Sunday, November 01, 2015

Pope Francis says that anti-Zionism is anti-semitism

The irrepressibly outspoken Pope Francis, who has repeatedly shown that he's not afraid to make unexpected and controversial statements about difficult subjects, has done it again:
Jewish leaders met with Pope Francis in Rome on the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, the declaration promulgated by Pope Paul VI that led to improved relations between Jews and Catholics.

“Yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity. No to anti-Semitism,” the pope said Wednesday morning during the public audience on St. Peter’s Square.  [....]

The Jewish leaders were part of a delegation of representatives of the World Jewish Congress in Rome for a meeting of its governing board. The meeting focused on the situation of Jews around the world, as well as the current tensions in the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Europe and the Iranian threat.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. [....]
In case anyone wonders whether the Pope's Jewish interlocutors made up or exaggerated that last quotation, it has also been been reported in Catholic publications like the UK Catholic Herald:
Pope Francis told Jewish leaders an outright attack on the State of Israel is just as ‘anti-semitic’ as attacks against Jews.

The Pope made clear that attacks on the State of Israel are a form of anti-Semitism in a private audience with World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder and delegates.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”[....]
If I were in Pope Francis's place, I might have formulated that a little differently. As some of you reading this may be aware, I have argued for a while that, strictly speaking, anti-semitism and anti-Zionism  should be analytically distinguished. That's not because anti-Zionism is OK, but because the relationship between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism is actually complex. One of the peculiar features of our era is that, over the past half-century or so, anti-Zionism (by which I mean systematic bias and hostility against Israel, Israelis, and supporters of Israel, shading off into obsessive hatred and demonization that is often accompanied by conspiracy theories about real or imaginary "Zionists") has emerged as an important and complex ideological formation in its own right, with some of its own distinctive roots and motivations, that is not always a direct product or expression of anti-semitism. (Though sometimes it is, of course.) Indeed, it sometimes happens that anti-Zionism helps promote anti-semitism almost as much as the other way around. (For some further elaboration, see here.)

But it's certainly true that the two are very often intertwined or indistinguishable in practice ... and, anyway, anti-Zionist bias and bigotry is morally reprehensible and dangerously pernicious in its own right, whether or not it stems from (or is a coded expression of) anti-semitism. And the claim that Israel has no legitimate right to exist is, of course, a paradigm expression of anti-Zionism. So I think the Holy Father is fundamentally on the right track here, and his statement is welcome and important.

=> At first I wondered whether the Vatican bureaucracy would try to walk back, tone down, or explain away this statement by Pope Francis. Some of them must be quite unhappy and alarmed about it—along with many Catholic clergy & other leaders of Catholic minorities in the Muslim world, who have worried for several decades that papal condemnations of anti-semitism, let alone of anti-Zionism, put their communities at risk.

But so far the Church has not, in fact, repudiated the Pope's straightforward condemnation of anti-Zionism. Walter Russel Mead correctly emphasizes why this stance is significant and deserves attention:
[....] A Vatican spokesman confirmed the gist of the Pope’s remarks to CNN. His Holiness had previously told a journalist in June that, “Whoever does not recognize the Jewish People and the State of Israel falls in anti-Semitism.”

It is this stance, and not the Vatican’s controversial recognition of Palestine this summer, that is the break from the historical norm. The Pope was speaking on the 50th anniversary—a blink of an eye in the history of the church—of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document that repositioned the Catholic relationship with Judaism from one of antagonism to respect for the “people to whom God spoke first.” And for much of Israel’s history, Vatican-Israeli relations were poor: the Holy See did not recognize Israel diplomatically until 1993.

So while Pope Francis is often painted as pro-Palestinian, he’s actually very pro-Israel by historic standards. But now, in a time of increased anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Europe, Pope Francis’ comments are a welcome ray of light.

—Jeff Weintraub

October 29, 2015
Pope Francis: Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism
On the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Pontiff joined President Obama and other world leaders in calling out those who deny Israel’s right to exist

By Yair Rosenberg

On Wednesday, Pope Francis met with Jewish leaders to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a crucial Vatican II declaration that revolutionized Jewish-Catholic relations by absolving Jews of collective responsibility for Christ’s death and denouncing anti-Semitism. At the gathering, Francis decided to continue in the spirit of that document by condemning what he described as a modern form of anti-Semitism: the denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” the Pope told a World Jewish Congress delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”

Francis’s statement is noteworthy because the pontiff is far from an unconditional backer of Israel. He has criticized both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and been willing to make powerful symbolic gestures in support of the Palestinian cause. Indeed, as veteran Vatican reporter John Allen has noted, this Church stance predates the current pope. But with his words on Wednesday, Francis drew a bright red line between critiquing Israeli policies and critiquing Israel’s existence. The former, he said, is legitimate and sometimes necessary; the latter is bigotry.

With this declaration, Francis joined an illustrious group of global leaders who have asserted the same in recent months. In May, President Obama told The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg that denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland represented a failure to learn the lessons of history, and ultimately an expression of anti-Semitism. Prior to that, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls had similarly stated that anti-Zionism—as opposed to criticism of Israel’s policies—constituted anti-Semitism.

Notably, the vast majority of the leadership of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel opposes the Jewish state’s right to exist. As BDS leader Omar Barghouti famously put it, Israel “was Palestine, and there is no reason why it should not be renamed Palestine.” Ahmed Moor, another BDS leading light and editor of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine, has been even more blunt: “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.” Likewise, California State University professor >As’ad Abu Khalil has similarly stated, “Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the State of Israel.” The Pope was doubtless aware of this activism, which is particularly prevalent in Europe, and acted to address it unambiguously.

At a time, then, when college campuses are debating whether BDS constitutes constructive discourse on Israel, and local Hillel Houses are considering which sorts of critics of the Jewish state to lend a platform to, Francis’s and Obama’s guidance could not be more timely.

(Previous: Obama: Denying Israel’s Right to Exist as a Jewish Homeland is Anti-Semitic)

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet and the editor of the English-language blog of the Israeli National Archives. Follow him on Twitter @Yair_Rosenberg.