West Bank Wall shocks German bishops

German bishops visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories on a peace mission have been accused of anti-Semitism after one bishop compared West Bank conditions with the Warsaw ghetto.

Haaretz reports that the comments came during a seven day visit by bishops and representatives of 27 German dioceses to Israel including visits to holy sites.

On a trip to the Palestinian town of Ramallah after an earlier visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority, Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke had said to reporters that during the visit to Yad Vashem, the group had seen "the pictures from the Warsaw Ghetto and in the evening we are travelling to Ghetto Ramallah".

Earlier, when the group crossed the separation fence, Cardinal Joachim Meisner told reporters that "something like this is done to animals, not to human beings."

Meisner, the Archbishop of Cologne, is from the former East Germany. "I never in my life thought to see something like this again," he said.

At Yad Vashem, the clerics met with Deputy Premier Shimon Peres and asked about the state of the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They expressed a desire to assist in bringing peace to the region.

Hanke said visiting Vad Vashem, Israel's memorial to Jewish victims of the Nazi regime, and then touring the Palestinian territories made him "mad as hell".

Another bishop, Walter Mixa, from Augsburg, also spoke of Palestinians facing "ghetto-isation with almost racist characteristics," another newspaper, the Frankfurter Rundschau, reported.

Asked by German press agency, DPA to confirm this, Mixa said he had wished to express his concern about the peace process.

"I also wanted to say that building the wall between Israel and the Palestinian autonomous areas, as well as the many Israeli settlements, amounts to a degree of provocation from the point of view of the Palestinian population," he said.

"With friends like them, who needs enemies?" said Dieter Graumann, deputy president of the German Council of Jews.

"Anyone who compares the condition of the Palestinians with the sufferings of the Jews in the ghettoes under the Nazis has learned nothing from history," he said. "These remarks were anti-Semitic in character."

Asked by a German news agency on Tuesday if he had been correctly quoted and he said, "I just wanted to express my personal grief." He said the immediate impression had been shocking to him.

"A comparison between the events of the Holocaust and the contemporary situation in Palestine is not acceptable and was not intended," he said.

The incident mirrors the row in the Jewish media last year over alleged "ghetto" comments by Australian Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan. Fr Brennan said he was misquoted in an ad-lib speech delivered at the Kristallnacht Commemoration ceremony in November.

German Catholic bishops' views on Ramallah upset Jewish leaders (EUX TV, 7/7/06)
German bishop compares Ramallah to Warsaw Ghetto (Haaretz, 7/7/06)
German bishops liken Palestinians's plight to Nazi Jewish victims (IRNA, 67/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Joachim Meissner (Wikipedia)
Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke (Catholic Hierarchy)
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)

Jewish scholar courts controversy over "blood libel" claims (CathNews, 12/2/07)
Rabbi outraged by Brennan "ghetto" comments (CathNews, 17/11/06)
Arab historian claims Jews manipulating Pope (CathNews, 7/5/01)

8 Mar 2007