ISRAEL-- Though former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line Likud Party and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s more moderate Kadima Party both claimed victory in the Feb. 10 Israeli elections, a certain beneficiary of their virtual tie was the relative newcomer Avigdor Lieberman. Mr. Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party placed third, winning 15 seats in the 120-member Knesset, putting Lieberman in the position of possible parliamentary kingmaker when a new governing coalition is formed. Lieberman won votes on an ultranationalist platform that includes redrawing Israel’s boundaries to transfer highly populated Arab areas to Palestinian control and the mandatory signing of an oath of loyalty by Arabs who remain in Israel.
With no political party gaining a clear majority in the elections, it is now up to Israel’s President Shimon Peres to decide which of the two top parties—Likud or Kadima—will be entrusted with forming a coalition government that may require the participation of Mr. Lieberman and his followers if it is to succeed. Accordingly, neither Kadima, which according to final poll results won 29 seats in the Knesset, nor Likud, which won 28 seats, has come out against the Yisrael Beitenu Party. President Peres’s decision may take weeks.
“We now have a fascist party in the Knesset and none of the large parties have spoken out against them. That is scary,” said the retired journalist Atallah Mansour, a close observer of Israeli politics. “With Lieberman having influence in the government, Israel is on a collision course with the United States.” Mansour noted that President Barack Obama has indicated he wants to make significant changes in the way negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are conducted. But, he pointed out, Lieberman has taken a strong stance against the Palestinians and has been quoted as saying he wants to wipe out the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which now rules the Gaza Strip after having been separated from Fatah.
“I don’t see any difference between Hamas and Lieberman,” said Wadie Abunasser, an Arab Catholic Israeli who is head of the International Center of Consultations, a nonpartisan political think tank based in Haifa. Abunasser noted that both Hamas and the Yisrael Beitenu Party refuse to recognize the rights of the other; both advocate the use of violence; and both decline to accept past peace agreements. “The irony is that while everyone is proud of boycotting Hamas, no one is talking about boycotting Lieberman. The election of such a person as Lieberman, who is corrupt, who is saying such things, raises a lot of questions [about] how decisions are going to be made in Israel,” he said.
Mr. Abunasser also said that the enormous leap made by the Likud Party, from 12 seats to 28, indicates a worrisome and clear shift to the right by Israeli voters, which could endanger the peace process. “It is the largest-ever increase for any party in Israel,” he said. While it is most likely that a center-right coalition will be formed, there is still the possibility of an extremely conservative coalition taking the lead, said Abunasser. Regardless, the new coalition will be highly unstable, with a single party able to topple it at any moment by withdrawing its support, he added.
Mansour said that with 12 political parties likely to have representatives in the Knesset, “the government is like a broken glass shattered into a bunch of little pieces…. Not that it was much better before, but now it is even worse.”Religious in Amazon Face Threats
AMAZON -- Bishop Erwin Krautler of Xingu, Brazil, remembers the first time he received a death threat. “It was the exact day I completed 25 years as a bishop,” he recalled. Later that year, a local paper even announced the day his assassination would be expected. Bishop Krautler says there are several groups unhappy with him and with his colleagues, who are fighting to save the Amazon region from environmental destruction. The bishop has recently spoken out against the construction of a hydroelectric plant along the Xingu River. He has also strongly opposed land-clearing by farmers and loggers in the Amazon forest and is one of the main figures trying to bring to justice those who killed Dorothy Stang, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, in 2005.
“These people have formed a ‘consortium’ to murder those who speak out against what they are doing,” Bishop Krautler told Catholic News Service. “I believe that it was a consortium of landowners who got together to hire someone to murder Sister Dorothy.” Sister Dorothy Stang, a native of Ohio and a naturalized Brazilian, was 73 when she was murdered near the town of Anapu. She was known as a fierce defender of the Amazon forest.
The government was surprised by the international repercussions of Sister Dorothy’s assassination and, according to Brother Henri des Roziers, O.P., does not want to worsen its image abroad. Now the authorities provide limited police protection for Bishop Krautler and others.
Both Bishop Krautler and Brother des Roziers say the thought of leaving the region has never entered their minds. “If it were that easy, they would have eliminated me long ago,” said Bishop Krautler. “What they are doing is psycho-terrorism...trying to get me into a depressed mood so I’ll leave.” But, Bishop Krautler added, the only way he will leave is if the pope reassigns him.Pope Meets Pelosi
ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI met privately on Feb. 18 with Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representa-tives, and told her that all Catholics, especially those who are lawmakers, must work to protect human life at every stage. “His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death,” said a Vatican statement. Speaker Pelosi was making an official visit to Italy. The Catholic Democrat from California has been criticized by some Catholics for her support for keeping abortion legal. In a statement released by her office, Pelosi said, “In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the church’s leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father’s dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel.”Murphy-O’Connor Addresses Anglicans
Divisions within the worldwide Anglican Communion impoverish all of Christianity, said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster during a speech to the General Synod of the Church of England on Feb. 9. “Let me be frank,” Murphy-O’Connor told the governing body of the Anglican Church in England. “Your struggles with issues on communion which deeply affect the unity of the Anglican Communion affect us all. Divisions within any church or ecclesial community impoverish the communion of the whole church.” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor added that Catholics and Anglicans “cannot give up” their goal of unity “even if it still seems so distant.” But he reiterated remarks by other Catholic leaders, including Vatican officials, that the Church of England’s decisions on matters such as the episcopal ordination of women and the priestly ordination of sexually active homosexuals would affect “how our relationship is going to develop.”Commission Rallies Support for Zimbabwe
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe will use its nationwide network to rally support for rebuilding Zimbabwe following the recent formation of a unity government. “The new administration will need to work hard to end the human suffering” in Zimbabwe, which faces rampant inflation, a cholera epidemic and 90 percent unemployment, said Alouis Chaumba, head of the commission. Morgan Tsvangirai, 56, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, was sworn in as prime minister by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Feb. 11. Mugabe has said he will cooperate in the unity government. “We are very hopeful,” Chaumba said, adding that Zimbabweans “have been isolated from the international community for many years, and now we have the chance to hold our heads high.”Austrian Withdraws After Opposition
Bishop-designate Gerhard Wagner has asked Pope Benedict XVI to withdraw his nomination as auxiliary bishop of Linz, in the face of fierce criticism. The uproar stemmed mainly from comments Wagner made implying that Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a punishment from God for sins committed in New Orleans. The diocesan bishops of Austria issued a statement saying they supported Bishop-designate Wagner’s request to withdraw, although they also reaffirmed their belief that it is best for the church that the pope appoint bishops. If a bishop were to be elected by the faithful at large, they said, “conflicts would be inevitable.” The bishops also said, however, that the canon law procedure for choosing a bishop, which calls for consultation with other bishops, priests and lay leaders, is important. “The procedure provided for in canon law for the selection and the examination of candidates [for the office of bishop] has proved its worth, if this procedure really is followed,” they said.Korean Cardinal, Rights Advocate, Dead
Korea’s first cardinal, an outspoken defender of human rights, died in Seoul, South Korea, on Feb. 16. At the time of his death, Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan was the longest-serving cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Born in Daegu in May 1922, the late cardinal was ordained a priest in 1951. After earning a degree in philosophy at the Catholic University of Jochi Daigaku in Tokyo, Japan, he was named bishop of Masan, Korea, in 1966. He was named archbishop of Seoul just two years later. Pope Paul VI made him Korea’s first cardinal in 1969. One of the main focuses of the cardinal’s work was pressing for reconciliation between North and South Korea and for freedom of religion in the Communist North.News Briefs
• The John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel has announced that it donated more than $2 million last year to fight desertification and promote rural development in nine African countries. • Bishop Jesús González de Zarate Salas of Caracas, Venezuela, said on Feb. 15 that the removal of term limits for the country’s president, Hugo Chávez, is a blow to democracy in the country. • Supporters of the religious rights of immigrants detained by the federal government celebrated the passage of a law requiring Illinois State and Illinois County detention facilities to allow detained immigrants to meet with pastoral workers. • A new Gallup poll ranked the top religious states in the United States and found Southern states ranked highest, while several states in the Northeast ranked the lowest. Mississippi topped the list with 85 percent of those surveyed claiming that religion was important.