Tag Archives: Jewish


BLOG 509

March 22, 2021


Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.


If you follow Israeli politics, the latest polls show Netanyahu ahead in the race for Prime Minister. That’s the update, but the big story is an important shift has occurred in Israeli society.

Israel’s High Court of Justice issued a groundbreaking ruling on Monday that will mean formal recognition by the state to non-Orthodox Jewish communities in the country. The ruling will likely spark a dramatic uptick in the country’s religious culture wars and, quite possibly, a move in the Knesset to clip the wings of the court.

Clarification is needed for what the decision doesn’t do: it does not require the Haredi-controlled state rabbinate to recognize Reform and Conservative conversions. Only the Interior Ministry must do so. And even there, the decision only slightly expands the scope of the Interior Ministry’s existing recognition for those conversions. After all, the Interior Ministry has for two decades formally accepted Reform and Conservative conversions conducted overseas as conferring the right to citizenship under the Law of Return.

Monday’s ruling is, in a sense, very narrow. It instructs the Interior Ministry (but not the rabbinate) to recognize as Jewish for the purposes of immigration (but for no other purposes, such as marriage or burial) only those few Reform and Conservative conversions conducted each year inside Israel. That’s the change. As of Monday, a non-Jewish non-Israeli living in Israel who converts to Judaism in the Conservative or Reform religious streams and then asks to become a citizen based on the Law of Return will have their conversion recognized by non-religious state bodies as conferring on them that right.

The Jewish state has long refused to recognize the institutions of the Reform and Conservative movements in the country, a shunning rooted in the political power of the ultra-Orthodox and religious-Zionist political parties. This all began when Orthodox religious parties got David Ben-Gurion’s ear just as Israel was becoming a state in 1948.

Very little is likely to change in the life of Reform and Conservative converts because of Monday’s ruling. But Israel itself will change.If the ruling stands, it will mark a watershed in state recognition for Jewish religious options long rejected by Orthodox political parties and the state rabbinic apparatus.

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Filed under Elections, Gaza, Jews, The Middle East


History will not forget the remarkable difference Pope John Paul made in relations with the Jewish community. His visit to a synagogue in Rome was a first and signaled genuine change. During his tenure as Pope, John Paul made highly important changes in how 1 billion Roman Catholics viewed Jews. Anti- Semitism and supersessionism (the idea that Christianity supersedes Judaism) were rejected. Moreover, the Vatican established diplomatic relations with Israel. Because of his own experience with both the Nazis and the Communists, John Paul recognized the enormous price Jews had paid before and during World War II for no other reason that being Jews. Much of the hatred that boiled over during this period was washed away by the Pope’s efforts.

Pope Benedict’s tenure proved to be different.

While he continued John Paul’s positions, Benedict make significant mistakes in relating to Israel and Jews. Both he and John Paul made Holy Land tours, but Benedict left the impression that he was avoiding statements about his background as a member of the Hitler Youth movement and his position on the Holocaust. He was drawn into controversy over the Holocaust because he lifted the excommunication of a bishop who had publically stated that historical evidence disproved 6 million Jews were gassed. The bishop claimed only 200,000 to 300,000 were killed and that gas chambers were a fiction. Benedict’s support of such a man was highly troubling to many.

Further problems arose from his failure to reject a statement by a Lebanese clergyman who suggested that Catholic theology had rejected the idea of a Promised Land for Jews because the Kingdom of God was open to everyone. Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Busros had made this claim while participating in a Vatican Synod whose purpose had been to investigate injustices practiced against Christians in the Middle East.

With his German background and the issues arising out of World War II including then Joseph Ratzinger’s participation in the Nazi army, one would have expected a vigorous effort to clarify these issues. While it can be argued that the rapid decline of Catholicism in Germany might have affected his lack of a response, this argument fails to recognize that German rejection of the church is tied to secularism and the sexual scandals racking the priesthood. His lack of response certainly did not go unnoticed in Israel.

More tension arose from the impression Benedict left that he was attempting to advance the cause for sainthood for Pius XII. The debate still boils over Pius’s lack of response and silence when Jews were hauled away right under his nose. The Vatican has squirmed, attempting to offer various explanations, but the stigma remains. Obviously, Pius XII did nothing heroic and bold. The burning question was the issue of duplicity. Benedict did not beatify Pius which would have moved him along toward sainthood. Nevertheless, when Benedict signed a document describing Pius’s virtues, he further distanced himself from the Jewish community.

Unfortunately, as Benedict retires, he leaves marks in the negative column with the Jewish community. Israel had little to say about his departure, but the problems remain.

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Filed under Catholics, Israel, Judism, middle east


During my just completed trip to Israel, I traveled the country from the Syrian and Lebanese boarders to the Dead Sea. I remember when the salty water nearly bordered the highway. Currently, it has been reduced hundreds of yards. Israeli tourist still go down to the shores to sit in the sun or to take medicinal mud baths, but the sea level has become frighteningly low. Discussions are underway to increase the Dead Sea, including an idea to pump water from the Mediterrean. The problem is that the use of water from the Jordan River has decreased to allow little return to the lowest point on earth.
Just a little tidbit for my ecological minded friends.
Here’s the most recent update on the political front.
The Palestinian Authority has just proposed new informal talks with Israel. Before the talks can actually being, Israel must meet two conditions. The Palestinians are calling for the release of more prisoners and the importing of more weapons for the security forces in the West Bank. Abbas and Netanyahu have not met face to face since September 2010.
In response, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said Netanyahu would meet for informal talks anywhere any time without any preconditions. In addition, Israeli officials said they were not aware of any shortage of weapons among Palestinian security personnel. Just two weeks ago, Israel released the bodies of dead terrorist for burial in Palestinians territories.
What’s going on here?
For some time, the Palestinians have been attempting to criminalize Israel. Everything Israel does is slammed with the intention of attaching labels of provocateurs, terrorists, and criminals. While the Palestinians would not admit it publically, prisoners held in Israel have been terrorist. In other words, without saying it, the Palestinians are admitting their people have been attacking the state of Israel. Quite the opposite of what they want to admit publically.
Secondly, asking for Israel to allow more weapons into the West Bank is an admission of how tightly Israel has been able to clamp down on weapon shipments. The PA is definitely in a defensive position and they know it.
In addition, the PA still maintains its original posture, that Israel must cease building settlements in disputed areas before genuine negotiations can begin for a peace settlement. They know Israel will not accept these terms as a pre-condition for talks. In other words, the PA continues to stall while attempting to appear ready to negotiate.

Long ago this strategy was played out by Yasher Arafat. As was revealed the last time Arafat walked out of negotiations, the PA has no intention of coming to terms with a peace agreement. As Abba Ebon once observed. “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The reason is simple. Palestinians will settle for nothing short of Israel being pushed into the sea. Rather than peace; they want conquest.
And what happens while they wait? Israel continues to prosper. The Palestinians languish in their own limitations. Will this current call to launch dialogue go anywhere? My hunch is that it is a shot at influencing world opinion to believe the PA is a peace-minded organization. Sorry, it is probably not worthy of inclusion in the media.

Can the PA even be believed … or trusted?

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Filed under Meditation, middle east, Peace, Prayer, Redemption, Stories, Travels, World



I grew up hearing about the evils of fluoride in the water to prevent cavities and the United Nations as a Communist plot. The Joe McCarty faction propagated the idea there was a Communist hiding under every bed and you better watch out or Joe Stalin would grab you in the middle of the night. Fortunately, those days are gone with the wind.
Consequently, saying anything negative about the U.N. always seemed to come from the fanatic fringe of society. Therefore, it’s with reluctance that I bring up a subject that troubles many citizens in Israel. Nevertheless, the average Israeli is not only leery, but hostile about anything good coming out of the U.N. for their country.
Why the antagonism?
Let’s take a second look at recent events. On October 31, 2012, “Palestine” was voted into the UNESCO as the organization’s 195th member. A huge cheer erupted in the General Assembly room of the Paris-based UN educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and Israel voted against it. China, Russia, and Brazil voted yes. Britain could only abstain.
Israel saw the vote as another lamentable example of the moral bankruptcy of the world organization. In a rush to support the Palestinians, the UN disregarded it own declared standards based on equality and mutual respect. The world organization (UNESCO) had clearly swung its weight behind Palestine in their struggle with Israel when the issues were only still in the discussion stage. Why would they do such at thing?
For years the radical extremist wing of Islam has worked to criminalize Israel. Distorting reality and the facts, they have attempted to paint Israeli attempts at self-protection as aggression. In Jimmy Carter’s failed book claiming Israel’s wall of protection was apartheid, he echoed the same line. The point is that many of the United Nations general assembly members have swallowed this same propaganda. Those member nations push this viewpoint in UN debates and oppose Israel on similar prejudicial grounds.
Some years ago, I was invited to deliver a lecture at the University of Amman in Amman, Jordan. I attempted to present an objective view of the history of the development of the nation of Israel and how prior conflict had developed. Some of the students became so angry they avoided the class and some completely dropped out of the course. There was some discussion about my safety. (And Jordan is a more balanced Arab state than most). It remains difficult to get a fair hearing.
Textbooks used in Palestinian Authority schools convey rabid anti-Semitic messages. An eighth-grade text book says: “Today the Muslim countries need urgently jidah and jihad fighters in order to liberate the robbed lands and to get rid of the robbing Jews from the robbed lands in Palestine and in the Levant.” By receiving “Palestine” as a member, UNESCO has put its stamp of approval on this sort of vicious going on in the West Bank areas.
The affect of these actions? Chances for peace between Israelis and Palestinians becomes even slimmer. The world expects better from the UN. A vote for bigotry, hatred, and conflict won’t get the world to a better place.

Queston: Can we ever expect balance in the UN? If not, what is the future of the organization?

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Filed under History, Introductions, middle east, Peace, Prayer, Stories, World