One young Palestinian man, among an international group of twelve who were invited to lunch with the Pope in Cologne on Friday, has obviously been reading the words of Jesus instead of the words of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Johnny Bassous, 20, represented a youth group from Bethlehem.
Q: You mention the Pope's words on bridging gaps among different cultures, and that this is a theme felt deeply in the Holy Land. How do you feel that this meeting with the Pope today will help you to personally continue to try to make a difference to promote peace in your homeland?
Bassous: You know, one of the greatest commandments that the Lord gives us is to love our neighbors, and even love our enemies -- not that I see anyone as my enemy. The bible teaches us how to love and live together.
So, for me, encouraged by the urgings of this Pope, I think that loving others in this way -- loving the Muslims and the Jews together with my fellow Christians -- is one of the solid things that I can do to begin our dialogue of peace. This is the message -- of reconciliation -- that I want to carry back home by living out my Christian life on a daily basis.
Q: The Pope himself has given us an example of how we can do this. Just before he came to have lunch with all of you, he met with the Jewish community of Cologne in the synagogue here. What did this gesture signify for you?
Bassous: For me, when I hear of such occurrences, I feel very happy because as Christians, we are called to break down all the borders and barriers among peoples.
I remember when his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, went to pray at the Wailing Wall, and visited the mosques of the Muslims. This represented that he is a man not only of words, but of deeds and actions. This is an example of what we are all called to do
Perhaps he could give the Patriarch some lessons in the basics of Christianity, as opposed to Palestinian Liberation Theology.
This article, by Dr Irene Lancaster first appeared in the Church Times 19 August, 2005. It will appear on the online version on 26 August. The two Jewish individuals cited asked for their names to be changed.
THE CHIEF RABBI, Dr Jonathan Sacks, stated three years ago that: "Anti-Semitism exists . . . whenever two contradictory factors appear in combination: the belief that Jews are so powerful that they are responsible for the evils of the world, and the knowledge that they are so powerless that they can be attacked with impunity" (lecture to the Inter-Parliamentary Committee against Anti-Semitism, 28 February 2002).
How prophetic these words have become. The Jewish community in Britain is alarmed by the increasing anti-Semitism in the Anglican Church, much of it based on ignorance. For instance, many people outside the Jewish community really believe that Israel, a country the size of Wales, is, as Dr Sacks said, "responsible for the evils of the world", while Jewish people know only too well that, as 0.5 per cent of the population, "they are so powerless that they can be attacked with impunity".
To many British Jews, segments of the media, including the BBC, The Guardian and The Independent, constantly misrepresent Israel. These misrepresentations then affect other organisations.
First, there was the Association of University Teachers (AUT), which called for a boycott of two Israeli universities. Now the Anglican Consultative Council, in what the journalist Melanie Phillips has called "the Church’s AUT moment", said that it "welcomes" the Anglican Peace and Justice Network’s statement on Israel (News, 1 July; 5 August).
Jewish institutions and individuals have been discussing how they are affected by media reporting. Last week, the Community Security Trust, which advises and represents the Jewish community on security and anti-Semitism, asked me to tell the Church Times that:
"It frequently appears that there are no limits to the hatred and bias that can be expressed against Israel or Zionism. Anti-Semites take comfort from this hatred, and regard it as a cue to attack Jews at random here in Britain. Anti-Semitic incidents’ levels since the year 2000 have been the worst recorded in decades. The rise in incidents is appalling. This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago."
The Board of Deputies described its concern at the fact that "In 2004, there were 532 anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, which was a 42 per cent increase on the figures for 2003, which was a substantial increase on the figures for 2002."
THE BBC apologised when the Scottish hymn-writer, the Revd Dr John Bell of the Iona Community, "made two factual mistakes" about the Israeli army on the Radio 4’s Thought for the Day in February.
This was a wake-up call for the Jewish community, even though Christian aid agencies and "peace groups" have for a long time appeared to us to be attacking Israel, and ignoring attempts to hear other points of view. Individual Jews have reported experiencing violent verbal attacks during public pro-Palestinian meetings held in church buildings.
Joanne Green, a Jewish journalist, said: "Despite the BBC charter, I can’t think of any programmes that are critical of the Palestinians, despite their kangaroo courts, public hangings, threats to journalists, incitement to racial and religious hatred, corruption, and threats to destroy Israel.
"Also, as an active member of the Council of Christians and Jews, I feel betrayed by the Anglican Church. All those receptions at St James’s Palace and earnest tributes from church leaders regretting their millennia-long persecution of the Jews don’t mean anything any more. When Jews need real recognition of the danger they are in, where is the Church? Aligning themselves with those who want to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, after it was they who were responsible for the Holocaust. Forgive them, Lord, for they probably do know exactly what they do. How dare the Church lecture Jews on morality."
Many people mention the Church’s apparent silence in the face of the growing attacks on the British Jewish community. For one seasoned American journalist and Episcopalian cleric: "In Britain, there is a degree of open anti-Semitism that would be unthinkable in the USA. The C of E has been complicit in this, both by keeping silent, and by not cracking down on its members who cross the line in their advocacy of the Palestinian cause, and fall into Jew-baiting."
Canon Andrew White, CEO of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East, agrees. "Is there a new anti-Semitism?" he asks. "For Jews, disinvestment [in Israel] is not just anti-Zionism, but anti-Semitism. Christians defend their position by saying they are against Israel, not the Jews. Yet there is no call by the Christians to disinvest from countries where Christians are persecuted, or banned. Israel is viewed as the evil nation, that evil democratic nation — that just happens to be the only homeland for the Jewish people in the world.
"Now that there is an acute awareness of the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism, the Christian world needs to wake up to the fact that more Jews have been killed by Christians than by Muslims. It is no longer sufficient for the Church to blame Israel for its own anti-Semitism. The replacement theology that laid the ground for nearly two millennia of anti-Judaic polemic is on its way back. This time, it is dressed up as concern for the Palestinians."
Benjamin, a 32-year-old Jew, who stayed at my house last Shabbat, en route to an International Council of Christians and Jews convention, said: "Christians are encouraged to love their enemies. We are no longer the enemy, just irrelevant; no longer the enemy, just the object of hate and vilification."
For, as the Holocaust author Raoul Hillberg has said: "There is a straight line from ‘You have no right to live among us as Jews’ to ‘You have no right to live among us’ to ‘You have no right to live.’"
Dr Irene Lancaster is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester, the author of works on Jewish history and the Bible, and an Orthodox Jew engaged in interfaith work with the Anglican Church and others.
Abraham Lehrer, a German Jewish leader "touched a sore spot in relations with Catholics" and asked the Pope to open up all the Vatican archives dealing with World War Two and the Holocaust.
“You grew up in Germany during a terrible time," he told Benedict during the first papal visit to a synagogue in Germany. "We not only see in you the head of the Catholic Church but also a German who is aware of his historical responsibility."
Benedict did not answer Lehrer's plea, but his pre-written address included a reference to the need to reach "a mutually accepted interpretation of still disputed historical issues".
I hope he will. We need to know the truth about this.
Talking of sore points, the recent row between Vatican and Israeli officials seems to be over.
Benedict's visit appeared to have helped smooth over a dispute between the Vatican and Israel that arose after the Israeli government faulted Benedict for not mentioning attacks on Israelis in a recent condemnation of terrorism. The Vatican responded with a terse statement asking the Israelis not to tell the pope what to say.
Abraham Lehrer, a member of the synagogue board, said the controversy "did not cast any shadow over the synagogue visit."
He noted the presence in the front row of Israel's ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, calling that "a sign that the controversy has been overcome."
Pope Benedict, visiting the synagogue in Cologne today, said that Christians and Jews must join forces so the "insane racist ideology" that led to the Holocaust never resurfaces.
While Catholic-Jewish relations have improved tremendously in the past half-century, particularly during the 27-year reign of John Paul, Benedict warned that new threats of racism and anti-Semitism were always lurking.
It is a particularly important task, since today, sadly, we are witnessing the rise of new signs of anti-Semitism and various forms of a general hostility towards foreigners," he said.
I'm glad he said that. It is so obvious, and yet some Christian leaders would rather indulge in that very prejudice and attack the Jewish State, rather than point it out and say that we should join forces and do something about it.
The Pope repeated a promise he has made to Jews since the start of his pontificate that he would "continue on the path towards improved relations and friendship" blazed by John Paul.
"Yet still much remains to be done. We must come to know one another much more and much better," he said.
This essay, "Understanding American Christian Attitudes regarding Jerusalem" by David Raab was published by the Jerusalem Center for Public affairs in August 2002, but bears re-reading. It provides useful background information about the different Christian denominations and their attitudes to Israel.
Of interest, given the forthcoming discussions by the American Episcopal Church is this:
Many Holy Land Christian clergy - the Palestinians in particular - are outspoken against Israel. Some, like those at the Sabeel Center in Jerusalem, are actually developing an entirely new "Palestinian Liberation Theology" which interweaves Christian theology with Palestinian politics and reinterprets the gospels in a way that derogates Israel.
With regard to US Protestant Churches, this group has an influence out of all proportion to its size, and enjoys particularly close links with the Episcopal Church.
While representing only about 5 percent of the total, the Protestant Christian community in the Holy Land has close ties with the U.S. mainline Protestant community. Its anti-Israel stance seems to have significant sway on U.S. churches.
The close link between the Sabeel Center and the U.S. Episcopal Church is an example. An Episcopal theologian and an outspoken critic of Israel, Naim Ateek, is Sabeel's president. The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Riah Abu Al-Assal, is a board member. Episcopal Bishop Thomas Shaw, head of the Massachusetts Diocese, lauded the Sabeel Center in an April 2002 speech, in which he also asserted that, "If true peace is to be brought to the region, the injustice done to the Palestinian community for the past 100 years [sic] must be brought into the light and addressed." (Ateek is influential in Britain, too, where he "is claimed by bishop after bishop as a good friend who, they say, is hugely influential throughout the Anglican communion.")
The Sabeel Centre has been diligently spreading its poison for many years. Is there any hope for fairness in the Episcopal Church’s decisions about Israel?