Why Can't You Criticize Israel And The Vatican?

Oh, I don’t mean literally. Of course you can criticize Israel and the Vatican. However, you should prepare yourself for the slings and arrows that will be returned to you. This is a curious phenomena in our country (and perhaps elsewhere). I swear, you could go to any active Facebook page and just type the single word ‘Pope’ or ‘Israel’ and catch heat for it. As a social experiment, it might even be worth trying. I’ve considered it myself, but then it occurred to me that it was a cheap thing to do and probably wouldn’t be worth the blowback. But if you don’t believe it, just try it.

You might think–especially if you are liberal/progressive–that criticizing Israel Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, would be right in your wheel house. He’s hardly a moderate. He talks about a 2 state solution with the Palestinians and then expands the construction of settlements into disputed territory, and no one rattles a saber quite like Bibi. You would think that, but you would likely be wrong. Some of the most vitriolic responses I have ever seen on Facebook have been over criticism of the Israeli government. Notice, I said government, not people or country.

Let’s not forget, a significant amount of foreign aid and support comes from this country to Israel. Aid that is paid for by our tax payer dollars. It seems that would give us every right to be critical of the Netanyahu and his leadership. Hell, Israelis have no issue with expressing their disapproval for Bibi’s job performance. Only 39% of Israelis approve of the job Netanyahu is doing as the leader of their country. In fact the most recent elections in Israel were considered a rejection of Netanyahu’s Likud party and are forcing him back to the middle as the upstart moderate Yesh Atid party took a surprising number of parliament seats.

Which brings me to my last point. Netanyahu is deeply conservative. So much so that his favorability among Israelis who consider themselves liberal is 86%…negative. When Netanyahu addressed congress last year, there were whispers among Republicans that they wish that guy could have run instead of the cast of characters they were dealing with in their primaries at the time. It’s well know that our Democratic President is no fan. The relationship between the two runs cold and hot–and by hot I mean disagreeable, not friendly. Obama does not find Netanyahu serious about a two-state solution, and Bibi would like a much more hawkish tone from the President in regards to Iran and their potential nuclear capability. In short, they don’t like each other, whereas most democrats and liberals (despite what you may have heard) are pretty favorable to the President.

So why can’t we criticize Israel without getting hammered by other liberals? I’ll come back to that.

On to the Vatican, where much the same holds true. Last week we saw the introduction of a new Pope. Cardinal Joseph Bergoglio, of Argentina. There was a fair amount of praise directed at the decision to name the first ever Pope from Latin America. On some level, it is fair to call that progress. Taking the name of Francis (after Saint Francis of Assisi), it is also well known that the new Pope is a champion of the poor. Which no one could argue is not only a good thing, but a pretty progressive one too. Few have argued that he is not an upgrade over Pope Benedict. However, when on looks past his position on poverty, there are areas of genuine concern.

Like all that came before him, Pope Francis does not believe in equal opportunity within the church for women or equal rights for gays outside of it. To say nothing of his weak political stance during Argentina’s “Dirty War.” Of course, it’s hardly a shock that a 76-year-old man steeped in the traditions of the Vatican would hold these positions, and it’s more than fair to say that he would have never been considered had he expressed any other opinion. But does that mean it should be ignored? Name me any other institution that any liberal or progressive would cheer if they hired a person with those views to lead it? I patiently await the sound of crickets.

It’s worth mentioning, that not only does Pope Francis disapprove of gay marriage, but he campaigned against it with vigor when Argentina looked to institute same-sex rights in the country in 2010. Once again, no one could be expected to think that he would support it, but should any of us be expected to support such an archaic perspective?

The Catholic Church has been in trouble for a long time. The child sex abuse scandals, the church’s perspectives on gays, women and contraception have left the world’s second largest religion suffering from a short fall of priests and far too many empty pews at their places of worship. The only area of the world where Catholicism is growing is in Latin America. One would be a fool to believe that this crisis has nothing to do with the church’s medieval views of women, gays, and birth control.

In no way am I trying to denigrate rank-and-file Catholics by expressing this concern. In fact, most members of the religion actually are in favor of marriage equality, contraception, and the right of women to become priests. Which brings to mind this question: “If the flock is so far out in front of the shepherd, then who the hell is leading it?”

What we have here is a situation where the idea of criticizing an overtly conservative government or religious institution is considered the same as criticizing all of the people within said government/institution. Even when the people within those groups who call themselves a member agree with you on the basic points.

Why is that? What could explain that sort of disconnect? Well, I have an answer, and it’s hardly a revolutionary one…religion. A subject so personal to people (Jews and Catholics are hardly unique in that) that even a hint of a hard word about that belief from an outsider can be met with derision or vitriol. What I would ask of our Jewish and Catholic liberal friends is to remember that not all of us are bashing their faith or their fellow believers, we are holding their leadership accountable for what we consider far less than progressive decisions. Decisions that you actually agree with us on.

I’m quite sure that you are well aware that Netanyahu and Francis are merely men. They are fallible. They are not God. Supposedly, there’s only one of those. Act accordingly.

Author: David Phillips

What say you, the people?