The Politics Of Apology


Why is it,î Pope John Paul II once remarked to reporters during a papal trip and related in Newsweek (March 11, web edition), ìthat it is only the pope who must apologize?î

The Jews have been giving him a hard time. But what does it say about us that we are such tough guys in the presence of a penitent, while acting penitent in the presence of a tough guy? After all, no one is hammering Syriaís Assad for an apology and he twice sent armies to genocidally destroy Israel. No one asks Palestineís Arafat to apologize and itemize scores of massacres. But the penitent pope hasnít finished with his apologies, according to the mediaís consensus of Jewish opinion.

Actually, most polls showed Jews supporting the pope, as did numerous Jewish columnists as well as organizations, including the Conference of European Rabbis, led by Britainís Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The Associated Press (March 15) reported that, though few others did.

Catholic New York (March 16) was typical in giving less prominence to the popeís Jewish supporters, who were not named, than to his detractors, who were.Sidney Zion, in the Daily News (March 14), calls the Jewish critique of the pope as nothing but ìcarping.î The fact is, writes Zion, one former Israeli diplomat credits Pope Pius XII with ì860,000 saved Jews.î Take that number and halve it and you still ìhave more Jews saved by the Vatican than by the Allies. Have we heard a demand by the World Jewish Congress or the Jews of America and England for mea culpas by their governments?î During the Holocaust, writes Zion, ìnothing was done. Not even a fireside chat by FDR, whom Ben Hecht called ëthe humanitarian who snubbed a massacre.í … Iíll shut up the moment my government says itís sorry for FDR.îGideon Samet, in Haaretz (Mar. 15) was bothered by all the ìwheeler-dealers in Judaism and the Holocaust,î who downplayed the popeís confession. ìRelations of supreme importance between us and the Catholic Church are the province of small minds and big mouths.î Samet points out that the popeís confession for the Shoah ìis very much more far-reaching than the statement by German President Hans Rau,î who had a lot more to apologize for.The Jordan Times (March 15) reported from ìOccupied Jerusalemî that the Palestinian representative to the Vatican called on Israel to apologize to the Palestinians in the same way Pope John Paul II ìbegged for forgivenessî for crimes against the Jews. After all, ìWe have become the Jews of the Jews, the victims of the victims of European history.îDan Margalit, in Haaretz (March 20), proposed that the Palestinians ìstart the ball rolling by apologizing for the support their leaders gave to the Nazis during the Second World War.îRami G. Khouri, a Jordan Times columnist (March 15), says ìNeither [Israel nor Palestine] has yet indicated any serious willingness to admit responsibility for their past actions… The Vatican provides one valuable model of how this might be done.îLeon Wieseltier, in The New Republic (March 27), writes: ìI am the son of my fathers but I do not have the power to pardon. I was not tortured and I was not murdered. … And so I cannot respond to the popeís ethical exquisiteness with anything more than sorrow.î He adds, the Vatican ìcould revise its grudging, theology-tainted policy toward Israel…î The Jerusalem Post (March 13), too, points out that ìthe Vatican has been much more conciliatory toward Judaism and the Jewish people than it has been toward the State of Israel.îAn editorial in the India Times (Mar. 14) said, ìThere are legitimate fears that apology-mongering may become yet another national pastime for the more volatile elements within our society… To force apologies out of each other, then, could be a way of destroying the very basis of a plural society. A shared past implicates us all; it makes no distinction between the pure and the tainted.îDemands for apologies are flying all over in Israel. Haaretz (March 16) notes that the Labor Party wants an apology from Likud for the slogan, ìBarak is dividing Jerusalem,î which Labor calls incitement of the type that ìbrought about the horrific precedent of the assassinationî of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. Likudís Ariel Sharon responded that Labor ìhas always been the master of incitement,î since the 1930s ìblood libel regarding the murder of [Laborís Haim] Arlozorov.î Rabin was killed, but so were Six Million Jews who might have been saved, said Sharon, were it not for Laborís political ancestorsí incitement against the rightís Zeíev Jabotinsky, who predicted a Holocaust in Europe.Incitement is everywhere. Haaretz (March 20) reports that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef does not plan to apologize to Education Minister Yossi Sarid, after calling him ìHaman,î complete with all the curses. The Jerusalem Post (March 20) reports that the Barak government will almost certainly order a police investigation, for the inevitable crime of ìincitement.î Rabbi Yosef insisted that he had ìno intention of violence toward Yossi Sarid.î Sarid said, ìI didnít hear an apology…îIf calling Sarid a Haman is incitement that can lead to violence, what then of gays calling Dr. Laura ìJulius Stricher,î the Nazi propagandist?

After Dr. Laura called gays ìdeviantî and the result of ìbiological error,î The Daily News (March 11) reported that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors officially warned Schlessinger that her statements ìincite violence and hate,î a remarkable echo of Israelís own assault on free speech.Daily News columnist John Leo, noting that Dr. Laura is an ìOrthodox Jewî believing in ìthe scriptural ban on homosexuality that Jews and Christians have held for centuries,î said the San Francisco action is just a ìclever verbal maneuver to justify suppression of an opposing viewpoint.îIn Newsweek, again, Judaism became part of the story: ìSchlessinger had a reputation for being tolerant of homosexuality, but sheís since embraced Orthodox Judaism,î sheís ìtrashedî everything from gays to ìmixed (ëinterfaithlessí) marriages.îLast week Schlessinger issued an apology, that ìWe are all made in G-dís image [her hyphen], and therefore, we should treat one another with love and kindness.îìIt didnít feel like a genuine apology,î said Erin Malec of Horizons, the group that was leading the campaign to have Dr. Laura taken off the air.The Orthodox Union issued a press release that said the OUís leadership ìis deeply concerned when advocates of homosexuality attack public personalities who are observant Jews for stating their religious beliefs.î