The new Prime Minister of the U.K., Liz Truss, promised before being elected that she would look into the possibility of moving the British Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. She has stuck by her pro-Israel guns, even more emphatically since being elected.
On October 2, at a meeting of the Conservative Friends of Israel, Truss described herself as a “huge Zionist and huge supporter of Israel” and affirmed that she would “take the UK-Israel relationship from strength to strength.” This has been interpreted as a commitment to make that Embassy move. The party’s chairman, Jake Berry, pledged to support the Jewish state “in its fight to ensure that it remains safe and that the capital in Jerusalem is the home to our new Embassy.”
Not everyone is pleased with that possibility. While one expects the Corbynites and the Muslims to object, unhappiness has been expressed as well all from another quarter — Cardinal Vincent Nichols. A prince, forsooth, of the Church, who has little understanding of, and little sympathy either for Israel or, I think it reasonable from his statements to conclude, Jews. A report on that possible embassy move and Cardinal Nichols’ dismay, can be found here: “Top UK Catholic Archbishop Urges UK Prime Minister Not to Move Israel Embassy to Jerusalem,” Algemeiner, October 7, 2022:
A senior Catholic cleric has called on British Prime Minister Liz Truss not to move the UK Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, insisting that such an action “would be seriously damaging to any possibility of lasting peace in the region and to the international reputation of the United Kingdom.”
In a letter to Truss on Thursday, Cardinal Vincent Nichols — who serves as the Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales — cited The Vatican’s opposition to recognizing Jerusalem as the unified capital of the State of Israel.
The Vatican has always had a “Jewish problem.” But in recent decades, things have greatly improved, at least toward Jews, if not always toward the Jewish state. The problem arises from the accusation that the Jews killed Christ. How many Jews down through the centuries have been persecuted, even murdered, for having been thought of as “Christ-killers”? That charge of deicide was removed by the reforms adopted by Vatican II. Similarly, the phrase about the “perfidious Jews” in the liturgy was removed in 1959 by John XXIII, that most philosemitic and warm-hearted of Popes. It was John XXIII who greeted a Jewish delegation with an open-armed statement of brotherly affection: “I am Joseph, your brother.” Pope John Paul II made reconciliation with the Jews, and recognition of their unique torment, an important part of his papal mission. He had grown up in a town that was one-quarter Jewish before the Nazis descended and murdered them all. John Paul II described antisemitism as “a sin against God and man,” and repeatedly demonstrated his personal goodwill and solidarity with Jews in a number of meetings with Jewish communities around the world; in his last visit to the Great Synagogue in Rome, he cordially embraced the chief rabbi (1986). He referred to the 20th century as “the century of the Shoah,” and he hosted a memorable Holocaust Memorial Day concert at the Vatican in 1994. In March 2000, John Paul II visited Yad Vashem and made history by visiting the Western Wall, where he placed a letter in between its old stones, in which he prayed for forgiveness for the actions against Jews in the past. In Israel, he said: “I assure the Jewish people the Catholic Church … is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place,” and he added that there were “no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust.”
Cardinal Nichols is quite different from John XXIII and John Paul II. He is more in the line of the late and unlamented Pope Pius XII, who did not once condemn the mass murder of millions of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis, about which he was well-informed; Pius XII was deeply antisemitic, and believed the Jews to be supporters of Bolshevism, as a study of his pre-papal correspondence makes clear. He refused to say a word or lift a finger for the martyred Jews during the Holocaust, not even when the Germans marched the Jews of Rome off to the death camps right under the Vatican windows.
Cardinal Nichols has a problem not so much with Jews, but with the Jewish state, and with the claim by Israeli Jews to keep Jerusalem as their undivided capital. It doesn’t seem right to Cardinal Nichols that the Jews should have been able to reconstruct their state in their ancient homeland, and what’s more, to flourish, even while repelling the repeated attempts by so many to destroy their little nation. And they will not give Jerusalem up to some international body, like the U.N., to run.
Cardinal Nichols has a cold heart when it comes to Israel, Jerusalem, and the Jews. He fails to recognize that Jews have been living in Jerusalem uninterruptedly for 3000 years, some 1600 years before there was a single Muslim present in the city. He fails to recognize that Jerusalem may be “holy to three faiths,” but is incomparably more important in Judaism than in Christianity or Islam. Jerusalem contains what is indisputably the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount, upon which the First and Second Temples both stood. For Muslims, Jerusalem is not a holy city in its entirety, but it contains the Haram al-Sharif (a.k.a Temple Mount) that is the third holiest site in Islam. For Christians, too, Jerusalem is not a holy city, but it is where Christ lived and preached, where he was crucified, where he is believed to have risen from the dead. Nor does Cardinal Nichols recognize what happened in Jerusalem when, between 1949 and 1967, the Muslim Arabs had complete control of the Old City. All 58 of the synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were dynamited by the Jordanians. Forty thousand ancient tombstones from the venerable Jewish cemetery at the Mount of Olives were pulled up, and used for building roads and lining the floors of Jordanian army latrines. Jews were forbidden from visiting either the Temple Mount or the Western Wall. I doubt if that Jordanian record of desecration disturbs Cardinal Nichols.
Pope Francis and the leaders of churches in the Holy Land have long called for the international status quo on [sic] Jerusalem to be upheld, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions,” Nichols tweeted. “The city must be shared as a common patrimony, never becoming an exclusive monopoly of any party.”
There is no “international status quo” now in force in Jerusalem. The “status quo” is what the state of Israel imposed when it took the Old City from the Jordanians in the Six-Day War. That status quo guaranteed freedom of worship to all believers, and respect for all holy places. The only believers who suffered from the rules laid down by the Israeli government were the Jews themselves. Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount were limited by the State of Israel to only four hours a day of visits, and during only five days a week. Muslims, on the other hand, can visit the Temple Mount, and Al-Aqsa Mosque, at any time of day or night, seven days a week. Jewish visitors are forbidden from bringing prayer books, prayer shawls, and tefillin, onto the Mount. They are further prohibited from saying prayers aloud, or even mouthing them silently. What more would Cardinal Nichols ask of the Israelis, who have bent over backwards to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities? Perhaps Jews should avoid visiting the Temple Mount altogether? After all, they’ll still have the Western Wall.
And what makes Cardinal Nichols think any other body – an “international” body, forsooth, like the United Nations, so inviolably anti-Israel in thought, word, and deed – would better protect religious freedom in Jerusalem than Israel is now doing? Shouldn’t Israel be most wary of any “international” body, for they are by now so infused with anti-Israel attitudes, that appeals to history, decency, even common sense, have so singularly failed to dislodge.
Nichols emphasized that he could “see no valid reason why a move needs now to be considered. I ask the Prime Minister earnestly to reconsider the intention she has expressed and to focus all efforts on seeking a two-state solution, in which Jerusalem would have a guaranteed special status.”
Why should that Embassy move not be considered now? What is so special about “now” that would make this move such a bad idea? Or does Cardinal Nichols really mean that such a move should never be considered? Doesn’t he want us to ignore that for 3000 years the capital of the Jewish nation (even without a Jewish state) has always been Jerusalem? What would improve the condition of people in the city if it were taken from Israel’s sovereignty and handed over to some international body, one where Israel can expect little understanding or sympathy, and where it will undoubtedly be treated in the same way that it has been treated– vilified — in the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council?
Nichols has strongly criticized Israel on past occasions. Following a visit to Gaza in 2015, he gave an extensive interview to Middle East Monitor, a website sympathetic to Hamas, in which he asserted that there were “aspects to Israeli policy and behavior that do immense damage in the eyes of the international community.”
In the same interview, Nichols described Hamas-ruled Gaza as a “pluralist” society, which should not be mistaken for “a Muslim enclave surrounded by the state of Israel.” He also argued that “the State of Israel is not the land of the Jews; it’s the land of Christians and all sorts of people as well. And it has to be like that.”
Cardinal Nichols apparently finds no fault with Hamas, a ruthless terror group responsible for murdering hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of Israeli civilians, as well as killing fellow Palestinians in Gaza. Hamas rules the Strip through violence, arresting, imprisoning, and sometimes executing, those who oppose its despotic and corrupt rule, or who are members of rival Palestinian groups, including Fatah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. But Cardinal Nichols saw nothing wrong with letting himself be interviewed by a Hamas-linked website, Middle East Monitor. He accused Israel of unspecified bad acts, claiming that there are “aspects to Israeli policy and behavior that do immense damage in the eyes of the international community.” He offers no examples with which one might take issue. I should imagine he is thinking of Palestinian civilian casualties in the various Israel-Hamas conflicts, whose deaths Israel tries every way it can to minimize, by sending out warnings by telephone, by email, and by the “knock-on-the-roof” technique, importuning civilians to leave buildings or places that are soon to be targeted. It is Hamas that endangers those civilians by placing its weapons, its rocket launchers, its fighters, and its command-and-control centers, in schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, and mosques.
Not only was Cardinal Nichols perfectly happy to be interviewed by a Hamas-affiliated website, but in his interview, he claimed that in Gaza, Hamas presided over a “pluralist society.” What can he be thinking? Hamas-run Gaza is a place where not a single Jew, Bahai, Hindu, or Buddhist, can be found, They would be risking their lives if they tried to live among the Muslims in what Nichols calls Gaza’s “pluralist society.” The Christian population has precipitously declined since Israel left Gaza in 2005, from 2% of the population that year to a mere 900 Christians living among two million Muslims in 2022, which is less than 2/5th of 1% of Gaza’s population. What explains this decline? It is the extraordinary social and economic pressure put on Christians living in a Muslim sea. For example, Hamas sent out a directive discouraging Muslims from having anything to do with Christians celebrating Christmas. Christian schools – originally built by the Catholic Church for Gaza’s Christians– have almost entirely been taken away from the Christians and are now used exclusively by Muslim students. In opinion polls, almost all of Gaza’s 900 Christians have said that they would emigrate if they could. So much for Gaza’s “pluralism.”
Only an antisemite would claim that “the State of Israel is not the land of the Jews.” Only an antisemite – smiling beatifically all the while, mitre on head, crozier in hand – would claim that “the State of Israel…is the land of Christians and all sorts of people as well. And it has to be like that.”
“It has to be like that.” Ipse dixit, from Cardinal Nichols, who is used to being obeyed. One can visualize his sneer of cold command. He isn’t used to being criticized, wouldn’t know how to handle it, thinks others should know their place. He is, after all, the Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Impressive, no? He’s practically infallible, even if he isn’t the Pope.
But of course, pace Cardinal Nichols, in the state of Israel – the only state the Jewish people have ever had — non-Jews live, on the whole, quite contentedly. Twenty percent of Israel’s citizens are Muslim Arabs. Non-Jews in Israel enjoy complete religious freedom. They are equal under the law to Israeli Jews, with all the civil and political rights Israeli Jews enjoy. In only one respect are they treated differently. Jews must, while non-Jews may, serve in the military.
In the most recent opinion poll, taken last year, 93% of the Arabs living in east Jerusalem said that they preferred living in Israel to becoming citizens of the Palestinian Authority. How is that for a vote of confidence in the authentic “pluralism” that Israel offers?
Cardinal Nichols is a throwback who puts one in mind not of John XXIII, but rather of Pius XII. And Father Coughlin. of Dearborn. And Father Feeney of Boston In fact, Cardinal Nichols might enjoy Father Feeney’s article from April 1957: “The Fight for the Holy City—Efforts of the Jews to Control Jerusalem.”
Definitely non-papabile, is Cardinal Vincent Nichols. What is that line from the New Testament that Robert Spencer often quotes? Ah, now I remember. It’s Matthew 15:14. “Leave them; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”