Pope Benedict was never going to please his critics in Israel, so it’s not surprising that today’s headlines were almost all negative about his speech at Yad Vashem yesterday. Reading the English-language press this morning, I was interested in seeing the nuances in the different reactions. Here are a few examples of what I found:
In Haaretz, the main headline read “Survivors angered by Benedict’s ‘lukewarm’ speech.’” That story focused on the reaction from Yad Vashem officials as we reported yesterday. You can see a PDF of its front page here. The two commentaries were more nuanced than the main story. (Photo: Pope Benedict at Yad Vashem, 11 May 2009/Yannis Behrakis)
Tom Segev’s front-page analysis “Someone in Rome chose ‘killed’” focused on the way Benedict described the Holocaust victims’ fate: “He inexplicably said Jews “were killed,” as if it had been an unfortunate accident. On the surface, this may seem unimportant: Israelis often use the same term, and they do not need the pope to tell them about the Holocaust, which today is a universal code for absolute evil. But the word the pope used is significant because someone in the Holy See decided to write “were killed” instead of “murdered” or “destroyed.” The impression is that the cardinals argued among themselves over whether Israelis “deserve” for the pope to say “were murdered” and decided they only deserve “were killed.” It sounded petty.
Even the recurring use of the term “tragedy” seemed like an attempt to avoid saying the real thing. The verbal stinginess Benedict displayed last night also diminishes the impact of anything he might say about Palestinian suffering. Had he said what he needed to on the Holocaust, he could have said more to condemn Israel’s systematic violation of the human rights of residents of the West Bank and Gaza..
In “Speaking to his own flock,” Lily Galili said Benedict wasn’t actually speaking to Jews in his address, but to Catholics. “It isn’t his fault that we were disappointed. We don’t understand the Catholic Church and its dogma. At Yad Vashem yesterday, he was not addressing the Jews. Like any leader he used words that would be understood by his support base, the Church’s one billion adherents around the world.” She said Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, opposed the sweeping Millennium apology that Pope John Paul made for all the sins committed by the Church. But Benedict had become more flexible since becoming pope, she argued. “Considering his reputation as a conservative, his visit to Israel in itself is a big compromise.”