- Cross on the Star of David: The Christian World in Israel's Foreign Policy, 1948-1967
This book should be required reading for all Vatican diplomats, and for those who study twentieth-century Vatican diplomacy. This is not because it gets the Vatican side of the diplomacy with Israel right. It often doesn't. Rather, it will help readers understand how the other side interprets Vatican diplomatic maneuvers, and this is a crucial test case with core values and needs at stake, both politically and religiously, on both sides.
Uri Bialer, who holds the Maurice Hexler chair in International Relations– Middle East Studies at Hebrew University, has published two previous books on Israeli diplomacy, and had available for this volume recently released archives of the Israeli government. An equivalent Catholic study of the Holy See's side of the events narrated here, of course, will have to await the release of the remainder of the Vatican's archives of the Secretariat of State for the pontificates of Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI.
I would estimate that roughly two-thirds of this book deals with Israeli-Vatican relations, which is of interest because the large majority of Israeli Christians are not Catholic, but Orthodox, and Israel's chief international ally is the United States, a country whose world view has been dominated by Protestant Christianity.
Bailer's scholarly attention is focused on the years after the establishment of the State of Israel. For what led up to it, and for the Vatican's role in the United Nations' debate on it, he relies on the standard Jewish sources, particularly [End Page 342] Sergio Minerbi, who felt that the Holy See harbored an implacable theological animus against the very idea of a Jewish state in the Holy Land because of the ancient teaching of contempt which held that the Temple was destroyed and the Jews exiled from their homeland because of their alleged collective guilt for the death of Jesus.
True, this idea was commonly held among Christians before the Second Vatican Council's declaration Nostra Aetate in 1965. But it was not really the motivating factor in Vatican reactions to Zionism, as Bialer, following Minerbi, erroneously alleges. Bialer, for example, cites the negative response of Pope Pius X to Theodore Herzl's 1904 appeal. Herzl's diary, however, recounts only what Pius said, not what he said to Pius. If Herzl, as is likely, gave the same grandiose, eschatological arguments about the Jewish return to the Land to the Pope that he gave to British evangelicals, the Pope's rejection of millennialist argumentation takes on a different valence. And, in fact, Bialer fails to mention the message sent by Cardinal Merry del Val to Herzl only some days later, that if the gathering of the Jews in Palestine was a humanitarian need, of course the Church would support it.
Bialer illustrates early in his book that the Israelis viewed Vatican officials as harboring an implacable hatred of Jews and therefore (they believed) of Israel. He also shows that many Israeli officials were in consequence opposed to an exchange of ambassadors with the Holy See. But there is no evidence in Catholic sources, such as the Actes et Documents, to support such theological hostility to Israel as a state. Rather, there is, and this is what in fact Bialer's book deals with and deals with quite well, overwhelming evidence that the Holy See in the years leading up to the UN partition vote, supported it, tacitly if not publicly, because of its inclusion of the internationalization of Jerusalem. Indeed, the Catholic countries of the world, especially Latin America, provided the votes, virtually as a bloc, for the very creation of Israel, which would not have been possible if the Vatican had in any way actively opposed the creation of Israel as a Jewish state. The Vatican did not retreat from its support for internationalization until 1967, when it changed...