Rant Concerning Israel and Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XIV has
been visiting Israel,
meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with leaders from the Palestine
Authority. He has made conciliatory gestures that would have been unthinkable
not long ago in the history of the Catholic church's troubled relationship with
Jews. At the same time, he called for the establishment of a "Palestinian
homeland." almost as soon as he touched down on Israeli soil. The
territory conceded thus far to the Palestine Authority has been used as a
springboard for attacks deeper into Israeli territory. Rather than reciprocate
with conciliatory actions, the concessions have emboldened the Palestine
Authority, whose people have elected leadership that is both adamant and
violent in their rejection of the State of Israel.
Had the Pope not called for establishment of a Palestinian
State, it is quite likely that the already dwindling population of Christian
Arabs in Israel and in territory under the Palestine Authority would be subject
to anti Christian violence by Muslims. Under the Islamic oriented government of
Hamas, Christians are second class citizens at best, enduring civic
liabilities, violence and sometimes attacks on their religious sites. Despite
the stellar Israeli record in protecting Arab Christians and their religious
sites, it would not have been politically correct for the Pope to point the
contrast of Israel's
record towards Christian Arabs and that of Arab governments. In modern times,
Christian Arabs are in a sense hostages to the Muslim majority.
How should the Israelis deal with the Pope? He was treated
with unfailing civility and respect by the Israeli government. Israel is in
some ways a raucous democracy. Some statements made during his visit by some
Israelis reflected the deep distrust of the Pope that have well founded
historical reasons. Only recently, the pope had readmitted Bishop William
Richardson, a Holocaust denier back into the Catholic church. He made it clear
with subsequent sanctions against Richardson
that he did not approve of his theology or attitudes towards Jews. The question
remains why it took a media outcry to bring the depth and range of Richardson's antipathy
towards Jews to the Pope's attention.
The Pope has been criticised for his youthful membership in
the Hitler Youth. I feel that this criticism is absurd and unwarranted. It
would have been exceptional for him not to have been an HJ member. There were
strong expectations of all German young people that they join that
organisation. The Boy Scouts were not an alternative either. The Nazis did not
like ideological competition. The Hitler Youth was the only show in town.
This situation can be compared to citizens of the former Soviet Union. I have only met a few people who refused to
join the Young Pioneers. The pressure to join this communist youth group was
very high. It affected one's social standing in school. The Komsomol, which was
for high school students was also a common denominator for millions of Soviet
My choice of the Young Pioneers and the Komsomol as a way of
shedding light on the experiences of the Pope's youth is not accidental. Nazism
and communism are both atheistic ideologies with body counts higher than that
of Christianity or Islam throughout their entire history. The experience of
those who came of age under these regimes as citizens rather than victims is a
vast underdeveloped area of study.
I feel that some changes are in order for Israeli relations not
only with the Pope but with the governments of the world as well. The Jewish
people lost one out of every three Jews alive at the time during World War Two.
The facts related to this are well documented. If anyone should be involved in
researching details of this chapter in our history, it should be the State of
Israel. Despite this, I feel that foreign visitors to Israel should
have a change of itinerary from what is currently accepted practice.
I do not like the obligatory "photo op" at Yad
Vashem Holocaust memorial that seems to be a part of every foreign visit. I do
not even like the apologies of foreign heads of state that visit Israel. Anyone
who wishes to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial or the Western Wall
should have the opportunity to do so. But such visits should be private,
personal apolitical affairs. There should be no photographs taken or press
releases of what was written by a leader and put into the crevices of the
Western Wall. It is unbecoming for Judaism's holiest site to be turned into a
location for a political infomercial. Any foreign visitors should be able to
immerse themselves in Israel's
rich history and avail themselves of the prolific scholarship that surrounds it
in the Holy Land that is under Israeli rule
without undignified fanfare at sacred sites.
But the part of a state visit that is on camera should be
practical and unremarkable. Israel
is a country of seven million people. There is no reason to apologise for
whatever the government does to safeguard the integrity of its borders and the
well being of its citizens. It should be explained in practical terms to
foreign visitors what Israel
does to keep from being wiped off the map. Every other nation in the region
gives statutory primacy to Islam. Even within Islam, each country in the region
gives primacy to one sect over another. In Saudi Arabia, Sunni Islam is
dominant. In Iran,
which is Muslim but not Arab, Arabs are an impoverished minority and Shia Islam
is politically dominant. The lofty goal of a secular, democratic and non
denominational state has not existed anywhere in the region. If Israel were to
take such a step, it have no precedent in the region and no sequel among its
was built in good part by refugees from neighbouring Arab countries. It had
what was in effect a population exchange with its neighbours that was never
ratified by law. These same neighbouring countries no seek to chase those who
were driven from their homes from their land of refuge. If there is any piece
of recent history that should be stressed it is this.
There were attempts to establish a Jewish homeland in Uganda and Argentina as well as Birobidzhan in
Soviet Asia. The only attempt that ever reached critical mass in modern times
is the State of Israel. Even those who are avowed secularists can not divorce
themselves from the biblical roots of Israel's existence.
A central motif of Vatican policy towards Israel has been for calls to internationalise Jerusalem. This is
redundant. For the first time in centuries, visitors of all faiths have access
to their religious landmarks. Unlike other countries such as Egypt and Turkey
that enforce decrepitude upon Christian religious sites by refusing permission
to maintain and renovate, churches and mosques are well maintained in Israel, whether
they are famous landmarks or local places of worship. This practical reality
needs to be stressed over legal technicalities. Under Jordanian rule, urinals
were set up by the Western Wall. Garbage was dumped there. Under British rule,
a Jew who sounded shofar by the Western Wall was subject to instant arrest.
Unfortunately, it is Jewish antiquities that are poorly
guarded by the Israelis. The Muslim religious authorities on the Temple Mount
have engaged in the use of heavy earth moving machinery that has pulverised
Jewish antiquities buried at the site. The Israeli government is too interested
in jumping through hoops to satisfy its critics to put a stop to this outrage.
is more international than it has ever been before. The world should recognise
and applaud this.
When Charles De Gaulle visited Quebec in 1967, he created outrage with a
speech in which he shouted "Vive le Quebec libre !" Long live free Quebec !" Canadians
were outraged. De Gaulle's visit ended two days later without a visit to Ottawa, Canada's
capitol. His statement was seen as inflammatory interference in Canada's
internal affairs. For years afterward, relations between Canada and France were strained as a result.
is a strange place. Almost every foreign leader who visits Israel does the same thing as De Gaulle did in Canada in 1967.
No one bats an eyelid. Everyone wants to solve Israel's problems with its
neighbours, employing a moral standard never applied before and will probably
never be applied again. The death toll in all of Israel's wars on all sides, both
military and civilian since 1948 has been about 120,000. In the Congo alone
since 1994, over six million Congolese have died. If you go back to 1948 and
look at all of Africa's wars, the death toll compared to that of Israel is
astronomical on an absolute and per capita basis. There is no logical reason
for the inordinate media attention focused on the Middle Eastern conflict. It
is not natural. Black Africans could be excused for imputing the indifference
to their suffering to racism in United Nations.
By Israeli standards, the Pope's visit to Israel went
well. Despite the similarity of his visit to that of Charles De Gaulle to Canada, it was
judged to be a success. But Israel
is unlike like any other place on the planet. By absolute standards, the Pope's
visit was rather odd. And that what I expected.
Reprinted with permission from Magdeburgerjoe.com