JERUSALEM (Jul. 14)
Orthodox groups seeking to block the Mormon educational center under construction on Mt. Scopus were taken aback by Religious Affairs Minister Yosef Burg’s reported statement that it was too late to halt the controversial project.
Burg is leader of the National Religious Party. As chairman of the special Cabinet committee set up recently to decide the fate of the center, he was considered a key figure in the fight. Last Wednesday he addressed the meeting of the Board of Governors of Yeshiva University here and reportedly told them it was “two years and nine million dollars too late ” to halt the Mormon center.
That remark was quoted by a Yeshiva University spokesman four days ago. Burg seemed to back away from it Monday. But he did not deny that he thought the project, now well advanced, is unstoppable.
Orthodox objections center on the fact that the Mormon church is evangelical and they fear the center, sponsored by the church-affiliated Brigham Young University of Provo, Utah, will be used for missionary activities. It will rise adjacent to the Hebrew University’s Mt. Scopus campus.
The project originated several years ago during the Likud administration of Premier Menachem Begin. It was granted all necessary permits and building licenses by the government and the Jerusalem municipality. Burg is reported to have stated last Wednesday, “There is no way to stop it.”
He gave assurances, however, that “Our plan now is to restrict them as much as we can. ” He said center activities would be limited to Mormon students from the U.S. and there would be “no kind of public lectures or any events of that nature.”
CITES LEGAL DIFFICULTIES INVOLVED
On Monday, Burg stressed that as chairman of the special committee he could not take a public position on the project. He said that in his speech to the Yeshiva University board, “I spoke of the legal difficulties involved in the issue.”
He said he “stressed that there is no doubt that proselytizing is a cardinal element in the Mormon faith. They have developed various and sophisticated means of acting among people of other faiths, and have even printed special instructions about how to forge missionary links with Jews, particularly in Israel.”
Mormon spokesmen here have stressed repeatedly that the church does not and will not engage in missionary activities in Israel. The Mormon church has in fact maintained a small center in Jerusalem for years without arousing controversy. But the size and facilities of the Mt. Scopus center has generated concern in Orthodox circles.
Informed sources here believe Burg’s committee will have to agree that the center is indeed a fait accompli since it complies with all legal requirements. But it will recommend the tightest restrictions and a careful definition of what will be allowable.
Meanwhile, the Young Israel of North America, an Orthodox group, has offered to raise $9 million to reimburse the Mormon church for its expenditures on the new center, if the project is halted. Harold Jacobs, president of Young Israel, reportedly proposed this to Burg over the weekend. Young Israel, holding its 75th anniversary convention here this week, has 44 affiliated synagogues in Israel.