"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."
Many have heard or read these words before. But never from someone of the stature who expressed them last week. This quote came from His Holiness Pope Francis himself.
The occasion was an event marking the 50th anniversary of the encyclical "Nostra Aetate" - "In our times" - issued by Pope Paul VI. The work was begun at the Second Vatican Council under Pope John XXIII who entrusted the supervision of the work to Cardinal Augustine Bea. It was meant to create a new dialogue between the Catholic Church and other faiths. But what is most remembered about this declaration - indeed taking up 600 of its 1800 words - was the clarity and candour of the change in the Church's position on Catholic-Jewish relations.
It said in part, "...the blame for the death of Christ cannot be laid at the door of the Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held as guilty." This statement was revolutionary in that it repudiated the indiscriminate charge of Jewish deicide that had existed for almost two millenia. "The Jews, " it went on, "should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God." The Declaration also decried all displays of anti-semitism made at any time by anyone.
Pope Francis has himself been a revolutionary Pontiff in many of his statements, particularly those dealing with greed, income inequality and the failure of wealthy societies to meet their moral obligations in providing dignified lives for the vulnerable. So for those who think that his statements on Israel and anti-semitism were just window dressing for a ceremonial week, they would be wrong. They are perfectly in line with comments he made to veteran Portuguese-Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman in May of this year. The Pope said at the time that, “anyone who does not recognize the Jewish people and the State of Israel — and their right to exist — is guilty of anti-Semitism.” Enough said. Amen.
For us in Canada, there was also an interesting piece of news on this subject. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau to congratulate him on his victory. Both Mr. Trudeau's spokesperson Kate Purchase, and Israel's Ambassador to Canada Rafael Barak, characterized the call as "positive." They pointed out that though there may be a change of tone by Canada on Middle East issues, Canada remains a "staunch" friend of Israel's.
This statement is important to note for the record. Though Amb. Barak stated that it was a very "warm call," in politics - and most particularly in international politics - tone too often trumps substance. It is to be hoped that Canada's moral tone does not shift too far from that of the man in the Shoes of the Fisherman who influences the spiritual direction of a fifth of mankind.
times "In our times" indeed.
(The picture below show Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a close collaboratof of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., with Cardinal Augustine Bea)