The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has expressed criticism and concern over statements made by Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled areas, particularly his implicit endorsement of the Palestinian so-called right of return. The right of return would mean the entry into Israel by Palestinian Arab refugees of the 1948-49 war and their millions of descendants, thereby inundating Israel with hostile Arabs, demographically overwhelming Jews and ending Israels existence as a Jewish state. Across the Israeli political spectrum, it is regarded as death warrant for Israel.
Statements made by Pope Benedict on his visit:
· Implicit support for right of return: Expressed his solidarity with all the homeless Palestinians who long to be able to return to their birthplace, or live permanently in a homeland of their own.
· Misrepresenting Palestinian terrorism as an understandable temptation due to implied Israeli misdeeds, rather than an inexcusable evil: I make this appeal to the many young people throughout the Palestinian Territories today: do not allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts. Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism.
· Support for Palestinian statehood: Palestinians have a right to a sovereign homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders.
· Criticism of Israels security fence designed to keep out terrorists: In a world where more and more borders are being opened up to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges it is tragic to see walls still being erected.
· Prayers for Palestinians who suffered in Gaza fighting but not for Israelis who suffer from Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza: Please be assured that all Palestinian refugees across the world, especially those who lost homes and loved ones during the recent conflict in Gaza, are constantly remembered in my prayers.
· Plight of Christians in Gaza mentioned, but only in general terms – their persecution at the hands of Hamas and Islamists ignored: In a special way my heart goes out to the pilgrims from war-torn Gaza: I ask you to bring back to your families and your communities my warm embrace, and my sorrow for the loss, the hardship and the suffering you have had to endure. (Rachel Donadio and Sharon Otterman, In Bethlehem, Pope Laments Israeli Wall, New York Times, May 14, 2009).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, We find many reasons for concern and even criticism in statements made by the Pope during his visit. While acknowledging that the Pope has made important statements regarding his concern for the plight of Christian minorities in Muslim majority countries and called for religious tolerance and freedom in Muslim societies, the ZOA believes the Popes implied support for the so-called Palestinian right of return and his failure to condemn as an inexcusable evil the culture of terrorism and support for eliminating Israel that permeates Palestinian society represented a failure to speak the truth. These statements and omissions obscured the nature of the conflict and thus gave aid and comfort to Palestinian non-acceptance of Israel.
At no time did the Pope name the root of the conflict the Palestinian rejection of Israels right to exist as a Jewish state. But for this, peace would have been achieved long ago. By expressing solidarity with the Palestinian desire to return, the Pope was in effect giving sanction to the Palestinian design to eliminate Israel by demographic inundation. Yet the Pope knows, or ought to know, that the reason Palestinians are still in refugee camps is because they have been deliberately incarcerated in them as an element in a campaign to delegitimize Israel and denied opportunity to resettle, as all other refugees have been able to do. How much better it would have been if the Pope had called upon Arab states to absorb the refugees and their descendents rather than keeping them penned up refugee camps.
We are also perturbed rather than reassured by the Popes statement urging Palestinians to have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Though undoubtedly intended to address the evil of terrorism, the Pope failed in this task. He presented terrorism as a failing into which Palestinians understandably might fall, rather than an evil that they, like all other human beings, are morally prohibited from committing. This speaks volumes for the success of Palestinian propaganda that has insidiously insinuated the notion that Palestinians have been so deliberately and wantonly victimized by Israel that they understandably turn to terrorism.
The Catholic Church has no inhibitions in forthrightly describing abortion as morally wrong, not a mere temptation. How, then, is it possible that an evil like terrorism wasnt condemned by the Pope merely described as a temptation that might understandably appeal to Palestinians?
We regret that the Pope saw fit to declare that Palestinians have a right to their own state at a time when both the Palestinian leadership and society as a whole (as polls show) reject the right of Jews to their own state and support the use of terrorism against Jews. How much better it would have been for the Pontiff to say that he believes Palestinians must meet their Oslo and Roadmap commitments to end terrorism and the incitement to hatred and murder that feeds it before Israel can be expected to make further concessions.
We too lament the security barrier: we would dearly wish that Israel had never seen any need to erect it. But as its building was a direct result of on-going terrorism that claimed over a thousand Israeli lives, we object to the Pope criticizing this legitimate, non-lethal security measure. What he should have done was to condemn the terrorism and rejection of Israel that gave rise to it.
Lastly, the ZOA is also concerned that, in his address at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the German-born Pope made no apology on behalf of German Catholics who participated in the commission of the Holocaust, nor make mention of German guilt for the genocide under the Nazi regime. This is all the more surprising, in view of the Popes own service in the Hitler Youth and German armed forces during the Nazi era. Nor did the Pope mention the long, lamentable history of Catholic anti-Semitism, which tragically paved the way for the anti-Semitic furies of Nazism.