The Saga of BYU’s Jerusalem Center (Part 3)

 

J'lem Center BYU
BYU’s Jerusalem Center, as seen from below (in the Kidron Valley)

 

A bit more of the story:

 

As the center came under attack it was clearly the Church itself that was being assaulted. The LDS claim that this was a university building, an academic facility, rather than a mission home or a church, was almost universally brushed aside as a smoke screen. Still, many people in and out of Israel rose to the defense. Mayor Kollek did not back down from his support of the center, but defended its construction now as a matter of religious freedom, plu­ralism, and human rights. Furthermore, he solicited from David Galbraith a carefully-crafted statement promising on behalf of the Church that students and staff of the center would engage in nei­ther overt nor covert proselyting. The statement was published in the Jerusalem Post. Leading newspapers throughout Israel pointed to the Mormons’ excellent record of abstaining from missionary activities during the more than fifteen years that they had been operating programs in Israel. The rabbi of Salt Lake City wrote a let­ter in support of the center. New York’s Jewish Anti-Defamation League endorsed the center’s continued construction, as did the Arizona Regional Board of the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York. Former American president Gerald Ford sent a personal letter of support to Prime Minister Shimon Peres. One hundred and fifty-four mem­bers of the United States Congress signed a letter of endorsement that was distributed to all members of the Knesset, the Israeli par­liament.

Still the attacks on the Church continued. In November 1985, the announcement was made that Brigham Young University had retained a prominent Israeli public relations firm in order to help in presenting a more positive image of the university, the center, and the Church to the Israeli public. The truth had to be heard above the clamor of voices denouncing the Mormons. The firm immedi­ately took out advertisements in a number of leading Israeli news­papers in order to explain Mormons and Mormonism to an audience that knew very little about them and to clarify the pur­pose and projected function of the Jerusalem Center for Near East­ern Studies. Perhaps even more effective was a program, broadcast just after Christmas on Israeli television, which featured the Gal­braith family. At one point in the program, Professor Galbraith played portions of a cassette tape on which he had recorded some of the threatening telephone calls he and his family had received. When the audience heard things like “This is your last warning; we’re bloodthirsty. If you don’t leave Israel we’re going to kill all of you, one by one,” there was an immediate response of outrage and of sympathy for the Galbraiths. More to the point, there was a surge of support for the center itself, and it would probably be fair to describe this television broadcast as a turning point in the story.

Many moderate Israeli and American Jews realized that, in fun­damental ways, the dispute was not really about the Latter-day Saints at all. It was primarily a battle about the nature of Israeli soci­ety and the Israeli state. In a sense, they themselves were the targets of this ultra-Orthodox agitation. Was Israel really to be a Jewish state? What, then, would be the status of non-Jews within it? And what would be the status of nonreligious Jews, or of Jews who did not live according to the strict rules favored by the ultra-Orthodox? Should Judaism be enforced by law? The issues involved are much the same as those faced by many contemporary Muslims.

 

Posted from Washington DC

 

 

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