Popes Promoting Peace: Why Not? And What is the Big Fuss in Israel?

A curious animosity has arisen on several sides of the Pope’s visit to Israel. Israeli Members of Parliament as well as very prominent rabbis took every opportunity to snipe at every word the Pope did say, should have not said, or should have said. As I watched the media blitz unfold I was amazed at the acrimony. Roi Ben Yehuda, however, has a positive essay on the Pope’s visit and the potential role of peacemaking for religious leaders. Also, various rabbis of the United States and the world were far more generous in welcoming the Pope to Israel.

I understand policy differences with the Pope. Most of the world has one policy difference or another with this conservative Pope. I also understand that his conservative moves with regard to liturgy have angered Jews who see his reintroduction of a prayer hoping for the conversion of the Jews as detrimental to peace and coexistence. I also understand a figure like former Chief Rabbi Lau who lost every member of his immediate family in the Holocaust and for whom the Holocaust is a daily wound. But for everyone else I found it very curious.

Then I started to notice something bad. The Pope was saying at every turn that the Palestinians need a homeland, that the Wall is a sad and terrible thing, that there is great suffering in the land, innocuous humanitarian observations that were coupled with beautiful speeches, from the beginning to the end of his visit, that extolled the Jewish people and expressed love for them. Really the speeches are beautiful, and should be studied as models of interfaith engagement in the 21st century. So why all the fuss?

I started to smell a political rat when I put two and two together the other day while surfing the web and doing various forms of research. I was looking through MP3 sites familiarizing myself with the genre, and I came across thousands of them organized into categories like philosophy, business, and religion, including Judaism. Trouble is every single category, especially the Judaism category, was rife with deceptive recordings that were actually about conning people into becoming Christian. Now I have many progressive Christian friends, and they have told me time and again how many hundreds of millions of dollars were pouring into conversion, and into conversion of Jews as well. This disturbs me after the Holocaust and the Crusades to no end.

But it turns out that leading Israeli officials and rabbis want to attack the Pope, but these same folks actually have committees set up in the Knesset to deepen relations with the very part of the Christian world that is most guilty of this world wide campaign of deceptive conversion. Why? Why treat them like gold and treat the Pope like trash? Simple. The radical Protestants most welcome in the halls of power in Israel are united with these radical Jews in a war on Muslims and Palestinians. In fact, Palestinians are a direct threat to the divine Christian plan as these radicals see it. Thus, Israel, the supposed defender of Jewish survival, is united with these folks, not saying a word about their allies in the war on the Palestinians, looking the other way as they pour millions into conversion of lost Jewish kids. But they are ready to trash the Pope because he dares, he dares, to speak of peace, a Palestinian homeland, an end to suffering. What a Nazi!

This is what is really beneath the surface of all this righteous indignation against the Pope. Of course, it will backfire, as the war on the Palestinians continues to alienate Israel from the rest of the world (and now from Catholics), and even from the White House, their last bastion of support, next to Congress.

And Congress is next as Israel’s culture further degenerates at the hands of the Russian party that runs the Foreign Ministry, and the Tourism Industry,and so on. This racist party just introduced legislation that would make it a crime (!) for anyone to commemorate the Nakba, the catastrophe that befell the Palestinians in 1948. Turkey is moving forward to democracy, slowly opening up about the past, and Israel is moving, where exactly? Towards being the only democracy in the Middle East where freedom of expression is guaranteed?

Dark days are ahead for Israel unless it wakes up to the price it is paying for not simply looking into the eye of the Palestinian on the street and saying, “I am sorry for the Nakba, the catastrophe that has happened to your country, your culture and your people. Now let’s find a way out.”

I don’t know how much more the Pope could have done to cajole these extremists to come to terms with today’s reality. But honestly I don’t think that Holocaust woundedness can account for this behavior. They have become so used to hating Palestinians and hating anyone who shows Palestinians an ounce of sympathy that they are cutting themselves off from the world. Worse, jumping into the arms of the very Christians who want Jewish children to become Christians and are paying heavily for it. The leaders of Israel ignore ancient advice from 2Kings 18:21 that warns against relying on a broken reed for your survival.

Now I realize that they think that the reeds that I rely on for the future are far less trustworthy. They want to prevent a Palestinian state at all costs because they know how bitter the Palestinians are, they know the torment because they have delivered it, and the Israeli Right is terrified of them. Yes, all true. And so expulsion, ethnic cleansing are in their hearts. But there is another way, historically, through the hard work of negotiation, and the steady building of new social contracts many states now live in peace despite a bloody ethnic past. The evidence is overwhelming that this is possible with hard work. Any new peace process is going to have to include an aggressive process of convincing both sides to believe in the possibility of a solution, so that they can jettison such extremist leaders who are leading them down a path to nowhere.

© Marc Gopin