Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit Israel next week. It would have been better had this visit not taken place, and as opposed to common perception it presents diplomatic damage to Israel rather than benefits.
The pope enrolled in the Hitler Youth and later joined the Wehrmacht. Even if we accept the claim that this was what many young Germans did during World War II, and that this does not necessarily attest to anti-Semitic positions, it nonetheless constitutes a significant stain. After all, nobody thoroughly examined his actions during that era, and the doubts persist.
The doubt regarding the pope’s positions in respect to the Jews was lifted in the wake of two decisions made by him – decisions that at best were a result of indifference and at worst were an expression of anti-Semitism.
In August 2008, Benedict XVI declared Pope Pius XII a “saint.” Pius XII served as pope throughout World War II. The most positive thing one can say about him is that he was completely indifferent to the fate of the Jews. Others, such as author John Cornell in his book Hitler’s Pope, describe his support for the Nazi regime.
There are dozens of documented reports of church representatives in Holland, Austria, and Ukraine who sent letters to the pope and reported the Nazi murders, including dates, locations, and number of victims. Yet Pius XII chose to ignore it.
Some senior Catholic figures asked him to clearly speak out, so that even if the Nazis won’t be deterred, at least their Catholic collaborators in Poland, Ukraine, and other countries would have doubts, yet the pope refused to do so. He did not lift a finger even on behalf of the Jews in his city, Rome, who were led to their death right under his nose.
The second act has to do with Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson, who claims that there was no deliberate killing of Jews during World War II, that the crematoria are an invention, and that the number of Jews who perished at the camps is 300,000 at most. Williamson was excommunicated by the Church in the past because of his statements. Yet Benedict XVI sought to reinstate and rehabilitate him.
The pope was not impressed by the (mostly Jewish) outcry, and attempted to justify his move in odd ways. He was forced to give in only after German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to him like “one German to another” and demanded that he change his mind.
There should be no doubt about it: The pope is not coming here for purposes of dialogue or reconciliation, or because of his desire to visit the State of Israel. He wants to arrive here because Christianity’s holiest sites “happen to be” under Israeli sovereignty, and just like his predecessors he cannot avoid a visit.
If he has any diplomatic intentions, they are not motivated by sympathy for us. The pope expressed his support for the Durban II conference. He also insisted on visiting a Palestinian refugee camp near the security fence, thereby making the Palestinian refugees and the fence a nice backdrop for his message regarding the injustices of Jewish occupation.
In the face of such anti-Israel attitude, the State of Israel is not only willing to host him in line with the regular pomp and circumstances but also to do much beyond it. This visit will cost NIS 43 million (roughly $10 million.) Beyond the regular hosting and security expenses that any head of state is entitled to, the State of Israel is also funding Christian ceremonies and events.
This obsequiousness is a harmful act, and as opposed to common perception it carries no diplomatic benefits. Similarly to how a needless confrontation can undermine a state’s status, needless sycophancy can do the same. Had we told the Vatican that “this isn’t the right time for a visit,” we would have done something that is right in Jewish terms and wise in diplomatic terms.