Israel Condemns Catholic Bishops for ‘Linguistic Stunts’ Over War Efforts

Pro-Palestinian Prelates Accuse Israel of Weaponizing “Just War” Doctrine

By Jules Gomes Published on July 5, 2024

The Israeli Embassy to the Vatican has blasted the Catholic bishops in the Holy Land for using religious justifications and “linguistic stunts” to challenge Israel’s right to self-defense against threats aimed at its very existence.

In a press statement published Tuesday, the Embassy to the Holy See condemned the document titled “War in Gaza” issued by the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (ACOHL), which attacked Israel for misusing the “just war” doctrine, which was developed in pre-Christian antiquity but which the Catholic Church has claimed as its own.

Weaponizing the “Just War” Doctrine?

The bishops who drafted the statement expressed their alarm that the term “just war” is “increasingly being weaponized to justify the ongoing violence in Gaza.”

“Catholic leaders, beginning with Pope Francis, have continuously called for an immediate ceasefire and a release of hostages,” the bishops stated. “Catholic moral theologians around the world have also outlined how neither the attacks by Hamas on October 7 nor Israel’s devastating war in response satisfy the criteria for ‘just war’ according to Catholic doctrine.”

The bishops complained that Israel had failed to exhaust negotiations before using force and its “lack of stated objectives makes ‘serious prospects of success’ impossible to measure.”

Above all, Israel and Hamas were failing to clearly differentiate between civilians and combatants, a fundamental principle of the “just war” theory, they alleged.

Bishops Blame Israel for Targeting Civilians

The statement criticized Israel for not using proportionate force, claiming without evidence that Israel’s incursion into Gaza had resulted in the deaths of “tens of thousands of people higher than that of Israel, and one in which a clear majority of the Palestinian casualties have been women and children.”

“The manipulation of the language of just war theory is not only about words: it is having tangible, fatal results,” the bishops stated, noting that Israel was privileging “the security of hypothetical people in the future over the lives of living and breathing human beings who are being killed every day.”

“As Catholics in the Holy Land, who share Pope Francis’ vision for a peaceful world, we are outraged that political actors in Israel and abroad are mobilizing the theory of ‘just war’ in order to perpetuate and legitimate the ongoing war in Gaza,” the prelates stressed. “When words are perverted, language itself becomes incapable of plotting out a future that is free from the scourges of the present. A supposed ‘just war’ that perpetuates injustice and deepens destruction risks making the word ‘justice’ a mockery as well.”

Israel Blasts Bishops for “False Symmetry”

In a robust response to the prelates, Israeli ambassador Raphael Schutz noted that the bishops’ use of the term “just war” is “not compatible with international law that Israel respects and abides by.”

The Israeli Embassy slammed the bishops for creating a “false symmetry” between Hamas’s deliberate strategy of embedding itself among civilians and Israel’s policy of distinguishing between combatants and noncombatants.

“The document wrongly frames the post-October 7 events as ‘the war in Gaza,’ conveniently ignoring the simultaneous attacks against Israel from Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iran,” Schutz observed.

“Hence the title ‘The war against Israel’s existence’ will describe [the] last nine months’ events far more realistically,” he added.

Israel’s Embassy to the Holy See has been fighting its own diplomatic corner against what observers have interpreted as a stream of anti-Israel statements and actions emerging from the Vatican since Israel’s attempt to wipe out Hamas following the October 7 massacre of Jews by Islamic radicals.

Vatican Continues Anti-Israel Discourse

On May 7, LOsservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official mouthpiece, published a 2,500-word column titled “Anti-Semitism and Palestine” written by Fr. David Neuhaus, a Jesuit who is a long-term member of the Holy Land Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission.

Neuhaus blamed Israel’s “ruthless war against the Palestinians” for the rise in antisemitism and drew a moral equivalence between the Shoah (Holocaust) and the Nakba (Catastrophe), defining it as Israel’s “destruction of Palestinian society in 1948,” The Times of Israel reported.

On May 18, the Jesuit journal Civiltà Cattolica, which is overseen directly by the Vatican Secretary of State, published Neuhaus’s 4,000-word essay on the “Jewish-Catholic Dialogue in the Shadow of the War in Gaza,” explaining why Pope Francis could not take sides.

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Neuhaus claimed that most of the Jews arriving in Israel after the Holocaust “were fleeing European antisemitism” — failing to mention that more Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab countries (850,000 to one million) than Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 (the UN estimated 726,000). Iran later expelled 70,000 Jews following the Islamic Revolution in 1979–80.

When asked to comment on Neuhaus’s essays, Schutz told this correspondent that “this wasn’t the first time Fr. Neuhaus was abusing his position to promote his radical anti-Zionist ideology and politics using a mix of lies, fallacies, and omissions.”

Antisemitic Outburst at St. Peter’s Basilica

Earlier, high-level Vatican dignitaries refused to intervene to stop an antisemitic outburst by Islamic extremist Tawakkol Karman while addressing an audience at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on May 10 at the Vatican-sponsored “World Meeting on Human Fraternity,” The Stream reported.

The Vatican invited Karman to the event despite her well-publicized links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been proscribed as a terrorist organization by several countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Israel, and Austria.

A day before her speech, the radical Islamist, who has been hailed as a “human rights activist” by the Vatican, posted in Arabic on X:

What I will say in my speech today at the Human Fraternity Conference in the Vatican is that humanity is being slaughtered in Gaza, and that the massacres of ethnic cleansing and genocide committed by Israel against the Palestinian people are a stain of disgrace not only on the occupation, but also on the face of the entire international community, which did nothing to stop these massacres.

The Israeli Embassy to the Holy See said it was “outraged and shocked” after learning that “the place was contaminated by a flagrant anti-Semitic speech” and that “such a speech was made without anyone feeling the moral duty to intervene to stop this shame.”

The ACOHL comprises Catholic bishops, eparchs, and exarchs from holding jurisdiction over the territory of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and Cyprus. The prelates, who are mostly Arab and pro-Palestinian, belong to Latin, Greek Melkite, Maronite, Armenian, Syriac, and Chaldean Catholic Churches within the jurisdiction of Rome.

 

Dr. Jules Gomes, (BA, BD, MTh, PhD), has a doctorate in biblical studies from the University of Cambridge. Currently a Vatican-accredited journalist based in Rome, he is the author of five books and several academic articles. Gomes lectured at Catholic and Protestant seminaries and universities and was canon theologian and artistic director at Liverpool Cathedral.

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