Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jewish groups respond to cleric's anti-Israel remarks

Reports of a Christmas address by Jerusalem’s highest ranking Catholic cleric, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, have stirred controversy in the local Jewish community.

In his annual address, Sabbah called on Israel to abandon its Jewish character in favor of a “political normal state for Christians, Muslims, and Jews,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

Locally, Sabbah’s reported statements have prompted harsh responses from the Anti-Defamation League, Christians and Jews United for Israel, and others.

“We are deeply disturbed that Father Sabbah would politicize the holy season of Christmas by denying the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state,” said the ADL in a statement.

“His comments are particularly ironic considering that he represents a Catholic state and a theocratic monarchy.”

The ADL’s position was echoed by Larry Grodman, chair of CJUI’s steering committee.

“I call on all Catholics, especially the Pope, to clearly reject this statement in his Christmas message of peace and good will to all,” Grodman wrote in an e-mail.

Yet there is some doubt surrounding the veracity of the reports, as David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, has questioned their accuracy.

Still, the latest reports were not Sabbah’s first brush with controversy. The 74-year-old Archbishop of Jerusalem is a Palestinian Christian and has been criticized in the past for his position on jihad, suicide bombing, and the Palestinian “right to return.”

According to an account in the online magazine, a conservative publication of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Sabbah defended and justified Palestinian violence against Israel during a 2002 videotaped Christmas address. A transcript of the address could not be found on Sabbah’s Web site.

“Ours is an occupied country, which explains why people are tired and blow themselves up,” Sabbah was quoted as saying. “Unfortunately, nothing but violence makes people march.”

The Catholic Church, however, has unequivocally affirmed its position on the Jewish state. And though Jewish organizations are outraged by reports of Sabbah’s latest comments, local leaders are confident his position does not represent a shift in the collective sentiment of the Church.

“I believe that his point of view is aberrant, and is not part of the mainstream of central Catholic thinking,” said Larry Lowenthal, executive director of AJC’s Boston chapter.

Both the AJC and ADL have worked closely with the Boston Archdiocese.

Lowenthal added that the reported statements seem to disregard the lessons of the Holocaust, and that Sabbah’s opinions would not be shared by his local Catholic brethren.

But the Boston Archdiocese offered little response.

“We are not in a position to comment on his remarks and are not aware of the context in which they were offered,” said Terrence Donilon, director of communications, in an e-mail. “Our focus here is on local Catholic-Jewish relations.”

But such statements would seem to impact local relations, as Jews in Boston – and everywhere – feel strongly about the Jewish nature of Israel.

The issue is, therefore, part of local Catholic-Jewish relations, according to the Rebbe, Grand Rabbi Y. A. Korff.

“Despite the significance of Israel to other faiths, the Jewish character of the land of Israel, since biblical times, and the connection of the State of Israel with Judaism, is undeniable,” said the Rebbe.

“Patriarch Sabbah was undoubtedly speaking as a Palestinian and not as a Roman Catholic.”

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