The Pope and Ruby’s Tuesday
Pope Benedict has come in for some criticism for his relatively brief comments at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust. There have suggestions that the Pope needed to offer a more moving, more personal address in the mold of his predecesor John Paul II.
One observer who appears not to agree with this critique is Bernard Avishai, a long-time observer of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. Avishai offers some comments on the challenge the pope faced as part of a broader assessment of criticisms of the pope made by Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin, the Speaker of the Knesset:
Pope Benedict XVI is not a man to feel sorry for himself, or even think his pronouncements just those of a man. Yet it is hard not to extend him some sympathy for braving a trip to Jerusalem this week. The mission was delicate from the start, stepping as he was into the middle of a blood feud between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims. As the world’s most famous neither-of-the-above, he was bound to be seen as a some kind of proxy for the conscience of the world–something like what the stately Notre Dame complex has come to represent among the buildings of Jerusalem: a neutral place where Israelis and Arabs go for “dialogue,” while Christians listen, encourage–remind. The Pope’s silence would have been interpreted, not as tactfulness, but as cowardice. Who in the middle of a quarrel does not imagine, well, an audience?
At the same time, of course, the Pope represents the great rival tradition whose dogmas and power have inspired both ghettos and crusades. Both sides want him in a state of apology, or at least vaguely official regret. And here is where missions become impossible. Dwell on Jewish suffering from European anti-Semitism, and you invite a reprimand from Palestinian nationalists and Muslim clerics that you are implicitly justifying the Naqba. Dwell on the occupation of Palestine, and you are inviting a reprimand from Zionists and Rabbis that you are justifying attacks on the national home. Fail to dwell on either, however, and you are accused of not assuming the church’s indirect responsibility for both catastrophes: the Jews will say you are cavalier about the Holocaust, the Muslims ditto about colonialism. Both will say the old suffering of Jews led to the new suffering of Palestinians. Who in the middle of a quarrel does not also wish for a third party to blame? Habemus Papam, no?
All of this explains why this pope more than others has needed to rely, if not just on photo ops, then speech writers with an over-sized delete button. Indeed, this pope of all popes, a writer in his own right, has almost certainly developed a strong propensity to (as Nabokov put it) “kill your darlings.” He tried to get fancy about the sources of The Western Tradition and found himself skewered for Orientalism. He thought to reinstate those he did not need to reinstate, retreated, and wound up making his infallibility seem rather hypothetical. So if anyone has learned the value of Rashi’s aphorism, “kol ha’mosif gorea,” (“he who adds substracts”), it is Benedict XVI.
You can read the rest here.