Archive for February, 2009

Pope’s judgment on Williamson flawed

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

'Bishop' Richard WilliamsonFollowing the flap about the Good Friday prayer, we have another ‘crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations’ as a result of the actions of the Pope, Benedict XVI. This is old news which has been beaten to death in many forums, but nevertheless…

On January 21, the Pope lifted the decree of excommunication on Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier and anti-Semite. Williamson (seen on video here) claimed that “not one Jew had been killed in gas chambers” and that only 200,000-300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps.

Williamson and four other members of the ultra-conservative Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) were excommunicated by Pope John Paul II in 1988 when the society’s leader, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated them as bishops in defiance of the Vatican. He also declared the society in schism with the church (they dispute this, but see Pope John Paul II’s letter).

Lefebvre was quite a guy. He disapproved of the French Revolution, preferring absolute monarchy. He supported the Nazi puppet Vichy regime in WWII, and expressed unhappiness  at the liberation of France, calling it an “invasion of barbarians without faith or law”.  He bitterly opposed  the reforms of Vatican II (1962-65), including the encyclicals Nostra Aetate, which called for religious tolerance and declared that the Jews of today do not bear guilt for the death of Jesus, and Dignitatis Humanae, which condemned civil coercion of religious belief. In his view, much of Vatican II constituted heresy.

In 1969 Lefebvre formed the Society of St. Pius X (St. Pius X was Pope from 1903-14 and also opposed modernism). He established a seminary in Switzerland, denounced the Vatican II reforms as heretical and celebrated the traditional Latin Mass. Ordered by Pope Paul VI to close his seminary in 1976, he refused and his right to perform sacred functions was suspended.

After the 1988 excommunication of Lefebvre and his ‘bishops’ the SSPX continued to exist, although its status with the Church remained as a schismatic sect. Since then, it has flourished. In the US, the SSPX has chapels in 37 states, schools in 13, and four retreat centers. There are numerous seminaries and headquarters around the world (Lefebvre himself died in 1991).

Although Williamson’s Holocaust denial is extreme even for the SSPX, there is no doubt that SSPX doctrine is anti-Semitic. Here’s an excerpt from a 1959 letter from Lefebvre associate Bishop Gerald de Proenca Sigaud which appeared — with approval — on the SSPX website until very recently:


1.    We condemn all persecution of Jews for their religion or for ethnic reasons. The Church is against “anti-Semitism”.

2.    But the Church can not ignore the facts of the past and the clear affirmations of international Jewry. The heads of this Jewry have for centuries conspired methodically and out of an undying hatred against the Catholic name and the destruction of the Catholic order, and for the construction of a world wide Jewish empire. This is what Masonic sects and the communists stand for.

Money, the media, and international politics are for a large part in the hands of the Jews. Although the Jews are the biggest capitalists and should on that account be the greatest adversaries of the Russians and the communists, they do not fear them, but on the contrary, they help them to win. Those who have revealed the atomic secrets of the USA were: Fuchs, Golds, Gringlass, and Rosemberg: all Jews. The founders of communism were Jews. They are the promoters, organizers and bankers.

This is the reality. Should this foster hatred? No! But with vigilance and clear-sightedness we should launch a systematic and methodical opposition to the equally systematic and methodical onslaught of “the enemy of man”, whose secret weapon is “the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy”.

International Judaism wants to radically defeat Christianity and to be its substitute. Its chief armies are the masons and the communists. This process of the Revolution began at the end of the Middle Ages, developed itself by pagan Renaissance, jumped forwards by leaps and bounds with the Reformation, destroyed the political and social basis of the Church by the French Revolution, tried to overthrow the Holy See with by an attack on the Papal States, emptied the Church’s resources on the occasion of the secularization of the goods of religious [orders] and dioceses, was the cause of a very grave internal crisis with the advance of Modernism, and finally, with communism, it invented the decisive instrument to delete the name of Christian from the very face of the earth.

Much anti-Semitic material has now been removed from the site, but this letter is still available in Google’s cache. And on the website there remains a 1985 letter to the Pope from Lefebvre and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer which counts Jews among “declared enemies of the Church”.

The lifting of the excommunication does not include a full reconciliation with the doctrines of the SSPX. But its purpose was to open the door for a rapprochement between the Church and the SSPX, which would take place when certain “open matters” had been resolved.

On the one hand, it can be argued that since the four priests were not excommunicated because of anti-Semitism or historical revisionism — these are highly unlikely to be subsumed under the specified actions that can be punished by excommunication under canon law — but rather because of their part in Lefebvre’s forbidden consecration of them as Bishops, their readmittance does not imply acceptance of their pernicious ideas. This is the line that the Vatican has taken, and the Pope himself has taken pains to denounce anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. The Vatican even said that the Pope was unaware of Williamson’s statements about the Holocaust.

But on the other hand, the intention of the Pope’s action was to heal the breach between the Church and the SSPX. Given the anti-Semitic bent of the SSPX, should not more have been demanded — both of the society and the ‘bishops’  — before beginning the process of reconciliation?

Certainly Pope Benedict holds traditionalist views about ritual, and for example has relaxed restrictions on priests who want to use Latin liturgy. He is also not likely to call for liberalization of doctrine prohibiting abortion or euthanasia. And in these areas he has beliefs in common with SSPX. But I would like to think that he has strong differences with them regarding religious tolerance — the principles set forth in Nostra Aetate (he was the first Pope to visit a US synagogue, when he was present at a service — something that would be anathema to SSPX). He should have made this clear — and gotten agreement from SSPX — at the outset.

The timing was also quite unfortunate. Anti-Semitic attitudes and expressions around the world today are possibly greater than at any time since the end of WWII, as the virulent anti-Israel propaganda that has been flooding the media from Arab, Iranian and left-wing sources becomes more and more overtly anti-Semitic.

Personaly I don’t doubt Pope Benedict’s commitment to the principles of Nostre Aetate, I don’t doubt his understanding of history, and I don’t think he has an antisemitic bone in his body. But I do think that his decision to seek to bring the SSPX back into the fold without first obtaining an unambiguous recantation of their anti-Semitic (and in the case of Williamson, ahistorical) point of view was a serious failure of judgment.

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A public hating

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

In a 1955 story by the remarkable Steve Allen, “The Public Hating” (which you can hear here, starting about 10:45 into the file), a condemned political prisoner is executed by the sheer force of hatred. Alone in the center of a packed sports stadium, with the event televised throughout the nation, Professor Arthur Ketteridge is literally burned to death by the concentrated hatred of millions, all focused on despising this man.

Allen mentions the para-psychological experiments of Dr. J. B. Rhine of Duke University, well-known in the popular culture of the time, and suggests that the mechanism was some sort of psychokinesis.

But we all know that mass, hysterical hatred can burn its object spiritually if not physically.

I felt a little of it myself a few weeks ago when I was one of about 15 counter-protesters facing at least 300 anti-Israel demonstrators chanting, shrieking, roaring with hatred. While Fresno is much more civilized than London or San Francisco and there was no actual violence, it’s an experience that I won’t forget.

I felt it a few months back when I attended an academic conference of the Fresno State Middle East Studies Program, when Sasan Fayazmanesh displayed a slide of Neturei Karta members with Ahmadinejad and said “You see, he cannot be an anti-Semite. These are Jews. They are his friends” and the audience laughed.

Howard Jacobson has had the same feeling in the UK:

I was once in Melbourne when bush fires were raging 20 or 30 miles north of the city. Even from that distance you could smell the burning. Fine fragments of ash, like slivers of charcoal confetti, covered the pavements. The very air was charred. It has been the same here these past couple of months with the fighting in Gaza. Only the air has been charred not with devastation but with hatred. And I don’t mean the hatred of the warring parties for each other. I mean the hatred of Israel expressed in our streets, on our campuses, in our newspapers, on our radios and televisions, and now in our theatres.

A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth. You can taste the toxins on your tongue.

It’s becoming a familiar taste.

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UN hands explosives to terrorists

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009


Five tons of unexploded Israeli bombs stored in the Gaza Strip under Hamas police guard have been stolen, UN officials said Tuesday.

UN spokesman Richard Miron said the explosives were being stored in Gaza until a UN team of disposal experts could disarm them, but they disappeared.

The bombs were dropped on Gaza during Israel’s offensive there last month, according to another UN official. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said three one-ton bombs and eight quarter-ton bombs were taken from the warehouse.

Miron said, “It’s clearly extremely dangerous and needs to be disposed of in a safe manner.” He said the material was under Hamas guard between Feb. 4 and 14 “in a warehouse in Gaza City under guard by Hamas police when it was stolen.” — Jerusalem Post [my emphasis]

Let’s see, you are the UN and you have five tons of unexploded bombs. You want to keep them safe so that they can be disarmed and disposed of safely.  This is a huge amount of military-grade explosive. I estimate that it could be used to make about 500 suicide vests if the bombs could be safely disassembled; or, as is they could be used as truck bombs, buried as antitank mines, or used as massive roadside IEDs.

You really don’t want them to fall into the wrong hands. So who do you get to guard them?

Hamas police.

I’m speechless again.

Some one-ton bombs, to give you an idea of size:

One-ton bombs

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The peace recess

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Recently I wrote about the nonsense written about the Israeli election by the AP. There’s a great gnashing of teeth in the Western media about the prospect of a ‘hard-line’ right-wing government that will ‘stymie the peace process’, but the real reason that there will be no progress toward peace lies elsewhere.

All Israeli — but no Palestinian — leaders want to end the conflict

By Barry Rubin

What is the most important theme of Israeli politics, policy, and thinking today? It is pretty simple but you will rarely see it explained in much of the world:

Most Israelis believe that the Palestinians don’t want to make a comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state. Hamas doesn’t want it; the Palestinian Authority (PA) is both unwilling and unable to do it. Israel faces a hostile Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah, and various Islamist movements which all want to destroy it. In addition, it cannot depend on strong Western or international support in defending itself.

Therefore, it is not a moment for Israel to make big concessions or take big risks. Peace is not at hand. The priority — even while continuing negotiations and trying to help the PA to survive — is defense.

That’s what the people who voted for Labor or Likud or Lieberman, Kadima or Shas or National Union or Jewish Home or United Torah Judaism believed. More than 85 percent of Israelis voted for parties that hold that basic conception, while that concept itself is the product of a very serious assessment of very real experience.  And that — whatever differences they have — is beyond any definition of “left” or “right.”

In contrast, what is the main theme internationally in evaluating the elections? The right in Israel is against peace, Israelis moved to the right in this election hence Israelis are against peace.

To make such a leap, it is necessary to avoid talking about the herd of elephants in the room: Palestinian politics. If anyone looked beyond the most superficial level of English-language interviews by PA leaders trying to make propaganda points, the conclusion is unavoidable that there is no possibility of an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement for years to come. This is regardless of who is Israel’s leader or anything within reason, or even somewhat beyond reason, which could be offered.

Here are some tips toward proving that point:

  • Analyze the Fatah Central Committee’s membership and the viewpoints expressed by the group’s top leaders. The number who can be called moderates ready to accept and implement a two-state solution stands at about 10 percent of them.
  • Mahmoud Abbas is weak. He has neither charisma nor organized base. While relatively moderate he will not give up the demand for all Palestinian refugees to be able to live in Israel, something that is acceptable to no potential governing party in Israel. He is sick and will probably not last in office much longer. He has made no attempt to transform Palestinian political thinking or to provide an alternative vision of peace for his people.
  • There is no moderate alternative Palestinian leader in Fatah or elsewhere. Are there those who voice a moderate two-state solution position and who advocate coexistence? Yes, there are some but they have no organization or power whatsoever. Moreover, they say so almost exclusively in English to Westerners and not to their own people. To express anything equivalent to Labor or Kadima, even Likud, positions is to risk your life.
  • Schools, mosques, media and other institutions controlled fully or partly by the PA daily preach that all Israel is Palestine, Israel is evil, and violence against it is good. Hardly the most minimal steps have been taken to prepare the Palestinian masses for peace. For example, no one dare suggest that a Palestinian nationalist movement might want to resettle Palestinian refugees in Palestine, not Israel; or that Israel and President Bill Clinton made a good offer in 2000 and it was a mistake to reject it. Or a dozen other points necessary as a basis for real peace.
  • Palestinian public opinion polls consistently show overwhelming support for hardline positions and for terrorism against Israeli civilians.
  • An unyielding historical narrative still predominates that the whole land between the Jordan River and the sea is and should be Arab Palestine.
  • Of course, Hamas governs about 40 percent of West Bank/Gaza Palestinians and opposes Israel’s existence explicitly. The PA and Fatah do not vigorously combat the Hamas world view, except perhaps for its idea of an Islamist state. On the contrary, Fatah and the PA put a higher priority on conciliation with Hamas rather than peace with Israel.
  • This conflict is not continuing because there is a dispute about the precise boundary line between Israel and a Palestinian state. It is going on because the Palestinian leaders — all of them — are either unwilling or unable to accept Israel’s permanent existence, the end of the conflict, the abandonment of terrorism, and the settlement of Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state.
  • What should have been happening recently is that the PA sent delegations around the world to announce it was the sole legitimate government of the Gaza Strip, that Hamas seized power in a coup and murdered Fatah people in cold blood, that Hamas is an extremist terrorist group, and that the PA demands the international community restore its own rule to the area. Instead, it sent delegations around the world to blame Israel for every problem and tried to negotiate a deal with Hamas without requiring any change in that organization’s policy or goals.

None of the above arguments can be refuted. Literally none of these points — except for the barrier posed by Hamas’s rule over Gaza — is really understood by most governments, academics, or journalists.

Nevertheless, if you add all these factors together it’s clear that whoever governs Israel the PA is incapable of making comprehensive peace. There is no peace process but rather a long-term peace recess.

There’s nothing left or right wing about the above analysis. Tsipi Livni and Ehud Barak know these things. Equally, this analysis doesn’t mean Israel cannot work with the PA on such matters as stability, economic well-being for Palestinians, blocking terrorism, or keeping Hamas out of power on the West Bank.

There is a Palestinian partner for the above four issues, but not for a comprehensive solution ending the conflict forever in exchange for a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. As we learned in the 1990s with the peace process and more recently with disengagement, Israel’s actions — no matter how conciliatory and concessionary — cannot make peace when the other side is unwilling and unable to do so. It’s time for the rest of the world to learn this fact.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit, or write to Barry Rubin at

Israel must become an information superpower

Monday, February 16th, 2009

From a Western point of view, especially a progressive Western point of view, Hamas is about the least attractive bunch of fanatics that you can find anyplace.

  • They ignore the norms of civilized behavior, set up shop next to a legitimate state and try to kill its citizens at random.
  • Their idea of dialogue with their political opponents is kneecapping, torture and murder.
  • They are racist, antisemitic, sexist and homophobic; and their regime is totalitarian.
  • They steal relief supplies sent to their own people and resell them., shooting Palestinian UN personnel in the bargain.
  • They deliberately launch rockets and mortars from the midst of their population and hide arms and explosives in schools, mosques and hospitals.

It goes without saying that they lie and perform elaborate charades to create outrage in their fans around the world. For example, remember the story that the IDF shelled a school compound, killing 42, mostly civilians? Horrible, wasn’t it? But now that the dust is beginning to settle, we find that

The international community had been given a vastly distorted impression of the death toll because of “false reporting” by Hamas, said Col. Moshe Levi, the head of the IDF’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), which compiled the IDF figures.

As an example of such distortion, he cited the incident near a UN school in Jabalya on January 6, in which initial Palestinian reports falsely claimed IDF shells had hit the school and killed 40 or more people, many of them civilians.

In fact, he said, 12 Palestinians were killed in the incident – nine Hamas operatives and three noncombatants. Furthermore, as had since been acknowledged by the UN, the IDF was returning fire after coming under attack, and its shells did not hit the school compound. [Mortars were fired from the street in front of the school, and that is where IDF return fire was directed — ed.]

“From the beginning, Hamas claimed that 42 people were killed, but we could see from our surveillance that only a few stretchers were brought in to evacuate people,” said Levi, adding that the CLA contacted the PA Health Ministry and asked for the names of the dead. “We were told that Hamas was hiding the number of dead.” — Jerusalem Post

Fine, they lie. They do much worse things, so what?

So why is the world prepared to believe them? Why when they tell their lies with the flimsiest or no supporting evidence are they almost universally believed, when statements such as the quotation from Col. Levi above are dismissed as ‘Israeli propaganda’?

What is so appealing about anti-Israel expressions that they evoke a total suspension of critical judgment, so that anything, no matter how objectively improbable, is immediately believed by so many people?

What is so compelling that makes progressive people put their ideals of justice and democracy aside and support the vile Hamas in its struggle with Israel?

What is so motivating about hating Israel that it causes college students to drop the veil of political correctness that is so universal in academia today and fall into crude antisemitism (“Die, Jew“)?

I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because the sheer volume of misinformation, lies and hateful material that has already been absorbed has succeeded in becoming part of many people’s bedrock assumptions, the basic principles that are used to make drawing everyday conclusions practical.

If so, it will be difficult to reverse the phenomenon by simply pointing out, for example, that Mohammed al-Dura was not hit by Israeli bullets in 2001, that there was no massacre in Jenin in 2002, that a Red Cross ambulance was not hit by Israeli missiles in Lebanon in 2006, that Israeli tanks did not kill the driver of a UN relief convoy near the Erez crossing in 2008, and of course the truth about the Jabalya school incident.

Unfortunately anti-Israel attitudes are beginning to be more than annoyances. They affect policy of nations, including powerful ones like the US, toward Israel. A misperception of civilian damage in Operation Cast Lead may have caused US pressure on Israel to terminate the operation. This could also be said of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The information war is at least as important as the military struggle, and we are not winning.

The only way to undo this is to use the same tools, to proactively flood the world’s perceptions with truth, and not only react to lies. Imagine if Israel operated several worldwide satellite channels providing news and entertainment in various languages. A Jewish-Israeli Aljazeera.

This would be enormously expensive and it would have to find a way to avoid the self-doubt, the penchant for hyper-critical  analysis and yes, even the irrational self-hatred that sometimes seems to characterize  Jews and Israelis. One would hope that Gideon Levy and Amira Hass of Ha’aretz would not appear on it.

Too hard? But Israel managed to make itself the preeminent military power in the Mideast because it was necessary for survival. Surely it would also be  possible to become an information superpower.

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