Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Holocaust Survivor meets Pope Benedict XVI

Among the attendees to Pope Benedict XVI's general audience today was Cacilie Peiser, an 87 year old survivor of the Holocaust, accompanied by Salesian Father Norbert Hofmann, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews. Zenit News has the story.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An Open Letter to Justice Goldstone

CAMERA -- Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America -- publishes "A Formal Letter to Justice Goldstone":
Dear Justice Goldstone,

You've frequently accused critics of presenting ad hominem arguments against you instead of dealing with the substance of the Report prepared by the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict which you headed. I have several specific questions about the substance of the report arising from statements made there and from your own subsequent comments on November 5th at Brandeis University. I hope that you will clarify these points and address my concerns.

The Mission concluded that Israel may be guilty of war crimes based on the assumption that the country's military forces and leaders deliberately targeted civilians. In order to reach this conclusion, the Mission ignored or discounted available evidence that contradicted that assumption while ignoring the weaknesses in testimony and evidence that imputed to Israel the motive of targeting civilians. This gives rise to the following questions. ... [More]

Read the rest.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Violent protest cancels Israeli film

(Via Elder of Ziyon) -- Violent left-wing protests have prohibited the showing of a documentary film, Why Israel, about the role of the Jewish state as a homeland for refugees:
In late October, the 1973-produced film was scheduled to be shown at the B-Movie cinema, but roughly 50 left-wing activists from diverse anti-Israel groups affiliated with the anti-Zionist International Center B5 barred visitors from entering the movie house.

In Why Israel, Claude Lanzmann - perhaps best known for his groundbreaking documentary Shoah - depicts Israelis who found refuge in Israel after the Holocaust.

The movie house said in a statement that it had been compelled to cancel the film screening and a podium discussion because "we were threatened with violence."

According to eyewitness reports in the German media, left-wing protesters ranging in age from 16 to 70 shouted "Jewish pigs" and "faggots" to the cinema attendees.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Untold Stories of Israel's Martyrs

The Untold Stories of Israel's Martyrs: "For the first time ever, in a book, depictions of the victims of Islamist hatred. Young and old, men and women. Struck down in a bus, at a bar, at the market. Killed solely for the 'fault' of being Jewish"

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Visa Restrictions -- a response to "the Western Confucian"

The "Western Confucian" posts the following query:
News that "[t]he Israeli Ministry of Interior is refusing entry visas to priests and members of religious orders and is also reducing their period of stay in the Holy Land," including "not only figures from the Arab world, but also well-known personalities and biblical experts from Europe and Africa" — Israel restricts visas for priests and religious. What say you, Catholic Friends of Israel?
The cited article fasserts that "the return of the Fundamentalist party Shas to control of the powerful Interior Ministry in the present Israeli government has brought with it renewed trouble for clergymen and members of religious orders." As far as approaching this matter, I'm personally inclined to agree with Fr. Jaeger's approach mentioned in the same article:
... In seeking to persuade the State to take back control of visa policy from the fundamentalists, Church officials can rely on the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel (1993). There, in Article 3, Paragraph 2, the State recognises the right of the Church to "deploy" its own personnel to Israel.

Reached by AsiaNews, the noted expert on Church-State relations in Israel, Franciscan Father David-Maria A. Jaeger, who was part of the bilateral team that wrote the Agreement, confirmed that this was understood on both sides as being the meaning of that treaty provision, and the precise reason for the otherwise unusual use of the word "deploy" in reference to Church personnel.

“Of course - he adds - later in that text, the Church recognises the right of State to ensure the safety of its people, and that this means, in the present context, that the State can in good faith decline to permit the entry of individuals who might pose a risk to public safety, but that the State may not otherwise substitute its judgement for that of the Church with regard to the personnel the Church may wish to 'deploy" from anywhere in the world to its own institutions, for its own purposes, in Israel”.

Father Jaeger has clarified that he cannot comment on the facts and violations here reported. But that as jurist he says he is “confident that the key to resolving any difficulties in the matter lies in the 1993 Fundamental Agreement”.

I think any nation has the right to regulate the entree of foreign parties (religious or otherwise) for reasons of security, and this right should be granted to Israel just as it is to any other nation. Obviously, this may also be subject to abuse. (Not knowing the particulars of the cases referred to in the article, I won't venture an opinion).

I completely understand why this is a point of contention between the Church and Israel; at the same time, I don't think that clergy, simply by virtue of their being religious, are automatically exempt from such regulation.

(Thanks to The Western Confucian for the query and the link to our site!)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Recommended Reading

  • No way home: The tragedy of the Palestinian diaspora - A special report by Judith Miller and David Samuels. The Independent [UK] discovers, contrary to their expectations: "You might think Palestinian refugees would be welcomed by their Arab neighbours, yet they are denied basic rights and citizenship."

  • Goldstone Fallout: A Break in HRW's Ranks Robert Bernstein, who serves as chairman emeritus for Human Rights Watch, joined the group's critics in a very public way -- in a post to the New York Times' op-ed page.

  • CAMERA's Preliminary Response to Editorial in Jesuit Magazine ("Snapshots" September 29, 2009):
    The editors of America, a Catholic newsweekly owned by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) recently published an editorial that invokes the Goldstone Report and the Mishneh Torah. This editorial, which amounts to an indictment of Israel, typifies the magazine's troubling double-standard when covering the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the pages of America, violence against Israel is unremarkable, while Israeli efforts to bring this violence to an end are subjected to intense, and unfair scrutiny. Documentation of this tendency can be found here.

    CAMERA has submitted a brief, preliminary response to the magazine, but it is unclear whether it will be published on the magazine's website. [Consequently, it has taken to publishing the text on its own blog, "SnapShots"].

  • Understanding the Goldstone report - offering critical analysis of the claims of Judge Richard Goldstone's 575-page "Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict".

  • Humorous in any other context, this is just ... sad: Goldstone Endorses Palestinian Witness Who Claimed Israel Distributed Aphrodisiac Gum CAMERA "Snapshots" September 29, 2009.

"Understanding the Goldstone Report" - New Resource

On September 15, 2009, Judge Richard Goldstone and his Commission presented their 575-page Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict to its mandating authority, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). From the beginning, observers raised serious questions about the Commission’s propriety. These involved its mandate and terms of reference, the sponsoring body’s domination by dictatorships that regularly abuse human rights in their own countries, the biases and prejudices of members of the Commission itself. And yet, the report will play a key role in the effort to specifically target Israeli troops in both boycott movements and lawfare attacks, and more broadly to establish a reigning paradigm of international law as applied to 21st century asymmetrical conflicts.

Those of us who have constructed Understanding the Goldstone Report, have been following the claims under contention since the events themselves almost a year ago, and have read the report in detail. We offer a wide range of analysis, from careful examination of specific incidents and controversies to broader legal and conceptual issues. In so doing, we have come to the following conclusions:

  • The report violates international standards for inquries, including UN rules on fact-finding, replicating earlier UNHRC biased statements. The Commission systematically favored witnesses and evidence put forward by anti-Israel advocates, and dismissed evidence and testimony that would undermine its case.
  • The commission relied extensively on mediating agencies, especially UN and NGOs, which have a documented hostility to Israel; the report reproduces earlier reports and claims from these agencies.
  • At the same time, the Commission inexplicably downplayed or ignored substantial evidence of Hamas’ commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of terror, including specifically its victimization of the Palestinian population by its use of human shields, civilian dress for combatants, and combat use of protected objects like ambulances, hospitals and mosques.
  • The Commission openly denies a presumption of innocence to the Israelis accused of crimes (while honoring Hamas’ presumed innocence) and acknowledges that it made accusations of crimes without proof that would stand up in court.
  • The report contains numerous gratuitous digressions into issues beyond the purview of a fact-finding commission that are inaccurate and profoundly hostile to Israel and Jews.
  • The Commission distorted legal standards, imposing on Israel standards that reverse their generally understood and applied meaning, while ignoring important rules of international law that put the onus of responsibility on an organization as base, by Goldstone’s own standards, as Hamas.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI to visit Rome's synagogue in the fall

In a telegram to mark the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, Pope Benedict XVI conveyed his greetings and informed the Chief Rabbi of Rome that he intends to visit Rome's synagogue this fall.

According to Zenit News, it will be the third synagogue that he will visit in his pontificate, after the synagogues of Cologne, Germany, in Aug. 2005, and of Park East in New York, in April 2008 -- and will occur 23 years after Pope John Paul II's historic visit there on April 13, 1986, "the first time that a Pope entered a Jewish place of worship since St. Peter."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Imagine that.

In other news, Human Rights Watch's Marc Garlasco, the point man for the organization's monitoring and criticism of Israel, turns out to have a fanatical obsession with ... Nazi memorabilia.

Meanwhile -- HT: Volokh Conspiracy -- NGO Monitor has published a systematic analysis of HRW entitled "Experts or Ideologues?":

NGO Monitor's detailed report examines HRW's activities related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and particularly on Israel -- including analysis of key HRW staff members, five case studies of HRW campaigns, and quantitative analysis comparing HRW publications in the Middle East, covering the period from 2002 to 2009.

* * *
Harmless coincidence or something rotten within the organization? -- Reading on, we learn that the deputy director of HRW's Middle East section, Joe Stork, once praised the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 as an "achievement." And this same individual attended a conference on "Zionism and Racism" in Saddam Hussein's Iraq:
There he made a presentation that lamented the "devastating defeat" of the Six Day War, which he attributed to "imperialist collusion that lay behind the Israeli blitzkrieg." A decade later, Stork was still railing against "the pernicious influence of the Zionist lobby." It was Stork's boss, Sarah Leah Whitson, who went to Saudi Arabia to tout HRW's battles with "pro-Israel pressure groups.
For details, see:

Monday, August 31, 2009

Remembering Our Roots

The Liturgy of the Hours and Jewish Prayer, by Taylor Marshall. Chapter Nine “Jewish Nazirites, Catholic Monastics” in The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The US background of John Paul’s historic 1986 visit to Rome's main synagogue (Via Cindy Wooden. Catholic News Service).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Polish priest finds his way home -- to Israel

A Polish Priest’s Dream of Aliyah Adopted To Survive Shoah, Jewish-Born Catholic Struggles - Donald Snyder (The Forward):
When Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel applied to immigrate to Israel as a Jew under the Law of Return last October, Israeli authorities delayed responding to his request for months.

Perhaps it was the priest’s white-band collar around his neck that had something to do with this.

Yet ultimately, Israel’s Interior Ministry did issue the 66-year-old Polish cleric, scholar and professor at Catholic University of Lublin a two-year residency visa. It was, it seems, an imperfect compromise with a priest who insists: “I am Jewish. And my mother and father were Jewish. I feel Jewish.”

Speaking through an interpreter during a phone interview, he said, “Going to Israel would be the return of the Jewish child who took the long way home.”

Read the rest.


Israeli Ambassador Mordechai Lewy on Catholic-Jewish relations

Mordechay Lewy, a longtime Israeli diplomat who serves as Israel's ambassador to the Holy See, was recently interviewed by the Boston Globe's Michael Paulson. Topics included the administrative powers of the Pope ("From the books you can see that it is an absolute monarchy, but it is not. Far, far from that") to Israel's interest in preserving its Christian population ("It's not a question. We are obliged to") to the thorny matter of visas and the Pope's remarks on the Holocaust ("What he contributed at Yad Vashem was a completely different approach which was an enrichment to the culture of memory, ... a wake-up from an unexpected corner for people to think a little bit differently") to the controversy involving Pope Pius XI ("It is wrong to look for any affinity between him and the Nazis. It is also wrong to say that he didn’t save Jews").

On a humorous note, there is also this:

Q: What do you actually do on a day to day basis?

A: (laughs) Try to convince Jews that the menorah is not any more in the cellar of the Vatican Museum. I'm not joking. I've had very many requests of that kind. To intervene, to find it, and to bring it back in a diplomatic pouch. There is a legend that says the menorah from the Second Temple, after the destruction, was the war booty of Titus, brought to Rome, was shown where war victories were shown, in a temple of peace. It's shown in the Arch of Titus.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, June 8, 2009


  • Ministry for Finance seizes Church funds. Holy See-Israeli negotiations at stake June 8, 2009. Only weeks after Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel, Tax Chief Yehezkel Abrahamoff, has seized church funds to force ecclesial institutions to pay tax, instead of waiting for the outcome of negotiations on the fiscal statute of the Church in Israel. A personal initiative or a change in the policy of the Netanyahu government? Possibile problems for schools and hospitals.
  • Israel rescinds order to freeze Church funds in the Holy Land June 8, 2009. Israel’s Embassy to the Holy See releases statement saying that Church funds will not be frozen, that the current “situation remains unchanged.” Foreign Ministry blames the incident on a “misunderstanding.” Father Jaeger hopes talks between the Holy See and Israel will continue till an agreement is reached, including the tax status of the Church.
Both stories posted to within hours of each other.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Debunking the Casualty Statistics of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights

A blogger by the name of Elder of Ziyon has been investigating the list of Palestinian dead from the Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza in December '08-January '09, discovering the hundreds of those who were reported as "civilians" were, in fact, armed militants:
Our team cross-checked the names listed by PCHR with lists of "resisters" compiled by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, lists of "martyrs" published by Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and other militant groups in Gaza, as well as from the Ma'an News Agency, Palestinian Arabic discussion groups and other sources.

Our preliminary results show that at least 287 of the people killed, that PCHR classifies as "civilians," were, in fact, militants.

PCHR's criteria to determine exactly who is a "militant" is unclear. They seem to claim that they are only counting those whom they had direct evidence were engaging in hostilities at the moment of their deaths, but this is far from clear. At any rate, the term "militant" is not a legal term, and in common usage it refers to anyone who belongs to a military or paramilitary group. The PCHR's statistics are deceptive and slanted towards creating a false impression of IDF brutality.

Read the rest.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Janina Klein Dylag - Polish "Righteous Among the Nations", dies at 87

From Zenit News (5-22-09), a report that Janina "Juana" Klein Dylag, a Polish Catholic woman who served with the underground Polish army and saved a Jewish family from the Holocaust, has died in Argentina at age 87:
Klein Dylag, along with her husband, was a member of the underground Polish army with the rank of sergeant major. Thanks to her actions, the lives of Felicia Erlich and her daughters, Danuta and Irena, were saved from Nazi persecution.

Klein Dylag learned of the plight of the Erlichs during her work in the resistance. Her own narration of their story explained how she saved them: "Felicia, together with her daughters [...] had escaped from a ghetto, where her husband was and where he ended up dying. I asked permission from my mother and we gave them refuge.

"They moved into a room in my house and did not go out until the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, because it was noticeable that they were Jewish and it was dangerous for them to be seen. The Nazis could have taken them prisoners or shot them if they were found."

See also

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Never to be forgotten or denied" - Fr. Desbois' "Holocaust of Bullets"

Holocaust toll will rise even higher, says priest on trail of Nazi mass-killers - Motivated by the memory of his own father, a French soldier deported to the Ukraine by the Nazis, Father Patrick Desbois is investigating accounts of World War II massacres (and unearthing mass graves). From The Times' Roger Boyes:
At present, Paul Shapiro, of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum — which has been co-operating in Father Desbois’s body hunt — reckons that 1.5 million Jews were murdered by the Germans, their allies and collaborators in the towns and villages of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and other former Soviet republics.

As Hitler’s armies pressed into Russia, the Einsatzgruppen — Operational Groups — rounded up the Jews, forced them to dig pits, strip and lie in the mud until they were shot.

Hundreds and thousands were killed even before German bureaucrats met in 1942 at the Wannsee Conference to work out the logistics of systematically murdering European Jewry and before the concentration camps were slaughtering their inmates. Father Desbois calls it “the Holocaust by bullets”.

Time is of the essence. According to Fr. Desbois, “The witnesses who I am talking to were children at the time and are now very old indeed. So far I have talked to 950.” The eyewitness accounts are harrowing:

One of his interviewees was Petrivna, a Ukrainian woman, in the village of Ternivka. The Jews, she said, were gathered in the centre of the village and taken to a large pit on the fringes of the community.

They were told to lie down, 20 at a time, and shot in the back of the head. “It’s not easy to walk on bodies,” Petrivna told the priest.

“Very calmly I asked her: ‘You had to walk on the bodies of the people who were shot?’ She replied: ‘Yes, I had to pack them down . . . after every volley of shots. We were three Ukrainian girls who, in our bare feet, had to pack them down, the bodies of the Jews, and throw a fine layer of sand on top of them so that other Jews could lay down’.”

Fr. Desbois' published his efforts in the book The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews (MacMillan, 2008).

In this heart-wrenching book, Father Patrick Desbois documents the daunting task of identifying and examining all the sites where Jews were exterminated by Nazi mobile units in the Ukraine in WWII. Using innovative methodology, interviews, and ballistic evidence, he has determined the location of many mass gravesites with the goal of providing proper burials for the victims of the forgotten Ukrainian Holocaust. Compiling new archival material and many eye-witness accounts, Desbois has put together the first definitive account of one of history's bloodiest chapters.

See also:

* * *

Meanwhile, an annual poll of Jewish-Arab relations, conducted by Haifa University's Professor Sami Samuha, revealed that "some 40.5 percent of Israeli Arabs believe the Holocaust never occurred," and denial of the Holocaust has become more prevalent in recent years.

* * *

Departing from Ben Gurion airport in Israel last week, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on his visit of Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial:

The ceremony at the Presidential Palace was followed by one of the most solemn moments of my stay in Israel – my visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, where I paid my respects to the victims of the Shoah. There also I met some of the survivors. Those deeply moving encounters brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews - mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends - were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred. That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied. On the contrary, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Assessing Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to Israel and the Holy Land

Note -- as we receive or come across further substantial assessments of the Pope's pilgrimage to Israel, we will append them to this post.

Before praying of the midday Regina Caeli with those gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Pope reflected on his recent eight-day tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories (Zenit News):

"The Holy Land, symbol of God’s love for his people and for the whole of humanity, is also a symbol of the freedom and the peace that God wants for all his children," the Holy Father said. "In fact, however, the history of yesterday and today shows that precisely that Land has become the symbol of the opposite, that is, of divisions and interminable conflicts between brothers."

The Pontiff explained that the Holy Land "has been called a 'fifth Gospel,' because here we see, indeed touch, the reality of the history that God realized together with men -- beginning with the places of Abraham’s life to the places of Jesus’ life, from the incarnation to the empty tomb, sign of his resurrection."

"Yes, God came to this land, he acted with us in this world," he continued. "But here we can say still more: The Holy Land, because of its very history, can be considered a microcosm that recapitulates in itself God’s arduous journey with humanity.

"A journey that implicates even the cross with sin, but -- with the abundance of divine love -- the joy of the Holy Spirit too, the resurrection already begun, and it is the journey, through the valley of our suffering, to the Kingdom of God, the kingdom that is not of this world, but that lives in this world and must penetrate it with its power of justice and peace."

"Salvation history begins with the election of one man, Abraham, and of people, Israel, but its aim is universality, the salvation of all nations," Benedict XVI added. "Salvation history is always marked by this intersection of particularity and universality."

You can retrace Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to the Holy Land in day-by-day detail here; what follows is a roundup up reflections and wrap-ups of this momentous trip.

  • In Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Where the Foundations of the Faith Can Be "Touched" - Sandro Magister provides his own selection of excerpts from the Pope's remarks, commenting:
    it would be simplistic and misguided to give a purely political interpretation to the overall message that Benedict XVI wanted to address to the Christians of the Holy Land.

    In the pope's judgment, the Church will be influential – on the political terrain as well – if it is able to do something different: if it helps above all to "remove the walls that we build around our hearts, the barriers that we raise against our neighbor."

    Benedict XVI's main goal is to convert hearts and minds to God. He has said and written this repeatedly.

    And he has remained absolutely faithful to this "priority" even on a trip so loaded with political significance as the one he is making to the Holy Land.

  • The Pope, Arabic Islam and the West, by Samir Khalil Samir (Asia News May 14, 2009). According to Samir, it is in Jordan that the Pope "laid the basis for collaboration between Muslims and Christians, East and West." While the Arab press focused on past resentments toward the Regensburg address, Fr. Samir encountered an atmosphere that "was serene, welcoming and of shared trust." He offers an analysis of the Pope's remarks at the University of Madaba, for him "the key point of the pilgrimage":
    It’s very important that in a Muslim (and Christian) world, often theocratic, the pope, before speaking of religion, speaks of culture and science. And the aim of science is to love and discover truth. He insists that this intellectual formation “will sharpen their critical skills, dispel ignorance and prejudice, and assist in breaking the spell cast by ideologies old and new”.

    “Critical skills” are important in the Arab world: without criticism faith can become fanaticism, superstition or even manipulation. The pope touched on a point that is vital for the growth of the region: the absence of the critical eye, results in people following one or other political leader, without ever questioning the need for democracy, freedom, human rights, coexistence. People religiously follow, without ever questioning the principals of their own faith; holding onto traditions for fear of drowning in freedom of conscience. This is true of all religions not just Islam. Ignorance or prejudice, for the pope, threatens peace and dialogue.

    And when he speaks of the “enchantment of ideologies” he alludes to the easy way people let themselves become consumed by fanaticism and violence.

    He says: “Religion, of course, like science and technology, philosophy and all expressions of our search for truth, can be corrupted. Religion is disfigured when pressed into the service of ignorance or prejudice, contempt, violence and abuse”.

    Benedict XVI puts all of these realities into the same boat because everything can be disfigured – even science. For him, what is important is that religion is not abused or disfigured.

    Read the rest of Fr. Samir's analysis.

  • Three great ironies about Benedict's Holy Land visit, by John Allen Jr. (National Catholic Reporter May 15, 2009):
    After the most demanding high-wire act of his papacy, a grueling week that saw the 82-year-old pontiff deliver 28 speeches while shuttling among Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, it seems terribly simplistic to offer a report card, but here we go nonetheless: Give Benedict XVI an A for effort, and a B for execution.
    John Allen offers comprehensive analysis with some good insights. For example, on the sometimes harsh and abrasive criticism by Israelis of the Pope's words at Yad Vashem:
    "In effect, they argued, the very fact that Israelis weren't content just to see a pope at Yad Vashem, or at the Western Wall, is itself a sign of progress. It means that a pope coming to Israel is no longer a revolution or a cause célèbre, but rather an expression of a basically normal relationship.

    Historically inclined Israelis see a progression from Paul VI's visit in 1964, when the pontiff refused to utter the words "state of Israel" or to refer to the country's president as anything other than "mister"; to John Paul in 2000, a trip that transformed relations; to Benedict in 2009, a visit reflecting a now-routine friendship, with its ups and downs, but fundamentally there's no turning back.

    As far as the "three great ironies" of the Pope's trip, Allen notes first that the "wordsmith pope, whose métier is generally ideas rather than images, often seemed to have more success at the level of symbolism"; secondly, that for one "notoriously resistant to attempts to turn the Catholic church into a political action committee, or the message of the Gospels into a revolutionary manifesto," Pope Benedict's "strongest moments came in the political arena"; and finally, that while Pope Benedict "is arguably the pope most inclined to be sympathetic to Israel since the Jewish state was founded six decades ago, yet the Israelis in some ways were his toughest crowd":
    Benedict XVI thus arrived in Israel not only as a pope committed to theological and spiritual fraternity with Judaism, but also one less instinctively hostile to concrete Israeli policies than many other Catholic leaders.

    Perhaps the point was invisible to most of the Israeli public, but local Palestinian Christians actually complained before, and during, the trip that the pope was caving in to Israeli sensitivities at every turn -- not travelling to Gaza, not protesting when the Israelis refused to allow the residents at Aida to erect the stage immediately below the wall, and not protesting when the Israelis closed down a Palestinian press center in East Jerusalem. Even his schedule reflected deference to Israeli sensibilities. Benedict made sure to fly out of Tel Aviv well before sundown on Friday, so as not to disrupt the Sabbath.

    Most Israeli leaders seemed to recognize this, which is probably why they rushed to Benedict's defense when the criticism began. At the inter-faith event in Nazareth, for example, Bahij Masour, who heads the religious affairs division of Israel's Foreign Ministry, made a point of saying during his introduction that the pope "has clearly condemned anti-Semitism and denial of the Holocaust." Certainly Israel's President, Shimon Peres, went out of his way to be gracious to the pope, including hosting a lavish gala in his honor at the presidential palace in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

    As Israelis sort through the images left behind by the pope's trip, perhaps more of this will become clear.

    Read the rest.

  • Commenting on the Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the Holy Land, the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, said on Wednesday: "The entire message of the Pope is positive and could spark important reflection" (Catholic News Agency):
    In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Peres said, in order to "have a clear idea of the message left by Benedict XVI," it is "necessary to combine his discourse at the airport" in which he deplored anti-Semitism and encouraged Christians to promote peace, with "the one at Yad Vashem," in which he reiterated the commitment to the Church to denounce all hatred.

    Peres told the Vatican newspaper that there was no one better than the Pope to express rejection for any religion that justifies violence. He said the Holy Father’s strongest message was "perhaps his arrival speech. More than once the Pope has spoken of the role of the three monotheistic religions in the building of a lasting peace."

    Referring to the search for peace, Peres noted that a new trend is emerging in the Middle East. People are no longer "satisfied with bilateral agreements, but rather seek regional agreements for peace and peaceful coexistence with the understanding that modern democracy does not consist of the right to be equal, but in the equality of rights to be different; in which all prayers can reach heaven without interference or censure."

  • In Holy Land, pilgrim pope delivers religious, political challenges - A decent recap by John Thavis (Catholic News Service):
    Pope Benedict XVI's eight-day visit to the Holy Land was a biblical pilgrimage, an interfaith mission and a political balancing act all rolled into one.

    It was also a gamble. In a region hardened by decades of conflict and simmering social and religious tensions, there was no guarantee of success.

    The long-range verdict is yet to come on this "pilgrimage of peace," but the pope certainly delivered a clear and challenging message to his diverse audiences in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories May 8-15. That alone was an achievement. ...

  • "Singing away theological differences in Nazareth" - Tom Heneghan comments on poignant-if-curious moment for the former Prefect of the CDF:
    This sing-along started at an interfaith meeting when a rabbi began singing a song with the lyrics “Shalom, Salaam, Lord grant us peace.” At some point, the 11 clerics on the stage stood up and held hands to sing the simple tune together. Never very spontaneous, Benedict looked a little hesitant but then joined in. It was something of a “kumbaya session” — a “religious version of We Are The World,” one colleague quipped — but it was good-natured and well meant. The pope has been preaching interfaith cooperation at every stop on his tour and it seemed appropriate that it culminate in a show of unity among the religions in Galilee.

    But wait a minute. This is the same Joseph Ratzinger who, when he was a cardinal heading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, frowned on Pope John Paul’s pray-in with other religions at Assisi in 1986. He even declined to attend what became one of the landmark events of his predecessor’s papacy. [More]

  • Papal Pilgrimage Ends With a Bang: Benedict XVI Sums Up Message in Packed Address, by Father Thomas D. Williams, LC (Zenit News):
    Benedict took advantage of his last meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres to reiterate the key messages of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This Pope -- whom many consider incapable of uttering a sound bite -- managed to condense his week’s message into an 859-word address that lasted no more than three minutes. Somehow in this brief interval he was able to encapsulate the gist of the 29 different encounters that he had throughout this action-packed week. It seemed as if he were back in the university classroom once again, summing up his day’s lecture to keep his more distracted students on track. ...

  • Pope in Holy Land where fear breeds criticism, by Franco Pisano (AsiaNews):
    In Lebanon As Safir, a pro-Syrian newspaper close to the extremists of Hizbollah and Hamas, wrote that the moral authority of the Pope “has no influence on the Arab East that it can leave a trace to shape change.” A Hamas leader accused the Pontiff of not saying things which he had actually said, whilst an imam in Nazareth, who wanted to build a mosque close to the Church of the Nativity, said he “was not welcome.” Israeli closer to the opposition and the ultra-orthodox right attacked him, also forgetting what he said the same day. Part of the Western media echoed such views. If extremists and others, those who are against him on principle, attack him, then Benedict XVI has achieved some results for one does not attack someone who is irrelevant.

  • Fr. Raymond J. de Souza: Pope Benedict XVI's visit "a reason to give thanks" (National Post May 16, 2009):
    Pope Benedict returned to Rome likely content with the workmanlike success of his trip. A spectacular triumph it wasn't. Yet the principal task was accomplished just by coming, lest it be said that the German pope declined to visit Israel. To get here was a struggle, with the Vatican having to overrule local Catholics who were lukewarm to the visit, and the more determined opposition of other Christian leaders. The Christian Arabs here thought the visit would be an undeserved propaganda triumph for an Israeli government they deeply mistrust. They asked the Pope not to come. He came anyway.

  • Commonweal's Paul Moses on Benedict’s effort to reach Arab world:
    Benedict made a strong effort to speak to the Arab world on this trip. I haven’t made a line-for-line comparison of their remarks, but my sense is that Benedict was more pointed than John Paul was in his defense of the Palestinian people. ...

    This may turn out to be the most significant aspect of the trip - more so than the debate on whether the pope should have spoken more personally about the Holocaust. One must suspect that at least some of the negative reaction in Israel was driven by the pope’s take on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Or, as an editorial in the Jerusalem Post put it, “The past week showed that on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Pope Benedict XVI just doesn’t get it. ” But maybe he does.

  • Photographer Stefano Spaziani has some amazing footage of the Pope's visit to Israel

  • Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, believes the Pope's trip to Israel was a success and laments those Jewish critics declining to attend the papal events, and says "there is no question that this pope deeply respects Judaism and stands solidly for the security of the state of Israel" (Wall Street Journal):
    As someone who has dedicated the past 35 years to fostering respect between Jews and Christians, I was deeply encouraged by the pope's visit and believe that it has contributed significantly toward supplanting the dark and violent history between Jews and the church.

    The world desperately needs this model of reconciliation. I pray that it extends to our Muslim cousins too, so that all the children of Abraham might find peace with one another.

  • Benedict XVI's visit to the Holy Land brought with it a "renaissance" in relations between Jews, Muslims and Christians, says Father Caesar Atuire, delegate administrator of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, the Vatican institution whose mission is to evangelize through pastoral tourism and the ministry of pilgrimage. (Zenit News)

  • Leading rabbis in interfaith relations applauded Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, countering criticism from Israeli politicians and journalists (MetroCatholic):
    “I really think it is purposeless to parse every word of the pope, and to read into [his remarks] nuances that were not intended,” said Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal, Executive Director of the National Council of Synagogues.

    Rabbi Rosenthal made his comments at a press conference with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York following the spring meeting of the consultation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) with the National Council of Synagogues (NCS) of America, May 12, in Manhattan.

    Rosenthal added that “the Holy Father went to Yad Vashem; he prayed at the Wall; he reiterated the fact that the Shoah must never be forgotten and that the names of the six million victims must never be erased from historic memory.”

    Rabbi Alvin Berkun, President of the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly, stood with Rabbi Rosenthal, and said the pope’s visits to both the memorial and the Western Wall, where he placed a prayer for peace among the religions and states of the region, build on the successes of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who visited the Holy Land in 2000.

  • "My encounter with the Pope", by Rabbi Benjamin Blech. An eyewitness to the Pope's encounter at Yad Vashem responds to the inquiry, "how does a rabbi feel when he meets the pope?"

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to Israel and the Holy Land

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel and the Holy Land will begin tomorrow, May 8-15, 2009.

I've set up a special blog devoted to the Papal Pilgrimage as a vehicle for rounding up news, coverage and commentary, and where I'll be posting from now until the duration of the Holy Father's journey.

I would ask our readers to please join in prayer -- for the Pope's safety on his pilgrimage, as well as the success of his intentions.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No, Michael Ben Ari, the Pope is most definitely NOT a Nazi

National Union MK Michael Ben Ari declared Tuesday that next week's visit by Pope Benedict XVI, whom he referred to as a former member of the Nazis' youth movement, would be an insult to the memory of Holocaust victims, Haaretz reports:
"A state welcome for the pope would be turning our backs on the millions of Jews who were killed in the shadow of the Christian religion of grace and mercy," Ben Ari was quoted as saying by Israeli media. "This pope was a member of the Hitler Youth."

He made the comments at a Knesset session in which he called on lawmakers to rethink the pope's visit.

Ben Ari, a former member of the outlawed Kach movement [curiously, "barred from participating in the next election in 1988 under the revised Knesset Elections Law banning parties that incited racism" - Wikipedia], further said the Catholic Church is, and has always been, driven by anti-Semitic motivations.

The claim that Pope Benedict XVI harbors Nazi sympathies and is anti-semitic is born of complete ignorance about the life of the Holy Father. That he was an obligatory and unwilling "member" of the Hitler Youth is true, as far as it goes. And from the way this fact has been presented, one might assume this is one of those dirty little skeletons the Pope kept tucked away in his closet (next to his Inquisitor's sword and the token heads of renegade theologians).

Actually, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger freely mentions this himself in his memoirs (Milestones: Memoirs: 1927 - 1977), indicating that he and his brother George were both enrolled in the Hitler Youth -- at a time when membership was compulsory. He discusses family life under the Third Reich in chapters 2-4 of his autobiography.

Likewise, John Allen Jr., journalist for the National Catholic Reporter and author of 2002's biography Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith, provides the historical context sorely lacking in most exposes of this nature ("The Vatican's Enforcer", National Catholic Reporter, April 16, 1999):

As a seminarian, he was briefly enrolled in the Hitler Youth in the early 1940s, though he was never a member of the Nazi party. In 1943 he was conscripted into an antiaircraft unit guarding a BMW plant outside Munich. Later Ratzinger was sent to Austria's border with Hungary to erect tank traps. After being shipped back to Bavaria, he deserted. When the war ended, he was an American prisoner of war.

Under Hitler, Ratzinger says he watched the Nazis twist and distort the truth. Their lies about Jews, about genetics, were more than academic exercises. People died by the millions because of them. The church's service to society, Ratzinger concluded, is to stand for absolute truths that function as boundary markers: Move about within these limits, but outside them lies disaster.

Later reflection on the Nazi experience also left Ratzinger with a conviction that theology must either bind itself to the church, with its creed and teaching authority, or it becomes the plaything of outside forces -- the state in a totalitarian system or secular culture in Western liberal democracies. In a widely noted 1986 lecture in Toronto, Ratzinger put it this way: "A church without theology impoverishes and blinds, while a churchless theology melts away into caprice."

See also:

Pope Benedict, The Jews and The State of Israel

In "Pope Benedict and the Jews" (Jerusalem Post March 29, 2009), Rabbi David Rosen seeks to alleviate concerns resulting from the lifting of the excommunications of Bishop Richard Williamson and his fellow bishops of the SSPX:
The Vatican and the pope have made it clear that the lifting of the excommunication ban is not a reinstatement of these bishops, who will not be accepted back into the church until they affirm the teachings of the Second Vatican Council which include the positive teachings on Jews and Judaism. But above all the pope has not only reaffirmed the Church's unqualified repudiation of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, he has reiterated the importance of Holocaust education and he has especially repeated his own profound commitment to continuing the path of his predecessor in advancing Catholic-Jewish relations.

Those who are familiar with Pope Benedict XVI's record will not at all be surprised by this.

Rosen then runs through a list of notable facts concerning Pope Benedict and his relationshiop to the Jewish people:
  • Benedict was the first pope to invite Jewish leaders both to the funeral of Pope John Paul II and, above all, to the celebration of his own ascension to the throne of St. Peter in 2005.
  • Less than a month into his pontificate, he received a delegation of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, reaffirming his intent to continue upon "improved relations and friendship with the Jewish people" in the steps of his beloved predecessor, John Paul II.
  • Visiting the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 2006, Benedict characterized anti-Semitism as an assault against the very roots of Christianity, implying that "a Christian to harbor such sentiment is to attack and betray his or her own faith":
    "those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down the principles to serve as a guide for mankind ... By destroying Israel, by the Shoah, they ultimately wanted to tear out the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention."
  • As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was on the Special Committee of the Holy See that reviewed and authorized the establishment of full relations between Israel and the Vatican -- upon which he phoned Prof. Zwi Werblowsky, one of the Jewish Israeli pioneers of interfaith dialogue, "to express his joy over this development, describing it as the fruit of the work of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council."
Pope Benedict XVI greets Jewish delegation leader Rabbi David Rosen (C) at the Vatican October 30, 2008. Source: Reuters

In Benedict XVI and the State of Israel (First Things), David P. Goldman (who writes under the pseudonymn "Spengler") examines the Pope's theological perspectives on Israel's founding. According to Goldman, it is notable (though largely unmentioned in the press) that the Pope's visit will overlap with Israel's Independence Day (celebrated on May 14, 2009, according to the Jewish rather than the Gregorian calendar), recalling the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 -- and that on May 15, designated by Palestinians as a day of mourning ("Disaster (Naqba) Day"), he will share a podium in Israel's capital Jerusalem with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Simply a coincidence? -- consider:

Well before the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1993, then Cardinal Ratzinger repeatedly explained to Jewish representatives that the delay in diplomatic recognition solely reflected the concern of the Holy See for the vulnerable Arab Christian communities. His pilgrimage this May devotes considerable time to pastoral meetings with the Arab Christian community. Nonetheless, Benedict has made clear that his concern for Arab Christians is embedded within an unwavering commitment to the Jewish community in the Holy Land.

It is hard not to see an evolution in Vatican policy towards Israel, from a pragmatic approach to the problems of religious constituencies, to explicit theological sympathy for the Jewish State. Benedict XVI is first of all a theologian, and he views the Jewish presence in the Holy Land as a theological matter.

In 2008, on the fiftieth anniversary of Israel's independence, Benedict XVI told Israel's ambassador to the Holy See, "The Holy See is united with you and thanks God for the full realization of the Jewish people's aspirations to live in its homeland, the land of its forefathers." Meeting with the Israeli rabbinate on March 12, the Pope affirmed the election of the Jewish people "to communicate to the whole human family knowledge of and fidelity to the one, true and unique God."

Goldman concedes that "The Magisterium of the Church does not take an explicit position on the question of Jewish statehood"; in fact, the "Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church" (1985) specifically states:
"The existence of the State of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is in itself religious, but in their reference to the common principles of international law."
Yet, as Goldman notes, this assertion stands almost in tension with the very next sentence, which draws from Pope John Paul II's recognition of the theological significance of Jewish survival:
"The permanence of Israel (while so many ancient peoples have disappeared without trace) is a historic fact and a sign to be interpreted within God's design. . . . It remains a chosen people, "the pure olive on which were grafted the branches of the wild olive which are the gentiles."
Indeed, in 1994, explaining the establishment of diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, Pope John Paul II asserted:
It must be understood that Jews, who for 2,000 years were dispersed among the nations of the world, had decided to return to the land of their ancestors. This is their right."
As Goldman remarks:
Theologically it is difficult to separate the election of the people from the promise of the land, and Benedict's commitment to Israel seems strongly grounded in theology.
Not to characterize Benedict as a card-carrying Zionist (a loaded term), but at the very least I think one could acknowledge that this pope is cognisant of the place of Israel in the hearts of the contemporary Jewish people -- and, like his predecessor, supportive of their right of return.

* * *
See also:

On John Paul II and the Jews

As indicated, Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel and the Holy Land will retrace the steps taken by his predecessor. In 2001, SIDIC - Service International de Documentation Judéo-Chrétienne (International Service of Jewish-Christian Documentation -- published a series of reflections on Pope John Paul II's pilgramage, including Pope John Paul II: A Retrospective, by George L. Spectre and Catholics, Jews and the Papal Pilgrimage -- a dialogue between two friends, Msgr. Robert I, Stern and the late Rabbi Leon Klenicki.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Foreign Ministry launches website dedicated to Pope Benedict's pilgrimage to Israel

The Foreign Ministry of Israel inaugurated on Sunday a website dedicated to the upcoming pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI to Israel, set to take place between May 11-15.

The website, accessible at, is presented in eight languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Italian, German and Hebrew). It contains textual and audio-visual information on the Papal pilgrimage, Israel-Vatican relations, Christian communities in Israel and Christian holy sites throughout the country.

The site will also provide regular updates throughout the course of the visit, as well as live broadcasts of events during the Pope's pilgrimage, such as the visit to Yad Vashem, masses at the Garden of Gethsemane and at the Mount of the Precipice, and visits to the site of the Last Supper and to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Source: Jerusalem Post.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rabbi Jacob Neusner weighs on on Pope Benedict's upcoming pilgrimage to Israel

In an interview for a major European periodical next week, Rabbi Jacob Neusner commented on Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Israel -- Tzvee's Talmudic Blog has the complete details. Here's just a snippet:
What is your main expectation?

Pope Benedict XVI has shown the capacity to speak bluntly to the world at large, as his address at Regensburg last year showed. He does not dissimulate or mince words. I expect that he will speak truth to all parties and preserve a balanced and just position for all concerned. That is his record, At the same time the Roman Catholic Church has its interests in the Middle East, which will be on the Pope's mind. The Moslem countries do not accord to Christianity the rights of free expression that they demand and get from the Christian countries. The Pope is likely to pursue that matter too.

In what sense would this trip be a failure?

If one party claims to have been vindicated and the other party claims to have been dismissed unfairly, the imbalance would mark a disaster, because that moral authority that is the Pope's strength will have been wasted,

In what sense would this trip be a success?

If both parties are helped to find steps toward the path to peace in response to the Pope's presence, that will mark success.

* * *

Above all this trip is a pilgrimage. How do you see it, as rabbi and Jewish intellectual?

When a century ago Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism, turned to the Pope for support for a Jewish state, he was told that until the Jewish people converted to Christianity, the Church would do nothing to establish a Jewish state. Papal visits to the state of Israel - this is not the first and will not be the last - repudiate that original decision and affirm the legitimacy of Israel as the Jewish state. It is always important to recognize the implicit statement represented by the Pope's pilgrimage.

What is the main stake from an inter-religious perspective?

The relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the aftermath of Vatican II has defined the task of reconciliation and this visit represents a step toward the realization of amity between the two religions.

Click here to read the rest of Rabbi Neusner's interview on the papal pilgrimage.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because Rabbi Neusner's biblical commentary featured prominently in Pope Benedict's bestselling Jesus of Nazareth (2007).

Also, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, he heralded Neusner's book A Rabbi Talks With Jesus (1994) as "by far the most important book for the Jewish-Christian dialogue in the last decade" -- probably one of the few Jewish books that could boast a blurb by Fr. Andrew Greeley AND the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith on its cover! (Jesus of Nazareth, in fact, could be read in part as a response to the arguments made by Professor Neusner in his own book).

More recently, in contrast to a largely negative outcry from Jewish critics, Rabbi Neusner distinguished himself by defending the Pope's editorial revisions to the Good Friday "Prayer for the Jews" in 2008.

More about Rabbi Jacob Neusner

An Israeli boy visits the graves of his great grandparents, killed in Israel's 1948 war of independence, at the military cemetery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem April 28, 2009. Israel on Tuesday marks Memorial Day to commemorates its fallen soldiers. (Reuters)

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Pope dons a Keffiyeh.

In his latest column, John Allen Jr. points to a curious incident that befell the Pope this week:
... for Israelis suspicious of a pro-Palestinian bias in the Vatican, a photograph out of Benedict XVI's General Audience on Wednesday probably won't help. At the end of the audience, the pope stopped to chat briefly with a group of young Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem, representing a parish the pope plans to visit. One young woman put a keffiyeh, the classic Palestinian headdress, around the pope's shoulders. Fairly quickly, the pope's private secretary, Msgr. Georg Gänswein, removed it -- but the keffiyeh was on Benedict long enough for a photographer to get the shot. One imagines it will make the rounds.
The keffiyeh is a traditional headdress for Arab men, "made of a square of cloth (“scarf”), usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head" (Wikipedia); however, since at least the 1930's, it has become a trademark for Palestinian nationalism -- initially as a symbol of insurrection against the British and later popularized by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Since then it has been appropriated -- consciously in some cases, ignorantly in others -- by Westerners.

Chronicling its transition from political to fashion statement, see Kibum Kim's Where Some See Fashion, Others See Politics New York Times February 11, 2007.

Understandably, when donned by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church at the invitation of two Palestinian Christians, it was going to provoke a reaction.

Personally, I think this amounts to the public relations equivalent of John Paul II's infamous "kissing of the Koran" -- a case where the Pope accepts a gift and follows protocol suitable for the time, but in turn is taken entirely out of context.

In the case of John Paul II, upon receiving a delegation of Muslims he was presented with a gift of the Muslim Koran, which he kissed as a sign of respect (this is traditional practice in the Middle East). Images, however, can speak louder than words, and the photograph of John Paul II is quite compelling. As expected, his actions were imbued with greater meaning than they actually possess: many Catholic 'traditionalists' and anti-Catholic apologists found John Paul II's "bowing before the false god of Allah" good fodder for their screeds.

In like manner, Benedict's donning the kafiyeh, if even for a few seconds, may provoke a similar reaction -- not a few sympathizers to the Palestinian cause will relish the image as a sign of papal solidarity with their cause; conservative critics will beg to differ.

Some of the latter, I think, tend to go a bit overboard -- writing for Atlas Shrugs, Pamela Geller fulminates:

The keffiyeh was Yaser Arafat's swastika and became a powerful symbol of jihad. In the ensuing years, the keffiyeh as an icon of anti-Americanism, anti-semitism and anti-westernism took on a life of its own ...

Just because the Pope pretends not to recognize the uniform does not mean it is not a uniform. The keffiyeh was the signature of Yaser Arafat and is the signature of Hamas and Hezbollah and the homicide bomber. Pretending it's just a scarf is like pretending the klan's white robe is a toga. Symbols mean something. Attempting to mainstream it, in effect softening its barbaric message, is an affront to every victim of Islamic jihad and the war we are engaged in.

The bigoted anti-Catholic remarks issuing from Gellar's readers speak volumes ("Once a Nazi, always a Nazi"?!?) -- thanks to fellow Catholic Friend of Israel reader Carlos Echevarria for attempting to inject a little reason and sanity into the discussion.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pope Benedict's 2006 Regensburg Address - A Refresher Course

Since the topic is bound to come up (and has in fact already), a refresher course on Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg Address appears to be in order. The Boston College Center for Jewish-Christian Learning provides a helpful compilation of links and commentary on the Regensburg lecture, including the following summary:
On Sept. 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave an academic lecture in Regensburg, Germany that argued for both the reasonableness of faith and that faith divorced from reason can produce behaviors contrary to God's will. In this context, Benedict cited the opinion of a fourteenth-century Byzatine emperor that "not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature." The emperor had illustrated his claim about unreasonable religious behavior by discussing the use of violence to coerce conversion, ascribing such practices in polemical terms to Islam, and this language was quoted by Pope Benedict.

The lecture sparked international protests in many Islamic countries. The protestors had apparently concluded or were advised that Benedict himself believed Islam to be, in the quoted words from the fourteenth-century, "only evil and inhuman." Since the papal lecture did not include any examples of unreasonable Christian behavior or reiterate formal Catholic teaching from the Second Vatican Council that the Church regards Muslims with esteem, the likelihood of unintended negative interpretations of the speech was increased. On the other hand, some of the protests in the Muslim world themselves bordered on violence or used symbolic violence, thereby reinforcing the caricature of Islam as inherently violent that the Pope was being accused of purveying. On Octber 12, Islamica magazine published a response to the papal lecture from 38 Muslims scholars and leaders.

Those accustomed to reading about the address only in the context of the ensuing "Regensburg Rage" -- a rash of violent Muslim protests, culminating in the murder of a nun in Somalia and the kidnapping and beheading of an Assyrian priest in Iraq -- will be suprised to discover that only a small portion of it actually touched on Islamic-Christian relations (approximately 3 paragraphs).

Rather, Pope Benedict's focus was not so much on Islam but rather an even greater indictment of the program of dehellenization that played out in Western academia following the Reformation and the liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and which led to the "modern self-limitation of reason," -- confining itself to that which is scientifically (mathematically and emperically) verifiable, and dismissing as irrelevant "the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics."

For helpful analysis of the more substantial portion of Benedict's address, see:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rift in Jewish-Vatican relations over Durban II

Reuters reports that Pope Benedict's decision to send a Vatican delegation to a United Nations conference on racism has opened a new rift in relations with Jewish groups:
"By participating, the Vatican has given its endorsement to what is being prepared there (against Israel)," Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

The United States and some of its allies, including Italy -- a country which often sees eye-to-eye with the Vatican at international conferences -- are boycotting the meeting.

Shimon Samuels, head of the European office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said the Vatican "is giving a seal of approval in the hate campaign" against Israel.

"This is not a position on which one can hedge," Samuels said. "You can't have it both ways. The Vatican is a powerful voice and (a boycott) could have had a strong demonstrative effect."

As if on cue, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel the "most cruel and repressive racist regime", prompting the walkout of European diplomats (Wall Street Journal April 21, 2009):
Mr. Ahmadinejad, in his rambling speech Monday, castigated the U.S. and Europe for acting after World War II to make "an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering," according to an English translation of the speech released by the AP. He said the West used Jewish suffering as a pretext for hostility against Palestinians.

Protesters in clown wigs interrupted his speech with shouts of "Shame! Shame!" and "Racist! Racist!" and threw red clown noses at the Iranian president, the AP reported.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is expected to run for a second term in elections this summer, may have been playing more to his audience back home, in a region where Israeli policies toward the Palestinians are widely condemned.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the chief Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, told Catholic News Service by telephone April 20 it was important for people not to be distracted by the remarks of the Iranian president:

Archbishop Tomasi said much more significant than Ahmadinejad's speech were the real advances made in the draft conference document, which recognizes the Holocaust as something not to be forgotten and condemns anti-Semitism as well as intolerance against other religions. The text under consideration in Geneva has been revised in recent months, and the latest draft does not include references to Israel or Zionism.

The archbishop said it was also essential for the international community to give attention to the new forms of racism and discrimination that are emerging, especially against immigrants, the indigenous and the economically marginalized.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told Vatican Radio April 20 that "statements like those of the Iranian president do not go in the right direction, because even if he did not deny the Holocaust or the right of Israel to exist, he expressed extremist and unacceptable positions."

"For this reason it is important to continue to affirm with clarity the respect for human dignity against every form of racism or intolerance. We hope the conference can still serve this purpose," he said.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Deal Hudson on Israel and Palestinian Christians, Revisited

In his latest article for, Deal Hudson presents Ten Hard Facts Confronting Benedict XVI in the Holy Land concerning the plight of Palestinian Christians.

One would expect that -- when presenting a list of "hard facts", particularly a topic as provocative as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- elementary journalistic standards would require the citation of a source.

Furthermore, one might expect the placement of such statistics in context to further enable a moral evaluation.

That Hudson completely neglects to do this is frustrating, to say the least.

Consequently, we have such indictments as

"Palestinians have been the subject of frequent attack [by Israel] -- often with civilians and their homes in the direct line of fire"
Such a statement, on its face, leaves out notable mitigating factors. Taking the most recent case of Gaza, for instance, Hudson could have mentioned Hamas' penchant for deliberately locating its troops and rocket positions in close proximity to civilians, even so far as housing weapons in schools and within its own mosques.

Other factors which might be brought to bear in the evaluation of Israel's targeting of Palestinians in civilian-populated areas is that Israel sought to warn civilians prior to impending attacks via Arabic-language voice mails on their cell phones, urging them to vacate homes where militants had stashed weapons. (Conversely, Hamas displayed complete disregard for civilian welfare, to the point of hijacking ambulances).

Again, Hudson states that:

"Israel's 21-day incursion into Gaza left an immense humanitarian crisis: More than 50,800 Gazans were left homeless; 80 percent of the population are now dependent on assistance"
But certainly at this point, might our appraisal of this fact be influenced by the knowledge that, even while Israel was fighting to protect their own cities against Hamas' rockets, they were bringing assistance to citizens of Gaza impacted by the conflict?

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for example, provides regular weekly reports on humanitarian aid to Gaza during the IDF operation and increased humanitarian aid to Gaza following the IDF operation as well.

In a February 2009 post ("Dispatch from the border of Gaza"), Michael Totten wrote about his tour of a temporary field hospital set up by the State of Israel at the Erez Crossing at the northern end of Gaza:

Palestinian civilians who needed medical attention were invited to come to Erez for treatment by Israeli doctors.

Humanitarian goods facilitated by the IDF also went through Erez into Gaza throughout the conflict, and the crossing was open to Palestinians with dual nationality who wanted out.

“We were asked by the government and the Ministry of Health to operate this regional medical clinic,” an Israeli doctor told me. “We've put everything here we can provide in a first-line clinic. It's not a hospital. We won't be able to operate here. But we need a humanitarian clinic to treat patients who need medical assistance.” [According to the Jerusalem Post, the clinic "offered not only medical specialists but also x-ray facilities, a lab and a pharmacy, meant to treat about 50 patients at once - both wounded Palestinians and those suffering from physical ailments"]. [...]

The Israelis had to close the place down. Only a handful of patients ever came through, which didn’t surprise me. I didn’t see any Palestinian patients there when I visited. Hamas didn’t allow their wounded to be treated by Jews.

Consider also, for instance, that the blog Elder of Zion together with PTWatch have documented 86 some terrorists killed by the IDF that have been reported as "civilians" by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (the source of statistics cited by Hudson in his prior article).

All the more reason to regard "facts" -- and the mere citation of statistics absent of context -- with caution.

* * *

According to Hudson:

"Tension with Muslims is not the primary reason for the exodus -- only 11 percent of Palestinian Christians cite it as a reason for immigration."
With all due respect, I have reasons to approach this statistic with some skepticism. Most curiously, Hudson himself has previously cited (approvingly!) the work of Justus Reid Weiner, an international human rights lawyer who has made the plight of Palestinian Christians a subject of personal research. You can read an interview with Weiner here; a monograph, Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society is available for free download as well.

Weiner speaks of "intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycotts, torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion" -- not, however, at the hands of Israel. (See the aformentioned links for documentation).

According to Weiner:

[Over a 10 year period] my research assistants and I have interviewed scores of Christian victims. Many of those interviewed were too terrified to tell their stories. In an effort to reassure them, I promised to conceal their real names, professions, and places of residence.

Suffice to say this doesn't strike me as an opportune environment for a persecuted minority to register open complaints about their condition. In fact, says Weiner, the silence and suppression of Palestinian Christians remain the norm when it comes to such persecution:

Weiner says he became aware of the many crimes against Christian Arabs under the Palestinian regime when, ten years ago, a Christian lay pastor said to him, "You're a human rights lawyer, what are you doing for the Christian Arabs?" Weiner replied that he was not doing anything for them as he was not aware they had any problems. The pastor then said: "Let me send you some people to interview and once you've done that make up your own mind."

Weiner remarks: "That began my education process on this subject. The problem I had the most difficulty understanding was why the large, powerful, populous Christian world has permitted this to go on for so long. This is the more surprising as the PA is in such need of funds and political support. Ten years down the road I can only say that it is a sad testimony for contemporary Christianity.

"I discovered a wide gap between the Palestinian Christian leadership and their flock. The former tended, for many years, to put on their nice robes and hats to meet Arafat for religious occasions. They are the same people who keep touring around the United States and being feted in different locations where they repeat the false story that everything is fine.

"These patriarchs and archbishops of Christian Arab denominations who are currently deceiving the international community are self-interested people. They collaborate with the Muslim perpetrators of intimidation and violence. Against all evidence they claim that the Christians Arabs are living comfortable and prosperous lives. In fact the present situation is growing worse by the day."

The numerous incidents of Muslim persecution told by Weiner stand in stark contrast to the testimony of, say, Michael Sabbah (former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem 1987-2008), who in a December 2003 interview dismissed such accounts:

Is it difficult being a Christian Palestinian in a predominantly Muslim and Jewish land?

Christians are part of Palestinian society, and the Palestinians are Christians and Muslims. No one is going to flee because of Islamic influence, but because of the lack of work, or the political tension provoked by the curfew. But there is no Muslim persecution of Christians, and in fact they share the same hope of one day having an independent state.

Don’t you see a desire on the part of Muslims to dominate and convert other faiths?

Just a moment. This isn’t easily understood in the West. We Palestinians know how to live together and how to understand this relationship. We are one people, even if there are some difficulties.

But aren’t you isolating the case of the Palestinians? This isn’t a relationship that is easily exported. To find Christians who are persecuted it’s enough just to look at Vatican reports. Think of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iraq.

In Arab countries there is no persecution of Christians. I don’t speak of Pakistan, but in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon—no. Historically there have been some massacres, beginning when Europe entered the Mideast. ...

Not even any effort at the conversion of Christians?

There’s always that, but much of it is social pressure, that’s all. Nowadays we cannot say there is persecution. There are problems of the majority and minority, disputes of a social nature. These governments are very vigilant about relations between Muslims and Christians. There’s a lot of propaganda in the West; I don’t know why. Let us live in peace and don’t foment fear, it’s fear that weakens us. Our vocation is to live among Muslims and to give testimony to Jesus in a Muslim society. It’s difficult, but we accept it.

Rod Dreher, a journalist and [Orthodox] Christian blogger, conveyed his own first-hand encounter with the self-imposed censorship of Palestinian Christian prelates in 2005:

When I was in the Holy Land covering John Paul's visit, I spent time talking to Palestinian Christians. They have hard lives, no doubt about it, and all blamed Israel. But a funny thing happened when I put my notebook away after one of these interview sessions. The Christians with whom I was speaking suddenly started talking about how terrified they were of the Muslims, and said how life would be far worse for them if the Islamists took power within the PA. They wanted me to know that, but did not want me to quote them. They (correctly) saw things as hopeless all around for Palestinian Christians, and just wanted to move. There are no Christian suicide bombers, but the Christians have to pay the price for what the Muslim suicide bombers do. And so forth.


At my newspaper a couple of months ago, the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, a Palestinian, came by for an interview with the editorial board. It was pathetic to watch. He was dhimmi-ized through and through. Couldn't bring himself to condemn anything Muslims did. Everything was the fault of the Israelis. If a Muslim blew himself to bits and killed scores of Israeli civilians in so doing, that was Israel's fault. No, there is no enmity between Muslims and Christians there, he insisted; we have always gotten along wonderfully, couldn't be better, he said.

I couldn't figure out if he was lying to himself, or to us. But when he said that Abraham wasn't Jewish, well, that just took the cake.

Weiner concedes that Israel does bear some responsibility for the situation and cites several issues (which Hudson raised in his article), such as visa restrictions which hamper foreign and local Christian clergy from traveling between parishes, and "economic hardship and unemployment is caused by the cutoff from outside aid due to Israeli security measures that bar most Palestinians from working inside Israel."

Nonetheless, to reiterate my prior post: any moral evaluation of the restrictions on movement imposed by Israel must take into account the reasons why they were established and imposed in the first place.

There is no disputing that life would be easier for Palestinian Christians and their counterparts if Israel were to dismantle the checkpoints and the security fence. But such a removal would, of course, be predicated upon the willingness of organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to disavow terrorism.

And that's something Hudson hasn't actually addressed.

* * *
In closing, perhaps as an incentive to further discussion, permit me to pose some questions:

What do you anticipate would happen, were Israel to suddenly dismantle its security measures -- the checkpoints? the security fences?

How would Palestinians react? -- Fatah? Hamas? Islamic Jihad?

Noting that the Vatican has itself formally recognized the State of Israel, is such a recognition incumbent on Palestianian Christians and their Muslim counterparts?