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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 17:51 GMT
Jewish fury at 'Holy Land' park
Jerusalem
The old city of Jerusalem is the centrepiece of the park
By Malcolm Brabant in Florida

The United States' latest theme park is facing angry protests from American Jews.

About 100 demonstrators are expected to picket the Holy Land Experience in Orlando Florida when it opens its gates to the public for the first time on Monday afternoon.

Jerusalem
The stations of the cross in Jerusalem are featured in the theme park
Militant critics believe the park's creator is attempting to convert Jews to Christianity.

The Holy Land experience resembles the old walled city of Jerusalem and contains replicas of the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.

It also houses a replica of the Via Dolorosa, the street along which Jesus carried the Cross, and the tomb at Calvary where Jesus' body was first laid before the Ascension.

Marvin Rosenthal, a Jewish-born Baptist minister behind the $16m park, says the purpose is to preach and spread the Word of God.

But Irv Rubin, the chairman of the Jewish Defence League, who is leading the protests, described Mr Rosenthal as a soul snatcher and said the demonstrators would not allow "the spiritual destruction of the Jewish people".

Deeply offended

He claimed that Mr Rosenthal's Zion's Hope organisation was part of an effort that had succeeded in converting 250,000 Jews to Christianity in the United States.

Mr Rosenthal denies that the prime aim is to convert Jews, but he admits that he would be pleased if the park inspires people to dust off their Bibles and consider accepting God into their lives.

Other Jewish organisations are concerned about the Holy Land Experience, but acknowledge that Mr Rosenthal has a First Amendment right to promote his views.

Arthur Teitelbaum of the Anti-Defamation League said they had the absolute right to build a theme park based on the Bible, but he warned that the Jewish community would be deeply offended if the intention was to target Jews for conversion or make false comparisons between Judaism and Christianity.

It is estimated that the park needs 180,000 visitors a year to break even.

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