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Berrigan’s Canards Against Israel Due to His Ignorance, Rabbi Tanenbaum Says by William Saphire, JTA

December 20, 1973
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Rey Daniel Berrigan’s recent vituperative attacks on Israel stem possibly from his total lack of first hand knowledge of that country which he has never visited and the strong influence of anti-Israel elements in the Third World liberation movement, particularly one individual closely associated with extremists in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). That was the assessment of the anti-Vietnam war activist given to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today by Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, director of the interreligious affairs department of the American Jewish committee. Tanenbaum warned that “it is not sufficient simply to repudiate Father Berrigan for the simple reason that he is a major influence on university campuses and a heroic figure to many young Jews in the peace movement.” He must be re-educated Rabbi Tanenbaum said.

The 52-year-old Jesuit priest who served 27 months in Danbury Federal Penitentiary for burning draft records in Catonsville, Md. in 1968, attacked Israel as an “imperialist nation” and a “settler” state” which is “the creation of an elite of millionaires, generals and entrepreneurs.” He delivered his attack two months ago to the Association of Arab University Graduates. His remarks were published in American Report, a publication of Clergy and Laity Concerned. American Report also printed a rebuttal by Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, president of the American Jewish Congress.

Tanenbaum said he agreed with Hertzberg’s charge that Berrigan’s anti-Israel statements stemmed from “old fashioned theological anti-Semitism.” (See Nov. 30 Daily News Bulletin) But he opined that this may have been partially unconscious on Berrigan’s part. He said the priest, who is also at odds with the Vatican may have in an “unconscious, uncritical way spoken out of 1900 years of tradition which he himself is not altogether conscious of. He simply repeats categories overlaid with tradition and habit.” Tanenbaum, who is active in the ecumenical movement, said he has encountered other Christian clergy and laymen who have exhibited similar attitudes. “We simply have to start with their total re-education, make them recognize their ignorance and bring them to responsibility,” he said. He told the JTA that he was “involved in efforts to establish some sort of effective communication with Father Berrigan.” “While we have no illusions, there is an obligation to impress him with another understanding of Israel,” he said.

Berrigan’s anti-Israel remarks have cast doubt on plans to present him with the Ghandi Peace Award Jan. 9 at the Community Church here. The Rev. Donald S. Harrington, pastor of the church who was to make the presentation, said yesterday that he would do so only if allowed to disassociate himself from Berrigan’s position on Israel. He said that when he accepted the invitation to present the award,”I didn’t know Berrigan had said such terrible things.” Berrigan’s comments “trailed off into anti-Semitism which is very discouraging,” Harrington said.

Among the charges Berrigan made against Israel before the Arab graduates was that “she had turned the law of nature into a mockery, creating ghettos, disenfranchised peoples, exiles, hopeless minorities, cheap labor forces has expanded the prison system, perfected her espionage, exported on the world market that expensive blood ridden commodity, the savage triumph of the technological West–violence and the tools of violence.” In an interview published today in the NY Post, Berrigan was quoted as reaffirming his condemnation of Israel and saying he “was very depressed by the silence of my own church about Israel.” He denied, however, that he was anti-Semitic. “I’m as anti-Semitic as I am anti-Catholic, the Jesuit priest was quoted as saying.

Tanenbaum, describing Berrigan as “a mystic and poet who is carried away by his own rhetoric and influenced by the audience he is addressing,” attributed much of his anti-Israel bias to a Pakistani political science student, surnamed Achmed, at the Adlai Stevenson Institute in Chicago. According to Tanenbaum, the Pakistani has been one of the closest associates of Berrigan and his brother, Father Philip Berrigan, in the peace and civil rights movements. He is associated with the PLO and has also been one of the most vociferous anti-Israel propagandists, Tanenbaum said.

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