Google Home Disables Answers to Buddha, Muhammad in Response to Jesus Christ Controversy

By: Jeanne Law, Christian Post Reporter;

Google has rolled out an update that will allow you to use the company’s Home speakers as intercom systems in your house.

Google says it has now disabled all responses to questions about religious figures after coming under fire this week for not programming its smart audio technology, Google Home, to answer questions about Jesus Christ.

While Google’s home assistant device wasn’t able to give answers to any questions about Jesus or God, it had been programmed to provide information about Buddha, Muhammad and Satan, which angered many of its customers.

After being accused of having an “agenda” and bias against Jesus and Christianity, Google released a statement on Twitter Friday saying it was temporarily disabling all responses to questions about religious figures.

“[Google Assistant] might not reply in cases where web content is more vulnerable to vandalism and spam,” a spokesperson for Google said. “If our systems detect such circumstances, the Assistant might not reply. If similar vulnerabilities were detected for other questions — including those about other religious leaders — the Assistant also wouldn’t respond. We’re exploring different solutions and temporarily disabling these responses for religious figures on the Assistant.”

Television producer, author and speaker David Sams, who helped bring international attention to Google’s perceived bias against Christianity, posted a Facebook Live video showing Google Home’s updated responses to various religious figures.

“Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning,” Google Home responded to each of the religious names Sams asked about.

Sams celebrated Google’s response as a “victory” because he believes Jesus has now been given equal treatment to other religious figures. “It’s better to be on par, than you don’t know who Jesus is,” he said.

According to NPR and Edison Research, one in six adults in America (or around 39 million people) now own a voice-activated smart speaker.

The controversy began because the device can play your music, call your friends, and answer almost any question that can be found on the internet. However, when asked who was Jesus, Jesus Christ or God the smart speaker previously said it did not know the answer.

“Sorry, I’m not sure how to help” or “My apologies I don’t understand,” Google Home responded before the recent programming update.

People were up in arms because the device did provide responses to questions asking about the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Buddha and even Satan. For each of those names the device gave a full breakdown of what it found on the internet.

Sams went on to challenge Google in his Facebook Live video, asking that Google Home give an answer similar to Amazon’s Echo assistant named Alexa. He said that Alexa — which was criticized last year for saying “Jesus Christ is a fictional character” while giving answers to questions about Muhammad — now cites information on Jesus in a respectful manner.


Focus on Issues Martin Luther King and Soviet Jews

(Editor’s note: Albert Chernin is the executive vice chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.)

As the observance on January [15] of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. draws closer, I recall arranging for him to address a national telephone hook-up of Soviet Jewry rallies we were organizing in communities nationwide in December 1966. I was doing so in my capacity as the coordinator of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, which was then being staffed by NJCRAC.

Despite his very heavy schedule, King enthusiastically accepted our invitation which gave him an opportunity to speak out publicly for the first time on the issue of Soviet Jewry.

Although his schedule kept him from coming to the major rally held at historic Cooper Union in New York where Abraham Lincoln spoke 100 years earlier about a nation half slave, half free, King spoke from Atlanta on the issue of Soviet Jewry in the spirit of Lincoln, and in the spirit of the struggle of the civil rights movement, which he led so nobly.

Sadly, his description of the plight of Soviet Jewry in 1966 is still relevant to the conditions of Soviet Jewry in 1987. He said then:


“While Jews in Russia may not be physically murdered as they were in Nazi Germany, they are facing every day a kind of spiritual and cultural genocide. Individual Jews may in the main be physically and economically secure in Russia, but the absence of opportunity to associate as Jews in the enjoyment of Jewish culture and religious experience becomes a severe limitation upon an individual.

“These deprivations are a part of a person’s emotional and intellectual life. They determine whether he is fulfilled as a human being. Negroes can well understand and sympathize with this problem. When you are written out of history as a people, when you are given no choice but to accept the majority culture, you are denied an aspect of your own identity. Ultimately you suffer a corrosion of your self-understanding and your self-respect.”


Twenty years later the conditions of Soviet Jewry still remain oppressive. Emigration has been virtually ended, reaching the lowest numbers since the doors were slightly opened in early 1967. While Natan Shcharansky and prominent refuseniks such as Eliahu Essas have been permitted to leave, thousands more continue to be denied emigration visas year after year.

The names of more than 11,000 long-term refuseniks were given to the Soviet government by the United States shortly after President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met in Reykjavik last October; still they wait for permission to emigrate, many for more than 10 years in “quiet desperation.” They do so in a climate of open and vicious hostility toward Israel, Zionism and Judaism, expressed in barely disguised anti-Semitism in the Soviet media.

Seeking to learn Hebrew, Jewish history, Jewish culture, and to practice the Jewish religion, they are subjected to various forms of intimidation ranging from surveillance and KGB interrogation to trials and prison. As some Prisoners of Conscience have been released, other Soviet Jewish activists have taken their place.

These harsh realities of life for Soviet Jewry cannot be camouflaged by a more skilled, Western oriented public relations style.


Nevertheless, in the 20 years since King spoke to the Soviet Jewry rallies, there have been significant developments in the struggle for Soviet Jews. Only a few weeks after King spoke, Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin declared in a Paris press conference that those who chose to do so could join their families abroad.

But even with this assertion of family reunion from Kosygin, which was aimed at Western audiences as are the declarations of Gorbachev, no one dreamed at that time that more than 270,000 Soviet Jews would soon live in freedom, most in Israel.

In contrast to 20 years ago, the issue of Soviet Jewry was a critical and, significantly, a formal agenda item in the bilateral negotiations that took place in Reykjavik.


That Soviet Jewry was part of the official agenda represented a reversal of Soviet insistence, dating back decades, that the issue of Soviet Jewry was an internal matter. It represented an affirmation of King’s assertions to those community rallies in 1966 when he said, “The denial of human rights anywhere is a threat to the affirmation of human rights everywhere.”

That the Soviet Union accepted this issue on the agenda, and the Soviets feel compelled to make gestures that attempt to project the appearance of Soviet responsiveness to the issue of human rights, underscores King’s awareness that voices of conscience can overcome the voices of oppression when asserted loudly, vigorously, and ceaselessly. We need to be aware of that charge upon us as we join with millions of other Americans in celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There Was No Peace Process for Trump to Destroy

By: Roger Cohen;

A Palestinian protest against President Trump in Gaza City on Thursday. [Credit Mohammed Saber/European Pressphoto Agency]

My colleagues Anne Barnard, Ben Hubbard and Declan Walsh captured well the Palestinian and Arab reaction to President Trump’s official recognition this week of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: “An explosion of violence could still come,” they wrote, “but so far there is something more like an explosion of sighs.”

Jerusalem, city of passions, has long been a tinderbox. The Second Intifada, or uprising, began in 2000 with Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. But that was 17 years ago, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still stood at the core of Middle Eastern conflict, and Arab backing for the Palestinian cause was more than rhetorical.

Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, is now calling for a third intifada. But he’s up against exhaustion, cynicism and shifting priorities in the Arab world. Trump’s announcement did not destroy the “peace process.” There is no peace process to destroy.

The Arab Spring has come and gone, and the Syrian state has gone, since the Second Intifada. Iran, the Shia enemy, looms much larger than the Palestinian cause for most Sunni Arab states. Everyone knows how much democratic legitimacy Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has — none — and what purported reconciliation between his Fatah faction and Hamas is worth — very little.

The Palestinian cause, undermined by disunity and the cultivation of victimhood, is weak and growing weaker. International indignation does not change that. Israeli force has been implacable.

I confess to a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger reaction to Trump’s announcement. It did have the merit, as the president noted, of recognizing a reality, and that reality reflects perhaps the deepest of Jewish sentiments. It was, at least, not more of the same peace-process blather.

Real frustration would require belief that maintaining the unresolved status of Jerusalem as a final-status bargaining chip in the “peace process” would make a decisive difference in that process. But, as noted above, there is none. If anything the “process” has been ideal camouflage for the steady growth in the number of Israeli settlers (now more than 600,000), favored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government. It has given steady Israeli expansionism the international benediction of mythical reversibility. I am not convinced Trump gave a lot away.

Well, some would argue, Trump put paid to any notion that the United States is an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. I don’t know anyone who believes that: America supports and favors Israel over the Palestinians for a variety of domestic political, strategic and sentimental reasons.

Well, Trump has provoked the unswerving ire of the Palestinians (who now refuse to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his upcoming visit) and destroyed any chance of peace. But there is nothing unswerving about Palestinian policy. It is big on rhetoric, feeble in action, reflecting powerlessness. Abbas will come around if the right offer ever comes along.

Well, Trump undermined America’s international credibility and ability to lead. Sorry, he’s already done that many times over. American international authority is spent, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discovered this week in Europe.

Well, the president broke ranks with all major powers. In fact, he joined President Vladimir Putin. Earlier this year, Russia declared, “We view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

However, the Russian statement was more balanced. It also said, “We reaffirm our commitment to the U.N.-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.”

Israel, of course, claims all Jerusalem as its capital (including East Jerusalem, where more than 200,000 settlers live). The Palestinians will not accept a peace plan in which some part of Jerusalem is not their capital. Trump said his statement did not prejudge “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem,” but its most damaging aspect was to give strong implicit backing to Israel’s claims, with no mention of Palestine’s. It also put American lives in danger and humiliated a people, the Palestinians, whose lives under a 50-year-old occupation are a daily exercise in humiliation. It flouted United Nations Security Council resolutions, so undermining international law.

Trump’s was a silly, reckless gesture. What else is new?

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, is now supposed to produce his peace plan. Poor, pale, languid Jared! He will try to get his friends the Saudis to offer big blandishments to the Palestinians and Israel. That’s all he’s got. It won’t work. The Greater Israel project has gone too far for the “ultimate deal.”

Since the killing of Yitzhak Rabin 22 years ago, at a moment when peace was within reach, the ethno-nationalist Israeli religious ideologues that believe all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea was deeded to Israel in the Bible (and never mind who lives there now) have gotten the upper hand, with Netanyahu’s complicity. This was a successful assassination.

These are the facts. Trump’s statement will not change them. It was directed largely at a domestic audience of evangelicals and major American Jewish groups. This, he said, was “a long overdue step to advance the peace process.” That’s nonsense. Sigh.

Researcher Verifies Historical Existence of 50+ Men in Old Testament Using Archaeology

By: Garrett Haley;

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University researcher has verified the existence of 53 men mentioned in the Old Testament by painstakingly reviewing ancient historical sources and comparing them to the Bible.

Dr. Lawrence Mykytiuk is an associate professor of library science who specializes in history and Jewish studies. In the 1990s, Mykytiuk began to study the archaeological record, looking for evidence of those mentioned in the Bible.

“While some would put their hand on the Bible and really mean it when they take an oath, a few revisionist academics would throw it out and say, ‘That’s creative writing.’ I was looking for concrete, objective evidence outside of the Bible that would help build the case,” Mykytiuk said in a recent press release from the university.

Typically Mykytiuk considers a biblical person verified only if three identifying characteristics (such as the person’s name, the person’s title, and the person’s father’s name) match with an extra-biblical historical source, like an ancient inscription.

“If it matches the same three mentions in Scripture, it’s a virtual certainty,” Mykytiuk said, according to a report from Times of Israel. “There might be a few people with the same name, father’s name, but same title? That’s stretching it. I consider it a virtual certainty, either a dead ringer or virtual certainty.”

“Sometimes the three-step process is not necessary, as when we know that the person in an inscription and the person in the Bible are both connected to a one-time circumstance or event that fits one and only one person,” Mykytiuk explained.

“For example, Ahab, king of Israel, ruled during the period in which the famous battle of Qarqar was fought in 853 B.C.,” Mykytiuk said. “His Assyrian enemy wrote about ‘Ahab the Israelite,’ one of the kings he fought in that particular battle. Therefore, Ahab, king of Israel in the Bible, and Ahab, the Israelite king at the battle of Qarqar in the Assyrian inscription, must have been the same person.”

Using the painstaking three-step research process, Mykytiuk initially confirmed the existence of 50 Old Testament individuals and described his findings in a 2014 report. Then, earlier this year, he announced the addition of three more people to the list, bringing the total number of historically-verified Bible characters to 53.

“[These figures] mentioned in the Bible have been identified in the archaeological record,” Mykytiuk wrote in his report, which was published in Biblical Archaeology Review. “Their names appear in inscriptions written during the period described by the Bible and in most instances during or quite close to the lifetime of the person identified.”

The list of people Mykytiuk has verified include Egyptian pharaohs; kings of countries neighboring Israel; officials from the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires; and several well-known Israelite kings, including Ahab, Jehu, David, Hezekiah, and Manasseh.

Although Mykytiuk says that verifying a person’s existence does not prove everything the Bible details about the person, he believes it is still a good start.

“If you get the person’s name, his or her father’s name, and the person’s office or title, that doesn’t verify that they did certain things. But it can sometimes show they were in a position to do the things Scripture says they did,” he stated. “That’s often as far as you can go. Still, there are some longer inscriptions from ancient Israel’s neighbors that mention people and events in the Old Testament, just describing them from a different point of view.”

“This evidence shows that it is not essential to have religious faith in order to understand and accept much of what the Bible presents,” he opined. “It demonstrates that even on the basis of writings outside of the Bible alone, Scripture does have a considerable degree of historical credibility.”


Syria Warns Israel of ‘Dangerous Repercussions’ After Attach on Chemical Weapons Site

By: Staff, Anna Ahronheim;

Syria accuses Israel of targeting a chemical weapons plant and killing two of its soldiers; Israel has yet to confirm or deny the allegations, but Israeli security officials are speaking out.

People seen fleeing the alleged site of the Israeli attack on a Syrian post where chemical weapons are manufactured. . (photo credit:SOCIAL MEDIA)

Syria accused Israel on Thursday of carrying out an aerial attack on Assad posts overnight. The alleged Israeli attack hit a scientific research center where chemical weapons are manufactured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In a statement, the Syrian army warned Israel of “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region” following the attack.

According to the reports, the attack was launched at 2:30 a.m. on targets located in central Syria, in the area of Hama, and also targeted several weapons convoys that were en route to Hezbollah strongholds in the area.

The Syrian army charged later on Thursday morning that Israel killed two of its soldiers during the aerial attack. An IDF spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports, saying that the army does not comment on operational matters.

Arab media claimed there are three casualties as a result of the attack, which centered on a regime post that belongs to the scientific research center on the outskirts of Hama, situated in the northwestern part of the country. In the scientific center, the regime reportedly develops munitions such as missiles and has developed chemical weapons as well.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that an airstrike on Masyaf in Syria hit a Scientific Studies and Research Center facility and an adjacent military camp where ground-to-ground rockets are stored.

The United States has imposed sanctions on employees of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, which it describes as the Syrian agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons including chemical weapons, something Damascus denies.

Syrian social media activists reported that “Israeli airplanes infiltrated from the valley area in Lebanon and attacked the center.”

Lebanese media reported that around 4 p.m. IAF fighter jets were spotted circling above Lebanon.

Speaking to Army Radio early Thursday morning, Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni, who previously served as the military secretary of the prime minister, said that Israel “must do everything to prevent Iran from getting a better stronghold than that which it already has on Syria.”

He also said that he “assumes there’s a level of cooperation with the Americans following such an attack or beforehand, but we don’t have to ask for their approval.”

Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence and Executive Director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) took to Twitter stating that the strike was not routine and targeted a Syrian military-scientific center that develops and manufactures, among other things, precision missiles.

“The factory in the attack also produces chemical weapons and barrels of explosives that killed thousands of Syrian citizens. If the attack was conducted by Israel, it would be a commendable and moral action by Israel against the slaughter in Syria,” he wrote.

“The attack sent 3 important messages: Israel won’t allow for empowerment and production of strategic arms. Israel intends to enforce its redlines despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them. The presence of Russian air defense does not prevent airstrikes attributed to Israel.

“Now it’s important to keep the escalation in check and to prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response and even opposition from Russia.”

While the IDF does not comment on foreign reports, it would not be the first time Israeli jets have hit Assad regime and Hezbollah targets in Syria. Jerusalem has repeatedly said that while there is no interest by Israel to enter into Syria’s civil war, there are red lines that Jerusalem has set including the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and an Iranian presence on its borders.

Former Israel Air Force Head Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel stated that Israel carried out at least 100 strikes in the past five years,  against the transfer of advanced weaponry from the Assad regime to Hezbollah, including the transfer of chemical weapons.

Just yesterday, the United Nations released a report affirming that the Syrian regime, governed by Bashar Assad, had indeed used chemical weapons (specifically Serin gas) to attack its own people when it had bombed the province of Idlib this past April.

The UN investigators confirmed that more than 80 civilians died as a direct result of the lethal attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

This is a developing story.

Yasser Okbi and Reuters contributed to this report.


Israeli Leader Says Relations with Arab World Are Best Ever

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister says the country is enjoying its greatest relations ever with the Arab world, even without a peace accord with the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Foreign Ministry personnel Wednesday ahead of the Jewish new year, saying the extent of relations has yet to fully be made public. He said their scope was greater than “any other period in Israeli history.”

Israel has peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. In recent years it has grown closer to Sunni nations over shared concern about Iran’s growing influence in the region. However, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations are hesitant to normalize ties before a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu has been promoting Israel’s improved international relations under his watch. Next week he makes a first visit to South America.

Bennett: ‘I Am the Education Minister for Everybody’

By: Sarah Levi;

He praised the state of Israeli education, adding: “Education is our real national security.”

Naftali Bennett. (photo credit:AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

I am the education minister for all the children of Israel – religious, secular, haredi, Druse, Arab, Circassian, Beduin, all,” Naftali Bennett said during Wednesday’s Education, Culture and Sport Committee meeting ahead of the upcoming school year.

Led by Shas MK Ya’acov Margi, head of the committee, and Bennett, the session touched on a variety of issues relevant to the education system including, hadata (“religionization”), classroom size, parent payments, special education and the Transparency in Education initiative.

“The Education Ministry is leaping in infrastructure and achievements in math, physics, chemistry, English, while classroom sizes are shrinking significantly,” Bennett said.

He praised the state of Israeli education, adding: “Education is our real national security.”

Bennett explained the need to build more classrooms, recruit better teachers and change the model of preschools, adding: “It’s a lot of hard work; I want to start the school year drama-free. The department should be for the students, not for theatrics.”

Bennett praised the new Transparency in Education website, saying: “It’s the first of its kind in Israel which allows transparency in all aspects of the educational systems including details on institutions, budgets, educational climate, classroom violence and how many graduates go to the army or national service. Now, everything is open and on the table.

I invite you to look. This will help us deal with questions in the future.”

He also emphasized putting more effort in teaching English, promising that this year, the level of English will increase.

“It is 2017 and there are kids who can’t write a email or have a conversation [in English]; we will fix this,” Bennett said.

During his presentation, he unveiled a program called “Israeli Judaism.”

“I am proud of this program,” he said. “There’s talk of religionization; there is no religionization, which is to give every child in the State of Israel a chance to get to know the ways of our people, to know what kiddush is, to know who Tchernichovsky is and who is the Rambam, and who is Moses; to know what havdala is.

“It’s not a sin to open a siddur.

We are proud of this. I am proud of this program and I invite all the members of the Knesset, everyone, to open the book and stop with the media spinning.”

Bennett also explained that this program gives teachers the ability to teach “why we need a state and why not move to Australia. We need answers for these things.”

On the issue of haredim in the school system, Bennett said: “I am not at war with the them. I don’t want a war, I want to work.”

Addressing the issue of parent payments, he promised to reduce such payments by 2019, noting his connection with the Finance Ministry.

He concluded with special education, describing that when he arrived at his current post, problems abounded as the system was on “autopilot.” He explained the budget was sufficient but wasn’t reaching enough. “With my political power, I procured a quarter of a billion shekels and 100% is going toward special education.”

His comment was met with angry outbursts from a mother who, while holding up a photograph on her phone of her son, claimed her son was being neglected and that there was no place in the school system for him. She was then physically removed from the meeting.

Next Friday, some 2.2 million students from preschools to high school will begin the school year.


El Al Will Fly Again Between Israel and Argentina, Decades After the Flight that Carried Eichmann

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL – JULY 9: An El Al Boeing 747 passenger jet is towed to its gate after landing at Ben Gurion Airport July 9, 2003 near Tel Aviv, Israel. The Israeli government has begun to sell off all 100% of its stake in El Al, hoping to raise as much as US$150 million, about equal to what is owed in employee liabilities. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — The national air carries of Argentina and Israeli signed an agreement to begin flights between Buenos Aires and Tel Aviv.

Aerolineas Argentinas President Mario Dell’Acqua and an El Al vice president met Friday at the Argentine Embassy in Tel Aviv to sign the final agreement. The flights will begin next month.

They will be the first flights between the two nations since 1960, when an El Al flight carried the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann from Buenos Aires to Tel Aviv and his trial in Israel.

A visit to Argentina by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Argentina is in the planning stages and, if confirmed, he will announce the first official flight at that time. The visit, part of a trip to Latin American countries, is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13, and would be the first by a sitting Israeli prime minister to Argentina and Latin America.

The president of Argentina’s Jewish political umbrella DAIA, Ariel Cohen Sabban, and the group’s vice president, Alberto Indij, participated in the codeshare signing event.

“We celebrate the historic event, which means that more Argentinians can travel to visit Israel and also we are happy to see the Argentinian flag in the Israeli sky soon,” Cohen Sabban told JTA from Israel.

In March, Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and Israeli Ambassador to Argentina Ilán Sztulman had signed a framework agreement in Buenos Aires. The Argentine Foreign Ministry wrote then on its web page that the agreement “was made possible by the excellent relations that exist between aeronautical authorities, in addition to the historical bonds between both countries. It will be supplemented by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding which will enable the immediate operation of scheduled flights by the designated airlines.”

According to the announcement in May by Argentina’s official gazette, the commercial flights will have a stopover in the Spanish airports of Madrid or Barcelona.

On May 19, 1960, a special Israeli delegation headed by Minister Without Portfolio Abba Eban left Tel Aviv for Buenos Aires to participate in the 150th anniversary celebration of Argentine independence. At least this was the official version of that inaugural trip, as JTA reported at the time.

But the following day, Eichmann was brought on the El Al plane that had landed in Buenos Aires the day before carrying the diplomatic delegation from Israel. The Holocaust mastermind, who was held in the Argentine capital for nine days, was dressed in the uniform of an El Al crew member.

The flight back to Tel Aviv stopped for refueling in Dakar, Senegal, and on May 22, the plane landed in Israel, where Eichmann was arrested. He was convicted there of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 1961 and hanged the following year. It is the only time that Israel has used the death penalty.

Anti-Semitism is an Integral Part of European Culture

Netanyahu’s visit to Hungary and his meeting with leaders of Visegrad countries highlights the difference between these governments and the rest of Europe concerning Israel.

By: Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld;

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld
The writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.

The recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Budapest – the first visit of an Israeli

Prime Minister since the fall of communism – received much international publicity. The media reported on both his meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and with the heads of the Visegrad group countries, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yet in their reporting, many media outlets did not focus on the most important issues.

Orbán leads the right of center Fidesz party. He declared in a public statement after the meeting with Netanyahu that Hungary had sinned when it cooperated with Nazi Germany during the Second World War and that it had not protected its Jews. He also said that Hungary would protect all its citizens in the future. Yet, in the recent past Orbán praised the longtime Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy, a Hitler ally.

Orbán’s declaration about his country’s Holocaust guilt was important politically both for himself and for his party. Such admission of Hungarian Holocaust guilt is not unprecedented. Several Hungarian prime ministers including Gyula Horn, Péter Medgyessy and Ferenc Gyurcsany  have acknowledged their country’s war crimes or issued apologies.

In a 2013 study, 91% of Hungarian Jews stated that anti-Semitism had increased in the past five years, a higher percentage than in the seven other countries investigated. Ninety percent of Hungarian Jews saw anti-Semitism as a problem in their country. Anti-Semitism has not abated since. The extreme right and anti-Semitic Jobbik party received 20% of the votes in the 2014 elections. Its leader, Gabor Vona, is now trying to move the party somewhat toward the center to become a serious competitor for Fidesz prior to the next election which will take place in 2018.

Countries do not change their culture easily. Hungary has a long history of anti-Semitism which dates back many years well before its collaboration with the Germans during the Holocaust. The postwar communist regimes suppressed anti-Semitism. However after their fall in 1989, it soon reared its head again. Yet while there is extreme verbal anti-Semitism, for the most part it has not become violent. That may change though. Like in most European countries, Jews living in Hungary have to realize that anti-Semitism is an integral part of European culture. Its intensity varies from country to country. While anti-Semitism has to be fought, it is far too embedded to be eliminated.

The Hungarian government’s poster campaign against American billionaire George Soros has drawn much attention. He promotes the settlement of Middle Eastern refugees in Hungary and other European countries. Soros’ policy is seen as hostile by the Hungarian government. The government campaign was also exploited by anti-Semites who drew graffiti on billboards. As a result, Hungarian Jews were worried about anti-Semitism surrounding the campaign.

Some Jews asked Netanyahu to cancel his visit. But an Israeli Prime Minister meets many leaders without this indicating that he is in agreement with all their policies. For instance, Netanyahu visited the Netherlands. This does not mean that he agrees with the current government’s continuous refusal to admit their predecessors’ major failures toward Jews during the Second World War. Nor does Netanyahu have to approve the massive unvetted immigration there of people from Muslim countries in which anti-Semitism is rife. This immigration is the greatest threat to Dutch Jews and Israel in that country since the Holocaust.

This is not the only worrying aspect of the Dutch reality concerning Israel.  A 2011 study by the University of Bielefeld, found that almost 39% of the Dutch were in agreement with the statement: “Israel conducts a war of extermination against the Palestinians.” The figure for Hungary was barely different:  41%.

The Israeli ambassador to Hungary came out against the anti-Semitism. The Israeli foreign office explained the Israeli position in a statement that it meant “in no way to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny its right to defend itself.”

Concerning the meeting with the leaders of the Visegrad countries, the main media attention was focused on the scathing remarks Netanyahu made about Europe without realizing that a microphone was open. Part of his remarks were substantially correct even if he would have phrased them differently had he realized that his statements were no longer private.

The level of anti-Semitism in the Visegrad countries differs. In 2014, an ADL study asked 11 basic questions concerning classic anti-Semitic attitudes in a number of countries. It found that 45% of Poles harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. In Hungary the figure is 41%, and in the Czech Republic 13%. No data is available for Slovakia. When asked if Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust, 62% of Poles responded yes, with 61% of Hungarians agreeing. 44% of Czech citizens answered affirmatively to the same question.

In 2004, I interviewed Mark Sofer, then Deputy Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. At that time the Visegrad countries and several others had just joined the EU. He said: “Conventional wisdom tells us that the accession of these countries to the EU is positive for Israel. For once, conventional wisdom may well be correct.” He has indeed been proven correct. These and other central European countries often support Israel in a frequently politically hostile EU. They are also important for Israeli investors.

Another reason these countries are important not only for Israel but also for European Jewry is that they oppose immigration. The immigrants are to a large extent Muslims from the Middle East. Brussels and the leaders of European countries know well that most Muslim immigrants have been indoctrinated with extreme anti-Semitic propaganda from childhood. An advisor to the European court wants it to reject the challenge by Hungary and Slovakia against the EU European council decision that EU members must take in hundreds of asylum-seekers.

Yet the EU leaders do not care. The decent thing would have been to vet Muslims immigrating into Europe so that these so-called liberal democracies would not have admitted anti-Semitic immigrants. As this is not the case, the policy of the Visegrad countries not to receive immigrants is preferable. In this way in future at least a few European countries where Muslim anti-Semitic hatemongers will not play a prominent role.


Archaeologists Find 2,000-Year-Old Rare Stone Vessel Used in Jewish Rituals

By: Daniel Eisenbud;

“This discovery provides fascinating evidence of ritual purity in the daily lives of Galilean Jews during the time of Jesus,” the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

Archaeological excavations inside the ancient workshop.. (photo credit:Israel Antiquities Authority)

A rare 2,000-year-old workshop for the production of chalkstone vessels, dating to the Roman Period, was recently unearthed by archeologists from the Antiquities Authority during excavations in Reina, in the Lower Galilee.

The excavations took place in a small cave in which researchers found thousands of chalkstone cores and other production waste, including fragments of stone mugs and bowls in various stages of production, the authority said on Thursday.

The ancient site is the fourth workshop of its kind to ever have been discovered in Israel. It was uncovered during the course of construction work at a municipal sports center conducted by the Reina Local Council.

According to Dr. Yonatan Adler, senior lecturer at Ariel University and director of the excavation on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, during the first century of the Common Era, Jews throughout Judea and the Galilee used tableware and storage vessels made of soft, local chalkstone.

“The reason for this curious choice of material seems to have been religious, as according to ancient Jewish ritual law, vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken,” Adler explained on Thursday.

“Stone, on the other hand, was thought to be a material which can never become ritually impure, and as a result, ancient Jews began to produce some of their everyday tableware from stone.”

Although chalkstone vessels have been unearthed at many Jewish sites throughout the country, Adler said it is extremely unusual to uncover a site where such vessels were actually produced.

“Today, we are excavating a second site near Reina, located 1 kilometer from here,” he said.

“Until now, only two other similar sites have been excavated, however both of these were in the area of Jerusalem.

Our excavations are highlighting the pivotal role of ritual purity observance – not only in Jerusalem, but in the far-off Galilee as well.”

The excavations also revealed an artificially hewn cave from which ancient workers quarried the raw material for the chalkstone vessels.

“Ancient chisel marks cover the walls, ceiling and floor of the cave,” Adler said.

“Inside the cave and on the ground nearby are strewn thousands of stone cores, the ancient industrial waste from stone mugs, and bowls produced on a lathe. Hundreds of unfinished vessels were also found, apparently damaged during the production process and discarded on-site.”

While similar finds have been recorded in other parts of the country, Yardenna Alexandre, an archeologist at the authority specializing in the study of the Galilee during the Roman Era, described the most recent discovery as an unprecedented opportunity.

“Throughout the years, we have been discovering fragments of these kinds of stone vessels alongside pottery in excavations of houses in both rural and urban Jewish sites from the Roman Period, such as Kafr Kana, Tzipori and Nazareth,” said Alexandre.

“Now, for the first time, we have an unprecedented opportunity to investigate a site where these vessels were actually produced in the Galilee.”

Alexandre added that Jews using stone vessels for religious purposes is well attested in Talmudic sources, but noted that the phenomenon also appears in the Wedding at Cana narrative in the Gospel of John, where the water-turned-to-wine is said to have been held in six jars made of stone: “Now, there were six stone water jars set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing 20 or 30 gallons each” (John 2:6).

Moreover, she said a link to the narrative lies in the location of the excavations at Reina, just south of the modern village of Kafr Kana, identified by many scholars as the site of New Testament Cana.

“It is possible that large stone containers of the type mentioned in the Wedding at Cana of Galilee story may have been produced locally in the Galilee,” Alexandre said.