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April 11, 1986 - Image 17

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

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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17
• ,••••

_

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Julius Berman, former Chairman of the
Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish
Organizations and an Orthodox Jew, op-
poses the Mormon Center as a result of his
own experiences with young American
Jews and missionary groups.
Berman believes that the Israeli gover-
ment sharply underestimates the risks of
allowing missionary activity among young
Jews, even in Israel. As one American stu-
dent visiting Hebrew University wrote in
a letter to the Jerusalem Post: "Many of
us [young Jews from all over the world]
came to Israel to get away from the numer-
ous pressures of our home environments,
including cults and missionary groups."
And although major Jewish organiza-
tions such as • the American Jewish Con-
gress and the Anti-Defamation League of
B'nai B'rith support the Mormons' claim
to establish n center in Jerusalem on the
grounds of religious freedom, the New York
City Jewish, Community Relations Council
(JCRC) flatly rejects any Mormon presence
on Mt. Scopus.

Understandably affected by the prob-
lems of young Jews and cult groups in the
United States, the JCRC contends, ".. . the
controversy [over the Mormon Center] is
part of a bigger problem involving the at-
traction of young Jews to all sorts of non-
Jewish religious groups and cults . . . We
do not believe Israel is fully aware of the
dangers in permitting such groups to oper-
ate in Israel."
Thus, in spite of a long-held commitment
on the part of Israeli and World Jewry to
religious tolerance and cultural pluralism
(historically the result of their own status
as a religious and ethnic minority), the issue
of the Mormon Center does not seem any
closer to a peaceful resolution today than
when the Mormons first decided to settle
in Israel almost 20 years ago.
Interestingly enough, the first Mormon
presence • in Jerusalem dates back to the
mid 1840s, when a young preacher named
Orson Hyde visited the city (then under Ot-
toman rule) and prophesied a "Jewish
return to Jerusalem." (Presumably, he
hoped for a Christian "return" as well, as
is the case with most modern-day "Chris-
tian Zionists.")
Not much was heard from the
Mormons-with regards to Jerusalem—
until the creation of the Modern State of
Israel in 1948. Since its inception, Mormon
politicians and votes have been notoriously
faithful supporters of the State of Israel.
A year after Israel's victory in the Six-
Day War in June 1967, and with it the
reunification of Jerusalem, the Mormons
established their first educational program
in Israel. At first conducting classes in
rented buildings on a kibbutz near Jeru-
salem, within a few years the Mormons de-
cided there was enough student interest to
justify building or buying a permanent
facility in the city.

In 1974, the Mormons began their search
for a permanent campus in. Jerusalem. Ac-
cording to BYU literature of the time, "The .
Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies
[the official name for the Mormon Center]
will provide students with opportunities for
spiritual and academic development .. .
and to provide the people [of Israel] a
positive exposure to exemplary Latter-Day
Saints in an educational setting." The men-
tion of "spiritual development" and "posi-
tive exposure to Latter-Day Saints" has,
justifiably or not, been taken by many to
mean one thing only: missionary activity.
Exactly how the Mormons went about
procuring their campus is far from clear.
What we do know is this:
• The issues of missionary activity and con-
version were discussed from the outset,
although not publicly. (Note: Though plans
for a Mormon Center in Jerusalem date
back to the mid-1970s, the issue was large-
ly hidden from the public until construction
of the project began in 1984.)
In the summer of 1977, Mayor Teddy
Kollek sent a letter to David Galbraith, the
director of the BYU program in Jerusalem,
stating: "We are indeed very happy with
the great interest shown by the Mormons
in Jerusalem... We welcome the intention
of the Mormons to build a permanent struc-
ture in Jerusalem to house a center for their
activities in the city ... At this point in our
history, however, having lost 6 million
Jews in the Holocaust, it is inconceivable
that the Jewish nation tolerate any reli-
gious missionary activity. We are nware
that the idea of missionizing is embedded
in the faith of [the Mormon Church]."
• Later that same year (1977), the Mormon
Church donated $1 million to The Jerusa-
lem Fund, a private cultural and educa-
tional trust administered by Kollek. Oppo-
nents of the Mormon Center insist that this
donation was a bribe to secure a site for the
BYU campus. In this same year, coinciden-
tally, the Israeli Knesset passed a law pro-
hibiting "unfair conversionary practices,"
i.e., those missionary-conversionary acti-
vities which involve the possibility of ma-
terial or monetary enticements.
enticements.
• In 1981, the Ieraeli government allotted
*six acres of land to BYU and the Mormon
Church on the scenic Mount of Olives, 500
yards south- of the Hebrew University on
the neighboring. Mount Scopus.
• By August 1984, all necessary building
permits had been obtained by the Mormons
and construction of a 120,000-square-foot
complex, designed to accommodate 200
students and an additional 200 visitors,
was begun.
Within a year, the issue of a permanent
Mormon Center—on one of Jerusalem's
most beautiful sites and within easy reach
of tens of thousands of Jewish students
from all over the world became a political
cause celebre.

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