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Benedict XVI used his regular Sunday sermon last weekend to deplore atrocities “in different countries including Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Britain”.
But his failure to mention the recent bombing which killed five outside a Netanya mall provoked a bitter war of words between Jerusalem and the Vatican.
Signaling the first public spat between the two cities since the election of Benedict XVI in April, Israel insisted the failure to condemn the latest attack “cries to the heavens”. And on Monday, the Vatican’s ambassador to Israel was summonsed to the foreign ministry, where he was told of the country’s “extreme dismay” at the “conspicuous absence”.
An uncompromising statement, communicated by the ministry spokesman, said: “Aside from the moral vacuum, it can possibly be interpreted as in effect giving a stamp of approval to acts of terrorism committed against Jews.”
It added: “We had hoped for different behavior from the new pope, who from the beginning has expressed his views on the importance of relations between the Church and the Jewish people, especially this year, which marks 40 years since the proclamation of the “Nostra Aetate” [the papal declaration which condemned anti-semitism and called for positive relations between the two faiths].
The strongly worded statement also insisted that Israel had the “right” to expect the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics to condemn “the vicious terrorist attack directed at Jews, just as he condemned other terrorist attacks”.
The Vatican said the Pope’s words had referred explicitly to attacks in recent days, expressing surprise that Israel distorted what he had meant. It added that Benedict had repeatedly condemned terrorism wherever it is and the Netanya attack comes under the “general and unreserved condemnation of terrorism”.
During a visit to London, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom later expressed hope that incident was a “mistake and not a deliberate mission.”
And concerns were also raised by the International Council of Christians and Jews, who were this week celebrating the anniversary of the Nostra Aetate at a conference in Chicago.
A statement signed by the body’s president Dr John Pawlikowski and patron Sir Sigmund Sternberg, who is also a Papal knight, said: “We see the omission of Israel on the list of nations that have suffered from terrorism as a serious injustice that calls for rectification.”
But the statement issued on behalf of the ICCJ also expressed “deep concern” over Israel’s reaction. “The language of the Israeli response with its intense personal criticism of Pope Benedict XVI as responsible for supporting terror will only poison the important conversation between Catholics and Jews.”
Earlier this year, at his inauguration ceremony, German-born Benedict XVI, who served in the Hitler Youth at a time when it was compulsory, described the Jewish community as “my brothers and sisters”. His comments came days after Jewish leaders gave their blessing to Joseph Ratzinger, as he was then known, expressing hope that the new Pope would continue the positive legacy of John Paul II.
The Revd Jonathan Gorsky, education advisor at the Council of Christians and Jews, said a number of issues, including the Pope’s commitment to positive relations with Jews, pointed to the omission being a mistake.
But he said: “Given the history of such horrors in Israel and the Netanya attack very recently, it is regrettable that no mention of Israel’s experience was made in the address. Also, the Vatican statement could have been far more sensitive to the obvious hurt that Israelis felt when they read the Pope’s comments.”
Rabbi Alan Plancey, the member of the Chief Rabbi’s cabinet responsible for Jewish-Christian relations, met the Pontiff when he was a Cardinal. He said: “The Pope is a friend of Israel and I hope it is merely an oversight that will be corrected.”Outrage At Papal Snub For Israel by Justin Cohen