Rabbi says Israel not solely responsible for problems faced by Christians in Middle East

14 October 2010

At a synod of Catholic bishops in Rome, a rabbi from Israel has told Catholic bishops that Israel was not solely responsible and that the attitude of some Catholics violated the church's own teaching about Jews and Judaism. Rabbi David Rosen was the only Jewish observer to address the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. "Christians in Israel are obviously in a very different situation from their sister communities in the Holy Land, who are part and parcel of a Palestinian society struggling for its independence and who are inevitably caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Rosen told the bishops. However, he objected to the suggestion that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories was the root cause of the conflict, noting that the conflict preceded the 1967 Six Day War during which the West Bank and Gaza came under Israeli control. "'Occupation' in fact is precisely a consequence of the conflict, the real 'root issue' of which is precisely whether the Arab world can tolerate a non-Arab sovereign polity within its midst," Rosen said.

He acknowledged that some Israeli Christian citizens, who live along the border between Israeli and Palestinian-controlled territories, often bore the brunt of security measures which Israel “feels obliged to maintain in order to protect its own citizenry against continuous violence from within the Palestinian territories." But, he said, Christian citizens of Israel were full, equal citizens under the law and deserved the support of other Israelis in claiming and protecting their rights. In recent months some progress had been made, for example, "regarding the free movement of clergy.”

Rosen, a director for inter-religious affairs at the American Jewish Committee and an advisor to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, told the bishops: "The situation of minorities is always a profound reflection of the social and moral condition of a society as a whole.” The plight of all Palestinians should be of concern to Jews, who "brought the recognition to the world that every human person is created in the divine image," he said. Speaking of Catholic-Jewish relations, the rabbi said the great strides made in Catholic-Jewish understanding in other parts of the world, especially in the United States, were not fully reflected in the Holy Land, partly because of the conflict, but also because of the traditional "sociological context" in which communities live in their own linguistic, cultural and confessional settings. Still, he said, there were dozens of dialogue groups in Israel. Rosen insisted the situation of Christians in Israeli was "totally incomparable" to the challenges they face in other Middle Eastern countries where democracy and equality are weaker.

Pope Benedict XVI had called the two-week-long synod to try to encourage Christians in the largely Muslim Middle East. Some 185 bishops are taking part in the synod from Latin and Eastern rites churches across the region and from the Diaspora. In addition, two imams and Rabbi Rosen were invited to address the synod. Patriarch Gregory III, archbishop of the Greek-Melkites in Syria, said fundamentalist movements such as Hamas or Hezbollah had been born from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He warned that the resulting flight of Christians would make a "society with only one color: only Muslim."

"Should this happen, should the East be emptied of its Christians, this would mean that any occasion would be propitious for a new clash of cultures, of civilizations and even of religions, a destructive clash between the Muslim Arab East and the Christian West," he said.

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