‘It’s Really About Education’

September 12, 2013
BY Eric Hal Schwartz
Catholics discuss religious freedom in Israel
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick,  archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., says it is not too late for peace in the Middle East. (Ed Pfueller/The Catholic University of America)

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick,
archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., says it is not too late for peace in the Middle East.
(Ed Pfueller/The Catholic University of America)

Discussing conditions in Israel and the Middle East, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., said that “twilight has fallen on the possibility of a two-state solution” but added that despite the real and enormous challenges, it is not too late for peace in the region.

The crowd of Catholic leaders, clergy and invited guests listened attentively as the cardinal gave his keynote address as part of the conference called “Religious Freedom and Human Rights — Path to Peace in the Holy Land — That All May be Free.” Held Monday at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., conference attendees represented a diverse sample of Catholic interest groups and organizations. The conference was sponsored by a similarly wide spectrum of groups — the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America and Catholic Relief Services.

The speakers — Christian, Jewish and Muslim — covered issues of human rights and religious liberty in Israel and the Palestinian territories. In talking through the problems and issues, all of the speakers brought forth ideas on how to encourage peace and improve the lives of everyone living in the region.

Much of the day’s discussion rev-olved around Israeli religious policies for minorities and the interaction of the Israeli government with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. McCarrick said he sees the growth of Israeli settlements as a real danger to the peace process.

“Recognizing Israel’s shortcomings is crucial,” said Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “But they must be understood in context. The relationship between religion and state is complicated.”

Berkowitz spoke as a respondent to McCarrick and discussed a lot of the positive aspects of life in Israel for religious minorities. While acknowledging the validity of the concerns under discussion about Israeli policies, he said a one-sided story is often told in the world media.

“Verifiable and illuminating facts about freedom in Israel are overlooked in Western reporting,” he said, citing as an example Israeli tolerance of peaceful demonstrations in support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt while the Palestinian Authority detained and arrested many who did the same.

The conference ended on a hopeful note of future reconciliation and peaceful tolerance for all who travel to the region; the daunting task of getting there should always get its due, McCarrick said. On that, there was general agreement from his audience.

“It’s really all about education,” Bishop Denis Madden said. “Today won’t solve the big problems, but people will go home and think about what they’ve learned.”

Eric Hal Schwartz writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.

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