from the Jesuit Institute of South Africa, Johannesburg
21 December 2023
Dear esteemed Chief Rabbi of South Africa Warren Goldstein,
We at the Jesuit Institute in Johannesburg, have been reflecting on your message addressed to Pope Francis, published on social media on 20 December 2023. We do understand your anguish at what has happened over the past two and a half months in Israel and Palestine. As Catholics, we seek to engage with your message in a constructive way, in the spirit of the profound relationship between Jews and Catholics that has developed over the past decades since the Second Vatican Council.
You call on the Pope to stand fully behind the State of Israel. He has been following closely the unfolding events. He has been in regular contact with Israeli and Jewish leaders. He has expressed his grief at the deaths of the innocent, especially those cruelly murdered on 7 October, and has received the families of the hostages, seeking to find a way to help and guarantee their release. In fact, since he became Pope, his promotion of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians has been a cornerstone of his vision for a world based upon our shared values.
In these past weeks, the Pope has also been following closely the events inside Gaza. He has been in almost daily contact with the Holy Family parish in Gaza City. Just three days before you released your call, an elderly woman and her daughter were gunned down by an Israeli soldier in the courtyard of the church. The home of the Missionaries of Charity, housing 54 disabled people, was bombarded by a tank. The water tanks and electrical generator of the Catholic compound were destroyed by an Israeli missile. War is war but the incessant attacks on civilians cannot be cloaked in “just war” theories. The number of civilian deaths is exceptionally high when compared to other war situations in the past decades. It seems that you and the Holy Father are not following the same press reports.
The comparison of what happened during the Shoah, when six million Jews were slaughtered in a meticulously planned genocide over an extended period of years, and the events of 7 October, when a bloodthirsty mob of armed terrorists went on a killing spree, is we believe very troubling. However, we would like to point out that your repeated comparison of Pope Francis to Pope Pius XII is unfortunate. It has now been shown that, notwithstanding harsh judgments on Pope Pius’s alleged silence, he acted to save Jews from the Nazi beast wherever he could. As the Holy See’s ambassador to Germany in the 1930s, he repeatedly expressed his disgust with the Nazis and their barbarism. Whereas Pius might remain a controversial figure, Francis has always stood with Jews in their time of need, in Argentina and throughout the world.
Surely it is important to distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticism of the State of Israel, its government and its army. We say with absolute conviction that the Catholic Church stands alongside the Jewish people in the fight against anti-Semitism, committed to rooting out this cancerous evil wherever it rears its ugly head. However, at the same time, the Church is completely committed to the struggle for justice and peace in Israel and Palestine. The Palestinian people have suffered injustice for too long and the only way to guarantee peace is also to guarantee justice, equality and security for Palestinians.
Finally, you underline “jihadist” violence that promotes attacks on Jews and Christians. This is indeed a horrific feature of our world today. Unfortunately, this type of ideology is not specific to Muslims. Some Christians have promoted and continue to promote “crusader” violence against Jews and Muslims. Similarly, within the Israeli government coalition today, there are Jews who promote extremist violence against Christians and Muslims. Some Israeli parliamentarians and ministers have called for dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza or turning Gaza into a soccer stadium. We all have in our own backyard terrifying proponents of genocide and devastation. For this very reason, we as men and women of religion should be able to turn our eyes heavenward and perceive our God, loving parent, weeping over the loss of all God’s children, Israelis and Palestinians. We as religious leaders, in dialogue and friendship, must develop a language that can promote the very values that promote “tikkun olam”, the repairing of our broken world.
Dear esteemed Rabbi Goldstein, we hope that we can continue to work together for a better South Africa and a better world!