Greek Art Curator Faces Prison

News from Greece, via the BBC:

A Greek court has adjourned until early next year the trial of an art curator charged with publicly insulting the eastern Orthodox Church.

Christos Ioakimidis could be jailed for up to five years for showing a painting combining Christian and sexual imagery.

The authorities in Athens removed the work – showing an erect penis next to a Christian cross – following a complaint by a far-right party leader.

…The case against him stems from a painting by Belgian artist Thierry de Cordier.

It was taken down after party leader Georges Karatzaferis lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court.

He denounced the work as the most obscene, immoral and shameless painting he had ever seen.

The BBC is being a bit coy. IFEX gives Karatzaferis’s full statement from 2003:

…9 December 2003, Greece’s extreme-right party leader George Karatzaferis protested that Belgian artist Thierry de Cordier’s “Asperges Me (Dry Sin)” painting was “the most obscene, immoral, shameless painting I had ever seen.” On the right of the canvas was a cross, propped against a wall; on the left a fully erect penis. Karatzaferis saw on the canvas that semen was dripping from the crucifix.

But if that wasn’t enough:

Even worse, “the penis, that thing, looked circumcised,” added the notoriously anti-Semitic politician.

The painting itself can be seen here (not work-safe). The title, Asperges Me, means “you shall purge me” in Latin, and refers both to Psalm 50 and to the opening of the Latin mass (I assume the expression also appears in Greek in the Orthodox Eucharist, but I can’t say for sure).

The prosecution is a particular success for Karatzaferis, whose LAOS political party began in 2001. LAOS stands for “Laikos Orthodoxos Synagermos”, and is translated as “The People’s Orthodox Rally” or “The Populist Orthodox Rally”, or “The People’s Orthodox Alarm”. Just last year Karatzaferis was part of the campaign to censor Oliver Stone’s Alexander. As the AFP reported:

“They wouldn’t have dared make a movie with such (homosexual) reproaches about Moses or Solomon,” said Yiorgos Karatzaferis, President and European Parliament member for far-right, xenophobic party LAOS.

In 2002 Karatzaferis opposed a Holocaust memorial on Rhodes; the memorial was vandalised days before he visited the island. According to a 2004 profile on EUbusiness:

Karatzaferis, 57, has been accused by various human rights groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish lobby group, of holding “racist” and “anti-semitic” speeches. In daily shows from his nationwide television station, Karatzaferis accuses immigrants, notably from Albania, of stealing jobs from Greeks.

…Karatzaferis, a strong supporter of Greece’s Orthodox Christian tradition, opposed Western intervention against Serbia in the 1999 Kosovo war.

Karatzaferis, who won 4.1% of the vote that year, denies that he is anti-democratic or belongs to the far right. I suppose the latter at least could be true: Christos Ioakimidis faces prison for displaying a painting; in Russia, exhibitors have faced the same fate; and in Italy, trials for both defaming Islam and Roman Catholicism are underway. Karatzerferis’s demands for censorship in the name of religion appear to place him increasingly in the mainstream…


(One link via Gullibility isn’t in the Dictionary)

“Israeli Supreme Court anti-Jewish” – “Sanhedrin” spokesman

As noted on this blog a couple of months ago, members of the theocratic tendency in Israel have recently organised a “Sanhedrin”; a body that used to be the highest legal authority in Judaism, but which has been defunct since the fifth century CE. Members of this new “Sanhedrin” believe that their religious authority ought to supplant secular law in Israel, and that one of their members, Yosef Dayan, is a direct descendent of King David and is rightfully the monarch of the State of Israel (for other reasons, Dayan has threatened to take out Ariel Sharon by means of a death curse). Although the “Sanhedrin” is completely marginal within Israel and has ties to individuals who want to ethnically cleanse the West Bank and Gaza in the name of Greater Israel, it has enthusiastic support from Christian Zionists such as Hal Lindsey, who imagines a theocratic Israel to be a prelude to the return of Jesus.

“Sanhedrin” spokesman Rabbi Hillel Weiss spoke recently to the Jerusalem Post:

The increasingly anti-Jewish decisions handed down by the Supreme Court prove the need for an alternative legal system based on Jewish sources…More and more people, including Torah scholars, are beginning to understand this.

However, although most Jewish religious leaders in Israel are refusing to give support to the “Sanhedrin”, the group has just received a boost:

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was elected the temporary president of a rabbinical body Monday that aspires to renew the Sanhedrin, Judaism’s highest-ranking legal-religious tribunal.

…In addition to the election of Steinsaltz, the rabbis present also chose a seven-man committee, headed by him, to campaign for the acceptance of the idea of a Sanhedrin.

Those chosen include Rabbi Nachman Kahane, brother of murdered JDL and Kach leader rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane is the rabbi of the Young Israel of Jerusalem’s Old City and heads an organized study of Temple rituals and ceremonies, as well as cataloging all known kohanim (priests) in Israel.

Steinsaltz is a high-profile, albeit controversial, figure. According to a quote attributed to Newsweek:

Jewish lore is filled with tales of formidable rabbis. Probably none living today can compare in genius and influence to Adin Steinsaltz, whose extraordinary gifts as scholar, teacher, scientist, writer, mystic and social critic have attracted disciples from all factions of Israeli society.

There are numerous profiles available on-line. He has a degree in mathematics, has written around sixty books on religious thought and related subjects, and is a recipient of the Israel prize. He also been a resident scholar at Yale and Princeton. And most famously:

Rabbi Steinsaltz is best known for his interpretation, commentaries, and translations of the Babylonian Talmud, a monumental task which he began some 25 years ago. Thirty volumes of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Hebrew edition of the Talmud have been published; two million books are in print. The Rabbi expects to complete the project over the next decade, with a total of 42 volumes in Hebrew. Fifteen volumes of the Rabbi’s Talmudic translation and commentaries have been translated into English and published by Random House, to great critical acclaim.

However, this “critical acclaim” was not universal: in 1998 Jacob Neusner responded to Steinsaltz’s work with How Adin Steinsaltz Misrepresents the Talmud. Four False Propositions from his “Reference Guide”. Ultra-Orthodox groups have also rejected his Talmud. Steinsaltz is also part of the Chabad movement, although many profiles curiously fail to mention this.

So will Steinsaltz’s presence bring gravitas to the “Sanhedrin”, or will the “Sanhedrin” merely tar Steinsaltz with the charges of political extremism and racism?


Meanwhile, Arutz Sheva reports on another figure connected with the “Sanhedrin”:

Also present at the meeting on Monday, though not seated in the 71-seat semi-circular row of chairs, was famed archaeologist Dr. Vendyl Jones. He is working with the Sanhedrin to establish a system of courts for non-Jews adhering to the Seven Laws of Noah, which the Torah obligates all of humanity to follow. One of those laws is to establish courts of justice. A high court has been established by the Sanhedrin for such purposes, and a subsidiary of that court will soon be established in the United States as well.

Jones is self-styled archaeologist, who keeps appearing to be on the verge of discovering the Ark of the Covenant and who claims to have found various artefacts connected with the temple. I wrote about him just a couple of weeks ago, and it appears that Steinsaltz is a friend of his. Gerard Robins recalls:

It is of considerable interest to note that in 1995, when Jones was battling the IAA [Israel Antiquities Authority] for a permit to dig, they told him he needed the endorsement of a recognized learning institution. Hoping to save time, Jones went to his friend, Rabbi Adin Israel Steinsaltz, head of the Israel Institute for Talmudic Research and perhaps the world’s most renowned Talmudic scholar, who is writing a modern edition of the Talmud. Rabbi Steinsaltz wrote a glowing letter of endorsement for Jones’ work, calling it “Scientifically valid research which may result in important findings for the Jewish people and the world.” In spite of even this endorsement, the IAA turned down Jones’ request.

(Tipped from Bible and Interpretation and


A couple of my recent entries have been updated. Details about Prophet Yahweh continue to emerge, including his “Black Jew Hebrew Israelite” belief that UFOs are going to demand the evacuation of Israelis and Palestinians from the Holy Land for the benefit of the true Jews, who are the African-Americans.

Meanwhile, Sister Ruth Augustus is back in London; Shetland Today found her website, where she warns about a comet hitting the Atlantic, Masonic Cardinals, and an Islamic anti-Christ.

Archaeology and Occupation

Paleojudaica links to a UPI report on the planned demolition of Palestinian houses in al-Bustan, which is part of Silwan, a district in East Jerusalem close to the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa. There are

88 that Jerusalem’s municipality says have been built illegally and should be removed to restore an open public area in the valley that it wants to make a national park. The archaeological and ancient remains in that area “have an international and national value and they give the city its status as one of the most valuable cities in the world,” Jerusalem City Engineer Uri Shetrit said.

It is the most important archaeological site in the country, said Amihai Mazarm a professor at the Institute of Archaeology. Large areas have been excavated, King David’s palace was probably there, but dense Arab and Jewish construction in recent years prevents archaeological digs, he told United Press International.

Local Palestinians are calling foul. They say that many of the homes are older than the Israelis claim, and that those that are illegal are only so because Israel rarely gives building permits to Palestinians. It should also be noted that despite Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, under international law Silwan is not “in the country” as Amihai asserts – it is among the territories captured in 1967, and most Palestinian Jerusalemites have declined offers of Israeli citizenship (see here). Palestinian politicians also suggest a strategic reason for the proposed demolitions:

“Silwan is part of this line of settlements that would run all the way from the Old City to Maaleh Adumim (southeast of Jerusalem. It would be) one line of connected (Jewish) settlements while Palestinian areas would be certainly isolated one from the other,” said Palestinian Minister of State Hind Khoury, who is responsible for Jerusalem affairs.

Shetrit rejects this analysis, but it should be remembered that the recent dispute over Greek Orthodox property sold to a Jewish group has also been seen as part of a plan to consolidate Israeli control over Palestinian Jerusalem. Israeli activists are also opposing the demolitions; according to Haaretz (link added):

MK Roman Bronfman (Yahad) wrote to Jerusalem City Engineer Uri Sheetrit, who signed the letter ordering the demolitions, urging him to cancel his decision.

“This is an ethnic cleansing and large-scale deportation that boggles the mind,” he wrote. “Such a plan can lead to a huge explosion, which the Jerusalem municipality, and you particularly, would be held accountable for.”

…Dr. Meir Margalit of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) said the plan’s real intention was not to save Jerusalem’s “primordial landscape,” as the city engineer claims, but to wipe out the Palestinian presence from East Jerusalem.

In the Jerusalem Post Shetrit argues that the area is already allocated as a national park, and that there are 5,000-year-old archaeological remains in the area. Plus, the area is in danger from floods (Haaretz notes that this last argument came later).

Some background to the dispute can found in a 2000 article from the Jerusalem Quarterly by Jeffrey Yas:

Ever since Captain Charles Warren of the London-based Palestine Exploration Fund conducted the first excavations here in 1867, the modern village has literally grown up around archaeological sites. In many pre-1967 photographs, the wadi seems as much a place of excavation as residence. After the 1967 War, however, many Palestinian refugees resettled in Silwan, and village space became increasingly filled with the construction of new homes.

…During the Intifada, Palestinians from Silwan were often seen on the front line, prompting Israelis to imagine the village as the archetypal breeding ground for stone throwing youth and terrorist inductees. The subsequent plummet in City of David tourist traffic frustrated municipal efforts. On 4 September 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took a big step in the Israeli reclamation of Silwan, kicking off the Jerusalem 3000 celebrations in a roped-off ceremony staged in the recently opened “City of David Archaeological Park.” The number 3000, after all, counts from David’s reign, making the site of his city a potent place to celebrate national sovereignty. Begin and Netanyahu similarly made high-profile appearances in the village, orchestrated in sync with settler land-acquisition initiatives.

The park is now known as the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. Israeli archaeologists Yas spoke with stressed their dislike of the Israeli settlers. However:

As many local Palestinian residents will tell you, the bulldozers do come, but usually to demolish unlicensed homes. Archaeologists like Ronny Reich would prefer to steer clear of demolitions, settlers, and Tourist Ministry officials alike, proclaiming an objective distance from such ideological conflicts. This professed neutrality, however, ignores the role of archaeology in the service of tourist development, which in the case of Silwan is transforming a living village into a place called “The City of David.” The antiquities produced through archaeological research in Silwan are being arranged to narrate the much contested Biblical story of David conquering the Jebusite City. Beyond re-inscribing the village with this new symbolic meaning as “Jewish space,” the practice of archaeology is physically reshaping the village, having in several cases paved the legal path for Jewish settlement expansion.

Yas concludes:

Given the austere political landscape in which Israeli land confiscations and house demolitions consume Palestinian space on a daily basis, it is important for us to be sensitive to other ways in which these erasures occur. The use of archaeological sites to reshape the land into historical landscapes assists Israel in its co-optation of places like Silwan in ways that bulldozers never could.

That was back in 2000; now the bulldozers and the creation of “historical landscapes” are working together.

Meanwhile, Palestinian archaeologist Ibrahim Al-Fanni has made the unlikely allegation to the Palestine Information Centre that the demolitions are a sign that Israel plans to build a new Jewish Temple:

The Israeli government has completed the construction of a religious tourism city 14 meters deep below the holy Aqsa Mosque, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Fanni, an archeologist, affirmed.

When I first read this I assumed he meant some sort of underground affair, but on reflection I think he must mean in a valley next to the mosque.

Fanni said that the step fell in line with the construction of an infrastructure of the alleged temple the Jews are planning to build on the ruins of the holy site, adding that the Israeli authorities changed the Islamic names of the Mosque’s surroundings into Hebrew ones in an attempt to wipe out the holy city of Jerusalem’s Arab and Islamic landmarks.

He noted that the construction works and excavations are now being implemented in the western and eastern facades of the Mosque, and highlighted that the Israeli authorities rather than the Jewish fanatics were directly involved in planning the construction of the alleged temple.

This “evidence” is rather thin. Most religious Jews believe that the Third Temple belongs to a future Messianic age, and is not to be rebuilt by humans. The contrary view is held by only a handful of hard-right Kahanist extremists (and large numbers of American Christian Zionists), who, despite being championed by the likes of WorldNetDaily, have very little support in Israel. As the Jerusalem Post has recently noted:

There is also a broad consensus, even among national religious rabbis such as Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, that no steps should be made toward the building of a Third Temple.

al-Fanni goes on:

The Israeli plan envisaging the demolition of some 90 family houses in Al-Bustan suburb adjacent to the Mosque was aimed at constructing a park in their place, he pointed out.

We shouldn’t be too hard on some Palestinians for being paranoid, but a guy with a PhD (from the Hebrew University, apparently) should know better. The recent Israeli far-right protests at the Temple Mount were small, and their primary aim was to spread fear and resentment among Palestinians. With the very real threat to homes in al-Bastan, I’m sorry to see al-Fanni get sidetracked by a red herring spawned by a lunatic fringe.

World of Defamation

From The Guardian:

A French appeal court has found the editor-in-chief of Le Monde and the authors of an opinion piece in the paper guilty of “racial defamation” against Israel and the Jewish people.

The offending paragraphs:

The first passage read: “It is hard to imagine that a nation of fugitives born of a people who have been subjected to the longest persecution in the history of humanity, who have suffered the worst humiliation and the worst contempt, should be capable, in the space of two generations, of transforming themselves into a people sure of themselves and dominating (of others) and, with the exception of an admirable minority, a scornful people that takes satisfaction in humiliating others.”

The second continued: “The Jews of Israel, descendants of an apartheid named the ghetto, ghettoise the Palestinians. The Jews who were humiliated, scorned and persecuted humiliate, scorn and persecute the Palestinians. The Jews who were the victims of a pitiless order impose their pitiless order on the Palestinians. The Jews, scapegoats for every wrong, make scapegoats of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.”

The authors, Edgar Morin (who is Jewish), Daniele Sallenave, and Sami Nair, claim that the two paragraphs were taken out of context. Morin’s lawyer added that:

The court made plain that it found the text as a whole constituted a very potent critique, but a perfectly tolerable one given the complexity of the situation…It was just those two passages that were picked out. All it means is people are going to have to re-read their copy a bit more carefully; be very careful not to talk about ‘the Jews’, for example, but about ‘some Israelis’.

Sound editorial advice, although whether it should be the law is debatable. The ruling can be seen as a response to the current climate in France; Fernanda Eberstadt reported last year in the New York Times:

Most European intellectuals insist on a distinction between even the fiercest criticism of Israel and an endorsement of anti-Semitism. Recently, however, this distinction has blurred. During demonstrations in May 2002 organized by France’s mainstream antiracist organizations, protesters shouted anti-Semitic slogans and tried to attack a couple of passers-by whom they believed to be Jewish.

One question, though: how does Le Monde’s offence – supposed defamation not just of Jews in general but of Israel in particular – compare with describing the population of Pakistan as the “living damned”? Over to William Dalrymple’s 2003 review of Who Killed Daniel Pearl, by French philosopher Bernard Henri- Lévy:

Throughout his book Lévy shows an intermittent disdain for Islam, and something approaching hatred for Pakistan. He rightly criticizes Pakistanis for their anti-Semitism, and for regarding Israel as evil incarnate, but then goes on to use the same prejudiced language about Pakistan. It is “the Devil’s own home,” “drugged on fanaticism, doped on violence,” a “silent hell, full of the living damned” and their “nightmare mullahs.” Karachi is worse still: “a black hole,” full of “the half-dead,” where “fanatic… long-haired dervishes with wild, bloodshot eyes” howl outside “the house of the Devil.” Lurid comments are stacked up to support this picture of national delinquency: one cabinet minister is “amiable in the extreme,” but when he thinks BHL [Henri- Lévy] is not “looking, a gleam of murderous ferociousness would shine through.” The ordinary people of Pakistan are portrayed as fanatical Orientals who “scowl” as Lévy passes and “narrow their eyes” with a “tarantula-like stare.” One man, “his smile venomous,” actually issues a snake-like “hiss.”

…Lévy makes no distinction between secular Pakistanis and their Islamist rivals, between the military and the democrats, or between the dominant, tolerant, Sufi-influenced Barelvi form of Islam and the newly resurgent, more intolerant Wahhabi and Deobandi forms of the religion which are now spreading rapidly…

No court cases there yet…

Religious Education in Norway vs UNHCR

Surprising news from Norway, via the Asian Tribune:

Norway rejects demand for religious tolerance in education

Oslo, 03 June, (; The Norwegian government has refused to allow more tolerant religious studies in its education system despite the strong criticism of the country’s rigid religious education curriculum. The Norwegian parliament has rejected the proposal for amending the religious curriculum despite the severe criticism of the current curriculum by the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Actually, the UNHRC did not just “criticise” the curriculum; it declared it to be in breach of the law. As Matt Cherry of the Institute for Humanist Studies reported last November:

The United Nations has ruled that the Norwegian public school system’s compulsory teaching of Christianity violates the human rights of humanists. The decision follows a seven-year battle by parents belonging to a humanist association of Norway. Under international law, Norway must now reform its education laws to ensure they respect the rights of humanists and other minority belief groups…The Commission stated that Norway has an obligation under international law to change its educational system to ensure that children can receive an education in conformity with their own convictions. Norway was given 90 days to explain how it would implement the ruling.

Cherry also explained the problem with the subject:

In 1997, the Norwegian government introduced a new mandatory religious subject in the Norwegian school system, entitled “Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Education” (CKREE). The law required that CKREE “Provide a thorough knowledge of the Bible and Christianity both as cultural heritage and Evangelical-Lutheran faith.” The CKREE classes were considered a normal part of the school system that must be attended by all students.

Before 1997, Norwegian parents could withdraw their children from religion and lifestance classes. The new law only gave the possibility of a partial exemption from CKREE: parents could provide a written request that their children should be removed from the parts of CKREE that involved the actual practice of Christianity; it was at the discretion of each individual school whether to accept a request for a child to be granted a partial exemption.

Cherry links to the UNHCR document, which can be seen here.

The irony is that the new curriculum was supposed actually to promote tolerance, as can be seen in this 2001 discussion from the Oslo Coalition on Religious Freedom and Belief:

The present Norwegian model for RE that was introduced in 1997…is both compulsory and does not have any clear “confessional” basis.  On the other hand it can be sees as a part of the tendency in several countries to provide multi-religious education for all pupils,  – one of the main aims of the subject being to provide tolerance and understanding between religions by providing knowledge about different traditions and dialogue about common values in multi-religious societies. This aim of the RE subject goes well with the principles for RE that are presented in the reports of the SR[*]. This aim is also the reason why the subject is compulsory for children of all faiths, with only a limited right to exemption from certain parts of it (for instance activities that might seen as parts of religious rituals). Even though the subject shall provide knowledge about other religions as well as secular worldviews, it has a basic emphasis on knowledge about Christianity and the Christian cultural heritage of Norway. The combination of a main focus on Christian knowledge and a limited right to exemption has made the subject controversial among parents of different minority groups. Also, the public school act points at Christian morals as a basic foundation for the school education in general in addition to tolerance and freedom of though. This has contributed to the fear of different groups of parents about the possible effects of the role of Christianity and Christian values in new RE subject. Also suggestions about having “Christian and humanistic values” as a foundation for the school and for the subject has been rejected by minority groups.

…The humanists and the Muslims fear that the dominance and role of Christianity in the subject can lead to influencing – or even indoctrinating – their children to see the Christian faith as better or truer than others.

On the other hand, the majority of the parents – belonging mostly to the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Norway – are for the most satisfied with the new subject.

[*SR = The Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, following the UN’s 1981 Declaration on the subject – RB]

Christian Moe of Oslo University adds further analysis in a recent paper (currently still a “work in progress”):

One explicit aim of this change [in 1997] was integration; primarily, integration of immigrants’ children from other religions and cultures. By learning about the religion that allegedly pervades Norwegian culture and society, they would be better equipped to understand and integrate into that culture and society. Furthermore, by having children of different religious backgrounds discuss religious and ethical issues all together, the classroom would become an arena for convergence on a “common platform of values.” The underlying political philosophy, apparently, had a communitarian streak, emphasising the need for a shared core of values if society is to function.

…Effectively, Norway is seeking to use public school education about the religion of the state as a tool in a new nation-building project to integrate a growing number of immigrant communities. The Balkans, clearly, are not the only area where religion is the handmaid of nation-building. Religion is a very sensitive issue and therefore a dangerous tool to use; it might well inflame relations with minorities more than it improves them. It is of particular concern that Norway has chosen to apply this tool to children, inevitably raising fears of indoctrination away from the parents’ religion, and hence placing children in a conflict of loyalty.

Meanwhile, the Church of Norway reports that a reform of religious education was voted on in 2003; this reform places confessional religious instruction completely outside the public school system:

On 27th May 2003 the Norwegian Parliament (the Storting) voted to reform the religious education in Norway. By endorsing religious education in all religious communities the Storting wants to stimulate young people’s religious identities and understanding of their cultural heritage and traditions.

…Children have the right to spiritual development (Article 27 of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child). Religious education is a task for the religious communities, not for the public school. The reform intends to secure that the Church of Norway will provide the teaching of Christian faith for which public schools once were primarily responsible. The Church of Norway now wants to develop systematic education to help all baptised members between the ages 0 to18 years to interpret and master life whatever their level of functionality is.

But the Parliament has not simply rejected the UNHCR criticism. Back to the Asian Tribune (CKREE given as CRREE for some reason):

the Government has made it easier to get exemption, and removes the link between the Christian objects clause and the CRREE teaching. That is good enough for the Labour Party’s Karita Bekkemellem Orheim.

“We have given support to what the Government proposed, which we believe takes into account what the UN has criticized the CRREE subject for,” Bekkemellem Orheim told Dagsavisen.

(Tipped from Christianity Today)