July 2, 2004
Restitution and Justice
I would like to correct two misconceptions that can arise from the otherwise important June 18 article on property restitution (“Court Actions Highlight Lack of Special Rep on Restitution”).
First, while I believe that it remains important for the Bush administration to have a senior political representative work on Holocaust restitution issues on a sustained basis — as I did during the Clinton administration — this should not be taken as any lack of confidence in the job being done by my former chief of staff, Ambassador Edward O’Donnell, who heads the State Department’s Office of Holocaust Assets. O’Donnell and his small staff have been enormously dedicated to Holocaust restitution issues and more broadly in dealing with antisemitism in Europe. O’Donnell’s devotion to this cause is exemplary and would be further enhanced by having one presidential envoy at a senior political level with Holocaust-era issues in his or her portfolio.
Second, I have to express surprise at the criticism leveled by Thane Rosenbaum that the agreements we reached in the Clinton administration somehow failed to provide moral justice in the form of apologies or meaningful memorials. In fact, we were devoted to the concept that money should not be the last memory of the Holocaust. We were able to get the presidents of Germany and Austria to issue public apologies for their companies’ abuse of slave and forced laborers. The German agreement has an important “Future Fund” to support projects promoting tolerance. We held four international conferences with more than 40 countries encouraging them to open their archives, and established 21 formal historical commissions to look at their role in handling Jewish assets in World War II.
Perhaps the most lasting memorial will be the work of the 16-nation Holocaust Education Task Force we created, which O’Donnell and his colleagues have strongly supported. This will teach future generations of children the long-term lessons of the Holocaust: what happens when good people and nations stand on the sidelines in the face of gross injustice and when intolerance goes unchecked. All this provided a moral dimension to our work, beyond the important funds now available to elderly Holocaust survivors.
Former Special Representative for the President
and Secretary of State on Holocaust Issues
Howard Earned Award
Opinion writer Geoffrey Brahm Levey is certainly entitled to criticize the decision by the American Jewish Committee to award the American Liberties Medallion to Australian Prime Minister John Howard (“Honoring Australia for Misguided Policies,” June 25). But he is not entitled to his own facts.
While a detailed examination of the complexities of Australian domestic politics is not possible here, the issues on which Levey condemns Howard are certainly not as straightforward as he maintains. For example, the Australian position on mandatory detention of unauthorized immigrants was instituted by the Labor opposition when it was in government, and it is still shared by both parties. Immigration intake, however, has risen under Howard — this year by 30%. Australian multiculturalism, which relies on balancing rights and responsibilities, is arguably stronger than ever.
More could be done in relation to war crimes investigations, but this government has made significant positive changes to the law to enable suspected war criminals to be extradited to their countries of origin for trial. Despite domestic debates about funding specifics, the Australian public and private education systems, both government funded, remain among the best in the world, including our community’s extensive network of Jewish day schools.
Contrary to Levey’s comments about the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, we are entirely bipartisan and mainstream in our makeup and activities: There are directors, editorial board members and employees who are members of or affiliated with both major parties. Also contrary to Levey’s assertions, the two of us have strong ties to both sides of politics in Australia and in Israel, but are “activists” in neither.
We are flattered that Levey believes we are sufficiently influential to convince our associates in the AJCommittee to award its highest honor to whomever we recommend, but this is simply not the case.
However, we are fully supportive of the independent decision by the AJCommittee to award Howard for all of the reasons stated at the ceremony, including his staunch and longstanding friendship for the Australia Jewish community, Israel and the United States; his steadfastness in the war on terrorism; and his many actions in furtherance of human freedom from East Timor to the Middle East.
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council
South Melbourne, Australia
Internal Catholic Affairs Should Remain Internal
The June 25 editorial “Affirming Life” is the most anti-Catholic editorial I have ever read. For a Jewish newspaper to lecture Catholic bishops about the propriety of denying Communion to pro-abortion Catholic lawmakers is the height of arrogance and intolerance. Quite simply, the internal affairs of the Catholic Church is none of the Forward’s business.
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
New York, N.Y.
The June 25 editorial on Catholic bishops who would punish Catholic officials for their abortion stance echoes a debate raging within the church itself. Social teachings of the church encompass a range of issues, from the morality of war to capital punishment to life in the womb.
As David Batstone, a theology professor at the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco, writes to the bishops in Sojourners magazine: “It is precisely because I am so familiar with the tradition that I am perplexed why you have chosen the abortion issue as a litmus test…. Sorry to speak so boldly, but you have no basis for so selectively narrowing your rich moral tradition.”
Many of us who oppose the war, and abortion, share his view.
Pope John Paul II opposed the war and sent a cardinal to try and dissuade President Bush from invading Iraq. Why have the American bishops not raised a clarion cry against a war that many of them privately oppose? The politics of this double standard are worth exploring.
The bishops are struggling to regain moral standing lost by media coverage of the way they concealed child molesting priests throughout many decades. By casting their lot with Republican Evangelicals and the Bush administration on the single issue of abortion, the bishops are trying to repair their scandal-battered image.
In so doing, they draw a lens not just to a double standard by ignoring the horrendous logic of this war, but also on their own hypocrisy of preaching sanctity of life in the womb while sheltering thousands of clergy child molesters. They have not yet slogged out of the abuse scandal and by engaging in partisan politics, they are bound to make it worse.
New Orleans, La.
The writer is author of “Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II.”
As a Catholic who spends a good deal of time reading the Jewish press, I must admit to being surprised not by the Forward’s pro-abortion stance — which is a matter of legitimate disagreement in our free society — but by the near-hysterical tone of the editorial “Affirming Life.”
The editorial descends to language evocative of Nativist anti-Catholicism by stating, for example, that those Catholic bishops who might exercise their right of conscience as priests to give or not give Communion to other Catholics based on criteria internal to the Catholic faith constitute a “threat” and an “affront to democracy.” Such bishops, the
editorial opines, are “trying to bludgeon believers into substituting obedience for conscience” — which is old code language, of course. One can debate the wisdom of such a stance, but calling it un-American is, frankly, an affront to all believers of any tradition in which religious faith influences life — which is to say all religions.
The tone of the article is especially surprising coming after a carefully nuanced statement by the bishops that, as the Forward notes, “did not require denial of Communion,” but left the matter where it always has been: in the prudential judgment of individual bishops in particular situations, which differ greatly.
Why, then, the Forward’s hysteria? And on what grounds does the Forward justify its attempt to define for Catholics what “the best moral teachings of Catholicism” are? The basic principle of interreligious dialogue is that each group is allowed to define its own teachings and not have them defined by the other. I would humbly submit that even Catholics should be accorded that right.
Secretariat for Ecumenical
and Interreligious Relations
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops