The National Catholic Review

It must be said.

Several months ago I received an email marked urgent from one of the professional organizations to which I belong. Addressed to “Concerned Faculty Member,” the missive urged me to sign a statement promising that I would not teach, lecture or offer any other assistance to any school located in Israel. It instructed me to participate in the campaign to boycott, divest in and sanction Israel (B.D.S.) on the grounds that Israel was an apartheid state engaged in war crimes and human rights violations against Palestinians. The message implored me to encourage the board of trustees of my institution to divest from any businesses operating in Israel or in the adjacent occupied territories. An attached photo with a hand emerging from a pile of gray rubble was captioned, “Your American tax dollars at work.” Perhaps I would like to hang the photo on the door of my office.

My reaction was simple. Why was Israel being singled out for such condemnation? Was its treatment of religious minorities less tolerant than that practiced by its neighbor Saudi Arabia? Did it fail to match the high human rights standards set by the chemical-weapons-using regime of neighboring Syria? Was the occupation of the West Bank more brutal than the longstanding illegal annexation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China? Why weren’t Concerned Philosophers flooding our business meetings with motions to boycott Saudi Arabia or Syria or China? Why was Israel—and Israel alone these days—singled out for such bitter excoriation?

I informed my interlocutor that as a result of his plea I was applying for a Fulbright Fellowship to work in Israel, preferably at Hebrew University. I attached a photo of the stainless steel menorah I had just placed beneath the crucifix in my office.

Several weeks ago an old Presbyterian friend informed me that the B.D.S. movement had recently triumphed in the precincts of her own denomination, the Presbyterian Church-U.S.A. By a vote of 310 to 303, the church’s General Assembly had voted to disinvest in three corporations that B.D.S. activists claimed were enabling the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The assembly’s moderator, Heath Rada, insisted that “in no way is this [resolution] a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters,” but a boycott is an odd way to show affection. An important sign of the times, the divestment vote indicates how deeply the stigmatization of Israel has penetrated mainstream Protestantism—and there are few sectors more intellectually and economically elite within that mainstream than American Presbyterianism.

In recent days I have received three communications from Catholic organizations condemning the Israeli attack on territories within the Gaza Strip. What is striking in all three email alerts is the omissions. Not a single missive mentions, let alone condemns, the missile attacks by Hamas, the terrorist organization currently ruling Gaza, against civilian targets in Israel. None of them mentions the bias-related murder of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank in June.

In passionate rhetoric, the statements of concern focus uniquely on the military actions of Israel, as if a series of effects had suddenly appeared without any explanatory cause. Two of these organizations encouraged a boycott of Israeli products to protest the war. I could not help but note that in its bullet-point list of action items for justice, one organization also urged its members to work to end the United States boycott of Cuba, not exactly a world leader in promoting human rights.

As imperfect as any other government, the State of Israel should not be immune from criticism. Many unilateral claims and histories will require correction through patient diplomacy if any simulacrum of peace is to be achieved in this tormented region. Every effort should be undertaken to de-escalate the current outbreak of violence and to reignite negotiations toward an equitable reconciliation. Nonetheless, our growing moral obsession with the mote in Israel’s eye is disturbing. This scapegoating suggests that an ancient, lethal prejudice has yet to die. John J. Conley

John J. Conley, S.J., holds the Knott Chair in Philosophy and Theology at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, Md.


Roberto Blum | 9/19/2014 - 7:25pm

Are we having again this pro Israel piece of propaganda written by an ideologue? It is incredible that a Jesuit priest could write such an uncatholic article. I suppose everyone has the freedom to write whatever he wants, but I have always expected high quality in this very important magazine. I am very disappointed to read again this incendiary piece.

Roy Van Brunt | 9/18/2014 - 8:26am

The Man for Others dimension is sadly - and shockingly - missing in this writing. Plenty of "Might makes Right"I guess he must have missed the more balanced view of Margot Patterson in the same issue. The absence of ANY vestige of love from Fr Conley's writing is saddening.Terribly disappointing to see such"Philosophy" coming from the Maryland Province. Loyola has not much to be proud of here. Shallow and one-sided.I wish him well in the Hebrew University. May he find love there.

Eugene Fitzpatrick | 9/18/2014 - 11:24pm


Good points raised and well expressed. What does Joe Average Catholic think when he experiences a Jesuit priest holding a prestigious position at a Catholic University defending a State entity whose characteristic behavior towards its neighboring people is that of a pervasive inhumanity and barbarism? Joe might justifiably conclude that if Conley is the face of the Jesuits and of American Catholicism then I'm outa here!

john andrechak | 8/14/2014 - 10:16pm

In all this discussion the are two points to keep in mind: 1) by definition the Israeli belief that the land that encompasses the original mandate, plus the lands that they now occupy, plus all the land to the Jordan ie: Sumaria, Greater Israel, was given to them by God makes them religious fanatics 2) In the sixties there was the expression in Israel, "we should have taken Uganda" this was in reference to the British "offer" of this country, then a colony, instead of the Palestine; how telling, that the Brits thought it was theirs to give, and the Zionists thought it would of been theirs to take

john andrechak | 8/14/2014 - 8:55am

I find the first part of the column very impressive; according to the writer since the group that was condemning the actions of Israel in Gaza was not also in their appeal condemning the Chinese in Tibet, and the Syrians, or the Saudis the group's members find these other atrocities acceptable. Wow, such logic! I guess that's how you get a Chair in philosophy!
For the record, prior to the Israeli reaction to the kidnapping of the three teens; mass arrests, ( contrary to international law regarding an occupying force),the re-jailing of Hamas leaders ( without any evidence of these individuals association in these crime), the rocket attacks from Gaza had been at a six month low. Israel used the kidnapping as a pretext to wreck the unity government between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
While to date there is not any evidence the the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) intentionally targeted civilians, the fact that warheads and shells with a kill radius of fifty meters, weapons as indiscriminate as the Hamas rockets, makes it clear that there was no effort to prevent civilian deaths.
In the larger picture, the current war is the direct result of Israeli settlements, is the result of of an apartheid state established by Israel. Let us keep in mind, the fact that Israel claims the the Palestinian land as a gift from God makes them religious fanatics! Israel is the terrorist state, with its Likud Party guilty of terror acts going back to the blowing up of the King David Hotel, to the massacre of villagers by such leaders as Sharon during the ethnic cleansing of the 40s, to the slaughter of the refugees by Sharon in Lebanon. Perhaps the writer like the Israelis just wish the Palestinians would just go away,

Eugene Fitzpatrick | 8/14/2014 - 11:19pm

I would add that the Gazans find the protracted strangulation by the Israeli wretches so unbearable that they assumed a 'go for broke' attitude which provoked the retaliatory massacre by God's Chosen. So the 7 year long Israeli siege is high on the list of causative reasons for the current attack. Also, I have total conviction that the deliberate targeting of Arab civilians was and is an intrinsic component of Israel's m.o. It will all come out some day by a disaffected ex-IDFer or group of such whose consciences start gnawing at their souls.

john andrechak | 8/15/2014 - 8:46am

Mr. FitzPatrick,
A very good point on the blockade. And since it was Israel that scuttled the Kerry Peace Initiative by not complying with the agreed step of prisoner release after the PA met all of their contingencies, one can see most, if not all, of the requirements of just war being met. The Hamas rockets are no better or worse then the Israeli m.o., as you argue.

MICHAEL PAINTER | 8/12/2014 - 3:36pm

I had to read this twice to be sure I was understanding what Fr. Conley was writing. The second time only confirmed what I thought the first time. I won't go into specifics, as other commenters have already.

Two things, however, trouble me greatly about this column. The first is the seeming disregard for the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hugely complex, with legitimate and illegitimate arguments on both sides of the issue. So to totally ignore the Palestinians' point of view is dumbfounding to me. (As a believer in Jesus' message, as put into practice by Gandhi, let me be clear that I am not defending the way Hamas is reacting. But their actions don't exist in a vacuum or come out of the blue.)

The second issue I have is even more problematic. Even though it's expressed in only one sentence, it's the last one, and provides the clue to Fr. Conley's thinking. Equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism (let's name it outright, rather than resorting to innuendo) makes any such criticism immediately morally suspect or worse. This is an easy and effective way to be marginalize critics of Israel immediately. The atmosphere has become so thick that it's pretty much impossible these days to fight against a charge of being anti-Semitic.

I expected a better understanding from someone who is a professor of philosophy at a Jesuit university and from America in publishing this piece.

Eugene Fitzpatrick | 8/12/2014 - 8:56pm

Your commentary is generally on my wave length and I thank you for it. I do however go along with Norman Finkelstein's observation that the issue is eminently simple and non-complex and can be distilled down to one reality which is the Occupation. End it and a multitude of collateral issues will evaporate.

I also take issue with the term "both sides" used in the second sentence of the second paragraph. It conveys the notion of a symmetrical event whereas it is in reality the quintessence of asymmetry.

Conley's playing the anti-Semite card is of course rancid. The guy's credibility on this subject is thereby demeaned and isn't redeemed by the array of academic ribbons decorating his c.v.

MICHAEL PAINTER | 8/15/2014 - 3:05am

I had absolutely no intention of discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in detail. I was only interested in pointing out Fr. Conley's gross distortions. So now I'll just say that while ending the occupation would resolve a lot of other issues, it's still a complex situation.

As for the use of "both sides," there are Israeli grievances and there are Palestinian grievances, stretching back to the creation of Israel, or prior even, depending on how you want to define the situation. The relative military or economic might of each has no bearing on whether those fundamental grievances are legitimate or not. Saying that there are two sides in no way conveys anything about symmetry: 99% and 1% still make two sides.

Eugene Fitzpatrick | 8/15/2014 - 11:55am

When Joe Sixpack reads "both sides " his brain registers the qualitative concept "equivalence" not the more quantitative x% vs. y%. It's a matter of perception and it causes inaccurate dismissiveness as in: "The hell with both sides, they've been going at each other for thousands of years". Throwing around the "both sides" comment in the context of the Israel-Palestine issue often lets Israel off the hook.

Norman Stahl | 8/11/2014 - 6:14pm

Some of the comments submitted in response to this article are downright shameful and are motivated by the same spirit that drove Adolf Hitler to find a Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. I am sad to see such comments coming out of America.

Donald Rohmer | 8/7/2014 - 7:55pm

I was disappointed to read a Jesuit repeating the talking points of the hacks who write for the editorial pages of my local, rural-Texas newspapers. As usual, anyone who wants to do something about Israel's brutal mistreatment of the Palestinians is called an anti-Semite. I was unaware of Israel's incredible brutality until my Jewish employer and mentor told me about it. I've heard that in Israel, there is actual debate about this issue, unlike here. How often does our media mention that Israel began this campaign by cutting power transmission to Gaza, then bombed the sewage treatment plants, destroyed the water-delivery system, and bombed the only power plant? Boycotts are our only chance to influence the situation. Our president and "representatives" live in fear of the political power of AIPAC. We support Israel financially, so its actions are our actions.

john andrechak | 8/14/2014 - 6:28pm

Excellent post; those actions by the IDF that you list amount to biological warfare

Eugene Fitzpatrick | 8/13/2014 - 12:05am

Mr. Rohmer:

Your last sentence about Israel's actions being our actions is very potently apropos and should be etched in the mind of all Americans. We 're holding Israel's coat while it rapes Gaza to the cheers of the John J. Conleys of an ethically dysfunctional America.

Jake Rishon | 8/5/2014 - 12:37pm

Professor Conley -

Thank you. You are very insightful. The bottom line is: Israel needs your prayers. Here is what's happening - sans/without the media spin: Qatar opened war against Israel. They did so to create a "cover" for their sponsorship of ISIS and taking large swaths of land for formation of their so-called "Islamic State". This ISIS which Qatar sponsors has killed Catholics, and is killing Catholics even as we write here, in former Iraq, including crucifying good Catholics and other Christians. Crucifixion we thought died out with the Romans. It is now being practiced by radical Qatari-sponsored ISIS muslims. What you are seeing -- in lamblasting Israel -- is strategic. It is Qatari's "media cover" for their territorial acquisitions. They pressed 3 buttons: 1) they mobilized Hamas. Hamas' leadership sits in a luxury high-rise in Qatar. They flatly do CNN interview broadcasts from Qatar. Hamas' leader Mashal gave one such broadcast to "mobilize" a cell in the west bank to abduct and kill those 3 Jewish teenagers visiting their grandparents. Then they "mobilized" Hamas to fire sophisticated rockets at Israel's airport and civilian communities. Firing a weaponized rocket at a civilian neighborhood -- just one rocket -- is a crime. They shot hundreds. Daily. This is called "drawing your counterparty into war". I'm suggesting it was done for "media cover" to cover their activities through ISIS. Only then did Israel respond. Yet, Qatar and its functionary Hamas faced a problem -- Israel didn't want war. Israeli PM Netanyahu flatly "accepted" Egypt's proposal for a ceasefire prior to any entry by Israel into Gaza. Israel immediately accepted Egypt's ceasefire proposal. Egypt is considered a leader in the Arab world. Yet, Hamas -- "rejected" -- Egypt's proposal. Why? It's not about Israel. It's not about the poor people in Gaza, forced to get in the line of fire, because they fear the threats by Hamas people, against them if they don't get on roofs, more than the threat of the Israelis. It's about media cover for ISIS and Qatar territorial and influence expansion. If Qatar had let Hamas agree to a ceasefire, then Qatar would not have gotten its media cover for their ISIS activities allowing them, among other things, to kill Catholics. So Qatar told Hamas to reject the peace proposal from Egypt. Despite the fact that Israel had already accepted Egypt, Hamas rejected Egypt. These were people looking for war. 2) The second button: Qatar mobilized its media outlets to blast Israel. Qatar owns Al Jazeera. AJ's headquarters is located in Qatar. In addition Qatar has significant investments in large third-party media outlets around the world. These outlets were immediately tasked with writing anti-Israel and anti-Jewish "copy" as fast as their fingers could write. After all, it's about media cover. Again. Clog the airways with anti-Israeli copy so that ISIS can take a free hand in taking territory, murdering Catholics and forcing them to convert to Islam. 3) The third button: Qatar mobilizes its client the Muslim brotherhood to demonstrate. The UAE and Saudi and certainly Egypt have ostracized Qatar because of its financial support of the Muslim brotherhood in 2013-2014. Unfortunately, many Catholics and Christians don't realize there are 2 types of mosques - a) regular mosques and b) Muslim brotherhood mosques. This fact is well known on the "Arab street". It is said approximately 60% of the mosques in Italy are Muslim brotherhood mosques. Qatar funds the MB. MB mosques were mobilized in Europe protesting Israeli "aggression". Surprise? Again, clog the airways against Israel. Set the dialogue. Enable Muslim extremist expansion and killing of Catholics through creating a war to provide "media cover" -- to allow ISIS.

James Richard | 8/2/2014 - 10:30am

Yes, other countries mentioned by Fr Conley have committed atrocities, China, and Syria.

However, the difference with Israel is, we the US Taxpayers give Israel $3.1 billion in aid to Israel every year.

Also, keep in mind that Gaza has been under a seven year blockade by Israel. Nothing goes in or out of the territory without approval from the IDF security at the walls and ports. This includes humanitarian aid.

Also, the settlements in the West Bank continue and Netanyahu approved 250 more units to be built this past January. This means, the Palestinians living in not much more than refugee camps, will be squeezed further with lack of water, no houses and land to farm. Netanyahu has already stated that Israel will not give up the West Bank.

So, the Palestinians in desperation, seek someone to speak for them, and Hamas is the only group doing so, in a bad way, but the Palestinians who are without hope, will accept whomever will speak for them.

As Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, The president of Caritas Internationalis stated,
"Israel and Hamas, why do you keep pointing out the speck in the eye of your brother while missing the plank in your own eye?" the cardinal asked in a statement published July 31.

Until they adopt the policy of forgiveness, the violence will continue.

The US must back away from providing financial support to nations in the Middle East, including Israel. It's only used against us in the end.

Carlos Orozco | 8/1/2014 - 10:52pm

America (the country) seems to suffer from battered-wife syndrome. It just can't stop making up excuses for Israel.

Vince Killoran | 7/31/2014 - 11:15pm

Let me guess: your perspective is balanced?

I'm not convinced that an article entitled "For Israel" is the correct way to frame a vexing, decades-old problem. I know enough that it is not a simple narrative that "Israel is protecting itself." That just doesn't cut it intellectually or morally.

Michael Barberi | 8/2/2014 - 2:34pm


Apparently you did not read my reply to you under the Gaza article.

1. I said that Israel's action was not morally proportionate or appropriate.
2. I also said that both sides are stubbornly and irresponsibly not addressing the points raised by both sides. They are talking past each other.
3. I am against violence and for a diplomatic negotiation so that a two state solution can be reached and a lasting peace is secured.
4. I am not for a one-sided condemnation of either Israel or Hamas without pointing out the problems both sides are causing.

If my remarks are not balanced, justify your negative presumption.

Vince Killoran | 7/31/2014 - 7:10pm

I don't think Israel is being scapegoated for anything. It is a state that is engaged in a decades-long repressive occupation of much of Palestine. Now that it is officially out of Gaza it maintains very strict controls, including that of the water supply.

And "Concerned Philosophers" have criticized many of the country Fr. Conley lists. But if we are to take the "worst first" approach than the U.S. civil rights movement would have had to wait for South African apartheid to end.

Michael Barberi | 7/31/2014 - 7:31pm


See my recent reply to you on the Gaza article. You are not viewing this conflict with a balanced perspective.

Bishoy Dawood | 7/31/2014 - 1:10pm

"Why was Israel being singled out for such condemnation?"

Because unlike the other red herrings of other undemocratic nations presented here, Israel can be held accountable for the large number of lost civilian lives in Gaza.

Robert Lewis | 7/31/2014 - 10:02am

Why was Israel being singled out for such condemnation? Was its treatment of religious minorities less tolerant than that practiced by its neighbor Saudi Arabia? Did it fail to match the high human rights standards set by the chemical-weapons-using regime of neighboring Syria? Was the occupation of the West Bank more brutal than the longstanding illegal annexation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China? Why weren’t Concerned Philosophers flooding our business meetings with motions to boycott Saudi Arabia or Syria or China? Why was Israel—and Israel alone these days—singled out for such bitter excoriation?

Because American money is financing the butchery of innocent men, women and children who are not a part of Hamas, and because the Israeli response to the coke bottles being thrown at them is disproportionate enough to meet the definition of a "war crime." You're a priest; you're supposed to have a heart for the innocent victims of violence. Your callousness is abominable and disgraceful.

Joseph Lee | 7/28/2014 - 10:10am

It seems as if you're saying that we should not criticize Israel because there are other countries doing evil things too. Given the scale of destruction being perpetrated in Gaza (over 1000 people killed, including many women and children), it seems difficult to derive much comfort from that argument.

Mick Wenlock | 7/28/2014 - 12:51pm

I disagree Joseph. It appears to me that what is being pointed out is that criticism of Israel exclusively is neither fair nor helpful. Why would Israel be singled out for divestment instead of countries where the human rights records are so much worse? It is not - and I believe Fr. Conley expressed this as well - that the Government of Israel is not to be criticized. But criticism only mentioned of one side, action urged that only targets one side smacks not of love or of desire to improve, but of prejudice and bigotry.

Francesca G | 7/31/2014 - 5:04pm

Other countries may have as bad or worse human rights records, but we, as US taxpayers, aren't funding them. We are funding Israeli atrocities against civilians. If Hobby Lobby doesn't have to cover certain types of contraception, why do I have to help purchase weapons for Israel.

Joseph Lee | 7/28/2014 - 6:38pm

I can see why you support Fr. Conley's argument -- yours simply repeats it. I can't understand, though, how it's necessary for someone who sees that Israel is doing something very wrong (murdering civilians) to criticize all other countries who are doing anything comparable. If that obligation were valid, no country would ever be criticized, because no potential critic would take the time to catalog all of the injustices being perpetrated throughout the world.

America is a Catholic magazine, and Fr. Conley is a Jesuit. I'd like to know how his position squares with the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. I can explain why that teaching seems to indicate that what Israel is doing is profoundly wrong; please do the same thing for Fr. Conley's position -- explain how the murdering of civilians is acceptable.

One last point. Can you imagine the outcry in this country if a comparable number of Israeli civilians were murdered by Palestinians? Why is it that we are so willing to tolerate murder when its the Palestinians who are being slaughtered?

marie cogswell | 7/29/2014 - 10:00pm

My comment is addressed to Mr. Lee.
Evidently, in an effort to support the terrorist activities of Hamas, you have rather cunningly confused two terms used quite clearly in Fr. Conley's article - "criticism" and "condemnation". Fr. is most forthright in saying that "...the State of Israel should not be immune from criticism". What he does take strong issue with is presented up front in his second paragraph - the singling out of Israel for the condemnation of the BDS campaign when there are various, if not many, others who are responsible for equally serious acts that are not connected with self defense.
There is absolutely no reference anywhere in the article to ANY murder being acceptable.
And addressing your "one last point", Can you imaging the outcry in this country, (I assume you are referring to the U.S.) to ongoing rocket attacks on us from Canada or Mexico? - or to elaborate tunnels built under those borders with the explicit purpose of inflicting deadly harm on us? And it should be noted that the tunnels under the Israel Gaza border were constructed with concrete and other building materials given to the Gazans BY ISRAEL for the purpose of improving the quality of life in the Strip. Instead of upgrading the living circumstances of their people in desperate need, Hamas has conscripted those resources for destructive purposes.
Why is it that we are so willing to tolerate such acts when they are carried out by Palestinians against Jews? Is it possible that Fr. Conley is on to something when he suggests in his closing that perhaps "... an ancient, lethal prejudice has yet to die"?

Joseph Lee | 7/30/2014 - 1:08pm

You didn't answer my question. Do you deny that there would be a different sort of reaction in this country (the United States) if Israeli citizens were bombed, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives? The way in which the US government continues to support Israel's murder of Palestinians seems to indicate, more accurately than your assertion, where the true prejudice in this country lies. Of course, I admit that "prejudice" might be the wrong term, given the extent to which our government is influenced by AIPAC and similar groups. Are they (our representatives) prejudiced or just bought?

marie cogswell | 7/30/2014 - 8:57pm

Pardon begged, Mr. Lee - I did overlook the last point of your post. The short answer is "I don't know solidly enough to deny or confirm that there would be a bigger outcry if Israelis were bombed resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives". I do know though, that you make reference to "the U.S. government's" support of Israeli actions. I believe that one should also note the opinion of the citizenry of this country. They too represent the "true" preferences and prejudices of our culture. Today's media brought news of Hollywood A List actors writing an open letter lambasting Israel for its actions and this very issue of America carries an article highly critical of Israel. Those are strong reactions.Of course there are many more examples of support for Gaza.
I also know that year after year Israelis near the border with Gaza continue to try to manage their lives under the threat of arms fire from Gaza and virtually no one ever says anything.
I do thank you for alerting me to the name of the Israel lobby. I knew that it existed, just not the name. I would like to respectfully submit though, that shamefully our representatives are not only "bought" by this group, but by a laundry list of others as well, all supporting their own special interests to the determent of the higher good.
It is the way we do business here. How truly sad. I can assure you, it would not "square with the teaching of Jesus".

Joseph Lee | 7/31/2014 - 8:17am

Hi Marie -
Thank you for your note. I'm sorry not to be able to continue writing. Honestly (this is not a rhetorical ploy), the news from Gaza today leaves me so disheartened I can't continue to write. People are just being murdered, and any kind of discussion of who is responsible seems futile. I believe you sincerely think your position is the correct one, and I respect that. I don't mean to make this melodramatic, but this situation is beyond discussions like ours. Best of luck to you.

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