The National Catholic Review
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Last fall (11/15) I recommended in these pages that since the negotiations for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine were failing, it was time to consider the one-state solution, a proposal that has a history among Jewish intellectuals. The one-state Israel-Palestine, with a new constitution guaranteeing equal rights for all, would make Palestinians equal citizens. And both sides would have to learn to forgive and live in peace.

This inspired an orchestrated avalanche (about 90 letters) of condemnation. The writers had been instructed to accuse me of not knowing that all Arabs want to kill all Jews. And since I was a Catholic priest, they held me responsible for the Holocaust.

The letters brought back childhood memories. My father’s best friend from World War I and the Trenton American Legion was Lester Block, whose Navy sweater from 1917 I am wearing as I write this. For my brother David and me, he was our Uncle Lester. When he visited, he would pick us up and swing us around; he brought us matzos for the holidays; and his wife fed us kosher hot dogs in their home. When I was 10, I joined the Jewish Cub Scout troop across the street from Blessed Sacrament Church, and in our early teens we went to a summer riding camp with Jewish boys. Once when we were planning our family vacation, a New England inn asked for letters of recommendation; our last name suggested we might be Jews. We went somewhere else. In short, I grew up identifying with Jewish people, and as a priest I see Christianity’s roots in the Hebrew Scriptures.

As a student and journalist I have marveled that Jews, with 3 percent of the American population (Catholics are over 20 percent), have led the nation’s intellectual discourse, particularly on social justice issues. The Catholic intellectual tradition in this country, for many reasons, just does not compare.

In the 1980s and ’90s I traveled in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq to get a better sense of the Middle East. In Jordan I encountered a politician at a briefing who said he wanted to drive Israel into the sea and a young man in a Palestinian refugee camp who suddenly pleaded with me to take him to America.

Today I support J Street, the new Jewish lobby that loves both Israel and peace, and read widely, including reports from Israeli newspapers. But with sadness I also see Arab homes bulldozed to make way for Israelis, between 1,100 and 1,400 citizens of Gaza killed in the invasion of 2008, the Wall, highways on which Arabs may not drive, Palestinians humiliated at checkpoints and beaten by mobs of settlers, the Christian population evaporating, illegal Jewish settlements dominating the water supply and the West Bank. Conservative voices in Israel call for bans on Jews renting property to Arabs and on dating between Arab boys and Jewish girls and want a loyalty oath for citizenship. Is this democracy?

Most Israelis say they want peace, and the conditions that would create it are clear, but as Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, “The Israelis don’t really want peace; they prefer real estate.” Those who mention this are branded anti-Semites; Jews in both Israel and America who cannot morally support Israeli policies are labeled “Not real Jews.”

In Dt 4:5-8 Moses addresses the Israelites about to enter the promised land. The Lord has said that this land must be distinguished by the justice of its laws. When other nations see Israel’s just laws they will say, “Surely this great nation is a wide and discerning people. For what other nation has a god so near it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him?”

Is that Israel today?

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., is an associate editor of America.

Comments

6241475 | 3/7/2011 - 9:56am

It is very regrettable that “America” has provided Father Raymond Schroth with yet another opportunity to vent his animosity toward Israel (2/28).  He has no expertise in the area of Middle Eastern politics and certainly no sensitivity in the domain of intercultural conversation.  During and since the Vatican Council, Jesuits have been in the forefront of dialogue between Christians and Jews and in the efforts that aim at the reconciliation of these faith communities.   That prominence is only fitting as one way that the Society of Jesus manifests its sorrow for the leadership role it all too often played in modern Catholicism’s contempt for Jews and Judaism, a disdain frequently voiced in its periodicals by the way.  Fr. Schroth’s attitudes seem to have been forged in a less penitential and less self-critical Catholic culture but one well known to historians.  His earlier essay (11/15/2010) advocated a one state solution but linked that position to the view that Israel’s Jewish identity was owed to the “unique, post-Holocaust context of the years after World War II.”  But let us pray that Catholics and humanity itself not discard the memory of  the Holocaust as but one post-war recollection.  Both Pope John-Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have called us Catholics to a deeper bond with the memory of the Shoah and with the Jewish people.

Fr. Schroth suggests that some are branded anti-Semites unfairly but what would objective observers make of some of his remarks?  Of course, there is the announcement that his family had Jewish friends and that he even ate “kosher hot dogs.”  But then, the fact that his earlier essay evoked a large number of critical letters is depicted as an “orchestrated avalanche” whose “writers have been instructed”.  One wonders, does he think that the Elders of Zion are out to get him?  He writes of the “Christian population evaporating” but he must know that Christians are actually increasing in numbers within Israel.  Mentioning several controversial debates in Israel, he asks, “Is this democracy?”  Well, yes, fiercely contesting proposals is what happens in a democracy.  And, as anyone who has spent any time there knows,  Israel is certainly a democracy on that score and in such matters as its recognition of religious freedom.  The tragic contemporary situation of Israelis and Palestinians is a very complicated development and nuance,  fairness and humility should be the standards in writing about it.   Father Schroth’s essay does not measure up to those standards and echoes different codes.

James Bernauer, S.J.

Chestnut Hill, MA

David Smith | 2/25/2011 - 2:14am
Father Schroth, I have no doubt you've thought this through and sincerely believe that if Israel were to admit non-Jews to Israeli citizenship the Arabs would lay down their arms and peace would break out in the Middle East.  Jews and Arabs would co-exist happily in the new state and past bitterness and mistrust would gradually disappear.

Could be.  Hypotheticals can be tested only in real life, though, and there's the rub.  If what you foresee doesn't happen, there'll be no going back and trying something else.

I suspect - I certainly don't know - that you'd have no problem with that.  You probably feel - again, my guess - that there ought to be no such thing as a Jewish state.  Correct?
C Walter Mattingly | 2/23/2011 - 10:09am
When Israel gave up  sizeable portion of the West Bank unilaterally, the response from Hezbollah and Hamas was to move more rockets into that territory so they could more effectively launch them at Israel. Perhaps this is one reason Israelis are not enthusiastic about giving up more real estate: they would prefer not to hand over launching sites to terrorists to utilize to kill Israeli citizens.
Likewise, when Don questions why Palestinian children "are murdered in their bed," he need look no further than the brave Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists who fire upon Israelis from these positions next to schools, hospitals, ans sleeping children in hopes that Israelis will return the fire and kill Palestinian children, thereby handing them a great PR victory for their cause. All too often they succeed.
Few believe this is what Palestinians want, but those who control the guns and the situation are Hezbollah and Hamas, and that's what they want as part of their stated aim to exterminate Israel and its people.
Keyran Moran | 2/19/2011 - 6:44am
Father Schroth's soft-spoken reply to the extortionalist mafia is much too gentle and indeed not aimed acccurately.

The USCCB policies- on the official homepage- are the decisions of a Vichy church to collaborate wiith the totalitarianism of Israel and to order all  Catholic publications to seal their lips for instance about the atrocity of Gaza and its 410 dead children.

The Church and Republican Catholics have- now for ten years- been sleeping with the American Ziionists. The Zees enjoy a free pass in the mainstream media, but since there is no serious opposition to throwing fire bombs into each and every media outlet and in the office of every writer in the country,  they have found the Catholic press an easy target.

This organized hate campaign is not against Ray Schroth- it is against every American's right to question and to criticize Israel's totalitarianism.

I have written comments in the America site  and they were erased. What is extraordinary is that RS wrote a mildly provocatively piece and now a very gentle reply to the 90 cluster grenades of intimidation...... and both were published.

Perhaps the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, etc. are creating sparks for freedom of expression among the Jesuit Editor in Chief.

Perhaps America is waking up to the fact the staffs of all three Catholic publications had nothing to say about the atrocity of Gaza's citizens and their children and now are rising from their timid sleepfulness to see that the USA needs at least as much democracy as we promise the Moslem states-which were almost all under intimidation from Israeli-approved dictatorships.

When is America going to get out of bed and begin to protect not only Americans' rights, but the rights of the Palestinian children to not be murdered in bed and to not suffer burns over most of their bodies from phosphorus bombs as well as the cluster munitions-all produced and paid for by American taxpapers by orders of the Israel Lobby?

HARRY REYNOLDS | 2/18/2011 - 12:26pm

Before Cairo fell, arrogant Israeli leaders and their cocky American spokesmen thought that they had President Obama in an arm lock. When they wanted to squeeze it, they did so. Indeed they often claimed, in effect, that we had a duty to send our sons to their deaths in the defense of Israel. They mouthed their claims of influence over our government and so reduced our cowardly media to silence that they became unaware of the growing anti-Semitism that is sweeping our society on virtually every level.

Cairo and the sudden appearance, as out of nowhere, of the new Arabic generation, has ripped to shreds whatever game books Israel and its American supporters had in use. With the success of Cairo, non-Jewish Americans no longer feel inhibited about speaking their distaste for Israel and its American supporters. Oddly enough, the Arab "street" declared openly their revolt against the existing order and triggered in this country a sea change in the minds of non-Jews with respect to Israel and its American supporters. Whereas American non-Jews in their half-sleep simply had a desire to get Israel out of their hair, they now want Israel to get out of our government. They see the danger of having our nation despised by over a billion Muslims who hate Israel and its degrading treatment of Palestinians. They want to hear from our government the reason why we have identified ourselves with Israel.Americans owe it to their sons to demand an answer.
 

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