World Jewish Congress Leaders Call on Pope Benedict 16 to Reject Assault on Israel

The leadership of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) has been received by Pope Benedict XVI in private audience at the Vatican. WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, who was accompanied by WJC Secretary General Designate Daniel Diker and Deputy Secretary General Maram Stern, raised his concern at the growing political assault on Israel's legitimacy. Lauder asked Benedict to speak out against the delegitimization of Israel and especially the denial of Jewish holy sites such as the Western Wall as well as the Tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem, which is holy to Jews and also to Christians. "We discussed critical issues affecting world Jewry," Lauder said, adding: "We expressed to the Pope how much we value the close relationship we have enjoyed with the Vatican over many years in our quest for a secure Israel and a safer future for Jews everywhere.”

Pope Benedict emphasized the need to continue to combat anti-Semitism in the Christian world, which he characterized as unacceptable. Diker voiced the deep concern of Jews everywhere, and especially in Israel, about the political assault on Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People and asked that the Church take a lead role in speaking out against this new "politically correct" form of anti-Semitism. “The ongoing assault against the State of Israel has triggered dangerous aftershocks in Jewish communities around the world,” explained Diker. Benedict responded that the Church recognized the historical connection of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland, the Holy Land, going back to the time of Abraham. He expressed his commitment to help foster understanding of the bond between the nation of Israel and the land of Israel among people throughout the world.

Lauder also expressed concern that both Christians and Jews in the Middle East face the threat of radical Islam and expressed his sympathies over the murder of Christian leaders in Iraq and Turkey noting with concern the drop in the number of Christians living in Bethlehem. The pontiff of the Catholic Church expressed the importance of Jews and Catholics working together to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms, noting again the patrimony of Judaism to Christianity. He indicated that Jews and Christians needed one another. Benedict added that the bonds of brotherhood and goodwill between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people should continue to be strengthened.

In Rome, the WJC leaders also held meetings with senior Italian officials, including Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. Lauder praised Italy's support of Israel and friendship to the Jewish people. Italy, he said, had "a key role in advancing the peace process in the Middle East." Frattini awarded Lauder the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity.

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