Benedict XVI and the Future of the Holy Land

Deal W. Hudson
April 6, 2009

Over dinner at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem, I talked with Danny Seidemann, a Jewish man from upstate New York who moved to Israel as a youth more than 30 years ago. Danny is recognized worldwide as an expert on the religious and cultural differences that divide and potentially unite Jerusalem. “The Christian community of Jerusalem is the canary in the coal mine,” he told me. “When it starts dying, we know all of us are going to die.”

Seidemann, himself a Zionist, believes preserving the Christian presence in the Holy Land is crucial to its future. That underscores the importance of the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Holy Land in early May. “The Church can have enormous influence here. The pope can address people above the heads of their leaders.”

But Seidemann believes that time is running short for any type of two-state solution. After the recent conflict in Gaza, the window of opportunity has closed further: “We have one to three years to get it done, after that there will be nothing left to engage.” He is confident the Vatican understands the urgency of the situation.

When I asked him about the impact of the December bombing and invasion of Gaza, Seidemann moved the subject back to Jerusalem. “Jerusalem is the key,” he told me. More than a decade ago, Seidemann drew the proposed boundaries for Palestinian-controlled East Jerusalem that would be necessary for the creation of two sovereign states. “The boundaries I drew for the Clinton administration can still be drawn,” he said. I asked him about the controversial Israeli settlements in that part of the city. “That dispute can be settled by a one-for-one exchange of land – it can be resolved.”

Seidemann is surprisingly upbeat because he senses that “people are ready for something to happen.” Six weeks ago he met in Washington, D.C., with key members of the Obama administration tasked with the Middle East. He believes the Obama team, led by George Mitchell, has the expertise and the will to make progress. One obvious obstacle is that the new Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is dedicated to the settlements and has been less interested in pursuing the two-state solution agreed upon at the 2007 Annapolis Conference, hosted by President George Bush.

There would be more support from the United States for a two-state solution, according to Seidemann, if those primarily heard on the topic of Israel and the Palestinians were not either Christian Zionists on the one hand or Israel bashers on the other. He believes there is an untapped resource of people in the middle who are ready to be heard and who want to move forward to stop the escalating conflict.

“Jews, Muslims, and Christians have been maintaining their identity in Jerusalem for over 1,300 years.” For Seidemann, Jerusalem must maintain its tradition of ecumenism and set an example for Baghdad and Beirut – otherwise, the habits of those cities will take hold and “pollute” Jerusalem.

Seidemann knows as well as anyone that the Christian presence in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories on the West Bank has been shrinking for years. In the past, the shrinking numbers could be attributed to the harsh realities of Israeli occupation, but more and more it is a conflict with Muslims in towns like Bethlehem – where they once lived peacefully together – that sends Christians packing. Add to that the attraction of young people to prosperous Palestinian enclaves in Chile, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Australia.

Is the Christian “canary” in Jerusalem already in the process of dying a slow death? Seidemann did not say. But when he said that politicians must realize that “it’s five minutes to midnight,” the implication is clear. There can be no more delay, no more missed opportunities.

The Obama administration, which is alienating Catholics with its pro-abortion policy, may find itself on the same page with Pope Benedict on this issue if he urges Israelis and Palestinians toward the two-state solution during his May visit.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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