Rabbi outraged by Brennan "ghetto" comments

Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan has apologised for hurt caused by remarks describing conditions in Bethlehem as "ghetto-like" after a Melbourne rabbi said he "felt sickened" by what he characterised as the human right activist's "politically charged speech".

Fr Brennan, who visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last year, made the reference to the "ghetto-like conditions of Bethlehem" during a Holocaust memorial ceremony, the Australian Jewish News reports.

He said this week he "readily acknowledged" the inappropriateness of his remark at the annual NSW Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) Kristallnacht ceremony at Martin Place, Sydney last Friday.

"I am apologising for any hurt which was caused by the phraseology in my text," he said.

However, Fr Brennan, who now lectures at ACU National and Notre Dame University, has contested some accusations by the Great Synagogue's Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence and other CCJ members, who claimed he also spoke of the "disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people", the report says.

Although his speech was neither written nor recorded, Fr Brennan said in a letter to Rabbi Lawrence he intended to refer to Bethlehem as "ghetto-like" or perceived by many Palestinians living there as a "ghetto".

Rabbi Lawrence was so outraged by the "ghetto" remark he immediately sent a letter of complaint to the CCJ.

Ghettos were established by the Nazis during World War II to confine Jews into tightly packed areas, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of people.

It was "singularly inappropriate and distasteful" to make "a parallel between Hitler's persecution of the Jews and Israeli policy to Palestinians", Rabbi Lawrence wrote. "That suggestion is grotesquely offensive".

But according to the report, Rabbi Richard Lampert, emeritus rabbi at North Shore Temple Emanuel, said he was not so offended.

"I thought his [Fr Brennan's] words were, to some extent, inappropriate but I wasn't overly offended. I think that people have a right to speak about the Palestinian condition, but it was the wrong forum. Perhaps he could have chosen a different message for this occasion."

A statement issued by the CCJ this week said it "deplores the analogy drawn between Israel and Nazi Germany. Israel is a democratic state with an enfranchised Christian and Muslim population, represented in the Knesset. In Nazi Germany, Jews were disenfranchised, denied permission to work and were rounded up for systematic slaughter."

But Fr Brennan said he was "deeply troubled that anyone could think I would draw such an analogy".

"Like you," he told Rabbi Lawrence at a meeting today, "I would find such a suggestion 'grotesquely offensive'".

Jesuit priest apologises for 'ghetto' remark at Holocaust ceremony (Australian Jewish News, 16/11/06)
Apology to Rabbi Jeremy & text of Kristallnacht Memorial Service remarks (Fr Frank Brennan, 17/11/06)
Update: Statement by Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence regarding meeting with Fr Frank Brennan (20/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence
Great Synagogue
Council of Christians and Jews (Victoria)
Vatican II Declaration on the relation of the Church to Non-Christian religions (Vatican)
Bethlehem Ghetto Blogspot
Ghetto (Wikipedia) | Ghettos in occupied Europe 1939-1944 (Wikipedia)

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17 Nov 2006