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Obama vs the Pope

Obama’s failure to mention the historic tie of the Jewish people to the land of Israel elicited outraged comment from Jewish sources, for example this one from this morning’s editorial in the Jerusalem Post:

In his Cairo address the day before to the Muslim and Arab worlds, the president had justified Israel’s right to exist on the basis of the Holocaust: “The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted,” he said, “in a tragic history” that culminated in the Shoah.

At Buchenwald, he said: “The nation of Israel [arose] out of the destruction of the Holocaust.” That rationale, standing alone, set the stage for Obama to assert: “On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinians… have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.”

What the Holocaust proved is that the world is too dangerous a place for Jews to be stateless and defenseless. But we Zionists were making that argument long before Hitler came to power.

The same point was made by some prominent American rabbis in Shabbat sermons, and it is absolutely correct. As the cited editorial said,

SO YOU see, Mr. President, long before Christianity and Islam appeared on the world stage, the covenant between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel was entrenched and unwavering. Every day we prayed in our ancient tongue for our return to Zion. Everyday, Mr. President. For 2,000 years.

At every Jewish wedding down through the centuries, the bridegroom has crushed a glass beneath his foot while declaring: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…”

My memory is not perfect, and I do not read every Jerusalem Post editorial, but this is the first time I recall the newspaper citing Jewish prayer as the basis for a political position. That is encouraging. In the June-July issue of First Things, I argue that Jewish holiness, rather than the Holocaust, must be the foundation of our claim for support from the Christian world. Of course, I had no inkling of Obama’s coming offense when I wrote “Jewish Survival in a Gentile World,” but the President’s speech in Cairo exemplified the point. If all the Jews want is for the rest of the world to abhor the Holocaust, Obama said in effect, I’ll do that all day and all night. What a rotten thing the Holocaust was! And what stinkers are they who deny it happened! Now, you got what you paid for. Get over the barrel.

Pope Benedict XVI also had occasion to irritate the Jews during his trip to Israel and Jordan last month, particularly by complaining that the security barrier that separates Israel from the West Bank and has helped keep Palestinian terrorists away from Israeli targets. The Pope has a Christian Arab constituency on the West Bank who suffer from the same security restrictions that Israel has imposed upon the territories as a matter of sad necessity. It is quite in character for him to deplore the human effects of such measures.

Nonetheless, what should be kept in mind is that the pope went to Israel precisely because of its Biblical significance, and visited the Jewish people in their divinely-appointed homeland precisely because he believes that the Jews were elected by God to comunicate to all humanity knowledge of the true and unique God. 

In a May 6 Newsweek column, George Weigel called attention to

the most salient personal fact about the pope’s journey—that it’s a pilgrimage by a man of the Bible to the land of the Bible. While pundits and partisans will interpret Benedict’s comments and actions according to the varying political winds and their own agendas, a real understanding of his pilgrimage must start at the true source of Benedict’s own thinking: Scripture.

Weigel added,

Ratzinger’s intense encounter with the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament over more than half a century has given him both a deep reverence for the Bible and a theologically grounded reverence for living Judaism—which is the most solid basis possible for genuine friendship and mutual regard. Benedict knows that the Hebrew Bible is integral to Christianity.

Benedict believes that the Jews should be in Eretz Yisrael for the same reason that the Jerusalem Post does: because it is divinely mandated. Obama reinforces the Arab claim that Israel is the product of European guilt over the Holocaust. Who is the friend of the Jews, and who is the enemy?

In the cited article in the June-July issue, I argued that Jews should make common cause with the Pope. It won’t be available online for another two months, so if you want to read it now, you will have to subscribe. I suppose I could make it available for free, but sorry — as the conductor Otto Klemperer said to the Israel Philharmonic, I’m too Jewish for that.


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To be fair Obama castigated the Islamic world for its flaws so extremism, nuclear weapons programs and a faltering record in human rights, education and economic development.

Posted by Peter on 2009-06-10 04:00:22 GMT

Jewish Israel was 2,000 years old when Christianity began. Christianity was 570 years old when Muhammad was born. (570- 632). Who has a better claim on the land? But if you are Obama, your allegience and understanding is only pro-Islam"s beliefs. Biblical facts, historical records? No matter. Obama has spoken.

Posted by Roberta on 2009-06-10 02:42:30 GMT

We must also contest the view that Israel arose because of the holocaust. We are ignoring the Jewish refugees from Arab lands (who in number exceeded the Palestinian refugees) and also the Druze abd Baha"i who found refuge in Israel. By doing this we are losing our must powerful argument for Israel. The Arab countries have been involved in religious (ethnic) cleansing of non Muslims, and we remain silent on that.

Posted by Peter on 2009-06-09 06:27:39 GMT

As a Catholic supporter of Israel, I am very pleased to read this analysis. I was disappointed by some of the Pope"s remarks in Israel, but still feel confident of his support for Israel. The Pope did have the decency to walk out on Sheikh Tamimi, which was an important message to Catholics.

Posted by Rod on 2009-06-09 05:27:23 GMT

I am not completely confident in my observation but what I see is a US President - perhaps the first - who has no underlying christian values. He doesn"t speak or think like a christian, and for a country like America that should be a shock to the system.

Posted by Ralph on 2009-06-09 05:02:06 GMT