embraced the Christian enlistment initiative for political purposes without giving much thought to the costs and potential consequences involved. It is a shame that the foundations of Judaism and that the nature of the Jewish state can be so easily sacrificed under the banner of what some interpret to be religious freedom and democracy.
Since JewishIsrael's initial assessment, there have been some related developments such as a number of reports on Christian missionary influence in the IDF and a radio campaign warning against such influence.*
*[NOTE: JewishIsrael has been working on a long overdue report concerning Christian overtures to lone IDF soldiers]
With the Christian world finding Israel to be their sole safe haven in the Middle East, it is possible that Nazareth will become a center for Christendom in the region. And Nazareth is indeed being developed in many ways. Two months ago evangelicals Rick Perry and Pastor John Hagee joined forces to bring a branch of Texas A&M University to Nazareth. In April an impressive high-tech industrial park was established . In 2009 an amphitheater was built on Mount Precipice to accommodate then Pope Benedict XVI. In 2011 the Israeli government pledged 12 million shekels to develop tourist infrastructure.
Now with plans for a towering graven image of jesus posed to cast a giant shadow over Israel, there is an enormous need for Jewish leadership to use foresight and wisdom in their relations with Christian parties and there is an immediate need to draw-up parameters and guidelines with which to govern any Israel-Christian alliance. Jewish leaders can start with a diplomatic but very definitive "no" to a monument of Jesus on Har Kedumim.
This report is now available in Hebrew האמנם יוטל צלו של ישו בקרוב על ישראל
Those concerned about the statue project should write to the following addresses:
The Ministry of Tourism
Uzi Landau ,Minister of Tourism: firstname.lastname@example.org
General Manager: Mankal@Tourism.gov.il
The Minisry of Religious Services
Naftali Bennett, Minister or Religious Affairs: email@example.com
Rav Eliyahu Ben Dahan is Deputy Minister: firstname.lastname@example.org
General Manager: email@example.com (Elchanan Glatt)
Spokesperson: firstname.lastname@example.org Daniel Bar
JewishIsrael's letter to Minister Uzi Landau
Update to JewishIsrael’s Recent Report on the Nazareth Statue (posted Dec.29)
UPDATE (February 4, 2014) Official written response from Tourism Ministry denying Minister Uzi Landau's endorsement of a Jesus statue project