One of the world's most prestigious rabbis has challenged the assertions concerning of my recent article on the anti-Semitism of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.
My article, "'Peace' Through Anti-Semitism," explored the rhetoric used by Patriarch Irineos I and his former spokesman, Father Atallah Hanna, and their collaborationist relationship with the late Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Featured prominently were two letters that Patriarch Irineos wrote to Arafat and the PA's diplomatic representative to Greece in 2001 and 2002, before being confirmed as patriarch. Irineos pledged his continued support for Arafat's aims, suggested cooperation concerning the Greek Orthodox Church's extensive land holdings in Israel, and accused Jews of murdering Jesus Christ.
But Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee's director for inter-religious affairs, wrote a letter to FrontPage Magazine claiming the article is "replete with falsehood and defamation." Rosen maintained that Patriarch Irineos' correspondence was a "blatant forgery" that "was exposed as such by the investigation of the Israeli police."
Rosen also wrote that Hanna "is not only not the spokesperson of the Patriarch, he is neither spokesperson of the Church. While he did illegitimately use the latter title, the Patriarch not only severely reprimanded him and forbade him from doing so, but also publicly and in a letter to Israeli President (Moshe) Katzav categorically repudiated and distanced himself from Father Hanna's comments/positions."
Rosen, who also advises the Israeli government on relations with Christian churches, has been active in dialogue with Christians and Muslims since being appointed to his present AJC position in 2001. He has worked with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Commission for Relations with the Jewish People; Archbishop George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury; and Sheikh Sayyed Mohammed el-Tantawi, grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, one of the Muslim world's most prestigious religious institutions.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem also claimed that the patriarch's correspondence was forged and filed a complaint with Israeli police. Father Gavriel, the patriarchate's spokesman, told the Jerusalem Post in December 2002 that Irineos' signature was forged and that the letter contained no protocol number, which was standard operating procedure.
Rosen, interviewed for the Post's article, added that Patriarch Irineos had been cleared six months earlier by the Shin Bet, an elite branch of Israeli security.
But the police investigation found no evidence of forgery, as Caroline Glick, the Post's deputy managing editor, wrote in her column of January 30, 2004:
"Irineos has claimed that the letter is a forgery, but a police investigation, which was closed two weeks ago, substantiated its authenticity. Sources close to the investigation say that three people were with Irineos when he penned the letter and all provided testimony to the police that the letter was authentic." (Emphasis added.)
The Arutz-7 news service provided specifics on February 1, 2004:
"The police found that the letters' seals were authentic, though they cannot vouch that the contents were actually written by Irineos. Three people, however, claim to have seen Irineos actually write the letters. (Emphasis added.)
"Arutz-7's Shimon Cohen even quotes an affidavit provided to a Greek Magistrates Court judge on Sept. 9, 2003, by one of the three witnesses, in which he states, 'I had a strong argument with Mr. Irineos on the content of this letter, (such as) the language and the expressions against the Jewish people and Israel, and also about the necessity of sending such a letter to Yasser Arafat. I explained to him that this letter stands in total contrast to his previous behavior and declarations regarding his attitude towards Israelis and Israel. Similarly, it is very damaging to his own interests... Despite my sharp objections to this, the Metropolite Irineos insisted that this letter would have a very strong echo in order to pressure Israel to restore his name to the list of candidates (for Patriarch).'"
Arutz-7 included those remarks when it reported in December that Irineos withdrew his libel suit against Ma'ariv, the Israeli newspaper that printed the letters as part of a series on Irineos published between December 2002 and January 2004. Irineos even agreed to pay Ma'ariv's legal expenses:
"Arutz-7's Shimon Cohen reports that senior Church figures say that the withdrawal of the suit is a 'blow' to the Church and a humiliation for the Patriarch. They say that Irineos' consent to withdraw the suit and pay legal fees allows him to avoid intensive legal review of the case."
If the letters were indeed forgeries, then why would the patriarch refuse the opportunity to clear his name, especially given his sensitive position? Would not winning such a suit firmly establish his credibility, especially among Arab Christians?
Among those suspicious of Irineos is Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and a member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet. Almost a year before the police completed its investigation concerning Irineos' correspondence, Sharansky expressed his misgivings in Haim Shapiro's article "Byzantine Politics," published by the Post and London's Financial Times in January 2003:
"Sharansky is aware that Church officials have declared the letter a forgery, but he notes that Irineos has never actually said so himself. He says there are Church officials who are ready to testify that they were present when Irineos wrote and signed the letter. 'I can't evaluate all the rumors, but I heard enough in the last two years to know that his relationship with Arafat is problematic for us, for the State of Israel and for the Jewish people,' Sharansky says." (Emphasis added.)
In November 2003, Arutz-7 published another report damaging Patriarch Irineos' credibility. According to that report, the patriarch twice tried to visit Arafat at his compound in Ramallah but was turned away after lying about possessing a gun and requisite passes to Israeli soldiers manning checkpoints:
"Arutz-7's Kobi Finkler reports that the incidents in question occurred in the middle and end of October. On October 15, Irineos arrived at the northern Jerusalem A-Ram checkpoint, explaining that he wished to visit Arafat in the Mukata in Ramallah. The soldiers asked him if he had a weapon, he answered no, the soldiers checked his vehicle - and found a gun. The forces then informed him that a Foreign Ministry permit would no longer suffice to allow him to enter Area A (under PA control), and instead he would need permission from the IDF liaison office.
"Eleven days later, on Oct. 26, Irineos requested a permit from the IDF liaison office to enter Ramallah - and the request was denied. He attempted to enter anyway, arriving with a delegation of aides at the Bituniya checkpoint instead of A-Ram, where he knew that he would be recognized. The Bituniya soldiers asked him if he had the required permits, and he said yes. The suspicious soldiers conducted a further check with their superiors, and found that not only did he not have a permit, but he had actually been refused one.
"Irineos then began yelling at the soldiers, and some of his aides even attempted to push them. 'You have no respect for a man of religion,' Irineos shouted."
The report accused Irineos of "trying to smuggle a gun to Yasser Arafat." Regardless, why would a patriarch need a gun if he felt secure? Why would he lie to soldiers about having a gun? If he was denied a pass to enter Ramallah, why not designate a subordinate who could obtain such a pass to act on his authority?
Rosen's support for Irineos is by no means dispassionate. The AJC acted as an intermediary between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Israeli government on Irineos' behalf. When the government approved Irineos' appointment in January 2004, as it is required to do under Greek Orthodox procedures, Rosen told Reuters that "[t]his election result is a great disappointment for the Israeli government. Irineos is seen as less amenable and less willing (than other nominees) to kowtow to Israeli interests. This result proves the real futility of the effort and assumption you can draw the map to suit your own political interest."
Regarding Hanna, Rosen asserts that Irineos distanced himself from the former spokesman's anti-Semitic statements. The patriarchate issued an official statement that was published in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Sennara on July 5, 2002 -- 16 days after Hanna publicly supported suicide bombing as a tactic in the intifada while speaking at a conference n Abu Dhabi:
"Monsignor Theodosius [The writer means Atallah Hanna, although "Monsignor" is a Roman Catholic, not a Byzantine Orthodox, honorific title. -- eds.] has never been the official spokesman of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, in Israel, in Palestine, or in Jordan. 2) His statements do not represent the Church's position. 3) The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, has been, and remains, distant from politics. It condemns forms of violence and terror, supports the peace process, and calls for love, brotherhood, and coexistence among all human beings. 4) From this moment onward, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate's official statements will be issued solely by the official spokesman belonging to the office of the information committee." (Emphasis added.)
Father Jibrail Naddaf, one of the patriarch's aides, condemned Hanna's support for suicide bombing in an accompanying article:
"Even if I were not a priest in the Patriarchate, as a human being...I do not agree with (these) statements...We have seen no denial by Father Atallah Hanna of what the papers have reported him saying. We never call for killing and bloodshed. This is completely unacceptable. These operations damage peace in the Middle East. This is a dangerous and irresponsible statement. The Patriarch does not agree with it... It is our obligation to oppose these declarations. Even in the (Palestinian) Authority they oppose (these) operations...He (Hanna) does not represent the Patriarchate with these statements."
However, Hanna told the British daily Al-Zaman on July 13 that "[t]he decision to fire (me) is illegal, illegitimate, and baseless... will not comply with the decision and I will carry out my daily duties as spokesman for the community without considering (this) decision."
Hanna found support from Orthodox Arabs. In a statement to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Sfir, one group said that Hanna was the patriarchate's spokesman regardless of Irineos' wishes. Uday Bajali, secretary of the Nazareth Community Council, and Rauf Abu Jaber, head of the Greek Orthodox Organization in Jordan, accused Irineos of capitulating to the Israeli government and alienating Orthodox Arabs.
Regardless of the patriarchate's official position, Hanna remained in the public spotlight. As Front Page Magazine's article attests, Hanna not only continued to express support for suicide bombing but also for a Jew-free Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea in remarks on three separate occasions during January 2003.
Arutz-7's Cohen also reported that Irineos embraced Hanna during the Greek Orthodox Church's Easter 2003 celebrations:
"Despite periodic attempts by the Greek Orthodox Church to downplay Hanna's importance, Cohen reports that at a recent Easter celebration, Irineos -- a leading candidate to head the Greek Orthodox Church in Israel -- greeted Hanna with kisses and hugs, seated him to his right and had him translate his Greek remarks into Arabic for the audience."
Such behavior seems strange on the part of a patriarch who had effectively declared the man he hugged as persona non grata less than a year earlier.
Regardless of anyone's rationale or motivation for supporting Irineos or Hanna, the statements, activities and attitudes that I have chronicled on FrontPage Magazine cannot be dismissed as false or defamatory.