Catholic World News News Feature
German bishops cause uproar with criticism of Israel March 08, 2007
German Catholic bishops stirred up a heated controversy during a week-long visit to Israel, by criticizing the Israeli treatment of Palestinians and comparing it with the Nazi campaign against Jews.
Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstatt made the most provocative comment, after a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial outside Jerusalem. After seeing dramatic photos from the Warsaw ghetto, Bishop Hanke noted to reporters, “in the evening we are traveling to the ghetto in Ramallah,” the Palestinian town on the West Bank. The treatment of Palestinians, the bishop said bluntly, made him “mad as hell.”
Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg made a similar comment, saying that Israeli policies were causing the “ghetto-ization” of the Palestinian population, and that Israeli policy seemed “almost racist.”
Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne argued that the construction of an Israeli security wall through Palestinian territory was “something that is done to animals, not humans.” In another ominous reference to German history, Cardinal Meisner said, “I never in my life thought to see something like this again.”
Jewish leaders have reacted angrily to the bishops’ comments. “With friends like these, who needs enemies?” remarked Dieter Grauman, a spokesman for the German Council of Jews. The Israeli ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, condemned the bishops’ statements as “demagogic.”
Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the president of the German bishops’ conference, offered an apology in a letter to the chairman of the Yad Vashem memorial. “I can easily understand that the remarks caused annoyance and protest,” he wrote, adding that his colleagues had been wrong to compare the treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of Jews.