October 29 – 2010

October 29, 2010 Media Review

During the week covered by this review, we received 6 articles on the subject of Jewish-Christian relations, spotlighting the Vatican Synod on the Middle East.

Jewish-Christian Relations
Haaretz, October 23, 24, 25; Jerusalem Post, October 17 (x 2), 24, 2010

All these articles reported on the recent Vatican Synod’s attitude toward Israel in its deliberations on Christians in the Middle East. One of the controversial statements quoted came from Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros: “‘The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands,’ Monsignor Cyril Salim Bustros, Greek Melkite archbishop of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Boston, Massachusetts, and president of the ‘Commission for the Message,’ said at Saturday’s Vatican press conference. ‘We Christians cannot speak of the “promised land” as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people – all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people. Even if the head of the Israeli state is Jewish, the future is based on democracy. The Palestinian refugees will eventually come back and this problem will have to be solved,’ the Lebanese-born Bustros said” (Haaretz, October 23). According to the a report in the same paper a day later (Haaretz, October 24), “Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a response that that theological disputes over the interpretation of the holy scriptures disappeared with the Middle Ages, adding: ‘It doesn’t seem like a wise move to revive them.'” Under the headline “Jerusalem: Vatican Synod was ‘hijacked’ by anti-Israel groups,” Haaretz (October 25) also reported that “Israel said yesterday that a meeting of Middle East bishops was hijacked by its enemies, after the gathering at the Vatican largely blamed Israel for conflict in the region. In a communique at the end of their two-week meeting, the bishops demanded that Israel accept UN resolutions calling for an end to its occupation of Arab lands, and told Israel it shouldn’t use the Bible to justify ‘injustices’ against the Palestinians … While the bishops condemned terrorism and anti-Semitism, they laid much of the blame for the conflict squarely on Israel. They listed the occupation of Palestinian lands, Israel’s separation fence, its military checkpoints, political prisoners, demolition of homes and disturbance of Palestinians’ socioeconomic lives as factors that have made life increasingly difficult for Palestinians. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said it was absurd that the Jewish state had been condemned since Israel is the only country in the region where Christians are actually thriving … Palmor also criticized the bishops’ statement that Israel shouldn’t use the Bible to justify ‘injustices’ against the Palestinians. ‘This has never been a policy of any government in Israel, so this position sounds particularly hollow,’ he said. ‘Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone’ … ‘We express our disappointment that this important synod has become a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda,’ Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in a statement yesterday. ‘The synod was hijacked by an anti-Israel majority,’ he said.”

In a related report, the Jerusalem Post (October 24) noted that “An Italian edition of ‘Kairos Palestine,’ a controversial document authored by representatives of Middle East Christian Churches and first presented in 2009, was launched in the Italian capital last week, on the sidelines of a Vatican synod. The former Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, together with the Pax Christi and Franciscan ‘Terra Santa’ publishers, presented the book at a conference center in a Vatican-owned building run by Pax Christi, Catholic Action and the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land … Signed by representatives and members of Christian churches in the Middle East, the document calls for ‘resistance’ against Israeli occupation and has been strongly criticized on several points. Among these are calls for ‘the beginning of a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel,’ efforts defined as ‘tools of nonviolence,’ accusations that Israel is guilty of ‘clear apartheid’ and ‘racist separation,’ ambiguous use of the word ‘resistance,’ which seems to encompass terrorism in statements such as ‘if there were no occupation there would be no resistance …’ and ‘we respect and have high esteem for all those who have given their life for our nation,’ and, finally, criticism of the international community for not accepting ‘the outcome of democratic and legal elections’ in Gaza that were won by Hamas. Previously attributed to leaders of Middle East churches, the Kairos Palestine book was carefully presented in Rome as a document written by ‘lay people’ and ‘some religious [people].’ The publisher specified that this was ‘not an official document’ and that the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ‘did not help write it.’ However, the semi-official nature of the Italian book is accentuated by the new preface written by the current Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, while Pizzaballa’s name appears at the beginning of the document in a list of ‘Patriarchs and heads of Churches in Jerusalem’ who signed an acknowledgement that ‘We hear the cry of our children’ and an expression of ‘support’ for ‘the call to all our faithful as well as to the Israeli and Palestinian Leaders, to the international community and to the World churches, in order to accelerate the achievement of justice, peace and reconciliation in this Holy Land.'”

The same paper (Jerusalem Post, October 17) also reported on statements made by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, in Rome for the Synod: “Recognizing that Arab Christians are emigrating from the territories (but not Israel proper), that prospects for economic and social advancement for the poorer sections of Palestinian society are bleak (while ‘the richer segments invest privately’) and that Israel offers more opportunities for its Arab citizens than do the territories for Palestinians there, Twal pointed to the need to finalize ‘a two-state solution.’ ‘But if this is not possible,’ he continued, ‘I am ready to settle for one single democratic state with a right for Palestinians to vote; we would then see whether or not this would be a greater challenge to Israel than two states’ … Alluding to IDF checkpoints he said, ‘All I am asking of Israeli leaders is that they enable people in the West Bank to lead a normal life … to go to work or to the airport normally, to visit the Holy Places normally, since Bethlehem cannot be separated from Jerusalem.'”

In a related story on the same day, the same paper noted that “Rabbi David Rosen delivered a historic speech on Wednesday to Pope Benedict XVI as over 250 bishops gathered in the Vatican’s Synod Hall for the Special Assembly on the Middle East. On Thursday, Sunni and Shi’ite representatives spoke. These three religious leaders are the only non-Christian guests at the October 10-24 synod. In different ways, they each painted a picture of a difficult but possible coexistence between the three monotheistic religions in the cradle of their birth, based on recent advances in interreligious dialogue and reciprocal respect for religious and cultural pluralism. Rosen, adviser to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, and the American Jewish Committee’s international director for interfaith affairs, was chosen as world Jewry’s sole representative. He is the second rabbi to have been thus honored, preceded at the 2008 Synod on the Bible by Haifa Chief Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen … Rabbi Rosen thanked Benedict for his continued commitment to the Catholic Church’s respectful dialogue with Judaism, and the pope noted with appreciation Rosen’s ’empathy with suffering on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’ and his ‘consideration for the importance and wellbeing of Christians “as a barometer of the health or infirmity” of societies in the Middle East.’ In his speech, Rosen paid tribute to the Israeli Christians’ achievements in education and their outstanding role in ‘promoting interreligious understanding and cooperation in the country’ … The speeches Thursday by the Shi’ite representative, Iranian Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi, professor of law and a member of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, and the Sunni representative, Muhammad al-Sammak, political councillor to the mufti of Lebanon, revealed substantial differences between them. While Ahmadabadi ostensibly embraced respect for cultural and religious diversity and the necessity for interreligious understanding, because ‘we share each other’s destinies,’ Sammak took a realistic look at the lack of ‘equal citizenship’ for Christians in many Middle East countries and the ‘misunderstanding of the spirit of Islamic teachings’ that lead to ‘negative intellectual and political content’ and ‘worrisome and harmful actions bad for us all’ resulting in Christians emigrating and a ‘culture of extremism’ for Islam.”