Australia/Israel Review


The Last Word: QandA-ary

Apr 26, 2012 | Jeremy Jones

The Last Word: QandA-ary
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Jeremy Jones

I have known Cardinal George Pell for a number of years, discussed Middle East politics over a kosher meal he arranged for me in his home, worked with him on a range of matters of Catholic-Jewish concern and had any disagreements treated respectfully and graciously. In that light, watching him on ABC television’s Monday “Infotainment” program, “Q & A”, was not a comfortable experience.

Cardinal Pell has a well-earned reputation for his actions in support of a positive and constructive Jewish-Catholic relationship. His “Q & A” comments regarding the Jews of Biblical times and the suffering of peoples in Europe – with the transcript of the program made freely available by the ABC – various responses and Cardinal Pell’s apology, gained international currency.

Personally, I find “Q & A” a frustrating program to watch, partly due to the mix of serious and facile questioning, but mainly as the veneer of serious examination does not hide the way so many complex matters are stripped of context and nuance.

Those who know nothing of Cardinal Pell except for the “Q & A” interview seemed to assume he was a person who holds Jews in contempt and is either ignorant of the Shoah, or, worse, is committed to minimising Jewish suffering and promoting a picture of Germans as those whose plight needs to be memorialised.

Those who know of his record of comments and actions alternatively posited his actions, while positive, have come about despite his beliefs, or that the words he uttered were poorly chosen and/or stripped of necessary further explanation.

With few exceptions, the Christians I know who are active in Christian-Jewish understanding and education “heard” Cardinal Pell say that divine revelation was given to Jews as against more powerful contemporary empires, and that this was meant as a positive for Jews, and further that there had been divine retribution delivered to Germans after, and due to, the Shoah.

Obviously, both these understandings are debatable and contentious, and there is no shortage of scholars and theologians who will provide passionate contra-arguments.
I do not believe they were in any way meant to defame, insult or belittle Jews, but they certainly should be front and centre of the next opportunity Jewish representatives (and others) have to converse with the Cardinal.

On “Q & A” the week after George Pell’s appearance, the philosopher A. C. Grayling was asked a question concerning the announcement that Günter Grass was not permitted to come to Israel in the wake of (but not simply due to) Grass’ pathetic pseudo-poetic polemic against Israel.

The eminent thinker replied in a way which suggested he was so intellectually weak he could not differentiate between a racist, general boycott of a class of person based on nationality (the anti-Israel BDS), and a ruling against a specific individual based on that person’s actions.

One would hope that the philosopher would, if he had thought about it, not made such a comment, but “Q & A” rarely allows for reflection.

To return to Cardinal Pell, one international Jewish news service headlined its article “Australian Catholics [Mel Gibson and the Archbishop of Sydney] go wild”.

Interestingly, when Mel Gibson’s infamous film “The Passion of the Christ” was about to begin its Australian season, Cardinal Pell arranged for a dozen or so Jewish leaders to view the film so he could receive feedback.

The film, full of gratuitous violence and dominated by a narrative which most Christians who commented seemed to find unhelpful for an appreciation of their faith, was not pleasant viewing and, in our collective view, not something which any person sympathetic to Jews should promote.

Cardinal Pell and his colleagues listened to our frank opinions and, under his leadership, sought ways of ensuring that what for some Christians would be spiritually uplifting did not harm Jewish-Christian relations.

That is why, when I have the opportunity to question Cardinal Pell about “Q & A”, I don’t expect the answers to reflect any hostility to Jews or Judaism.

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