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Israel’s Mideast Stand Backed by Priests in ‘statement of Conscience’

Two priests, one of them a theologian who was closely associated with Augustin Cardinal Bea in the work culminating in the Ecumenical Council’s declaration on relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jews, issued a “statement of conscience” today appealing to the Christian world to support Israel in this time of crisis.

The statement, issued in the name of the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, was signed by Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher, who served as Cardinal Bea’s aide, and Rev. Edward H. Flannery, a leading Catholic advocate of rapprochement with the Jews.

The statement called on Christians, as Christians, to make their voices heard in support of Israel and when necessary “sound the alarm” when Jews and Israel were in danger. The statement then made five “affirmations” on the Mideast crisis.

The first was a denial of Arab-Soviet charges of Israeli aggression in June. The statement said that Israel’s initial strike at the Egyptian air force was “clearly an act of defense” and “the operation of a country that refuses to be strangled.” The second was a ringing defense of Israel’s right to a peaceful existence. The statement traced Jewish ties to the Holy Land over the centuries and said they had a right to remain securely on the soil which they had reclaimed and additionally, “a vocation to live for the Lord. We hope that it will be granted them to bear witness to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as never before.”

The third affirmation fully backed Israel’s insistence on holding present cease-fire lines until permanent boundaries were established by peace treaties, calling that stand “reasonable and fair.” The statement also gave full support to Israel’s stand on the future of Jerusalem, rejecting proposals to internationalize the city – which remains the official position of the Vatican– and expressed certainty that Israel would be a “faithful guardian” of all holy places.

The fifth affirmation categorically denied that the Jews drove the Arabs out in the 1948 war and denounced the Arab countries for shutting refugees up in camps. However, for “the sake of justice and peace,” the statement said Israel should again offer financial compensation to refugees who lost homes and farms, as well as aid in uniting separated Arab refugee families. It called for an International resettlement fund for the refugees but warned that solution of the problem probably would have to wait until Arab-Israel peace was established.

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