Not perhaps since the infamous 19th century fiction Maria Monk has such a fanatically anti-Catholic tract appeared as the pamphlet that circulated for the last four months among troops of the Israeli Defense Force. According to a report in Haaretz, the respected Israeli daily, July 19, the brochure, entitled “On Both Sides of the Border,” alleged that the Vatican had sponsored tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah leaders to teach them how to exterminate Jews. Haaaretz reported that the allegations were widely believed by the soldiers who read them.
Responding quickly to the Haaretz story, the IDF suppressed the pamphlet’s circulation and the Orthodox Union, the umbrella group of Orthodox Jews in the U.S., repudiated its message, which had been endorsed by an OU Israeli affiliate and Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, who is known for his extreme racial views. The quick response is welcome, but we are forced to ask: How could such outrageous lies be allowed to distributed and read for four months, and what will be done to correct them?
Catholic-Jewish relations are under extraordinary stress on a wide front these days, and energetic leadership is needed to put them on track. Catholic leaders are currently trying with great care, for example, to repair the damage done by their apparent assertion in a document released in June that interreligious dialogue implicitly holds an invitation for dialogue partners to convert.
In the case of Judaism, and particularly Israeli Jews, a key issue is knowledge of contemporary Christianity, particularly of the advances made in Catholic-Jewish relations since Vatican II. Beyond the horrors of medieval pogroms, the Inquisition, and expulsions from Spain and other countries, Israelis know little about Christianity. “Jewish kids in Israel who finish high school will be totally ignorant about Vatican II. They will not have a clue,” said Rabbi Ron Kronish, director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel in a recent CNS report carried in America.. This latest incident of anti-Catholic incitement ought to be an occasion for Jews in the U.S. and Israel to educate themselves about the good news in Catholic-Jewish relations over the past four decades, even as Catholic leaders struggle to sustain that very legacy.
Drew Christiansen, S.J.