BYU officials said Wednesday they will not allow renewed attacks from ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel to affect activities at the university's Jerusalem Center.
Brigham Young University public communications spokesman Brent Harker said accusations that the center is being used for proselyting are nothing but "absolute fabrication."We are not going to let the Rabbi (Menachem) Porush and the extremists in his group set the agenda for what we do or what we say. We have trained our students how to act. That will not change," he said. "What's happening is (Porush) likes to attack BYU and the Mormons as a new threat to Judaism. He's trying to work up sympathy in the United States for fund-raising for his party."
The university was reacting to reports out of Jerusalem Tuesday that Porush and others members of the Agudat Israel Party had stepped up their criticism of BYU's Jerusalem Center after winning five seats in the Knesset, Israel's governing body.
The rabbi told the Associated Press that he plans to use his party's increased power to put an end to the center, because Mormons are trying "to systematically convert young Jews," which violates BYU's lease agreement.
"We want them to leave and now we have room to do something about it," Porush said. "The Mormons are very dangerous. They have made it unsafe for Jews."
BYU and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have made strict agreements not to proselyte in Israel. In fact, the church will not approve baptisms for natives living in the country.
Robert Taylor, BYU director of travel study and an administrator of the Jerusalem Center, said the 104 students and 10 faculty now at the facility have been carefully instructed about how to behave when asked about the LDS Church.
"If they're asked what the Mormons believe, they refer people to the library," Taylor said. "The church is responding to what is a very, very strong sensitivity among the Jewish people. We've really tried to understand them. They fear us because they know the Mormon Church is one of the most aggressive proselyting organizations in the world.
"I think they genuinely fear that the center will become a missionary effort. I think it grows out of a very deep-seated fear that the Jewish identity will be lost, and I can sympathize with that because of their history. What we can't understand is why the ultra-Orthodox can't accept our commitment not to proselyte, because reasonable people can."
Supporters of Porush's views have recently spray-painted slogans like "AIDS Mormons" and "Mormons Go Home" near the center, but BYU officials do not believe that the opposition is a threat to students' safety.
Taylor said daily security reports keep administrators abreast of trouble spots in Jerusalem and students are directed to stay away from them.