For more than half a century, Arab governments have been manipulating the plight of Palestinians to marshal public opinion against Israel. Now, one Arab ruler is trying to play a variation on that theme.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II has been meeting with prominent Catholic bishops from the West to solicit their help on behalf of Palestinian Christians. The Muslim king talked with officials from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in February and spoke a month earlier with Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
Abdullah met Kelly in Jordan while Kelly was attending the annual meeting of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land, a group of Catholic bishops from Europe and North America. So far, at least one bishop is doing more than listening.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C. – who serves as the USCCB’s president and who greeted Abdullah graciously during the king’s separate visit in September – addressed the problems that Palestinian Christians face in a meeting with President George W. Bush, columnist Robert Novak reported Feb. 16.
Abdullah’s apparent compassion raises interesting questions: Why would a Muslim ruler concern himself with the suffering of Palestinian Christians – especially in territory, the West Bank, which once belonged to his nation, which effectively ceded it to the Palestinian Authority? Why not address the PA directly?
Novak’s Feb. 16 column provided the answer:
“A Catholic contact with the White House talked to Elliott Abrams, the presidential aide handling the Middle East. Abrams responded that the barrier is required for Israeli security. Abrams gave the impression that he is not concerned with Christian Arabs.”
Ah, there’s the rub.
Israel’s security fence in the West Bank has dramatically reduced Palestinian terror attacks. At the same time, it has generated controversy concerning water and property rights, access to churches, monasteries and schools, and property confiscation without compensation. Abdullah hopes to exploit the situation to manipulate Catholic opinion worldwide against Israel.
Abdullah revealed his subtle anti-Israel strategy through public remarks quoted Jan. 18 by the Web site AsiaNews.it, maintained by the Vatican’s Pontifical Institute for Overseas Missions:
“‘Jerusalem will be emptied of its Christian and Arab residents because of growing emigration,’ said King Abdullah II of Jordan in a meeting yesterday afternoon with 20 European and American bishops. The bishops form part of the Episcopal Conference Coordination in Support of the Church in the Holy Land, and they are also concerned about the plight of Christians in Jordan, Israel and Palestine.
“The king invited western churches to ‘encourage Arab Christian residents to remain in the Holy City because they are custodians of its authenticity and identity.’ The king also called for greater ‘coordination and collaboration between Churches in Jordan and the Holy Land and western Churches, especially the Catholic Church,’ to confront the ‘challenges of peace in the Holy Land.’”
Are Arab Christians the sole custodians of Jerusalem’s authenticity and identity? What about non-Arab Christians – or Jews? Besides, wouldn’t the numbers of Arabs in Jerusalem – Christian or otherwise – strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s claim to the city as its capital? Moreover, how would Jews fair in such a capital?
If Abdullah truly wishes to use the Catholic Church as a weapon against Israel, then he could not have done much worse in picking a more gullible group of useful confederates – especially since the late Pope John Paul II publicly condemned the security fence as an impediment to peace.
The USCCB is especially naïve, as Joseph Loconte and Nile Gardinier demonstrated in March 2003 for National Review in an article discussing Christian leaders’ responses to the impending war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq:
“The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly argued that an attack on a sovereign state would violate Catholic ‘just war’ theory, but never questions the moral legitimacy of the regime…The U.S. Catholic bishops have made a perfunctory call on Iraq to ‘cease its internal repression,’ but said nothing about how that might happen with Saddam in power.”
Loconte, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation, includes the USCCB with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the United Methodist Church and the National and World Councils of Churches as the contemporary embodiments of what Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called “pitiless perfectionism,” a spirit that Christian intellectuals manifested on the eve of World War II.
“Domestically, it provided moralists obsessed with America’s shortcomings,” Loconte wrote in June 2003. “Internationally, it made pacifism the highest good: War involved too many ethical ambiguities to be a just alternative. Such pacifism, Niebuhr wrote after the fall of France, amounted to a ‘preference for tyranny’ over democratic freedom.”
The USCCB is not the only Catholic party Abdullah can exploit. Novak is a Catholic convert who reinforced his anti-Jewish reputation when he called Hamas’ terrorists “freedom fighters” on CNN (In response, journalist Margaret Carlson said on the air, “Bob, you’re the only person who would call Hamas ‘freedom fighters.’”).
In his Feb. 16 column, Novak insinuated that Israel built its security barrier not only to thwart terrorism but to steal water. He mentioned “water-hungry Jewish settlers” while refusing to mention the debates in Israel about providing water to unproductive farms and even maintaining any West Bank settlements. He quoted a position paper from the Holy Land Christians Society: “It is clear that the security barrier is not about security but the annexation of land for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Israeli control over the water supply."
The Holy Land Christians Society manifests the kind of anti-Israel attitude common among Arab Christians. Consider the following from the group’s mission statement, available from its Web site:
“It was these Christians of the Holy Land who helped spread the word of Jesus to the world in the first place.”
Consider the following from group’s synopsis of first-century history:
“Christianity came during the Roman rule. In that time, Christ, may peace be upon him, was born in the town of Bethlehem. He founded Christianity but Jews did not accept it and asked the country's rulers for his death. They crucified Him and buried Him in Jerusalem.”
Both citations conveniently disregard the fact that Jesus Christ, his disciples and most of his early followers were Jews. The second also seems to blame all Jews for Christ’s crucifixion; the Roman authorities – who held the ultimate power to execute – are never mentioned specifically as Romans.
Neither is another group mentioned in this section from the group’s mission statement:
“The tragic realities of military occupation and rising fundamentalism…have forced family after family to leave their homes ….Since most live near Christian holy sites in the West Bank and Gaza, these families must contend with the poverty and restrictions imposed by Israel's continuing occupation of the territories. At the same time, they are marginalized and at times oppressed by rising political fundamentalism.”
From where does such fundamentalism, political or otherwise, come? Is it not the same type of fundamentalism that encourages riots over political cartoons and justifies killing the innocent in the name of jihad? What religious group embodies such fundamentalism?
Abdullah also can make good use of Deal Hudson, a former Bush advisor. Hudson ended his tenure as the editor of the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis in January 2005 with an article entitled, “A City Divided: How Israel’s Wall Is Splitting the Holy Land.”
Though Hudson wrote that the barrier has “measurably decreased” suicide attacks, he views it as the fundamental reason for the disintegration of Palestinian Christian life (“Too many have been harmed by the wall and its winding route,” he wrote). So do those he interviewed while visiting the West Bank.
Mother Agapia, head of a Russian Orthodox convent: “We’ll still have the churches … but there won’t be life – the living stones will be gone. (L)ife for the normal people is being squeezed out. They see no hope for the future for their children, and even trying to conduct daily life is becoming increasingly impossible. The Holy Land is being mutilated.”
Monsignor Pietro Lambi, the Vatican’s diplomatic representative to Israel: “It is a monument to division and to a future of conflict. It’s separating students from the schools, sick people from the centers of health, people from their places of work, faithful from their places of prayer and what is extremely important in the Palestinian society is creating a belief in family relations...and this is disrupting the basis of Palestinian culture.”
“Against Israel’s history of conflict and the layers of hatred on both sides, the Christian remnant is being crushed. Something must be done to protect what’s left of their presence in the Holy Land. And that’s why the wall deserves our attention. For it isn’t simply a barrier against terrorism, but yet another obstacle to those who persevere in the land where Jesus walked.”
Mark Shea, a Catholic apologist and one of the most respected Catholic bloggers, agrees. Shea’s link to Novak’s article calls it “one of the reasons I reject the thesis that Israel is immaculately conceived and preserved from all stain of sin, original and actual.” After constructing that rhetorical straw man, Shea continues more caustically:
“One of the most screwed-over Christian communities on earth gets contempt from all sides – including their co-religionists here in the States, who care *far* more that McCarrick once called God ‘Allah’ in a brief thank you to an Arabic speaker than that these people are being jerked around. Just call 'em dhimmis and forget 'em.”
That Arabic speaker is King Abdullah himself.
But other Catholics recognize a far greater oppressor. One of them is Rod Dreher, a former National Review columnist who now writes for the Dallas Morning News. Dreher spoke with Palestinian Christians when he visited Israel during Pope John Paul II’s 2000 trip, and wrote about his impressions for Amy Welborn, another prominent Catholic blogger:
“They have hard lives, no doubt about it, and all blamed Israel. But a funny thing happened when I put my notebook away after one of these interview sessions. The Christians with whom I was speaking suddenly started talking about how terrified they were of the Muslims, and said how life would be far worse for them if the Islamists took power within the PA. They wanted me to know that, but did not want me to quote them. They … saw things as hopeless all around for Palestinian Christians, and just wanted to move. There are no Christian suicide bombers, but the Christians have to pay the price for what the Muslim suicide bombers do (emphasis added).”
Front Page Magazine chronicled the Palestinian Christians’ suffering at the hands of individual Muslims and Palestinian authorities in “Persecuting the Holy Land’s Christians,” “The Beleaguered Christians of the Palestinian Authority,” and “Dancing With Denial.”
Nowhere do Novak, Hudson or Shea address Muslim persecution in their respective articles and posts.
Auxiliary bishop Rino Fisichella was more emphatic in a Feb. 20 interview with the Italian newspaper Corrierre della Sera. Though he addressed anti-Christian riots in Nigeria and Iran – and the murder of an Italian priest in Turkey – Fisichella’s comments apply to the West Bank:
"These episodes stress how difficult it is for Muslim societies to accept the principle of religious freedom, which is for us an acquired right.
“Not only is the destiny of Christian minorities living in the Muslim world at stake, but (so is) everyone’s freedom, the way they can exercise such freedom and the civility of international relations.”
Fisichella demanded that the Arab League, the United Nations and the European Union “remind the societies and governments of countries with a Muslim majority of their responsibilities.”
It is not enough for Muslims to exploit their Palestinian co-religionists as foils against Israel. One Muslim king wants to use Palestinian Christians – a people whom Muslims would oppress if given the chance, as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan illustrate.
No intelligent individual would argue that “Israel is immaculately conceived and preserved from all stain of sin.” No intelligent individual should ignore Israeli transgressions against Palestinian Christians. Yet no intelligent individual should value property rights over human life – nor become an unwitting dupe of manipulative propaganda through one-sided criticism.
Intelligent Catholics should examine the issues for themselves – and reject the sweet-smelling snake oil that King Abdullah and his convenient confederates are peddling.