An Ancient Hatred Reviving? Vatican Event Features Accusations of Israeli Genocide

AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

At the Vatican on Saturday, it could have been 1224 instead of 2024. A speaker accused Jews of heinous, inhuman crimes, without a shred of evidence, and not only was she not rebuked for lying, but she received a round of heartfelt applause. Is the antisemitism that the Roman Catholic Church repudiated at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s reappearing? 

The Times of Israel reported that “Israel’s embassy to the Holy See issued a protest on Monday, after a Yemeni Nobel Prize winner accused Israel of ‘genocide’ in Gaza, during an event hosted by the Vatican.” This is a lie as massive as the charge itself. Israel has committed no genocide in Gaza. The population of Gaza has actually increased since Oct. 7, even if one takes Hamas’ bogus casualty figures at face value. In 1950, the population of Gaza was 63,444. Now it is estimated to be over 800,000. This is an extremely inefficient genocide.

Making the charge at the Vatican was Tawakkul Karman, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her actions in the Arab Spring protests, which were not a pro-democracy movement as was widely claimed in the West, but an attempt at a Muslim Brotherhood takeover in several countries.

On Saturday, Karman claimed that “the world is silent in front of the genocide and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in Gaza.” The Israeli embassy immediately protested, noting correctly that what Karman was saying was “lies,” and that she had delivered “a flagrantly antisemitic speech.” The embassy added, “We regret that such a speech was pronounced without anyone feeling the moral duty to intervene to stop this disgrace.” 

Nevertheless, the Times of Israel stated that Karman “got a loud round of applause from the audience which was made up of fellow Nobel prize laureates, politicians, and church officials.” However, “the pope himself was not present.”

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This is not the first time the Vatican has shown itself to be deeply anti-Israel. In March, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin accused the IDF of perpetrating a “carnage” in Gaza. Also, “Jewish groups” have accused Pope Francis of “failing to describe the Israeli invasion of the Palestinian enclave as an act of self-defense after the October 7 Hamas attacks.”

This sounds like the old Vatican. The story of Christian antisemitism is long and shameful, and it goes back to some of the most notable figures in the Church. In the Western Church, St. Augustine of Hippo called the Jews nothing less than the enemies of the Christian Church: “God has shown the Church in her enemies the Jews the grace of His compassion, since, as says the apostle, their offense is the salvation of the Gentiles.”

In the late 930s, Pope Leo VII told the archbishop of the German city of Mainz to exile from his diocese those Jews who would not become Christians. Over a century later, Pope Gregory VII ensured that Jews would remain in poverty and relegated to the lowest strata of society by forbidding them to hold positions that would involve them exercising authority over any Christians. When Pope Urban II called the First Crusade in 1099, Crusaders made their way across Europe and attacked numerous Jewish communities, killing many Jews. The Crusaders wiped out entirely the Jewish communities of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz, and decimated others, in what was the largest-scale disaster the Jews had experienced since the Romans had expelled them from Judea. Many bishops in the areas through which the Crusaders passed endeavored to stop this outrage, but were unsuccessful.

And on and on. The animus toward Jews was based primarily on the proposition that they had killed Christ, which became the pretext for vilifying and mistreating Jews despite the fact that it contradicted the Church’s central proposition, that the sins of all human beings had killed Christ.

At the Second Vatican Council, however, all this was repudiated. The council rejected the idea that the Jews bore unique and collective guilt for the crucifixion of Christ:

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.

Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

Has the Vatican now forgotten this? Tawakkul Karman's speech on Saturday certainly seems to be a “display of anti-Semitism” directed against Jews right at the Vatican. Amid all the hysteria and hatred of Israel since the Oct. 7 attacks, have the bad old days of Christian antisemitism returned? 


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