Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Pope Walks Out. Or Does He?

Having been forced to listen to a Palestinian judge's anti-Israeli diatribe at an interfaith gathering to promote dialogue, Pope Benedict XVI walked out of the meeting.

The speech by the Chief Judge of the Palestinian Sharia Court, Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi, had not been planned.

After the Pope delivered his prepared remarks yesterday, Tamimi hijacked the microphone and launched a tirade against Israel. He accused Israel of war crimes against the Palestinian people and appealed for Christians and Muslims to join together to fight Israel.

You did not have to understand Arabic to know that he was talking jihad. And keep in mind that he was not just any old judge. He was an important jurist who represents moderate Palestinians.

The Pope responded by getting up, shaking Timimi's hand, and walking out of the meeting... thus cutting it short.

For those who had missed the point, the Vatican press office issued an explicit denunciation of Tamimi: "In a meeting dedicated to dialogue this speech was the negation of what dialogue should be."

At a time when Western diplomats of all political persuasions have invested their careers in the notion that they can negotiate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and that said solution would immediately end international terrorism, the Pope was repudiating a cherished belief.

With a single gesture he was reminding them that there are times when dialogue is impossible and when negotiation is a fool's errand.

Yesterday, the Pope exercised moral leadership. We do not see it every day.

The gesture was reported as I have told it in the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, the UPI, the London Daily Telegraph, the Irish Times, and the Times of London.

Press organs that are more invested in dialogue and negotiation at any price took a different approach. They changed the facts.

CNN reported that the Pope "did not react." The BBC declared that: "The Pope was not seen to react." In the Reuters version: "Tamimi shook the Pope's hand and the meeting broke up as scheduled immediately afterwards." And the New York Times put it this way: "...as soon as Tamimi was finished speaking, Bendict shook his hand and was ushered off the stage by the papal entourage."

Most of these news reports also include the Vatican press statement that flatly contradicts their interpretation.

But they may have another reason for denying reality.

Less than a month ago Barack Obama was roundly criticized for sitting through a 50 minute anti-American diatribe by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Obama did not walk out of that meeting. He responded by making it all into a joke and saying that an attack on America was not an attack on him. His reasoning: he had not been president when the referenced events had happened.

At the time, people who tried to defend Obama responded that it would have been undiplomatic to walk out.

Thus, to defend their beliefs and to defend Obama news reporters were happy to erase the Pope's gesture.

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