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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 youth.


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 neighbours.


Israel 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.


Jerusalem 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.


Israel 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


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