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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=4&datee=03/15/00&id=71838

A little modesty wouldn't hurt

By Gideon Samet, Ha'aretz 03/15/2000


 

There was very little lacking for the apocalypse to have occurred here next week in all its terrible force. The stage on which the Pope was to have spoken to an audience of 100,000 collapsed in the wind. No explanations would have helped: this time the Jews killed Christ's messenger on earth. But there something about the accident that symbolized the supposedly elevated debate between Judaism and Christianity - at last as how it has been expressed by the rabbis and ordinary Israelis in advance of Pope John Paul II's arrival here.He made a universal and unprecedented plea for the forgiveness of the sins of the Catholic Church towards Jews, women and infidels. But all kinds of spokesmen, among them wheeler-dealers in Judaism and the Holocaust, said it wasn't enough. They complained that he did not mention the Holocaust, they poked around in his text and (according to the chief rabbi) did not find the Inquisition, the Wansee conference or the "killing machine." They demanded a visit to Yad Vashem but pondered the question of whether he should be allowed to visit the Western Wall.

It wasn't enough that he said, "You have chosen Abraham and his descendents to spread Your name among the peoples. We express profound regret for the behavior of those who throughout history caused these children of Yours to suffer, and we ask Your forgiveness."

The problem is the huge contradiction within the Jewish establishment - for all that it has made itself the guardian of history, it has no real feel for history. This blindness, of course, does not stop at the fraught relations with the Catholic Church (whose believers were not the ones who perpetrated the Holocaust, but rather mostly Protestants and non-believers). The (Jewish) representatives on earth of the Holy One, blessed be He, are also a-historical in other important matters of Jewish existence.

The vast majority of them do not understand that Israel today needs, body and soul, a political settlement with our neighbors. They want Abu Dis now, for example, because they they are unable to rise above the pettiness of today to picture the tomorrow that lies before us.

This Jewish-Israeli arrogance, which decks itself out in the robe of preserving our interests, found a classical embodiment in Golda Meir's attitude both towards the Palestinians ("There is no Palestinian people - I am a Palestinian") and towards peace ("They don't want it.") And thus upon her return from a visit to Pope Paul VI in 1973, she expressed amazement that "the daughter of Moshe Mobovitz the carpenter (the carpenter!) met with the Pope," and in her hauteur - nine months before the Yom Kippur War - she reported proudly that she had said no to the pope when he asked her that Israel behave with compassion towards the Arabs. "I decided," she said, "not to give in to him - from prior experience I know not to give in to anyone who starts a conversation in this way." And then, in a phrase that has gone down in our history, she said: "I had made a decision not to lower my gaze, and I didn't."

The spirit of Golda is still with us. While we have complaints about the whole world and a pious expectation that it will go down on its knees to beg forgiveness, we have not yet arrived at a mature perception of our place in the world. Thus, relations of supreme importance between us and the Catholic Church are the province of small minds and big mouths. Perhaps in the coming months, among the most important in the history of the efforts to come to a settlement with a historic foe, will bear fruit. But they, too are full of the same petty, visionless style that is characterizing our welcome of the second visit by a pope to Israel.

Apart from the experts, like historian of Christianity Aviad Klingberg, few of the people who have got their hands on the microphone have correctly assessed the weight of the Pope's statement. It is very much more far-reaching than the statement by German President Hans Rau, for example, who apologized for the Nazi's crimes. This is so because he and his generation cut themselves off from the horrible German past, whereas the Pope, whose church did not build any gas chambers, is the declared heir of all his predecessors. In Vatican terms, the Pope went down on his knees.

The Pope's visit is therefore a test of one of the ills that is devouring us in nearly every area, from high policy to putting up bridges and stages, all those staunch stances by serial blunderers who come along with complaints, laden with fervor and hollow self-conviction, about the whole world - except for themselves. The visit by this notable man here is extremely important, if only for the sake of the opportunity to take a modest look at the beating of the wings of our history - and sometimes to lower our gaze


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