Old Habits Die Hard

January 18, 2013 4:00 am 2 comments

The cross on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo: Dexter Van Zile.

Some Christian institutions just can’t seem to get their minds off anything having to do with the Jewish people, no matter what the circumstances. If the people who ran these institutions were to wake up to discover their beds were on fire, they’d likely be burned to a crisp as the thought of getting out of bed and putting out the fire was blocked by obsessive thoughts about Israel.

This is about what happened to the Byzantine Empire in the seventh century.

Writing in the Jewish Political Studies Review in 2005, Rivkah Duker Fishman reports that as the adherents of the newly founded religion, Islam, threatened the Byzantine Empire with destruction, the empire’s elites focused their attention not “toward the enemy at the doorstep, but at the Jews of the realm.”

Fishman recounts a number of scholars have tried to explain this phenomenon. She reports that according to one expert, Averil Cameron, “anti-Jewish bellicosity” resulted from a number of factors including the writings of the early church fathers, anti-Jewish legislation imposed by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century and the involvement of Jews in court politics. (It didn’t help that Jews were viewed as supporters of the Empire’s longtime foe, the Persians.)

She also reports “Other scholars believe that Jews mainly served as a surrogate or a literary and artistic construct in place of the Muslims whose power Christianity could not break.”

Fishman warns that a similar scenario is playing itself out in the modern era as Islamist influence spreads to Europe. Christian leaders, who are unable to respond to Islamist ambitions, particularly in Europe, are nevertheless obsessed with the Jews and their state.

Such an obsession, Fishman warns, could “harm Christianity by deflecting it from the real challenge it faces, as it did in the past” and that “the Christian legacy of Patristic anti-Semitism represents a flaw of such proportions that it could paralyze the healthy tendency to self-defense in the face of existential danger.”

One group that should take Fishman’s warning to heart is the members and leaders of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Catholic lay order that is charged with supporting Christians who live in the Holy Land. The order, which has approximately 27,000 members world wide, is an important patron of Catholic schools and social service institutions.

There’s just one problem. In its efforts to educate its members and general society about the status of Christians in the Holy Land, the organization is burdened with largely the same obsession that afflicted the leaders of the failing Byzantine Empire in the seventh century.

While the order isn’t obsessed with the Jews per se, it is obsessed with their homeland and ominously silent about the impact of Islamism on Christians in Palestinian society and in the Middle East.

The order’s obsession with Israel and refusal to address the impact of Islamism on Christianity can be readily seen on its websites in the United States. For example, an educational booklet about Christians in the Holy Land produced at the end of 2011 is rife with distortions and omissions. The booklet, a compilation of one-sided articles, nearly all of which are critical of Israel, reports that the Christian population in the Holy Land (which includes Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), has “gone from around 18 percent of the population sixty years ago, to less than 2 percent today.”

What the booklet fails to report is that in absolute terms, the population of Christians in the Holy Land has increased since Israel’s creation in 1948.

One article included in the packet (taken from the February, 2010 issue of Inside the Vatican) quotes the order’s former Grand Master, Cardinal John Foley (now deceased), as stating that the “Palestinian cause should not be seen as an Islamic cause.”

The text of the Constitution of the Palestinian National Authority approved by Palestinian leaders in 2003 says otherwise. Article four of this document states “Islam is the official religion in Palestine” and that “The principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation.” That is a pretty straightforward declaration of the Palestinian cause as “Islamic.”

Also included in the packet about the security barrier that appeared in a magazine published by the Catholic Near East Welfare Agency (CNEWA). The article, originally published in 2004 laments the impact of the barrier on Palestinians, but unbelievably offers no reference to the suicide bombings that prompted the barriers construction. This is outrageous.

Interestingly enough, Patrick Powers, the highest ranking lay member of the order in the United States distanced himself from the packet even as he encouraged his members to read it. In a cover letter accompanying the packet he stated “The Order cannot vouch for the accuracy or veracity of the information presented.”

If that’s the case, then why broadcast it in the first place?

The packet isn’t the only source of anti-Israel propaganda broadcast by the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. A video posted on the organization’s website here (and which I wrote about in more detail here), falsely reports that Qassam rockets are “non-exploding” which is a patent falsehood.

One of the most shocking parts of the video is that its narrator, Sabeel activist Jeff Abood, quotes Cardinal Renato Martino who, in 2009, described the Gaza Strip as “one big concentration camp.”

Renato’s statement was so egregious that a Rev. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for Pope Benedict characterized the Cardinal’s statement as “inopportune” and reported it caused “irritation and confusion.” It’s a mild rebuke, but a rebuke nonetheless.

Why would the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre repeat a statement that prompted such a response from a spokesperson from the Pope no less? Why?

Some habits die hard.

Dexter Van Zile is the Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

2 Comments

  • The comment of David Pickett confirms the thesis of the article: Pickett is focused entirely on Gaza, without a thought about the flight of Christians from Iraq, Egypt and now Syria. And that’s the way, as Pickett confirms, “most of the world for about 50 years” has been thinking. Maybe David Pickett himself should wake up.

  • Wake up. Most of the world has looked at the Gaza Strip as a concentration camp of sorts for about 50 years. Not an extermination camp, just concentration, closer to the Japanese camps in WWII USA. Bottled up between the semi-support of the Egyptian host and the Jewish State, left to fester for decades, generations, dangled over the abyss of extinction with little meaningful support, so how can we expect any easy solutions? Would ghetto be a better term? Was the Ghetto that bad, most times?

    Peace, just reconciliation and rehabilitation for your Semitic brothers, other children of Abraham and of the scripture, what is being done about that?

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