So the Pope’s been in Israel. Lots of handshakes, media hype, and pressure from the gamut of NGOs. And the Pope made all the right moves: calling for a Palestinian state, condemning Holocaust denial, walking out when a Muslim cleric went too far in an anti-Israel tirade, and holding a mass in Bethlehem. He’s even going ecumenical, meeting Orthodox priests on Friday.
But, let’s face it, he’s navigating a minefield.
Some Jewish leaders, including former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau and Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, criticized Benedict’s speech for being “understated” and not emphatic enough. Read the related IJN editorial
At an interfaith meeting the Pope was upstaged by Muslim cleric Taysir Tamimi, also the PA’s chief justice, who went off on a bitter anti-Israel tirade, prompting the Pontiff to leave the forum.
So all we’re left with is some guy trying to satisfy all parties. And just because he has a fancy title and is bedecked in jewels, certainly doesn’t mean he will succeed where all others have thus far failed.
And, of course, Benedict brings with him his own set of baggage. As a child he was a member of Hitler Youth – albeit every German child was encouraged to join. As Pope he stoked the ire of the Muslim community during a 2006 lecture in which he made an unfavourable comment about Islam, quoting a 14th century Byzantine emporer. And many in the Catholic community are wary of his predilection for conservative theology.
In a region of the world that is already so divided, the Pope is hardly a unifying bearer of peace. His only mark of success will if he manages to escape without having made any serious gaffes.