Speaking to a delegation from the World Jewish Congress, Pope Francis declared that questioning Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitic. The Catholic Herald (UK) reports:
“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”
A Vatican spokesman confirmed the gist of the Pope’s remarks to CNN. His Holiness had previously told a journalist in June that, “Whoever does not recognize the Jewish People and the State of Israel falls in anti-Semitism.”
It is this stance, and not the Vatican’s controversial recognition of Palestine this summer, that is the break from the historical norm. The Pope was speaking on the 50th anniversary—a blink of an eye in the history of the church—of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document that repositioned the Catholic relationship with Judaism from one of antagonism to respect for the “people to whom God spoke first.” And for much of Israel’s history, Vatican-Israeli relations were poor: the Holy See did not recognize Israel diplomatically until 1993.
So while Pope Francis is often painted as pro-Palestinian, he’s actually very pro-Israel by historic standards. But now, in a time of increased anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Europe, Pope Francis’ comments are a welcome ray of light.