The Pope’s trip to the Middle East was an unimitigated disaster. It accomplished nothing except to provide Israel with precious photo-op images of Christ’s Vicar doing atonement and homage to the Jewish State as self-appointed symbol of Judaism.
There are times when considerations of honor give way to obtaining tangible gain. As Henry IV put it, “Paris is worth a mass.” But the Pope’s trip to Israel-Jordan was not one of them. It was entirely foreseeable that the Pope could resolve none of the geo-political issues that vex the region and that such lesser issues as were resolvable did not require personal papal intervention in the negotiating process.
If the Pope entertained ideas that he could bring a geo-political settlement to the Jewish-Palestinian conflict he was seriously misadvised. There was no possibility of such thing, primarily because Israel does not want settlement on any other terms than those which give it regional hegemony and a de-facto Greater Israel.
Not but a day after the Pope deplaned for Rome, than Bibi Netanyahu announced that he remained opposed to a two-state solution but was all eager and excited for a “fresh approach”. According to minister Ehud Barak, “Netanyahu will tell Obama: ‘We’re willing to engage in a process whose end is a regional peace accord. ... [which will include]... two peoples living side by side in peace and mutual respect.” [ BBC ]
How long will the world stupidly swallow this bully-boy cynicism? This is nothing but a rehash of the 1993 Oslo Accords which envisioned a five year “process” at the end of which some sort of Palestinian “homeland” would be permanently established. Netanyahu vehemently opposed the accords and wanted them repudiated outright. Instead the Israeli government pursued a policy of Death by a Thousand Quibbles and by the time of the First Intifada, the “process” was dead. Now cometh Netanyahu proclaiming that he is eager for “process” that will lead to some sort of eventual peace. One has to be stupider than a Mongoloid Idiot (or at least a daily reader of the Post and Times) not to figure out what is going on. Did the Vatican Secretariate of State actually believe the weepy propaganda served up by AIPAC, ADL and other zionist agencies of the Israeli State? There was absolutely no chance that the Pope could nudge any process even an inch further a long and therefore a trip to Israel and Jordan could not be justified on geo-political grounds.
If the Pope went to the Middle East to bring inter-faith reconciliation that too was a misadvised purpose. In this field, a pope has more power because he deals with homologous counterparts. But inter-religious reconciliation is not something achievable by the wave of a wand. Is there anyone dolt who does not know that the Holy Land is “home to all three of the world’s great religions” ? God knows we’ve heard this blather frequently enough. Is there anyone who does not know that Jesus preached peace? Were it enough to stand on the banks of the River Jordan and call upon the world to repent its divisions, we’d be awash in the ambrosia of religious harmony.
In fact, there was neither hope nor need for reconciliation which refers to doctrinal issues. Reconciliation is a goal to be worked for between Christians but not with other faiths. As the Muslim response to Benedict’s Regensburg Address noted, the common ground between Christianity and Islam exists on the moral level of love of God and Man. [ See WCG Feature ] The same might be said of Judaism, and anyone who imaginedsthat Judaism and Chrisitanity can be theologically reconciled has been reading too much multi-cultural nonsense. When Jewish leaders call for “reconciliation” they mean apologies, abjection and atonement.
Nor did the pope need to go to Israel in order to work on and resolve issues concerning church properties, taxation, administrative exemptions and visas for priests. The Church has ancient and important interests in the Holy Land which it devolves on current governments to respect. But these are matters for monsignori and secretaries of State. The pope should only be called in for the Grand Signatory Moment... and such a moment were it to be reached was more appropriately held in the halls of the Holy See not in some adjunct Knesset meeting hall. In all events no such resolution of these outstanding issues was announced.
Given that the Pope’s trip served no practical purpose whatsoever, it could be argued that the trip served one or more symbolic purposes -- a kind of “show the cross” diplomacy. But if that was the purpose it too also a total failure.
The Church has both an interest and responsibility to Arab Christian Communities, across the Middle East. But the sad fact is that these ancient and venerable communities have been decimated as a direct and intended result of Israeli and American policies. Iraq’s Chaldean Catholics are among the oldest denominations in Christendom, having survived numerous perils and persecutions. These were the first and foreseeable victims of the U.S. and Israel policy to “constabularize” Iraq -- i.e. to destroy civil society and replace it with degraded, demoralized, penetrated “zones of democratic peace” kept in a state of ongoing low-level civil warfare both provoked and repressed by so-called “full spectrum” forces capable of engaging in subversion, torture, spying, police repressions and military assaults all at once. The goal of U.S. and Israel policy has been nothing less than the establishment of a cordon constabulaire stretching from Georgia to Af -Pakistan. [ See WCG Feature ] Such a policy which had no intent of building up anything and every intent of tearing down everything had no more regard for the integrity of Chaldean Comumunity than it did for the integrity of the priceless ruins of Babylon.
The Pope’s visit could only underscore the perilous fragility of these decimated communities without there being anything the Pope could effectually insist upon. If he intended to provide a moment of solidarity that pleasantry was made obnoxious by its very uselessness. A happy moment of flag waving at an outdoor mass is not a Benedictine ora et laboro.
The same might be said with respect to the Arab Christian Communities within Israel, only in this case the interests of Palestinian Christians and Arabs coalesce as against an Israeli policy of degradation and oppression that discriminates against all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Muslim and Christian alike.
If the Pope meant to offer a species of support to Palestinians geo-political aspirations, he more than failed. Far from issuing a clear and crisp clarion call for the establishment of a Palestinian State, Benedict’s tepid and carefully hedged call for a “sovereign Palestinian homeland” was little more than a pale echo of Oslo. With support like that who needs Condoleeza Rice?
Catholics around the world could stand ashamed at the Pope’s worse than morally tepid response to the so-called “Wall of Separation” -- standing in front of monstruous concrete prison barrier that Israel is constructing around the West Bank, Benedict mumbled, “Towering over us... is a strark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seemed to have reached.”
Stalemate? Is that what Benedict would have called the separation walls around Warsaw and Lodz? What kind of sunset do the imprisoned denizens of the West Bank see from behind that wall? And against this dismal backdrop of thuggish state power Benedict called for Palestinian “patience”?
To add humiliation to shame, even the Pope’s enfeebled call for a “homeland” was immediately rejected and gainsaid by Israel even while the Pope was still on Israeli-Palestinian soil. With that in mind, it can be seen that Barak’s statement on the heels of Popes departure was nothing short of a diplomatic, “Boy did we kick his ass.” And the one thing that can be said about punks and bullies is that they boast the truth -- Benedict got his butt kicked, and hard.
Would that that were all. But in “return” for accomplishing nothing and getting a sound diplomatic kick to the butt, Israel got a propaganda bonanza of priceless images showing the Pope (and through him the Church) rendering homage and atonement to various symbols of Jewish identity.
The bonanza began with the fact that the Pope made the trip at all ensuing upon Israel’s brutal and unlawful attack on Gaza which was condemned by every major humanitarian organization and by virtually the entire world community, except of course Israel and its client states. By going at all, the Pope sent a morally bankrupt message that Israel could get away choking off food supplies, bombing hospitals and phosphorizing and murdering civilians with little more than soon forgotten protests.
The bonanza doubled with the very fact that two popes have now paid a visit to Israel. To many people this might seem like a numerical matter of little importance. Au contraire, any tradition begins with “two” -- just like the two successive appointments of Jewish lawyers to the Supreme Court, which the American Jewish establishment the self-announced constituted a “tradition” of a “Jewish Seat” on the High Court. Thus, although from a Christian perspective, the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land might be seen as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Israeli State will interpret the visit as a due, regular and recognition of the Jewish State. It matters not that this recognition was already established in the the musty volumes of diplomatic protocol, what matters is the popular and visual message of the head of Christendom going to Israel. And not simply to be there and to recognize the marvel of how Jews made a desert bloom, but to render atonement at Yad Vashem and humble homage at the “Wailing Wall”.
Let no one think that atonement was not at issue in the Pope’s visit to the Yad Vashem Memorial, the reaction in the Jewish press and from Jewish leaders made very clear that atonement was exactly what they had in mind.... and expected. But what business is it of the Pope to offer atonement for Nazi genocide? The pope is the visible head of the Body of Christ, he represent sand speaks for all Catholics. It has to be fairly asked: what do all Catholics have to atone to the Jewish People for? I certainly accept no responsibility whatsoever for an event that occurred before I was born, and neither do all Catholics bear responsibility for the crimes of a regime that had explicitly rejected the tenets of the Catholic faith.
Jews may see it otherwise. In fact the very concept of the so-called “righteous gentile” implies that all other gentiles (by which is meant non-Jews) are unrighteous unless cleared and approved by some Jewish Committee of Indulgences. Anyone who wants to view the world in such self-validating, other- debasing manichean terms has a legal right to do so; but the head of the Catholic Church has no business buying into that political-theology.
Nor did the Pope have any business paying homage to Judaism’s most sacred symbol and site, the Western Wall of the Second Temple. It is a decent and civilized thing to respect the sacred precincts of alien religions whatever they may be. But respect and acknowledgement are not the same thing. For Jews, the Western Wall is not only the symbol of the Diaspora but also of the coming Messianic Time when the temple will be rebuilt. Christians most emphatically believe that that time came and passed. Christ himself showed no reverence for the Second Temple -- in fact he pretty much excoriated it as a place of oppression. He said he would destroy it and in three days build a more perfect spiritual temple. Jews are entirely entitled to reject that theology; the Pope is not within his prerogatives to compromise it.
Among latitudinarians there is a trite and sentimental notion that the more we kumbaya and reach out and validate the “other” the closer and more harmonious we all will be. That is simply nonsense. I’d be the first to admit that we might all be better off as dogs, but as humans we hold to different and often irreconcilable beliefs. Would a religious Jew think of offering prayers at the Holy Sepulchre? Has the Chief Rabbi of Israel gone to kiss the stone on which Jesus’s body was lain? Of course not. There simply is no “reconciliation” between Judaism and Christianity on a theological level and it is simple pie-in-the-sky to think otherwise. There may be coincidence and agreement on moral and practical issues but that is not the same thing.
Thus, when Jewish religious leaders praise John Paul II for his efforts at reconciliation and criticise Benedict XVI for not reconciling enough, what do they mean? “Reconciliation” is simply a code word for acknowledging guilt for Nazi genocide and theological subordination as a “daughter religion” -- a mere offshoot versus prophetic fullfilment of -- Judaism. In my view neither claim warrants Christian aquiesence.
Of course, the Vatican takes refuge in precisely and artfully phrased formula, that never quite go so far as is demanded. But the present trip illustrates the uselessness of such formula. Ordinary people don’t read them any more than they read the Summa Contra Gentiles. They are informed by simple messages and simple images. God knows the Catholic Church understands this; so why is the Vatican forgetting it now?
What the people see is images of the Pope going to Israel qua Canossa and standing in a position of contrition at the Holocaust Memorial and humbly offering homage and prayer at the Western Wall. And having thus given Israel and its propaganda agencies pricelessly useful image what did the Pope get in return? Unforgiving carping, criticism and chastisement.
Jewish pundits, political and religious leaders complained that the Pope did atone enough.
“You were not asked to do something unprecedented or heroic” wrote Hanoch Daum of the Yeditoh Ahronoth daily, “All that was required [sic!] of you was a brief, authoritative and touching sentence.. All you had to do was to express regret.” One wonders if Daum had a dunce cap ready as well.
“The identify of the murderers went completely unmentioned” Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, head of the Yad Vashem Council, complained. “With all due respect to the Holy See we cannot ignore the burden he bears.” Once again a typical equivocation seeks gain from confusion. How does he bear a burden? As an identified German or as the head of all Catholics? And if as an individual German, how was that relevant on a trip in the capacity of pope?
Other Israelis didn’t see the difference anyways.
Other Israelis didn’t see the difference anyways.
“We’re talking about the pope, who is also a representative of the Holy See, which has a lot to ask forgiveness from our people for,” Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said, “And he is also a German whose country and people have asked forgiveness, but he himslef comes and speaks to us like an historian...”
Still others criticised Benedict’s reference to “millions” killed “rather than citing the more exact estimate of six million Jews. This was truly marvellous, since the leading Holocaust Historian, Raul Hilberg has himself placed the estimate at 5.1 million.
In a condescending article the Jerusalem Post blamed Benedict for not “getting it right” and then went on to state the point that had to be gotten:
During the previous papacy, an effort was made to limit the story of Chruch anti-semitism to anti-Judaic attitudes of “some” or “many” Christian[s]... This is a distortion of history: The Church as such actively persecuted Jews, not only Judaism. It never planned a genocide of the Jews, but since the time of the Church Fathers it permitted and very often encouraged beatings, torture, humiliation, disposession, exile and forced conversion and occasionally massacres. Its princes then often had to try and defend the Jews from their own incitement against them. ... Christian anti-semitism was a necessary, though not sufficient source of the Nazi ideology. And then of course there is the unresolved problem of Pius XII...[who] did not publicly oppose the Nazi genocide of the Jews....
The Jerusalem Post article certainly does reflect a Zionist perspective of two millenia years of Christian history but it is (not yet at least) the only version, and the very broadness of the brush betrays its contradictions and inaccuracies. But for all that, it makes it very clear what was “expected” of the Pope from these quarters and what their ultimate agenda is.
It was Edward Gibbon who pithily wrote that “history was the sorry chronicle of the crimes, vices and follies of mankind.” Although he was chronicling Rome, the key word is “mankind” including Jews who act no differently from others when they have power, as the Old Testament and Current News make quite clear. Like any other group Jews had good times and bad times within the past two millenia. They were not the only ones to suffer persecution as did also Albigensians, Protestants, Catholics each in their turn, or starvation and slaughter as did Black Africans, American Indians, the Irish and the Armenians. To say that “most” Christians and the Church “as such” are guilty of unrelenting persecution of wholy innocent Jews is not objective history but a subjective fetish.
This history of perpetual persecution is a trite, self-serving and polemical narration the practical purpose of which is to justify Zionist goals and promote -- not any true reconciliation -- but perpetual guilt and retribution. The only common ground in this game is that which lies between a kneeling penitent and a triumphant victim.
Although Jews excoriated the Pope for not doing enough, saying enough, earnestly enough, Israel and its Zionist apologists still got good photo copy. The visual message has been clear: Pope Pays Pilgrimage of Atonement and Homage to Israel. In my view this image is damaging to the Church and, through it, to the concept of Christian Civilization.
Despite being forewarned, the Pope’s advisors persisted in the ill-conceived project. They should be thoroughly sacked, and packed off to be spiritual advisors to some Carmelite convent or Trapist monastery.