Arab media coverage of Pope’s death infuriates Islamists

April 04, 2005


1. Even Hizbullah interrupted its programming
2. Surprisingly, Yad Vashem is "considering naming the Pope a Righteous Gentile"
3. Editorials from the Israeli press (April 4, 2005)
4. Headlines from the Israeli press (April 3, 2005)
5. Press release Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (April 3, 2004)
6. Press release Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres (April 3, 2004)
7. Press release President Moshe Katsav (April 3, 2004)
8. Press release Israeli Foreign Ministry (April 2, 2005)
9. "Arab media coverage of Catholic leader's death infuriates Islamists" (Daily Star Lebanon / AFP, April 4, 2005)



[Note by Tom Gross]

Advocates of a more democratic Middle East will welcome the relatively open manner in which the Arab media is covering the death of Pope John Paul II. In many ways, this pope helped improve relations between people of different faiths more than any other pope. Certainly some of the extreme Islamic leaders could learn much from John Paul II.

I attach an article below from today's Beirut Daily Star. The article was written by AFP (Agence France Presse) and also appears elsewhere today in a similar form, for example, on Yahoo News.

Radical Islamists have been using popular Islamist Web sites, such as the Islamic News Network, to express their anger at Arab television stations for according the pope such importance. In particular, they have lashed out at:

* Al-Jazeera (Qatar). The station, better known for screening "exclusive" videotapes from extremist Islamic leader Osama bin Laden, yesterday devoted widespread coverage to the pope's life and death.

* Al-Arabiya (Dubai) did the same, and transmitting live from the Vatican.

* Al-Manar. The Lebanese station belonging to Hizbullah who are trying to curry favor among Lebanese Christians after their role in assassinating Rafik Hariri in February interrupted its programs after the announcement of the pope's death to broadcast live from the Vatican.

* Iraqiya (Iraq) also interrupted programming on Saturday night to announce the pope's death.



Israeli officials and media have been falling over themselves in the last two days to mourn the pope and emphasize what a "friend" he was.

Certainly John Paul II was in many ways a great man, but in other ways (such as telling the populations of AIDS-ravaged parts of Africa that they would "burn in hell for eternity" if they used condoms), he was not.

By way of example of the Israeli reaction, I attach (below) four Israeli government press releases, and a collection of headlines and extracts from editorials today and yesterday from the Israeli press.

John Paul II was indeed the first pope to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories, and the first pope to visit a synagogue and a mosque.


But scarcely mentioned now by Israel was the fact that John Paul II was also a great champion of the PLO. The pontiff met Yasser Arafat eight times over a two-decade period and embraced him warmly. He was often very critical of Israeli and US policy.

John Paul II also pushed forward the candidature for sainthood of Pius XII, the wartime pope criticized for his public failure to condemn the Holocaust.


The pope met Kurt Waldheim in the Vatican in 1987 after it was revealed that Waldheim had served in the Nazi unit responsible for the annihilation of Greek Jews.

The pope refused to condemn the enormous cross which was placed at the spot where Jews were killed at Auschwitz, despite the pleadings of Holocaust survivors to do so.

Surprisingly, in my opinion, Yad Vashem is now considering naming the Pope a Righteous Gentile, according to the Israeli paper Ma'ariv.

-- Tom Gross




The Jerusalem Post writes: "The pope who called Jews his "elder brothers," who placed a message of atonement in the Western Wall, and who opened relations with the Jewish state, will be remembered with affection and admiration by the Jewish people. It was hard to fail to be touched by the compassion and dignity of this man who, though he represented one religion, came to symbolize the religious spirit to people of many faiths."

Hatzofeh writes: "The pope indeed condemned anti-Semitism, and the response to this was an increase in anti-Semitic incidents. One could get the impression that the reign of the pope has become something similar to that of the queen of England: a reign that is more symbolic than one that has influence beyond the Catholic Church and even there in only a limited fashion."

Yediot Ahronot writes: "Israel mourns the death of Pope John Paul II. He extended the hand of true friendship to the Jewish people, asked forgiveness for the Church's relations with the Jews throughout the ages, designated anti-Semitism as an unatonable sin, established diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel, visited Jerusalem including Yad Vashem and the Western Wall and thereby bestowed official Church recognition to Israel's sovereignty over the holy city."



HA'ARETZ: The man who tried to reconcile Christians and Jews. John Paul II became champion of Jewish-Christian reconciliation.

MA'ARIV: The Pope is dead. Yad Vashem considering naming him Righteous Gentile.

YEDIOT AHRONOT: Israel: John Paul II was a great friend to the Jewish People.



The following are Prime Minster Sharon's remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, April 3, 2004:

"On behalf of the Government and the State of Israel, I would like to express condolences on the passing of Pope John Paul II, and to share in the mourning of millions of Christians and believers in both the State of Israel and around the Christian world.

Pope John Paul II was a man of peace and a friend of the Jewish People, who was familiar with the uniqueness of the Jewish People and who worked for an historic reconciliation between the peoples and for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican in late 1993.

I was fortunate to meet the Pope in 1999, when I served as Foreign Minister and had traveled, on behalf of the Government, to invite him to attend the millennium celebrations. At my meeting with him, I felt the Pope's warm and admiring relations toward the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Yesterday, the world lost one of the most important leaders of our generation, whose great contribution to rapprochement and unity between peoples, understanding and tolerance will be with us for many years."



Sunday, April 3, 2004

Mr. Peres said: "The Pope was true spiritual leader, whose leadership was not limited to his own followers. John Paul II represented the very best that mankind has to offer. His abilities and personality allowed him to transcend the Catholic dogma to represent the universal partnership of all mankind. In every step he took and every place he went, he tried to encourage peace and brotherly love."



Sunday, April 3, 2004

President Moshe Katsav expresses his deepest regret over the passing of Pope John Paul II and sends condolences on behalf of both the State of Israel and himself to the millions of mourners throughout the Christian world.

As a Christian leader and the head of the Roman Catholic Church, John Paul II will be remembered as someone who showed his believers new paths to interfaith reconciliation and brotherhood. Karol Wojtyla will be remembered as a moral man who stood for human rights and whose heart was with the downtrodden and the oppressed.

The Jewish People will remember John Paul II as someone who courageously stood up and put an end to an historic injustice when he officially disavowed the prejudices and accusations for which our people and our faith had suffered from venomous anti-Semitism, persecutions and bloodshed against the Jews that had multiplied in Catholic church writings and amongst its believers. He also initiated and fostered an enhanced and fruitful dialogue between Judaism and Christianity, and between Israel and the Vatican.



Saturday, April 2, 2005

Israel, the Jewish people and the entire world, lost today a great champion of reconciliation and brotherhood between the faiths.

Israel's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Silvan Shalom, today expressed his deep sorrow at the passing of Pope John Paul II.

On behalf of the government and people of Israel, we extend our condolences to the Catholic Church and the flock of Pope John Paul II.

"This is a great loss, first and foremost for the Catholic Church and its hundreds of millions of believers, but also for humanity as a whole. I had the privilege of meeting with His Holiness twice, and I was deeply impressed by his insights and his unique humanity. The State of Israel joins all those who mourn his loss."

John Paul II led the Catholic Church towards closer relations with Israel and with the Jewish people.

Through his public and religious work, he promoted inter-faith understanding and dialogue, with a willingness to address the past, and a profound determination to build a future of understanding and brotherhood between all faiths.

John Paul II was the first Pope in history to visit a synagogue (Rome, 1986), where he referred to the Jewish people, for the first time, as "our elder brothers". On all his travels around the world he always made sure to meet with the Jewish community in every place. The Pope was committed to the fight against anti-Semitism, which he saw as a sin against God and against humanity.

In the build-up to the millennium, Pope John Paul II called on the Catholic Church to conduct soul-searching regarding its relations with the Jewish people and all those who have suffered as a result of the Church's teachings. Prior to his historic visit to Israel in 2000, the Pope asked the Jewish people for forgiveness for the crimes that have been perpetrated against it in the name of the Church. He later wrote that message on a piece of paper which he placed between the rocks of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, during his visit to Jerusalem.

The Pope's visit to Israel in March 2000, together with tens of thousands of pilgrims, also included a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and meetings with Israel's president and prime minister.

Pope John Paul II will be remembered for his courageous and visionary drive to establish full relations between Israel and the Holy See, a joint effort which was crowned with success with the signing of the Fundamental Agreement between the two parties on 30 December 1993.

Israel, the Jewish people and the entire world, lost today a great champion of reconciliation and brotherhood between the faiths.




Arab media coverage of Catholic leader's death infuriates Islamists
Agence France Presse (AFP)
Daily Star Lebanon
April 4, 2005

The Arab world's leading satellite television channels have been giving unprecedented coverage of the death throes of Pope John Paul II, provoking anger from Islamic extremists.

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, famed for screening "exclusive" videotapes from Islamic militants including Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was among the first to announce the pope's death. On Sunday it continued providing widespread coverage of his life and death, as did Dubai-based Al-Arabiya.

Both Al-Jazeera and Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya transmitted live from the Vatican over the past few days, with blow-by-blow accounts from their correspondents at the Vatican, in Rome and at holy sites in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The two stations, along with many others throughout the Arab world, aired several documentaries about John Paul II and his various appeals for peace and dialogue between all faiths and civilizations.

They also highlighted images of the pope during his historic visit to the Palestinian territories and Israel in March 2000 when he was warmly welcomed at the Palestinian refugee camp of Dheishe, near Jesus's traditional birthplace of Bethlehem in the West Bank.

Arabs throughout the region assiduously followed the pope's numerous initiatives, including his unrealized desire to go to Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 to see how Iraqis suffered under international sanctions.

But radical Islamists, who advocate the expulsion of non-Muslims from Islamic countries, have been using Islamist Web sites to vent their anger at Arab television stations for according the pope such importance.

One such user lashed out at Al-Jazeera, saying viewers were "annoyed" with extensive reports eulogizing the pope, who the user described as an "old tyrant."

"What is mortifying is that this hooligan channel pretends [to defend] Islam," added the user, who wrote under the name Muhib al-Salihine on the Islamic News Network, a site often used by Islamist militants operating in Iraq.

"What is more humiliating - I think that it was Al-Arabiya channel - is that the imam of a mosque ... praised the memory [of the pope]," said Seri Eddine le Libyen on the same site.

"I have started to hate Al-Jazeera for the multiplicity of information on the grieving" for the pope, said another user.

In Lebanon, the Al-Manar satellite television of the Shiite group Hizbullah, interrupted its programs after the announcement of the pope's death to broadcast live from the Vatican.

Four other private Lebanese stations and the public Tele-Liban did the same.
In Iraq, the public television station Iraqiya also interrupted programming on Saturday night to announce the pope's death.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.