Synod of Middle East Bishops NOT anti-Israel

Last week, ICCI was pleased to co-sponsor a special symposium on the Synod of Bishops for the Catholic Church in the Middle East, which was held in the Vatican in October. The synod had only received negative press in Israel. This was an opportunity to hear about what really happened at the synod from 5 people who were actually there : H.E. Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa OFM, Custodian of the Holy Land, Rev. David Neuhaus, Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics, Deacon Sobhy Makhoul, Administrator of the Maronite Exarchate of Jerusalem, and Ms. Hanna Bendcowsky, of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations.

All 5 persons who spoke–which included 4 Catholics and one Jew– reported that this was an amazing historic event, in which Catholics  showed new openness to the great importance of dialogue, not only among Christians but also between Catholics and Jews and Catholics and Muslims.  Moreover, one of the foci of the synod was on the emigration of Christians from the 22 countries of the Middle East (and not just from Israel or Palestine).

All of the speakers reported that there was no Israel-bashing at the synod and that Israel was hardly on the agenda.  This, of course, was contrary to what was reported in the Israeli press, which labeled the synod as anti-Israel.

Nevertheless, two Israeli Jews who spoke up during the question period with comments (not questions) pronounced the synod as “political” and as “anti-Israel” . I wonder whether they listened to the speakers at all or whether they just came to label the synod as anti-Israel.

This is reflective of a larger problem. Many Jews in Israel still can’t take yes for an answer. They still don’t realize that the Catholic Church has changed its attitudes to the Jews and Judaism and to the state of Israel since Vatican II in the 1960’s and since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel at the end of 1993. But major changes have taken place and it is no longer correct or fair to continue to portray the Vatican as anti-semitic or anti-Israel.  There is a need for a more nuanced picture. Even if there are individuals who speak out negatively, The Catholic Church is open to dialogue with the Jewish People and with the State of Israel in positive ways that were inconceivable only a generation ago.

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