Israeli Cabinet OKs Mormons' Bid for University Branch in Jerusalem

From Times wire services

The Israeli Cabinet put an end to a 3-year-old controversy this week when it approved the lease for a university branch operated in Jerusalem by the Mormon Church. The action came after church leaders guaranteed that students would not proselytize.

In a motion approved by a large majority, the Cabinet voted to approve the lease for the campus of the Jerusalem Center for Near East Studies. The center on the Mount of Olives is affiliated with church-run Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The government approval was required because the Jerusalem campus is built on state-owned land.

Only two ministers from Israel's religious parties voted against the motion, Cabinet sources said. Orthodox Jews had feared that the college would be used as a missionary center for the Mormons, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Missionary activity is regarded as anathema both among Jews and Muslims in Israel. A 1981 law prohibits missionaries from offering any incentive to an Israeli to change religion.

The BYU campus has maintained a low-key presence since it opened last year. Administrators said the school has faced a decreasing enrollment because of the Palestinian unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip--about 130 students are enrolled and that number is expected to decrease to 75 next semester.

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