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September 22, 2015

Pope Francis From a Jewish Perspective

By Jonathan Green­blatt
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Pope Francis, right, welcomes Israeli President Shimon Peres on the occasion of their private audience, at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Ettore Ferrari, Pool)

Pope Francis, right, welcomes Israeli President Shimon Peres on the occasion of their private audience, at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Ettore Ferrari, Pool)


Pope Francis is about to embark on his first official visit to the United States. In a short period of time, this pontiff has emerged as a remarkable leader whose compassion and inclusivity have inspired people around the world. His recent call for all Catholic institutions in Europe to take in refugees is but the latest example of his commitment to the most vulnerable in society.

He also is someone whom the Jewish community has admired and considered a friend and partner for many years. True to form, during his visit to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City, the pope will be meeting with representatives of the Jewish community, along with other religious leader, and will convene an Interfaith Peace Gathering at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.

This first visit offers an opportunity for an assessment of Pope Francis and his papacy thus far from a Jewish perspective.

This pope probably knows Jews more intimately than any pope in history.

In his native Argentina, the man once known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was no stranger to that country’s large and active Jewish community. He struck up a warm friendship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the rector of a rabbinic seminary in Buenos Aires. Together they co-authored “On Heaven and Earth,” an important book on interfaith relations.

Since his election, Pope Francis consistently has spoken in clear terms about the theological significance of Jews and Judaism for Catholics. And he has been outspoken against anti-Semitism. As recently as April the pope unequivocally decried anti-Semitic violence and rhetoric in Europe. Referring to attacks on Jews in France, Belgium and Germany as “troubling,” he said that Christians “must be firm in deploring all forms of anti-Semitism, and in showing their solidarity with the Jewish people.”

Francis has said repeatedly that one cannot be a good Catholic and an anti-Semite. And at a time when Israel is under growing assault by those who question the sovereign Jewish State’s very right to exist, the pontiff has made clear that the refusal to accept Israel as the rightful home of the Jewish people is “anti-Semitism.”

It is truly remarkable to think about the revolutionary transformation that has taken place in the Catholic Church over the last 50 years in terms of the leadership’s attitudes toward and teachings about the Jewish people. Launched during the Vatican Council in 1965, “Nostra Aetate” or “In Our Time,” was a groundbreaking document that made clear for the first time in church history that Jews should not be held responsible for the death of Jesus.

This overturned nearly two millennia of church teaching that portrayed Judaism as a corrupt and corrupting religion and Jews as enemies of Christ who were in league with the Devil.  As a result, Jews were often the target of persecution expulsion and murder. These negative images of Jews provided fertile soil for the racial anti-Semitism that arose in the 19th century and ultimately for Hitler’s Final Solution.

In this light, Nostra Aetate’s unequivocal repudiation of anti-Semitism and the positive approach to Judaism and the Jewish people that has characterized the church in the decades since its publication are game-changers.

Pope Francis is continuing the work started by his predecessors, particularly Pope John Paul II, who made the teachings against anti-Semitism and respect for Judaism come alive within the church in both word and deed.  As we have seen, Pope Francis is not just paying lip service to those reforms – he is embracing them wholeheartedly.

And yet, there is still work to be done.

We know from public opinion surveys that anti-Semitism is enjoying a disturbing resurgence around the world, and majority Catholic countries are no exception. In Latin America, where in some countries Catholics comprise more than 90 percent of the adult population, anti-Semitic attitudes are shockingly pervasive. In Colombia, the number rises to 41 percent; in Panama, anti-Jewish attitudes rank at 52 percent of the adult population. In the pope’s native Argentina, nearly 24 percent of the adult population harbors anti-Semitic attitudes, which is more than double that of the U.S.  Poland, the home of Pope John Paul II, has a rate of 45 percent.

Such anti-Semitism may in part be attributed to longstanding church teachings that have carried on in those countries despite the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council.

And we still are waiting for the church to open its World War II archives so that a more complete picture of the Vatican’s actions during the Holocaust can emerge.

There have been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, moments of disagreement and points of tension between the Jewish community and the Catholic Church.

But we welcome Pope Francis to the U.S., and we commend him for his leadership and his commitment to Jewish-Catholic relations. We are confident that he will continue to remind Catholics of the teachings of Nostra Aetate.

In a world in which religion is often seen as a cause of conflict, the 50th anniversary of the new relationship between Jews and Catholics, and a pope who embodies them, demonstrates that change and reconciliation are achievable and that even a centuries-old enmity can be overcome.

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May 22, 2014

Palestinians Welcome Pope Francis To Bethlehem With Anti-Semitism

On Sunday, when Pope Francis celebrates mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, he may be confronted with billboards depicting Jesus being attacked by Israeli soldiers.jesus-palestinian-pope-israel

This not-so-subtle modern day version of the deicide is transparent classical anti-Semitism in the guise of criticism of Israel.  The posters are a product of The Palestinian Museum, which announced that at the request of the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s Supreme Presidential Committee for Church Affairs, it had prepared special billboards to decorate Manger Square which “combine recent media photographs of the Palestinian landscape and its people with Western baroque paintings of biblical scenes.”

The posters, some of which depict Jesus suffering at the hands of Israeli soldiers, will highlight “the tension between the popular image of the Holy Land and Palestine’s ongoing history of suffering under occupation and oppression,”  according to the Museum.

Palestinian efforts to present themselves as the direct descendants of Jesus are nothing new.  Nor is the manipulative and anti-Semitic comparison of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Jews just as they claim Jews were responsible for suffering and death of Jesus.

The message carefully chosen by an official Palestinian body to publicly welcome Pope Francis demonstrates how deeply intermingled anti-Jewish and anti-Israel attitudes are in the Palestinian public sphere.

At the weekly meeting of Israel’s cabinet, Prime Minister Netanyahu decried Palestinian incitement, citing the ADL Global 100 Survey findings about the high level of anti-Semitic attitudes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

While the PA regularly complains that incitement is an Israeli-manufactured excuse, there is no denying that extreme anti-Israel and anti-Semitic messaging appears routinely in official Palestinian publications and institutions.

Earlier this week, the May 21st edition of the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, featured an op-ed by one of its frequent writers, Yahya Rabah, entitled “No One Believes Shylock,” featuring the denial of the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, comparisons of Israel to the Nazis and other outrages.   Rabah writes:

“… Israel lives on a broad and extensive system of laws from the British Mandate, on illusionary Torah maps, as well as on hallucinations from the Babylonian captivity or from the Roman, the existence of neither has no single evidence. (It also lives) on practices borrowed from the Nazis, currently imitated by the Israelis against the Palestinian people, as clearly established by a number of intellectuals, authors and historians in Israel these days.”

The issue of Palestinian incitement, and the PA’s chronic failure to prepare the Palestinian public for peace with Israel was on ongoing concern cited by Israeli officials during the recent cycle of US-brokered peace negotiations.

And with these egregious examples appearing almost-daily, it is certain to continue to alarm all those committed to true Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

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