Israel’s Orthodox community, strongly backed by the two Chief Rabbis, is up in arms over plans approved by the Jerusalem municipality to build a major Mormon center on Mt. Scopus, alongside the Hebrew University campus.
Avraham Shapiro and Mordechai Eliahu, the Ashkenazic and Sephardic Chief Rabbis respectively, met with members of the Knesset Interior Committee yesterday to urge the legislators “not to let up” in the struggle against the center. Shapiro charged that a $1 million contribution by the Mormon church to the Jerusalem Foundation was tantamount to political bribery which he linked to Mayor Teddy Kollek’s support for the Mormon project.
Kollek and other city officials are enthusiastic about the venture because it would be the first time a major American Christian organization recognized, even by implication, Israel’s sovereignty over united Jerusalem.
FEAR MISSIONARY ACTIVITY
The Orthodox are basing their opposition on charges that the Mormons are engaged in or plan to engage in missionary activities, an allegation hotly denied by Mormon representatives in Israel. A National Religious Party member of the Interior Committee, David Danino, claimed that Mormon missionaries were active among Ethiopian Jewish immigrants in the absorption center in Ashkelon.
But the Mormons are not newcomers to Israel. Brigham Young University, a church-affiliated institution, has had a branch in Israel for more than a decade. Its campus is on the grounds of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel which is inside the Jerusalem city limits.
The Mormons and their defenders concede that their church, the Church of the Latter Day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, does, as a matter of doctrine, pursue missionary activities around the world, but only if the host country consents.
David Galbraith, head of the Brigham Young University program in Jerusalem, has declared publicly that there have not been and will not be missionary activities in Israel. He has refused however to give the Knesset committee a written undertaking, maintaining that his word is his bond.
Rabbi Eliahu contends that the city’s approval of the Mormon project was “unlawful” because the Mayor of Jerusalem and the municipal corporation, elected by a Jewish majority, has no legal right to endorse plans for a Christian center. The plans call for a vast edifice on a 20 dunam (five acre) plot to be known as the Mormon Near East Study Center, a major branch of Brigham Young University.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.