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Pax Christi charged with anti-Semitism in Europe

JERUSALEM (SE): The president of the Austrian branch of the worldwide Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, Bishop Manfred Scheuer, has resigned from his position in protest against what he described as anti-Semitic leanings in the movement.
The Jerusalem Post reported on July 5 that the bishop of Linz parted ways with Pax Christi because of its criticism of policies coming out of Jerusalem, which he believes are tinged with an anti-Semitic attitude.
“I am convinced that because of the Shoah, a special responsibility and sensitivity is necessary in Germany and Austria toward the State of Israel,” the bishop said in commenting on Pax Christi International’s support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign targeting the Jewish state.
However, The Jerusalem Post added that Bishop Scheuer also has issues over anti-Semitism in his own diocese of Linz, the third biggest city in Austria, over verbal attacks on members of the Jewish community during a lecture given in late May by Salah Abdel Shafi, the Palestinian ambassador to Austria and to the United Nations in Vienna.
KathPress reported that during the event, which was sponsored by Pax Christi, Shafi spoke on The Middle East Conflict and the Role of the European Union during which insults were levelled at author, Anna Mitgutch, a representative of the Jewish community in Linz, in addition to two others from the community.
In an interview with the local Catholic newspaper, Linz Kirchenzeitung, Mitgutch described the language used during the evening event as a new flare-up of anti-Semitism.
However, Shafi, a Gaza City-born economist, said he was left bemused, as he had no recollection of any language that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic being used.
He was quoted by The Jerusalem Post on July 5 as saying, “At no time can I remember that anyone made any anti-Semitic comments” and that he was surprised by the bishop’s quick resignation.
While the issue of the language used remains unclear, Gerald Steinberg, from the Monitor, a Jerusalem-based non-government organisation, told The Jerusalem Post on July 4 that the resignation of the Austrian bishop marks an important turning point.
He explained that a member of the Catholic hierarchy in Europe resigning and openly criticising Pax Christi is highly significant.
“By highlighting the anti-Semitism, Bishop Scheuer’s resignation might also lead the Vatican to issue long overdue guidelines for Pax Christi and other Catholic non-government organisations, such as Misoerer in Germany, that promote the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions,” Steinberg said.
Bishop Scheuer said he shares the concerns of the Jewish community over what he termed a growing anti-Semitism in Europe. “Every form of anti-Semitism is disgraceful and should be sharply criticised,” Bishop Scheuer was reported as saying.
He added that anti-Semitism should have no place in Austria or anywhere else, pointing out that Churches, society and politicians must decisively fight anti-Semitism.
Bishop Scheuer lamented, “People have forgotten history and are not aware of the entire catastrophe of the Shoah.”
He then cited Pope Francis as saying in a statement: “It is impossible to be a Christian and at the same time an anti-Semite.”
Pax Christi International has 30 national branches and the one in Germany lists its bank account for donations to be used in promoting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign.
Elvira Groezinger, from the German branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told The Jerusalem Post, “It is high time for such a step like the one by the bishop of Linz. Pax Christi is also one of the most notorious supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign in Germany as well. For instance, only recently in the city of Essen it co-organised a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign event with an anti-Israel Jew. There was no protest from the mayor there.”
She then cited the example of the mayor of Jena in East Germany, Albrecht Schröter, who had joined the Pax Christ boycott of Israel in 2012 and has since faced allegations of stoking hatred of Jews and Israel in Germany.
Groezinger said, “The mayor of Jena has supported it in the past and was heavily criticised for that. All these local politicians, but above all the heads of the Catholic Church should now follow the Linz bishop’s example. He has put them to shame by showing that moral and ethical integrity are totally absent in Pax Christi circles.”
Steinberg maintains that Pax Christi has put its shoulder behind the Palestinian cause in lobbying the European Union to suspend economic relations with Israel and repeats the Palestinian accusations against Israel of enforcing collective punishment and using unjustified and disproportionate force in its altercations with Gaza.
However, Pax Christi says it believes that the moment has arrived for a change in approach  to addressing the situation in the region.
It says that what is necessary is a renewed Palestinian-Israeli peace process and also that the time has come for a renewed commitment to end the violence and to reach a just and sustainable solution guaranteeing the fundamental rights of both Israelis and Palestinians in accordance with international law.
A statement on its website says, “Pax Christi International is committed to an approach which protects human rights, promotes peace and respects international law. We call on both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to adhere to international humanitarian and human rights laws.”
It continues, “We believe that the global justice system can play an important role in stopping violations of international law… We believe that the global justice system can play an important role in stopping violations of international law.”

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