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April 11, 1986 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-04-11

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14 Friday, April 11, 1986


Dil emma


Special to The Jewish News


lue and gold bumper stickers warning
"Mormons Stop Your Missionary
Project Now!" dot the busy streets
of Jerusalem. Orthodox Jews in long
black coats and payus (sidelocks)
stand side-by-side with non-religious
Israelis protesting, "Mormons Go
Home!" and "Mormons: Utah
Isn't Big Enough?" Teddy Kollek,
who this year celebrates his 20th anni-
versary as mayor of Jerusalem (an extraor-
dinary political achievement, given diverse
ethnic and religious composition of the
city) is being compared to Yasser Arafat
and Adolph Hitler. The ever-fragile Israeli
coalition government is threatening to col-
lapse, and American Jewish organizations
are condemning the religious intolerance
of their Israeli brethren.
In the words of one Israeli commentator,
"The Mormon issue could make the Pollard
affair look like child's play." In short,
Jerusalem and Israel are up in arms over
a religion-state issue which involves Israel's
image abroad, sensitive Christian-Jewish
relations, and possibly the survival of
Israel's government coalitions.
At issue is the construction of a $15 mil-
lion educational center in Jerusalem, tb
be owned and operated by Utah's Brigham
Young University (BYU), which, in turn, is
owned and operated by the Church of Jesus
Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (the Mor-
mon Church). .
'Although Jerusalem is already host to
thousands of university students (both
Jewish and non-Jewish) from abroad, near-
ly 50 Christian Churches, and thirteen

Christian seminaries, the erection of an
attractive, modern Mormon "study center"
barely a stone's throw from Jerusalem's
Hebrew University has become one of the
most volatile political issues here in recent
memory. And although the Mormons have
conducted classes and lectures in Israel
since 1968 without a confrontation, the
prospect of a permanent Mormon Center
inside Israel has given rise to intense, and
sometimes violent, opposition, primarily
among ultra-Orthodox Jews.
At the heart of the debate is the Mor-
mons' reputation as an aggressive mis-
sionizing and proselytizing church, a
reputation that has been well earned.
Founded in the early 1830s by a young
preacher named Joseph Smith (Brigham
Young was &later Church leader), the Mor-
mon Church has grown to include more
than 5.5 million members, largely as a
result of its zealous missionary efforts.
The Church employs nearly 30,000 full-
time missionaries (recruited largely from
among its young, unmarried members), and
of a current total membership of 5.8 mil-
lion, fully 200,000 Mormons describe them-
selves as "new converts." While the major-
ity of the world's Mormons live in the wes-
tern United States (the Church's headquar-
ters and the university are located in Salt
Lake City and Provo, Utah, respectively),
the Mormon Church has become a bona
fide world-wide institution, with'members
throughout North America, Western Eur-
ope and Asia (in a total of 96 countries), at-
testing to the Church's widespread mis-
sionary activities.



r•sn'7:•: , :,


Vi4,ei4 444.


As one BYU official pronounced, "We
are a proselytizing church and we are the
fastest growing religion in the modern
world. We've grown from zero to over 5
million members in the past 150 years."
Thus the Mormons are perceived by a
growing number of Israelis as a particular-
ly serious threat to the religious freedom
and security of Jews in Israel.
For its part, the Mormon Church has fur-
nished all possible guarantees that it will
refrain from missionary activity in Israel.
In an "open letter" to the Israeli public last
March, David Galbraith, the director of the
BYU program in Jerusalem, stated "There
are no plans to carry out missionary work
in Israel. The Mormon missionary program
is not found in a single country in the world
where we do not have the authorization of
the host government. . . Therefore in
Israel, without such authorization, the
Church would not engage in proselytizing,
nor seek to send missionaries through the
'back door' in the guise of university
students . . ."
Similar public statements have been

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