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September 22, 2015 0

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 2

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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