IsraPundit: Other than maintain the CFOI site, Mr. Kenner, in what activities is CFOI engaged currently?
Don Kenner: The website, the blog, letter-to-the-editor campaigns, op-eds, and contacts with lay Catholics are our main activities at the moment. We protested (faxes,emails, phone calls) a fundraiser in a Berkeley Catholic Church for the International Solidarity Movement, our position being that politics aside, no Catholic church should be raising money for an organization that aplogizes for terror. We owe this future focus of the group to a Catholic woman in California who saw the ad for the fundraiser and contacted us.
IsraPundit: Are you able to speak about your pro-Israel message in churches?
Don Kenner: There are generally two kinds of Catholic churches: those that allow political activity and those that limit on-site speakers and groups to the pastoral concerns. The former tend to be left-wing and the latter tend to avoid politics. Personally, I would rather speak to groups of Catholics in their homes, but we aren't there yet.
IsraPundit: Your site states that "We believe there are millions of Catholics who represent an untapped resource for support of the Jewish State and its right to defend itself from terrorism." To what extent have you indeed met with popular support among Catholics? Do you find that the readership of your site is increasing?
Don Kenner: I fervently believe that most Catholics in North America have sympathy for Israel's plight and justifiably see their war against terror as linked to our war. The average Catholic soccer mom who writes the checks to the local Church certainly does not support the PLO, ISM Palestinian "resistence" or any other pro-terrorist abominations. Most Catholics, and this includes many in Europe, see radical Islam for what it is: ravenous and unreasonable.
IsraPundit: What data make you believe that "Most Catholics in North America have sympathy for Israel's plight"?
Don Kenner: Most American Catholics are typically American. These lay Catholics are patriotic, suspicious of an over-reaching government, and hard line when it comes to things like terrorism. They sympathize with Israel in the same way that most Americans in general sympathize with Israel. In other words, the phrase "Most Americans sympathize with Israel" does not change when one uses the subset "Most American Catholics...".
Apart from that general observation, I also have specific indications:
- Our email box tends to confirm lay Catholics support Israel.
- Letters to the Editors: in major Catholic publications, anti-Israel material generally comes from Priests, Nun, or liberal activists/writers, while a healthy pro-Israel response comes from lay Catholics.
- Anti-Israel comments are among the most controversial things a priest can say, especially after 9-11.
Think of the Church as having three levels: 1) The Vatican/the Bishops, 2)the Middle Management (Priests, local Church and parish officials, directors of ministries, etc.), and 3) lay Catholics. There is much focus on 1), but in fact it is 2) where the problems with anti-Israel bias reside, and this "middle management" does not represent your average lay Catholic when it comes to controversial issues. This rift has been exacerbated since 9-11.
IsraPundit: Are you considering ties or collaboration with other religious groups, such as Christian Zionists?
Don Kenner: I've been the lone Catholic at a Christian Zionist conference and have always been treated with kindness and respect. However, many Protestant evangelicals regard us Papists as either fools or Satan's concubine. There is much suspicion and often the cause of a safe Israel is used as a cover for debating doctrinal issues. Don't misunderstand me: I thank G-d every day for my evangelical Christian brothers. On both Israel and many other issues we share common ground. I hope that ALL supporters of Israel can work more closely together in the future.
I often find myself defending Protestant fundamentalists to my fellow Catholics, and just as often defending my Church against wild, conspiratorial accusations by both Protestant and Jewish activists. Here's a recent one: the Vatican is manipulating Arab opinion to effect an Arab-Christian take over of Jerusalem so that Rome can, once again, control this holy city. I hope everyone reading this interview can see past this, but I've twice had this put to me and been dared to deny it. Needless to say, the last person who suggested such a thing was Franco, and the idea was rejected.
Realize this: the same news organizations that write outrageous falsehoods about Israel also apply the same lack of professionalism and ideological rigor to their coverage of the Catholic Church. Often it's the very same commentator. When James Carroll divined that the essence of Catholicism was antisemitism, many of our Jewish friends nodded in assent, but when the same James Caroll compared the cutting down of olive trees with suicide bombings, they were less impressed with his acumen. We were not surprised to see the anti-Catholic bigot beating up on the Jewish state. (See CFOI article dated March 20, 2004.)
IsraPundit: How did you research the Israel/Arab conflict so as to become a pro-Israel advocate?
Don Kenner: Twenty years ago I believed in a one state solution (Palestine) and thought insane anyone who considered the Jewish state a permanent entity. Everyone I knew believed this, so it made sense. But even at the time I knew my knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict was limited to a few Chomsky-like platitudes. So how did I change?
This may sound strange, but after a period of ignoring the whole Mid East conflict, it was my conversion to Catholicism that set me on the road to Zionism and clear-headed thinking about the Jewish state. The example of the Holy Father with regards to Catholic-Jewish relations, coupled with the simple admonition that Catholics are called to seek the truth, set me on this course.
IsraPundit: A news story in Ha'aretz, 7 July 2004, reported that "The Catholic Church condemned anti-Zionism as a cover for anti-Semitism by means of a joint statement issued by a forum of Catholic-Jewish intellectuals this week." How significant do you deem this statement in terms of changing the official Catholic anti-Israel stance?
Don Kenner: Since the signing (ten years ago) of the Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Holy See, I don't think there has been anything like an 'official Catholic anti-Israel stance'. The statements from the Vatican, from Bishops, and from other Catholic leaders have been varied and uneven, with the most positive declarations coming from Pope John Paul II. There have been many sad and ridiculous statements from Catholic Bishops, statements that are rarely criticized by Jewish leaders in the U.S. (A little help, please!!).
As to equating of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, it is on target and overdue. There have been other indications that the pro-Israel (or at least not pro-Palestinian) forces in the Church were making their views known. As you might imagine, we at CFOI are elated with the statement.
IsraPundit: Will this statement have any impact on such practical issues as Israel's security barrier, which a gathering of Catholic bishops condemned?
Don Kenner: I regard the American Catholic participation in that one-sided, insensitive, ahistorical, and morally inane statement against Israel's security barrier to be the lowest point in the history of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. What we need is a declaration by courageous, faithful Catholics that the Jews have a natural right to defend themselves from terrorism, consistent with Catholic teachings on subject. Too many hard politicos of the left have carved out a pro-Palestinian trench in our Churches. A little sunlight is the best disinfectant.
IsraPundit: Do you support the so-called "two-state solution"?
Don Kenner: Israel acquired the disputed territories from invading Arab countries. If she wishes to trade some of it away to achieve security, it would seem silly for a bunch of Catholics to protest. However, I believe that the land-for-peace scheme has been an unmitigated failure, precisely because the so-called peace partners want to liberate "occupied Tel Aviv."
IsraPundit: Thank you, Don, for this interview. For the sake of Israel and for the sake of our own democracy in North America, I hope that your organization is successful