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The Continuing O’connor-jewish Story

Representatives of two Jewish organizations–the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and Agudath Israel of America–which withdrew their names from a statement critical of John Cardinal O’Connor said they disagreed with some of the criticism and that the name of Agudath was used without authorization on the original statement released Saturday.

Meanwhile, O’Connor, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, asked publicly for an apology from the leaders of 53 national Jewish organizations which issued the statement criticizing remarks O’Connor made on his recent trip to the Middle East.

Nathan Perlmutter, ADL director, said he disagreed with the criticism of O’Connor’s remark upon visiting Yad Vashem that the Holocaust “may be an enormous gift that Judaism has given the world.” The statement called this remark “disturbing and painful.”

SAYS REMARKS WERE MISINTERPRETED

But Perlmutter said O’Connor’s remarks were misinterpreted. “He spoke out of Christian love and we heard it out of Jewish pain. The Cardinal was talking in Christian terms and we did not feel that he should be criticized for it,” he said. In Catholic theology, O’Connor’s defenders noted, suffering is revered as an experience which brings one closer to the Almighty.

Perlmutter also said he preferred not to air the criticisms in a public forum. “Public lecturing rarely changes anyone’s mind,” he said. ADL also decided to withdraw its name from the statement after learning it would be issued before O’Connor would have a chance to see it. The statement was released hours before O’Connor returned to New York at the conclusion of his trip.

A spokesman of Agudath Israel, Rabbi Yitzhak Brandriss, said his organization informed O’Connor that they had never authorized the use of their name on the statement. Brandriss would not comment further on the content of the statement except to say that the leadership of Agudath Israel would consider the “sensitive matter” and decide on any future reaction.

Perlmutter said he did agree with some of the criticism contained in the statement and noted that O’Connor tended to oversimplify the Palestinian problem.

“The Cardinal is an imperfect friend, but he is not an enemy. We preferred to talk with him rather than attacking a person who has been, on many levels, a good friend.”

O’Connor responded publicly to the statement Monday on the New York NBC-TV news program “Live at Five,” saying “Honestly, I feel an apology is in order.” O’Connor said he would continue to support the Jewish community even if an apology was not forthcoming but said that would make it more difficult.

Morris Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, appearing on the same news broadcast, said “if we hurt him, we would be terribly sorry” but defended and even repeated the criticisms in the statement.

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