Catholic Bishop Manfred Scheuer of Linz, Austria, has parted ways with Pax Christi -- a Catholic peace advocacy group -- because of its “criticism of Israel’s politics” and his conclusion that the “criticism is anti-Semitic.” According to Catholic news agency Kathpress, Scheuer said, “I am convinced that because of the Shoah, a special responsibility and sensitivity is necessary in Germany and Austria toward the State of Israel.” He had served as president of Pax Christi in Austria.
The bishop said that Pax Christi International supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign that seeks universal economic and other sanctions on Israel. Scheuer denounced verbal attacks on members of the Jewish community at a Pax Christi event in Linz in May during a lecture by Salah Abdel Shafi, who serves as the Palestinian ambassador to Austria and to the UN in Vienna. According to Kathpress, during Abdel Shafi’s talk on “The Middle Conflict and the Role of the European Union,” insults were directed at Anna Mitgutch, a representative of the Jewish community in Linz, as well as at two members of the community.
Mitgutch told the Linz Kirchenzeitung, a Catholic church newspaper, that the language used was a “new flare-up of anti-Semitism.”
Scheuer shares concerns with others over the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. “Every form of antisemitism is disgraceful and should be sharply criticized,” said Scheuer, adding that anti-Semitism should not be tolerated anywhere. Politicians, society, and churches must fight anti-Semitism, he said. The bishop said that the growth of anti-Semitism indicates that “people have forgotten history and are not aware of the entire catastrophe of the Shoah.” Quoting Pope Francis, Scheuer said “‘It is impossible to be a Christian and at the same time an anti-Semite.’”
Abdel Shafi, who is from Gaza, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, “At no time can I remember that anyone made any anti-Semitic comments.” He said he was surprised by the bishop’s resignation from Pax Christi.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, head of NGO Monitor, told the Jerusalem Post that Scheuer’s resignation marks the first time that a member of the Catholic hierarchy in Europe has openly criticized Pax Christi for this activity. Steinberg expressed the hope that Scheuer’s act may lead the Catholic Church to issue guidelines for organizations such as Pax Christi and Misoerer that promote the BDS movement.
Pax Christi International has 30 national branches in Germany. Pax Christi Germany lists the Pax Christi Bank as its bank for donations to be used for BDS efforts. The group recently organized a BDS event in Essen with an anti-Israel Jew. Jena’s mayor has supported Pax Christi in the past and was heavily criticized. Dr. Elvira U. Groezinger, who heads the German branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Jerusalem Post, “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 what moral and ethical integrity are totally absent in Pax Christi circles.”