This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
To many, Leonardo Boff is a prophet. As a Brazilian Roman Catholic liberation theologian for many years, Boff is respected on the religious left for his outspoken critique of injustice within and outside of the church. His influence is so wide and his ideas so radical that some years ago he was censored by the Vatican in Rome.
In a wide-ranging interview in Iglesia Descalza, Boff spoke about the new Pope with ease and respect. His words and endorsement carry currency in Brazil and beyond:
Times have changed and thank God we have a Pope who, for the first time in 500 years, responds to reform, responds to Luther. Luther launched what we call the Protestant Principle, which is the principle of freedom. And this Pope lives it. And he doesn’t see Christianity as a bunch of truths that you adhere to, but as the living encounter with Jesus. He distinguishes between Jesus’ tradition — that set of ideals and traditions — and the Christian religion, which is equal to any other religion. He says: “I belong to the Jesus movement”, and not to the Catholic religion. Such statements are outrageous to traditional Christians, but are absolutely correct in the theological sense — what we always said and were persecuted for.
And I’m glad that the Church is no longer a body that embarrasses us, but a body that could help humanity make the difficult crossing to a different kind of society that respects the rights of nature, of the Earth, concerned about the future of life. I myself have been in touch with the Pope and his central theme is life. Human life, that of the earth, of nature. And we have to save it, because we have all the tools to destroy it.
Though Boff’s words on the Pope, especially his opening to gays and abortion, are important and in Catholic circles controversial, no doubt his reflections on Gaza – and Jews – will also garner attention. Though short, they are worthy of further reflection:
This pope is absolutely contemporary and necessary. I think he’s the only world leader who is listened to and eventually could mediate this war of criminal massacre that Israel is carrying out against Gaza.
And I think much of the blame rests with Obama, who is a criminal. Because no drone (unmanned aircraft) attack could be done without his personal license. They are using all sorts of weapons of destruction. They’ve closed Gaza complete, it has been turned into a concentration camp, and they will destroy it. So you have a country that was the victim of Nazism and uses Nazi methods to create victims. This is the great contradiction.
And the United States supports them — Obama and all the presidents are victims of the great Jewish lobby that has two branches: the branch of the big banks and the media branch. They have enormous power over the presidents who don’t want to alienate them and follow whatever these radical extremist Jews united with the Christian religious Right say. This is combined with a president like Obama who hasn’t the least bit of humanitarian feeling, the compassion to say “stop the slaughter.”
Boff’s places the blame for Gaza on several levels. Israel is the most obvious to blame, so much so that it is largely unstated. Instead, Boff singles out Barack Obama for blame and circles back toward Israel and Jews – those who were victims of Nazis are now using Nazi methods to create the victims of Gaza. Boff notes the “great contradiction” without explanation. This, too, is obvious.
Then Boff becomes more specific. He links Gaza, Israel and Obama with the “great Jewish lobby,” the branches of which consist of the banks and the media. Boff characterizes the Jewish lobby as consisting of “radical extremist Jews” who, notably, are united with the Christian religious right. So if Boff is seen as promoting a conspiratorial sense of history – which no doubt he will be – Jews are present, along with Christians. Obama and perhaps by extension the United States is located at the center.
With the surge of feeling about Israel and Jews surrounding the Gaza war and Israeli policy toward Palestinians in general, what are we to make of Boff’s brief comments? This is important especially because the Jewish establishment has consistently tried to taint liberation theology with the broad brush of anti-Semitism. This is the case even though liberation theology has for the most part steered clear of the Israel-Palestine issue. For many years, the Jewish establishment has focused on liberation theology’s use of Jesus as the liberator of the poor. Perhaps subconsciously the Jewish establishment knew that liberation theology’s commitment to the poor of the world would inevitably involve a critique of Jewish power in Israel and beyond.
Will Boff’s calling out of the Jewish lobby and radical extremist Jews be relegated to the stereotypes of Jewish control of the global economy and media? Or will those who are interested in the suffering of the Palestinian people place themselves in solidarity with Jews of Conscience who are battling the same forces Boff calls out perhaps in a language that needs a deeper encounter.
After all, like most peoples, including the citizens of Brazil – and as Boff knows well from his own experience with the Catholic Church – Jews exist on both sides of the empire divide. For every Jewish lobbyist there is a Jew of Conscience – and sometimes more.