The Rabbi and the Pope

Elio Toaff, who passed away on Sunday, served as chief rabbi of Rome for 51 years. He is perhaps best remembered for orchestrating Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Rome synagogue in 1986. George Weigel reflects on the warm relationship between the two religious leaders, and their shared legacy:

John Paul II and Elio Toaff shared a vision of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue that went far beyond the necessary . . . clean-up of the detritus from a past riddled with prejudice and suffering—and worse. That was a necessary first step. But it was only a first step. Recognizing that Auschwitz was “the Golgotha of the modern world” (as John Paul II put it when he was there in 1979)—a singular monument to what happens when humanity forgets God—was absolutely essential. But it was not an end. It was only a beginning, for the next question was, and is: how shall we build barriers against such atrocities in the future? . . .

The new outbreak of virulent anti-Semitism in Europe and in parts of North America (think: Montreal) is, as Theodor Herzl understood more than a century ago, a sign that something is seriously awry in the moral culture of the West. When the fever chart of anti-Semitism spikes upward, it is always a sign that the patient—the West—is in mortal danger. And it is in danger in no small part because it has forgotten the biblical roots of the Western civilizational enterprise: for the foundational Western metaphor of freedom and human liberation is not the Enlightenment (and still less the French Revolution) but the Exodus, which both Jews and Christians recently remembered and celebrated at Passover and Easter. And the Exodus is a liberation completed by a moral code that is intended to help the newly free rid themselves of the habits of slaves—the bad habits that derive from willfulness and self-absorption.

So in rebuilding the spiritual and moral foundations of the West as an essential part of meeting the challenges posed by violent and irrational nationalism (read: Russia) and violent, irrational religious passion (read: jihadism)—challenges that will emphatically not be met by nihilism (read: Charlie Hebdo) and bullying in the name of a false notion of “tolerance” (read: recent events in Indiana)—what might the West in the 21st century learn from the encounter of John Paul II and Elio Toaff: two men who knew the agony of the 20th century in their bones and who rose above the temptations of retribution to sketch a different path into the future?

Read more at National Review

More about: Anti-Semitism, Catholic Church, Italian Jewry, Jewish-Christian relations, John Paul II, Rome


What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security