Jesuit priest defends Israel in pages of “America” magazine

"Our growing moral obsession with the mote in Israel’s eye is disturbing."

The Rev. John J. Conley, S.J., who holds the Knott Chair in Philosophy and Theology at Loyola University Maryland (Baltimore, Md), has written a somewhat surprising—but welcome, in my estimation—piece, titled “For Israel”, in America about the constant, one-sided attacks on Israel. And by “attacks,” I’m not referring to Hamas rockets and bombs, but the typical MSM reports and Ivory Tower rants and rages. Fr. Conley writes:

Several months ago I received an email marked urgent from one of the professional organizations to which I belong. Addressed to “Concerned Faculty Member,” the missive urged me to sign a statement promising that I would not teach, lecture or offer any other assistance to any school located in Israel. It instructed me to participate in the campaign to boycott, divest in and sanction Israel (B.D.S.) on the grounds that Israel was an apartheid state engaged in war crimes and human rights violations against Palestinians. The message implored me to encourage the board of trustees of my institution to divest from any businesses operating in Israel or in the adjacent occupied territories. An attached photo with a hand emerging from a pile of gray rubble was captioned, “Your American tax dollars at work.” Perhaps I would like to hang the photo on the door of my office.

My reaction was simple. Why was Israel being singled out for such condemnation? Was its treatment of religious minorities less tolerant than that practiced by its neighbor Saudi Arabia? Did it fail to match the high human rights standards set by the chemical-weapons-using regime of neighboring Syria? Was the occupation of the West Bank more brutal than the longstanding illegal annexation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China? Why weren’t Concerned Philosophers flooding our business meetings with motions to boycott Saudi Arabia or Syria or China? Why was Israel—and Israel alone these days—singled out for such bitter excoriation?

He goes on to say that he responded to the boycott request by letting it be known that he “was applying for a Fulbright Fellowship to work in Israel, preferably at Hebrew University. I attached a photo of the stainless steel menorah I had just placed beneath the crucifix in my office.”

Fr. Conley also noted that he received three communications “from Catholic organizations condemning the Israeli attack on territories within the Gaza Strip.” Yet he heard nothing from those or similar organizations condemning the missile attacks by Hamas. “None of them,” he notes, “mentions the bias-related murder of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank in June.”

Hamas, for those who might not know, has the singular goal of destroying the State of Israel and killing as many Jews as possible. The Covenant of Hamas, for example, states: “‘The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine” (Article 6). Not clear enough? Read Article 7: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.'” Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?

What about giving peace a chance? Nope: “[Peace] initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement… Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the infidels as arbitrators in the lands of Islam… There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility” (Article 13). In short, Hamas has a clear and radical agenda, and it doesn’t care much the morality involved in making it a reality.

Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader and a convert to Christianity, says compromise with Hamas is ultimately impossible:

“Hamas does not care about the lives of Palestinians, or the lives of Israelis, or Americans; they don’t care about their own lives,” Yousef said. “They consider dying for their ideology a way of worship. Hamas is not seeking coexistence and compromise; Hamas is seeking conquest.”

While many believe that Hamas’ goal is to destroy Israel, Yousef says that’s not exactly true. Their “final destination,” he says, is to build an Islamic state “on the rubble of every other civilization.” …

In the mosques, Hamas told us that without shedding innocent blood for the sake of the ideology, we will not be able to build an Islamic state,” Yousef told [CNN host] Lemon. “They were preparing us from the age as young as five years old. This is the ideology that Hamas was feeding us.”

Fr. Conley is not blind, of course, to the imperfections of Israel, saying “the State of Israel should not be immune from criticism. … Nonetheless, our growing moral obsession with the mote in Israel’s eye is disturbing. This scapegoating suggests that an ancient, lethal prejudice has yet to die.”

In many ways, the obsessive, relentless notion of Israel-bashing reminds me of the relentless, obsessive bashing of the Catholic Church for the clergy sex scandals—the sort of bashing that is not satisfied with exposing the evils of certain men, but insists on destroying the entire institution. Many of those who constantly fixate on the scandals as if they reveal the deepest nature and mission of the Church have little or no interest in addressing the serious problem of molestation within other institutions, such as public schools, Hollywood, or other religious groups.

To bring that up immediately elicits a claim of “hypocrisy” and worse, as if pointing to a wider problem is the same as denying the problem has existed in the Church. But it’s not. Likewise, pointing out the goals, actions, and atrocities committed by Islamic groups such as Hamas is not a dismissal of Israeli faults, but a reminder that such a myopic obsession says far more about the ideological blinders of the accusers than it does about what is really going on. 

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.