One of the most disturbing features of the visceral hostility to Israel displayed by the Anglican Church is its underlying revival of replacement theology, or supersessionism – the ancient Christian calumny that, because of their denial of the divinity of Christ, the Jews have forfeited God’s promises to them which have been transferred to Christians. This pernicious doctrine was the principal motor behind the medieval Christian pogroms against the Jews, and persisted until the Holocaust, after which it went underground until it was revived in recent years and fused with Palestinianism.
As a result, some Anglican theologians now claim that God’s promise to the Jews of the land of Israel is forfeit and has passed instead to the Palestinians.
Until now, the Catholic Church seemed to have wanted to bury this doctrine of replacement theology, with the Second Vatican Council showing an awareness of the role of Christianity in the persecution of the Jews and an apparent desire to put an end for ever to the theology that had fuelled it. But now Rome has reversed itself. At a Vatican press conference on Saturday following a communiqué demanding that Israel accept UN resolutions calling for an end to its ‘occupation’ of Arab lands, bishops appeared to jump from the ‘occupation’ to Israel itself and from politics to theology. The Jerusalem Post reports:
‘The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands,’ Monsignor Cyril Salim Bustros, Greek Melkite archbishop of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Boston, Massachusetts, and president of the ‘Commission for the Message,’ said at Saturday’s Vatican press conference.‘We Christians cannot speak of the “promised land” as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people – all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people. Even if the head of the Israeli state is Jewish, the future is based on democracy. The Palestinian refugees will eventually come back and this problem will have to be solved,’ the Lebanese-born Bustros said.
Where to start?
1) The Bible was not used to justify the return of Jews to Israel. The justification agreed by the world was the unique historic claim to the land of Israel by the Jews, who were the only nation for whom it had ever been their ancestral homeland.
2) There was no ‘displacement of the Palestinians’ when modern Israel was formed. The Arabs tried to displace the Jews and failed. Many of the area’s Arabs fled the fighting intending to return as victors. They lost.
3) It is not clear whether Bustros is claiming merely that Israel’s ‘occupation’ of the disputed territories is unjustifiable, or whether the whole of Israel is ‘occupied’ unjustifiably by the Jews. Taken as a whole, his remarks would seem to be implying the latter. He thus seems to be saying that Israel itself is illegitimate and therefore should no longer exist as a Jewish state because the Jews have no right to their own country.
4) There is no conflict between Israel as a Jewish state and Israel as a democratic state. This is because the Jews are a nation as well as a religion; within the Jewish nation state, minority Israeli citizens have equal political and civil rights.
5) The reason Bustros says the Jews have no right to their own country is not political but theological, because he denies that the Jews are the ‘chosen people’; he claims that this designation has been nullified by Christ, thus making all people chosen. This makes very little sense: it does not explain why, since other people are allowed to have their own nation states, the Jews alone should be singled out to be denied their historic national homeland.
But above all, it is a resurrection of the ancient Christian calumny that the Jews are damned for all time as cosmic exiles on account of their refusal to accept the divinity of Christ. It is therefore a profoundly anti-Jewish statement. Is this merely a rogue outburst by a partisan bishop? If so, the Vatican must immediately distance itself from these remarks. If it does not, it would seem that the Vatican has taken a giant step backwards into a darker age.