Thursday, July 22, 2004

American Catholics and Israel

Redacted from an interview of Don Kenner, Director, Catholic Friends of Israel (CFOI) by Joseph Alexander Norland on the web page, IsraPundit

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

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Catholic Friends of Israel - Statement of Principles

Catholic Friends of Israel was founded by Don Kenner in 2004, adopting the following statement of principles:
  • We are faithful Catholics who support the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel.
  • We are faithful Catholics who wish to draw more attention to the plight of long-suffering Catholics and other Christians in the Muslim world.
  • We are men and women of the Roman Catholic faith who are mindful of the resurgence of virulent anti-Semitism. We want our Church to be on the right side of the most important issue for Catholics in the 21st century.
  • We are not a dissident organization. We accept the teachings of the Church. Our organization is not a front group to promote a single issue under the guise of Catholicism (e.g., "Catholics for Choice").
  • 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.
  • We want to be a source of information for Catholics on the Arab-Israeli conflict, monitor anti-Israeli bias in the Catholic press, and resist attempts to politicize our sacred liturgy with a pro-Palestinian spin.
  • We take as our starting points:
    • 1) The work of the Holy Father John Paul II in promoting respect and mutual understanding with our "elder brothers" the Jews,
    • 2) the positive changes in Catholic-Jewish relations since Vatican II, and
    • 3) the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the Jewish State.
  • Catholic Friends of Israel does not endorse any political party, but does comment on candidates, platforms, policy positions, and elections, while being ever-mindful that Catholics consider a variety of issues when voting.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Bishops and the Suicide Bomber

"The Bishops and the Suicide Bomber" -- Originally published by | Wednesday, January 28, 2004.

Filmmakers tell us that the impact of a scene lies not in a single shot, but rather in the juxtaposition of two shots; the contrast of viewing each in succession provides an experience that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Life also has these moments, when the juxtaposition of events reveals more than any one experience ever could. Two recent events tell us much about how the Arab-Israeli conflict is viewed.

First, American and European Bishops began a four-day meeting in the Holy Land, presided over by Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah. The purpose of their visit was to express solidarity with the Church of the Holy Land, and to reiterate grave concerns over the security measures taken by Israel in the face of a prolonged terrorist war.

Second, a female suicide bomber (and mother of two) took advantage of Israel’s soft policy towards Palestinian females, feigning metal plates in her legs in order get inside the checkpoint between Israel and the Gaza Strip. When a female soldier went to help her, she blew herself up, killing four Israelis and wounding nine others.

The next day a statement from the Bishops denounced not only the anti-terrorism fence, but also checkpoints, visa restrictions, and other inconveniences. Did they blame these sometimes harsh but necessary constraints on those who use mass murder as a tool of diplomacy? No, they blamed the state of Israel.

In the Catholic faith, the State derives the right to use lethal force from Natural Law, and is required to wield it to protect her citizens. Failure to do so is a moral failure. But the Jewish State is criticized harshly by American and European Bishops even when it uses non-lethal means to protect citizens from a terrorist war. Given that both the Bishops and European governments (to say nothing of the U.S. State Department) have vociferously criticized Israel for targeted killings of terrorist leaders and risky house-to-house searches for terrorists, it isn’t clear what Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah and USCCB President Wilton Gregory would consider acceptable methods to prevent soldiers, women, children, and even Holocaust survivors from being blown to bits, shot in the head by snipers, or beaten to death with heavy rocks. Since such horrific violence predates the anti-terrorism fence (as well as the settlements), it is difficult to fathom why the Bishops see either of those issues as the difference between bodies strewn across a crowded market place and peace in our time.

Reasonable people can disagree over whether the anti-terrorism fence is an effective method to reduce terror aimed at civilians as well as soldiers. What is not reasonable is the insistence that Israel do nothing serious in the face of an enemy that has pledged to destroy the Jewish State and whose leaders still speak of liberating “occupied Tel Aviv.”

History provides the context whereby moral judgments are made about nations. But the statement released by the Bishops was written in a moral and historical vacuum. Rather than a small, besieged country that has faced four Arab wars aimed at its annihilation, Israel is that country which is building the dreaded fence, a humiliating barrier more soul-destroying than a bomb in a pizza parlor or grenades tossed into a Bar Mitzvah. Instead of a country that only ten years ago offered the Palestinians virtually all of the disputed territory acquired in 1967 from an invading Jordan (only to have the offer rebuffed in favor of a new and deadlier Intifada), Israel is the country that is building a “permanent structure” which is “dividing families” and isolating Palestinians “from their livelihood.” There is nothing in the Bishops’ statement about how Palestinian livelihood is affected by terrorism, the Palestinian Authority dictatorship, or virulent, institutionalized anti-Semitism.

The next paragraph is worth quoting in full:

“We have had an experience of the frustration and humiliation undergone everyday by Palestinians at checkpoints, which impede them from providing for their families, reaching hospital, getting to work, attending studies and visiting their relatives.”

In a sad and tragic act of irony that says more than any press release could, shortly before the Bishop’s statement was released a female Palestinian terrorist showed all with open eyes exactly what the checkpoints (and the fence) are designed to prevent.

The Bishops’ statement of solidarity ends with the rallying cry “You are not alone!” One might ask, alone in the face of whom? There aren’t many actors in the Bishops’ drama. Arab countries, terrorist groups, and this month’s Palestinian leader do not figure into the moral calculus. Hebrew Catholics (and their Bishop) were evidently not invited or else declined to attend. Are the Bishops really suggesting that the Church in the Holy Land become another group raising its fist in defiance of the “Zionist entity?”

Michel Sabbah and the Catholic Bishops have given us a simplistic and all-too-European scenario in which the Jewish State is stealing land and preventing decent folk from work and worship. In doing so they have eschewed the difficult moral issues of unfinished terrorist wars, resurgent world-wide anti-Semitism, Islamofascism, and the right of democracies to defend their people from all of the above. These are only the most important issues facing the world today. Catholics deserve better from their leadership.