For this, we have to thank some German Roman Catholic bishops who came to visit Israel.
Catholic Online sets the stage:
The bishops were on a weeklong pilgrimage, which ended March 4 with a visit to Ramallah and Bethlehem in the West Bank. The bishops toured Israel and met with Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as with Rabbi Yona Metzger, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, and local bishops and priests. They also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
As Der Spiegel tells us, what happened next was truly special.
…[B]ishop of EichstÃ¤tt, Gregor Maria Hanke, remarked during a visit to Bethlehem, “This morning in Yad Vashem the photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto, and this evening we travel to the ghetto in Ramallah. That makes you angry.” The Bishop of Augsburg Walter Mixa then remarked that it was a “ghetto-like” situation and that it was “almost racism.”
That was a wrong thing to say.
A few angry articles in the Israeli press later, followed by some angry remarks containing the word antisemitism by some German Jewish leaders, caused some back-pedalling:
Hans LangendÃ¶rfer, the Secretary General of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said he regretted the remarks made by the bishops. They were made during the visit to Bethlehem “under the pressure of a demanding situation,” and were by “emotionally affected individuals who made a few very personal remarks, which have already been self-critically corrected.” He added, “That is especially true of a passing remark that referred to the Warsaw Ghetto.”
LangendÃ¶rfer stressed that while he emphatically regretted the row, it should not take away from the overall positive reaction of both the Israelis and Palestinians to the bishops’ visit.
Hanke too engaged in some rapid backpedaling. In a statement, the bishop said: “Comparisons between the Holocaust and the current situation in Palestine are not acceptable and were not intended.” Hanke said he had expressed his great sadness about the “unspeakable suffering” of the Jewish people and emphasized the right of Israel to exist during his visit. “Amongst other things, after the visit to Ramallah and Bethlehem, the immediate impact of the situation was harrowing,” he said.
But only some back-pedalling.
Bishop Mixa denied that the opinions given during the trip could be interpreted as politically one-sided.
And the killer quote from Catholic Online:
Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, said in a letter to Cardinal Lehmann that such 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.”
In a response to Shalev, Cardinal Lehmann referred to the words he wrote in the memorial’s book: “Nobody who wishes to be free of the memory of the Holocaust can ever be free.” he added that all the bishops defend “Israel’s right to exist and defend itself.”
Cardinal Lehmann said he understood the “feelings of affront and protest” in reaction to Bishop Hanke’s remarks. He said he regretted the “discordant note … at the end of the trip which many in the Holy Land experienced as injecting renewed hope.”
“The German bishops are and remain aware of their special historical responsibility,” he said.
Wait, that killer quote is coming, I just needed to set it up:
Msgr. Walter Brandmueller, who is German and the president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences at the Vatican, said in a radio interview that he could not remember such a serious row between the church and the Jews in Germany.
However, he noted that he had little understanding for the Jews’ frustration.
“One can’t be harrowed in Yad Vashem and then get back to normal business when one sees the misery in Ramallah,” he said. “While the Warsaw ghetto unfortunately can’t be reversed, Ramallah can still be changed.”
Get it? He agrees with the comparison. Wink wink.
Really now, German bishops should refrain from voicing their opinion on the Middle East conflict if they cannot refrain from expressing false and incongruous parallels to their nation’s methodical and monstrous genocide of the Jews.