by Michael Freund
In a treaty that was finalized in Rome last week, the Catholic Church fired the latest salvo in its 2,000-year-old struggle to disenfranchise the Jewish people. Meeting with Palestinian officials at the Vatican, church officials agreed to formally recognize the “State of Palestine” as part of a deal concerning Catholic activities in the Palestinian-controlled areas.
And just in case anyone failed to get the memo, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi went to the trouble of going on record as saying, “Yes, it’s a recognition that the state exists.”
This outrageous step is a severe blow to Catholic- Jewish relations and it cannot go unanswered.
Israel and the Jewish people should protest this measure in the strongest possible terms and make sure that Pope Francis realizes the damage he has done.
In biblical terms, by recognizing a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, the Vatican is effectively seeking to deny the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, to whom this land was promised long ago. This is not only offensive and disrespectful, but disingenuous too. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder: what Bible is the Vatican reading? Whichever one it is, it must be missing some pages, as even a cursory glance at the Scriptures makes clear that God promised to give the Land of Israel to the Jewish people and nobody else. In fact, there are over 150 biblical verses ranging from Genesis to Joshua to Chronicles which state this and reaffirm that Israel would return from Exile to this holy soil.
Take, for example, Isaiah 14:1-2: “The Lord will have compassion on Jacob; once again He will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land.” Or how about Jeremiah 31:4, where God says: “You shall again plant vineyards upon the mountains of Samaria.” And there’s Genesis 48:3-4. And Judges 2:1, and Ezekiel 34: 11-13. And Hosea 3:4-5. And Amos 9:14-15. And Obadiah 1:17, Zephaniah 3:19-20 and Zechariah 8:7-8.
Moreover, the Bible stresses that these were not merely assurances, but a Divine oath, one that would never be broken.
“He remembers His covenant forever,” says 1 Chronicles 16:15-18, “the word He commanded for a thousand generations, the covenant He made with Abraham, the oath He swore to Isaac. He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.'” You get the point. But it seems that the Vatican does not.
In fact, my Christian friends tell me that the words “Palestine” and “Palestinians” do not appear anywhere in the New Testament. Hence, one could argue that Jesus himself would be mystified by the pope’s position.
After all, according to Christian belief, Jesus the Jew was born and raised in Bethlehem, which means there was a Jewish community there, with synagogues, ritual baths, rabbis and perhaps a kosher deli too, centuries before Islam was even founded.
So would the Catholic Church now deem Jesus to have been a “settler” or “occupier” of Palestinian land? For an institution that bills itself as “the Holy See” and which claims to uphold sacred values, the Vatican’s profane involvement in Middle Eastern politics is simply unbecoming.
And given its sordid history of anti-Semitism, book-burnings, forced conversions and Inquisitions, the Catholic Church should think a hundred times over before daring to step on Israel’s toes.
If anything, the pope should be down on his knees pleading for forgiveness from the Jewish people and atonement from the Creator for what the Vatican has wrought over the centuries.
The current attempt to undermine and deny Israel’s right to Judea and Samaria by recognizing Palestinian statehood smacks of “supersessionism,” or replacement theology, a doctrine according to which the Church replaced Israel as God’s chosen instrument nearly two millennia ago.
Over the past 50 years, since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church had slowly begun to acknowledge that the Jewish people are “a covenanted people,” thereby shifting away ever slightly from supersessionism.
But conferring legitimacy on a Palestinian state is akin to suggesting that the Palestinians have replaced Israel as the rightful owners of the land, a position that flies in the face of history, theology and common sense.
It is nothing less than supersessionism via diplomatic means, and a cruel insult to the generations of Jews who longed for Zion while enduring Catholic oppression and persecution.
Israel needs to respond to this affront forcefully. We cannot stand by and watch as our national integrity is called into question. A good place to start would be to withdraw our ambassador to the Holy See, curtail the number of visas granted to Vatican officials, and rule out any possibility of giving the Church the foothold it so sorely wants at the Tomb of King David on Mount Zion.
What a shame it is that after so much progress in Catholic- Jewish relations over the past few decades the Vatican would now betray all the headway that has been made.
But Pope Francis needs to realize that by recognizing the fictitious “State of Palestine” he is aligning himself against Israel, the Jewish people and the bible itself.
And that is something we cannot forgive, nor soon forget.