March 9, 2011
Intolerance in the Holy Land: No Kids, Pets or Gentiles
“When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-2
Unfortunately, it looks like I may have to eliminate one of the leading items on my bucket list: to live in the Holy Land once again. I was shocked and profoundly disappointed to read today that the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is owned and operated by the Israeli government, is actively trying to evict an Evangelical Christian who is renting an apartment in the Jewish Quarter from the mother-in-law of the Mayor of Jerusalem. The man is working to forge alliances between Evangelicals and Israeli organizations. His offense? His religion. It’s sad but true: an Israel-loving, law-abiding man may be kicked out of his Jerusalem apartment because he’s not Jewish. Given other recent manifestations of intolerance in Israel, I’m beginning to wonder whether an active campaign has begun in certain circles to make non-Jews feel unwelcome in the Holy Land. If so, this effort must be opposed by decent people of all faiths.
What is just as shocking as the attempt itself is the company’s brazenness. Last September it sent the mayor’s mother-in-law a letter stating: “The company has been informed that you are renting a property on 4 Gilad Street to a person who does not match the company’s population criteria and in complete contradiction to the character of the Jewish Quarter… You are requested to evacuate the property and ensure it is only populated by persons matching the company’s population criteria.” When the bewildered woman’s lawyers asked the company to identify these criteria, the company’s director, Shlomo Atias, was happy to do so: “having an Israeli ID and being Jewish, not a gentile.” “A Christian can live in the Christian Quarter,” Mr. Atias went on to tell the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Like many supporters of Israel, I am always happy to speak out against the ridiculous charge that it is an apartheid state. However, government officials like Mr. Atias make our job much harder.
If this were an isolated case, it could be resolved by firing the company’s director and apologizing to the Evangelical tenant. However, this is but the latest incident of anti-Gentile bigotry in Israel. Last fall Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the religious head of the Sephardic Orthodox religious party Shas (with which Mr. Atias is also affiliated), declared in a sermon that “Goyim [Gentiles] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel…Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat. That is why gentiles were created.” If I am permitted to live in Israel again, it looks like I won’t be invited to Rabbi Yosef’s house for dinner – unless I agree to cook the meal and clean up afterwards. As they say in Hebrew, “ain milim” (“I have no words for this”).
The good rabbi’s sermon was followed a few weeks later by a rabbinic petition calling on Jews not to rent or sell homes to Gentiles, with certain punishments proposed for those who do. Dozens of municipal rabbis signed it, including Rabbi Yosef’s son. The reasons cited included the danger of intermarriage and Deuteronomy 7:2, which warned the ancient Israelites not to have dealings with heathen nations. Needless to say, the petition ignited a storm of controversy in Israel and abroad. From a religious standpoint, I must admit to being somewhat perplexed by the rabbis’ reasoning. I have been told by Orthodox rabbis that if Israel were governed by Jewish law (which it is not), Jews could rent to non-Jews who were Noahides (i.e., righteous Gentiles). I guess there must be some disagreement in the Orthodox world on this point. From a historical standpoint, I am grateful that the Arabs and Brits in Palestine didn’t adopt a similar policy in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when Jewish immigrants settled in homes they bought or rented from mostly non-Jewish owners. Had those Gentiles refused to rent to them or sell them land, it’s unlikely that the foundation for a future Jewish state could have been laid so quickly.
I know that most Israelis and Jews do not share these bigoted views. Nevertheless, it is sad to see this kind of intolerance on display in the Jewish state. Of all countries, the one founded by descendants of people who were strangers in many strange lands should be a light to the word for tolerance and acceptance. I’m keeping Jerusalem on my bucket list for now, but my real estate agent in Rio remains on speed dial just in case.
My podcast interview on LDS-Jewish relations is available on the LDS Church’s official radio station: http://feeds.lds.org/WhyIBelieve
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, Dr. Armand Mauss, and Brett Holbrooke will conduct an LDS-Jewish dialogue at University Synagogue in Irvine, CA on Friday, March 11 @ 8:00 p.m.
Thousand Oaks Stake Director of Public Affairs Larry Bagby and I will be making a presentation on LDS beliefs at Adat Elohim on March 16 @ 7:30 p.m.
I will be speaking at the San Antonio (TX) West Stake’s Education Weekend on April 15 and 16