BY SARAH DELANEY
SEVERAL prominent Israelis have expressed concern over a statement by the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East which said Jews could not use the Bible to justify injustices.
But tensions increased when a US bishop told reporters at the Synod that Jews could no longer regard themselves as God’s “chosen people” or Israel as “the Promised Land”, because Jesus’s message showed that God loved and chose all people to be his own.
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, said that the final message of the Synod of Bishops reflected the opinion of the Synod itself, while the remarks by Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Bustros of Newton, Massachusetts, were his personal opinion.
The statement by Archbishop Bustros provoked an immediate reaction from Israel. Deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said the Vatican should distance itself from what the bishop said and that the remarks should not be allowed to jeopardise their relations.
Archbishop Bustros spoke at a news conference at the Vatican to present the message agreed upon by the Synod participants.
Fr Lombardi told reporters the final message was “the only approved, written text” issued by the Synod.
He said: “There is a great richness and variety of contributions offered by the Synod fathers that, however, should not be considered as the voice of the Synod in its entirety.” Under the section dedicated to relations with Jews the Synod message warned against inappropriate use of the words of the Bible. It said that “recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable”. It was generally interpreted to refer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In his own elaboration of the passage, Archbishop Bustros said: “For us Christians, you can no longer speak of a land promised to the Jewish people.” The coming of Christ, Archbishop Bustros said, showed that Jews “are no longer the preferred people, the chosen people; all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people”.
What the bishops wanted to say, he said, is that the theme of the Promised Land cannot be used “to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the expatriation of Palestinians”.
Mr Ayalon said: “We express our disappointment that this important Synod has become a forum for political attacks against Israel, in the best tradition of Arab propaganda.” He said the comments were a “libel against the Jewish people and the state of Israel” and suggested that the Synod had been “hijacked by an anti-Israeli majority”.