Catholics and Zionism



We seemed to have thought of everything except the Arabs
Judah Magnes

In London deranged thug attacked British MP George Galloway in broad daylight breaking his jaw al the while screaming about Hitler and the holocaust. The kicker is the assailant identified himself as a Catholic Zionist.

I was one once. Right after the war and into the 60s you couldn’t help being a Zionist. At that time Catholics did not have language for our support for the little country in the Middle East which was founded to be a safe haven for Jews.

In my case it was natural. Growing up as I did in a largely Jewish area of downtown Toronto, Jews were my friends and team mates. With the exception of the eastern European accents of their parents they were no different than others in the great stew I found myself in.

In retrospect I was blind to the plight of the Palestinians and the tragedy of the Nakba, their shocking dispossession from their historic homes. They were as invisible to me as they were to the early Zionists of the dawn of the 20th century.

By pure happenstance by geography and upbringing my life trajectory was steered in the right direction. At an early age I became aware of antisemitism and racism. It formed my worldview and I naturally carried it into my teaching. I wrote about this in my memoir Never Neutral: A Teaching Life. I thought Catholics should know about the holocaust and as an act of reparation and of deep gratitude I exposed my students to the holocaust and its lessons.

It took sometime however for the scales to fall from my eyes. One of the main reasons I suspect was that Arabs in general were off my radar. Like most people in Anglo Toronto I saw them as kind of exotic creatures, desert nomads. They were a total abstraction, devoid of any history. Jews I knew but who knew Palestinians or Arabs?

The world was legitimately enthralled by the portraits of Jews building a new home in this small country after the ravages of Nazism. Let nobody stand in their way. Sadly the Palestinians who bore no responsibility for the Jewish tragedy subconsciously became the new enemy.

We had no understanding of the early years of Zionism (1882 and on) when the population of Palestine was 96% Palestinian and Muslim. In 1945 the Jewish population of this same area was less than 7% of the total. we had no idea that Jerusalem for example had been overwhelmingly Arab since the seventh century. For us true believers Zionism had the exclusive right to this patch of land. Facts of the incremental dispossession of the indigenous people were seldom heard in the West. So powerful was the dream of Zionism and fellow supporters like myself. We were literally caught in a romantic trance. In the 60s and 70s we could have easily reiterated the words of The Zionist founder Theodore Herzl’s good friend Max Nordau who one day in 1897 exclaimed to him,”But there are Arabs in Palestine. I did not know that!”

This slowly began to change.

Sad to say it the reason for the change was the sudden appearance of Arabs on the screen and in the news.



  1. 1
    wmgrace Says:

    The fact that Palestine was inhabited by the Palestinians was always the inconvenient truth at the heart of Zionism, according to Henry Siegman (covered here a couple of weeks ago). In the same interview he talks about the Zionist idea that “Palestine was a land without people for a people without land”. But as he recognized early on, pre1948, it was simply a canard – there was no “free land” available at all. Never was.

    …And therefore from the very beginning, Zionism didn’t confront this profound moral dilemma that lay at its very heart. How do you deal with that reality? And as a consequence of that, one of the ways in which they dealt with it was to see the expulsion of 700,000 people from their cities, from their towns and villages, and the destruction of all of them…

    Henry Siegman, President of the US/Middle East Project. Former executive director of the American Jewish Congress as well as the Synagogue Council of America.

  2. 2
    Diane Duprix Says:

    Exactly my experience Thanks Di

    Sent from my iPad


  3. 3
    mushafta Says:

    I’m very impressed to read Bishop Thomas Gumbleton’s article in this weeks’ NCR where he comments on the child’s killing of a gun instructor and the violence we are witnessing around us.

    I believe Gumbleton correctly interprets the gospel of Jesus.

    “We’re all aware of what happened last week — that 9-year-old child being taught how to fire a submachine gun, and when it threw her back and she lost control, the person trying to teach her was shot in the head and killed. But what are we thinking when we want to train our children in that kind of violence? Could that ever be the way of Jesus? I don’t think, if we listen to what Jesus says to his disciples about “taking up your cross, denying your very self and following me.”

    When he was being arrested and taken off to be put to death, and one of the disciples raised a sword, not a submachine gun. Jesus said, “Put it away! Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Those who live by violence will die by violence.” There’s one other way — it’s God’s way. It’s the way of love. Peace, forgiveness and love: these are of Christ. Taking in the stranger, giving food to the poor, drink to those who are thirsty, all of these things — love, reaching out, bringing about the transformation of our world through the dynamic, fascinating power of love — that’s the way of Jesus.

    “If you want to be my disciple,” Jesus says to us today, “deny your very selves, take up your cross, and follow me. My way, God’s way.” The way to peace in our world, the way to fullness of life for all of us — the way of Jesus. If we take some time to reflect on these Scriptures today, perhaps we can deepen that effort within ourselves to be transformed, to be changed, to be truly the disciples of Jesus, following him and following God’s way — the way of love, the way to fullness of peace.”

    [Homily given at St. Ann Catholic Church in Frankfort, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton’s homilies are posted weekly to Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]

RSS Feed for this entry

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: