The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, May 03, 2002  

The Moral Equivalent of Kissing Ariel Sharon

Watch out! The Punditboro is already up in arms regarding a photograph showing Roger Cardinal Etchegaray, a French prelate sent to Bethlehem in an effort -- so far unsuccessful -- to end the Israeli siege of the Church of the Nativity, traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, with Palestianian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat.

One commentator, a certain Steve Denbeste, at whose site we first saw the photograph (our thanks to Andrew Sullivan, in an uproar despite the time constraints posed by this evening's performance of Much Ado About Nothing), refers to Yasir Arafat as "one of the most vile men alive" -- a title we are certain Arafat at least shares with Ariel Sharon.

Denbeste, whose primary interests are black holes and telescopes -- a phase our esteemed editor outgrew at age 13 -- asserts that Cardinal Etchegaray is "willing to clasp the hand that signs checks that pay for suicide bombings."

That's one way of looking at it. Another is to consider that perhaps Cardinal Etchegaray is commending Arafat for his ability to withstand being held hostage, under siege, and under fire, as well as in barely livable conditions, by the venerated Israeli Defense Force for almost six months.

Such hostage-taking, we need not remind readers, is a crime that virtually no political figure in the world other than Arafat would be asked to endure. However, the extraordinary influence of the Israeli lobby in the U.S. virtually guarantees that Arafat and all Palestinians will forever be treated like, well, let's use the words of former Israeli prime ministers: fleas, vermin, and lice.

"I always thought that the Church was supposed to stand for principles, morality, right and wrong, stuff like that," writes Denbeste, clearly venturing far out of his league. "Recently[,] they [sic] seem to be exposed as possibly the most cynically utilitarian organization on earth," he concludes with one great big harrumph.

Now, we're not aware of Denbeste's status as a communicant, but we continue to believe the Catholic Church stands for "principles, morality, right and wrong," and much more than that. Why Denbeste cannot see the disgraceful evidence of Israeli inhumanity that appears in our newspapers and on our news programs every day is a question for which we simply have no answer.

Meanwhile, as of this writing, the Israeli siege of the Church of the Nativity continues. The compound, including Manger Square, is surrounded by IDF forces, and there have been reports of brief gun battless and fires within and near the church within the past 24 hours.

Israel is demanding that the Palestinians leadership, the same group it has worked so hard to decimate in recent weeks, "show responsibility in bringing this crisis to a peaceful and immediate end," according to an Israeli foreign ministry official.

Why the Bush administration has overlooked this entire fiasco is beyond comprehension. We suppose, however, that we're back to the same pattern: No Israeli concessions, no call for Israel to take responsibility, no goodwill gestures needed. No wonder the Arabs don't take the U.S. seriously in regional peace talks.

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