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March 07, 2007

Lovely: German Bishops Compare West Bank to Warsaw Ghetto

Of all the people in the world who ought to be careful about making insensitive remarks comparing Jews to Nazis, you think high among them would be German Catholic religious leaders. Unfortunately that is not the case.

Yad Vashem lambasted a group of visiting German Catholic bishops on Tuesday for comparing the situation in the Palestinian territories with the Holocaust, calling the contentious remarks "political exploitation and demagoguery" and a gross distortion of history.

The sharp condemnation ... followed reports in the German press of comparisons made by senior German bishops between conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II and current conditions in Ramallah, resulting from Israeli military activities.

"The remarks illustrate a woeful ignorance of history and a distorted sense of perspective," Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev wrote in a Tuesday letter to Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who led the Conference of German Catholic Bishops on a 10-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Making analogies between the mass murder that was part of the plan to annihilate the Jewish people, carried out under the German Nazi regime and the current situation in Ramallah, and using words whose rhetorical power is immense, does nothing to help us understand what is going on today; such words only further poison the atmosphere making it that much more difficult to find workable solutions to deeply entrenched and thorny problems.

"These unwarranted and offensive comparisons serve to diminish the memory of victims of the Holocaust and mollify the consciences of those who seek to lessen European responsibility for Nazi crimes," he wrote.

Alcibiades | 03/07/07 at 02:03 AM | Categories: - Comparative Religion

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But if the report is correct, the analogy was not between the mass murder of Jews and anything, but between conditions in the Warsaw ghetto and conditions in Ramallah. Of course the rhetoric is powerful, and deliberate, and unhelpful. That doesn't make the comparison itself invalid, though it weakens it by diverting attention to the rhetoric.

I have no hotline to the mind of a German Catholic bishop, being none of those three things myself, but I hope none of them is seriously suggesting that trainloads of Palestinians are being carted off to Israel and gassed. Shut inside a wall in the hope that they will just die and solve the problem, without the need for any intervention? Closer to the truth. Killed on the spot for the most minor infraction of arbitrary regulations? Happens regularly. Treated as subhuman vermin by their gaolers? Every single day.

I have stood next to the two remaining fragments of the wall of the Warsaw ghetto, touched their bricks, and spoken to the Jewish resident who with his son first created a memorial there, before the city adopted the site officially. I found my visit to the ghetto every bit as moving as my earlier visit to Dachau, and certainly have no sympathy with anyone wishing to diminish the memory of the victims of either hell-hole. There are undeniable similarities in the situation of the ghetto inmates and present-day Palestinians, though I remain unconvinced of the utility of banging on about them. After all, as the present discussion shows, it simply allows attention to be diverted from the real, current issue of Palestinian suffering onto the historical one of the Holocaust.

To sum up: just because the bishops were insensitive and offensive doesn't mean that what they said wasn't true. Just because it was true doesn't mean it was even slightly helpful to the cause of the people in whom they claim to have been taking an interest. But then, whoever expected German Catholic bishops to be relevant to anything much?

Rob | March 7, 2007 07:08 PM

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