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Mormon Education Center Comes Under Fire from Secular Jews

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The controversial Mormon educational center now under construction next to the Hebrew University campus on Mt. Scopus poses a threat to secular Jews no less than to the religious community, a member of the Hashomer Hatzair Kibbutz Baram told a press conference here today.

Dr. Elli Ben-Gal, a member of the kibbutz which is affiliated with Mapam, maintained that the problem is not entirely religious but a threat to the entire Jewish community, even though it is the Orthodox who have mounted a determined campaign to kill the project. Ben-Gal appeared at the press conference convened by the Public Committee Against the Mt. Scopus Mormon Mission.

“We, the secular Jews, are the target population of the missionaries,” he said. “Students will go to study there (the Mormon center) because fees will be cheaper or because they might be offered scholarships in the U.S.” The center is sponsored by Brigham Young University of Provo, Utah, the educational institution of the Mormon Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City.

NON-CONFIDENCE MOTION BY AGUDA

The Agudat Israel Party introduced a motion of nonconfidence in the Knesset today over the issue. The three other religious parties in the Knesset — National Religious Party, Shas and Morasha — did not cosponsor the motion as they had originally threatened to do. Apparently they were satisfied that the government will name a ministerial committee to study the project.

The Aguda charged that the Cabinet gave the committee no specific terms of reference, no timetable, nor has it yet named the members. The Aguda motion is not considered a threat to the unity coalition government, even had the other religious factions joined.

The entire Orthodox bloc in the Knesset amounts to no more than 12 seats. But the government was anxious to avoid any non-confidence motion on the Knesset floor at this time because of serious differences between Labor and Likud on several vital issues.

PRESSURE BY PRO-MORMON LOBBY

It was learned, meanwhile, that the government is under considerable pressure from the pro-Mormon lobby not to interfere with the project. Public figures in the U.S. reportedly have sent letters to the Prime Minister’s Office urging Israel not to take any measures which could be interpreted as a restriction on freedom of religion in Israel. The groups here opposed to the center fear possible missionary activity.

The creed of the Mormon Church, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, requires all members to devote one or two years of their lives to missionary work. The Church says it does not undertake such work in countries where it is prohibited by law. There has been a Mormon presence in Jer- usalem for many years. Abba Eban, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, defended the Mormon position today. He said he knew of no attempts by any Mormons to proselytize Jews. If the center is halted, a 20-year effort to establish Jerusalem as an open city for all faiths may be ruined, Eban said.

The Mormon project is also fortified legally. It has the approval of national and local authorities and has obtained the requisite building licenses from the government and the Jerusalem municipality.

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