Israel, Arabs and Mormonism
by Moshe Dann, Jerusalem
Behind a carefully constructed image of friendship for Israel and Jews, the Mormon church has been covertly courting and financing Arab propaganda organizations and pro-PLO support groups, both in its Utah and Israel-based teaching centers, and actively engaging in missionary work in Israel, despite public assurances that no such activities were carried out or contemplated. For the Mormons, these are pragmatic measures; for Israel they mean trouble.
For decades the Mormon Church has been trying to extend its influence and activities in Arab countries; it has consistently been rejected. Now, paradoxically, the Mormons have been given a new opportunity by an unlikely ally, the State of Israel. It is fair to assume the Church will use its vast, deluxe, Brigham Young University Study Center in Jerusalem as a base for its missionary operations throughout the entire region.
“It’s unfortunate that we, as Church members, so often have a pro-Israel bias. We’ve been blinded to the rights of the Arab Palestinian people,” said David Galbraith, director of the BYU program in Israel, and president of the Israeli branch of the International Mission of the Mormon church. “Eventually we have to take the gospel to the Arabs and the Jews and we won’t succeed if we are politically one-sided.”
Until last year the United Palestinian Appeal, a funding front for the PLO, was directed by a Mormon bishop, Omar Kader. The founder and original director is an advisor to the PLO representative at the United Nations and publishes AlFajir, a pro-PLO newspaper. The current director is Bashara Bajbah, a pro-PLO advocate and, like Kader, a faculty member at BYU. Bajbah also has close ties to AlFajir.
A high ranking Mormon, Orin Parker, is the director of AMIDEAST, and is one the board of ANERA, anti-Israel organizations that have been identified by the Anti-Defamation League and the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee as part of a “campaign to discredit Israel” through Arab propaganda in America.
David M. Kennedy, former secretary of the treasury, ambassador to NATO, and director of the US Satellite Corporation, is a “special representative of the President of the Mormon Church.” He has extensive business ties with Saudi Arabia and the Republic of China, which assist his “Study Center” at BYU. Kennedy is also chairman of the USA-ROC Economic Council and is on the board of directors of the American-Arab Affairs Council. The Kennedy Center at BYU has clear Arab biases, and publishes anti-Israel works, among them, “Israel and the Occupied Territories.” Kennedy was particularly helpful to a group of Mormon employees of Aramco who were arrested in Saudi Arabia for missionary activity. in violation of their written agreements.
According to reliable sources, the Mormons have donated vast sums to pro-PLO Bir Zeit University: over a half-million dollars in 1976, over two million in 1979, and a new library in 1984. Other Arab communities and institutions in Judea and Samaria have also received large contributions from the Mormons.
Nafez Nazzal, a member of the PLO and professor at Bir Zeit U., directs courses at the current Mormon BYU training center at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. According to former teachers at the center, the students are getting an “unbalanced picture of Israel.”2 Attempts to present a more objective perspective were rebuffed.
All this seems to indicate a shift away from professed support for Israel. Last year, David Galbraith wrote:
“…the Palestinian people, whose high standards of morality and justice would not allow them to desert their homes and lands to these ‘strangers'[Jews] basing ‘title’ for the same on some nebulous promise dating back to antiquity …Palestinians…are entitled to an inheritance in the land no less than the Jews, or any of the other tribes of Israel.”3
(Mormons believe they originate in the tribes of Menashe and Efraim, and are thus included in that inheritance.)
Mormon church-sponsored tours of Israel include special lectures by Galbraith, who persuasively presents the Palestinian-Arab case:
“The Palestinians have their rights and we have to respond to their rights and needs. The US and Israel determined that there won’t be a Palestinian state on the West Bank. The Palestinians are insisting on their right to a state of their own with support from the rest of the world.’ No attempt is made to present the case for Israel.
The commonly held notion that Mormons in the US Congress support Israel is, according to Washington analysts, only half-true. Senator Reid, Representatives Udall and Stallings have proven themselves to be supportive of Israel. But Senator Garn and Representatives Hansen, Neilson, Packard and Shumway are not supportive. Senator Hatch is, at best, mixed in his support. This voting record reflects an attempt to appease Arab countries. The Church is pursuing an overall strategy of establishing itself in the region, regardless of who is in control, and of furthering its own interests.
Mormons are fond of expressing their “affinity” for the Jewish people, but there is good reason to be suspicious of their motives. According to [now late] Bruce R. McConkie, chief theologian and apostle in the Mormon Church:
“The Jews were cursed and smitten and cursed anew because they rejected the gospel, cast out their Messiah, and crucified their King…the Jewish denial and rejection of the Holy One…made them a hiss and a byword in all nations…(and) so shall it be until they repent and come unto Him whom their fathers slew and hanged on a tree…and only when they believe the Book of Mormon and turn to Joseph Smith.”
In this apocalyptic vision, Jerusalem and its inhabitants will be destroyed-“just retribution” for not becoming Mormons-and the “true Jews” (the Mormons) will “build the promised Temple whose functions and uses will be patterned after the house of the Lord in Salt Lake City.”5
Jacob Neusner, the distinguished professor and scholar, wrote of his personal experiences at BYU in a letter to the Intermountain Jewish News (Denver, CO.) in Jan., 1985.
“Nothing they do is selfless. Everything they do has the single goal of converting every one they can. Pure and simple. The proposed BYU Center will provide access, not only to Israeli Jewry, but also (and especially) to large numbers of foreign, including American Jewish youth who study in Jerusalem. Until the Mormon Church recognizes the legitimacy of Judaism for Israel, the Jewish people, the can want nothing other than to convert as many of us as they can get their hands on.”
Neusner’s concerns are not unfounded. According to the “Missionary Training Manual for use in the Jewish Proselytizing Program,” published by the Mormon Church, “The greatest success will be among the Reform Jews and among the religiously inactive…”
The introduction by the late president of the Mormon Church, Spencer W. Kimball, says, “As a people, the Jews have lost their way. As a missionary, you have been called…to help find it again.” According to Mormon doctrine, missionary work is a divine obligation. The Church printed the Book of Mormon in 1981 and missionary tracts in Hebrew in 1982.
The time has come for straight answers and full disclosures before the Mormons are allowed to occupy their Center. That may be the best demonstration of integrity. The controversy surrounding this issue has helped expose systematic corruption among a number of prominent city officials, now on trial and under indictment; the government has required the Mormon church to abandon missionary activity in Israel. To date, the Mormons have not responded to these requests. Recently, the Mormons moved into their new center, disregarding a formal government decision that required, among other things, that the Mormons sign pledges not to engage in any form of missionary activity in Israel.
The damage to Mormon-Jewish friendship cannot be ascribed to Jewish opposition to the Jerusalem Mormon center-it was done long before, when dishonest practices betrayed the questionable motives of Mormon affinities for Jews. Let us hope the damage is not irreparable. (from MIDSTREAM. May 1987.)