January 15, 2009

Staying Balanced on Israel and Gaza

By Mark P. Shea *

Last week, startled by the vehemence some Catholics expressed against Israel on her blog in the wake of the attack on Gaza, Dawn Eden noted a vital point about magisterial guidance when it comes to thinking about Israel's right to exist:

As a Jewish convert to Catholicism who desires ardently that everyone, especially my loved ones, should find the salvation granted through Jesus Christ, I am distressed to see, following Israel's attempt to stop Hamas's violence against its citizens, some Catholics claim the true villain in the conflict is Zionism itself.

It is true that the Catholic Church, unlike some Protestant churches (particularly Evangelical ones), does not hold that political Israel fulfills a biblical mandate. But, while not endorsing Zionism, the Church totally rejects anti-Zionism, maintains that the Jews and Palestinians each have a right to a homeland, and insists that Israel itself has a right to exist.

Those who proclaim or hold otherwise are acting contrary to Magisterial statements. More than that, I believe very strongly from my own experience that they are doing a great disservice to Catholicism by projecting a distorted image of the Church, reeking of Feeneyism, that risks alienating Jews who might otherwise be receptive to the Faith.

She goes on to cite the Joint Declaration of the 18th International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee Meeting in Buenos Aires, as well as Pope John Paul II's 1987 address to U.S. Jewish leaders:

After the tragic extermination of the Shoah, the Jewish people began a new period in their history. They have a right to a homeland as does any civil nation, according to international law. "For the Jewish people who live in the State of Israel and who preserve in that land such precious testimonies to their history and their faith, we must ask for the desired security and the due tranquility that is the prerogative of every nation and condition of life and of progress for every society."

This all looks pretty sound to me, albeit with the minor qualification that what the document cited by Eden "totally rejects" is actually anti-Semitism. It then goes on to reject anti-Zionism as "a more recent manifestation of anti-Semitism." It does not say that anti-Zionism is always and everywhere identical with anti-Semitism (nor could it be without implicating some Jews as anti-Semites, since not all Jews support Zionism). But the broad point is well-taken: Anti-Zionism is often just a mask for Jew hatred.

Within Catholic circles, the only people I've seen quarrelling with this sort of thing are the kind of Jew-hating kooks one finds in the fever swamps of sedevacantism and other outposts of lunacy. In circles beyond the Church, of course, the situation is much more volatile, with various Muslims and secular enthusiasts for fashionable violence (both on the skinhead Right and Che-worshipping Left) chanting, "Jews go back to the ovens." The irony of all this is that the people who most need to hear what the Church says are the people least likely to listen to her for one second.

For myself, both as a Catholic and a Chestertonian, I think John Paul's statement that "they have a right to a homeland as does any civil nation, according to international law," is common sense. The phrase "civil nation" is key, because it sums up Eden's point: that "the Catholic Church, unlike some Protestant churches (particularly Evangelical ones), does not hold that political Israel fulfills a biblical mandate." We are talking about a secular nation-state like Australia or Canada, not "God's Chosen Country Immaculate Conceived and Preserved from All Sin Both Original and Actual." Just as I think Canadians and Australians have a right to a home, so I think Jews do. It's a human right, and they are human beings.

Similarly, I think the human beings called "Palestinians" likewise have the right to a home. I make no excuses for the Hamas thugs who have been lobbing rockets at Israel. I simply say that launching a reprisal in which, as of this writing, nearly half the reported 700 dead so far are civilians, including huge numbers of women and children, and in which you train tank fire on a school full of civilians, is not thereby justified.

Moreover, in addition to such ius in bello questions as the mass killing of innocent men, women, and children, there is the raw practical question of whether what Israel has done is even smart from a purely realpolitik perspective. Israel's choice to keep the press out of Gaza, while killing ambulance drivers and little kids and feeding the world a great deal of government happy talk, does not instill confidence in anybody but the most die-hard believer in the Immaculate Conception of the State of Israel. As Deal W. Hudson remarks:

The issue isn't whether Israel has a right to defend its citizens against Hamas missiles -- of course it does. The question is whether Israel recognizes the long-term consequences of its actions, which may well strengthen the presence of Hamas on the West Bank -- just as its 2002 operation likely contributed to the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections.

In short, support for Israel does not necessitate support for all she does. Likewise, humanitarian concern for the wretched people of Palestine does not equate excusing, much less supporting, the evil thugs of Hamas. On the contrary, many of of us who wish Israel to survive think that this current action is just about guaranteed to strengthen the hand of her enemies. And it is not anti-Semitic to say so, nor to protest it. That's why I continue to maintain that the sanest approach to this entire bloody tragedy belongs to Pope Benedict XVI:

I implore the end of this violence, which is to be condemned in every way in all its manifestations. I implore the re-establishment of the ceasefire in the Gaza strip. I ask for a strong sign of humanity and wisdom from all those who have responsibilities at all levels in that situation. I ask the international community to try every possible way to help Israelis and Palestinians to come out from the dead-end street and to not give up.


 Printed with permission from InsideCatholic.com.


Mark P. Shea is a senior editor for www.CatholicExchange.com and a columnist for InsideCatholic. Visit his blog at www.markshea.blogspot.com.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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