Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka, who co-wrote “Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra” (On Heaven and Earth) with Pope Francis, spoke about Jewish-Catholic relations as well as the need for limits on freedom of speech regarding religion in a discussion. The event was organized by the Office of the President, the Embassy of Argentina and Masorti Olami (also known as The World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues) in Riggs Library Tuesday afternoon.

Skorka accompanied the pontiff as part of the papal entourage in the Middle East in May 2014. Since then the two have been working closely together in an attempt to develop meaningful dialogue between Jews and Catholics.

For Skorka, “real dialogue” involves active planning and commitment to future events as opposed to talk for the sake of talk.

“We approach each other knowing that both of us are very, very committed with the idea of real dialogue, not just tea and sympathy, but the real dialogue,” Skorka said.
Skorka then turned his focus to the role of the Catholic Church under Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust. Skorka said that that some critics say that the Pope had the opportunity to save Jews, but his silence instead permitted the death of more Jews.

Skorka also discussed the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, largely due to the role of the media. For Skorka, the media have distorted the meaning of the word Zionism.

“As all of you know, the word Zionism was transformed by the media into a bad word, a bad term. And the image of the Jews in the Diaspora was distorted by the misuse and misinterpretation of the word Zionism,” Skorka said.

Program for Jewish Civilization Director Jacques Berlinerblau moderated the discussion, and said he recognized this shift from anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism.

“I see an equation that we are very familiar with in Washington that anti-Zionism degrades easily into anti-Semitism,” Berlinerblau said.

This shift towards anti-Semitism has had lethal effects, most recently with the recent terrorist attack in Paris, which targeted Jews.

“Nowadays Zionism is a kind of anti-Semitism. Think about what occurred in Paris,” Skorka said.“Okay, the conflict is in the Middle East, it is between Israel and Palestine. Why did they attack a kosher supermarket? They didn’t know exactly if the clients in the supermarket are more Zionist, against the idea of a Jewish state in Israel — they knew nothing. … The only thing they knew is ‘We must attack Jews.’ And the ideology of them is anti-Zionist.”

The question of freedom of speech that has arisen in the context of the Charlie Hebdo attack brought up a debate about the depth of media criticism. Skorka said that today’s media and public fail to evaluate information as critically and deeply as those living a generation ago. Historically, Jewish intellectuals have been strong supporters of freedom of speech.

“Here in the United States, freedom of speech has traditionally been a Jewish issue,” Berlinerblau said. “Some of the greatest defenders of the right of American freedom of speech, especially in the 1960s, were Jewish intellectuals.”

However, Skorka said he supports limited freedom of speech in cases where the speech is meant only to degrade others. Skorka said that this type of speech is only an abuse of the freedom.

Trixia Apiado (SFS ’18), who attended the event, applauded the common ground that Pope Francis and Jewish leaders have been able to reach in their dialogue.

“I’m from the Philippines and I followed Pope Francis’ visit in the Philippines this past week, so it’s nice to see another religious denomination speaking about the same thing,” Apiado said. “It’s just [about] helping the poorest no matter what their identities are and no matter what their religions are.”

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