Debate Flares over Meir-pope Visit

A serious debate developed today over whether the positive aspects of Premier Golda. Meir’s meeting with Pope Paul VI in the Vatican Monday were not negated by the Vatican’s press spokesman, Frederico Allessandrini, whose verbal statement immediately after the meeting denigrated its importance. Official sources here termed Mrs. Meir’s audience with the Pope a notable success.

The sources cited two statements by the Pontiff to Mrs. Meir which they said were of “cardinal importance.” The Pope called their meeting an “historic occasion” and expressed thanks to the Israel government for its protection of religious rights and the holy places in Jerusalem.

The sources dismissed Allessandrini’s negative statement as an effort to ease the extreme anxiety felt by the Arab states over Mrs. Meir’s audience with the Pope. They said it was far less significant than the official communique issued jointly by the Vatican Secretariate of State and Israeli official which constituted the “authoritative” position of the Vatican.

‘RINGING SLAP IN ISRAEL’S FACE’

But two prominent Israeli journalists writing for rival afternoon dallies described the after

That oral statement, he noted, was “a well aimed slap in the face intended to echo far and wide….It has an especially strong echo because it was given immediately after the visit, before the smoke of the Italian police motorcyclists (Mrs. Meir’s escort) faded away.” Shamir recalled that during the meeting between Theodor Herzl and Pope Plus X in Jan. 1964, the Pope said, “The Jews did not recognize our Lord, we cannot recognize the Jews.” This time, Shamir wrote, “we should say, the Catholics did not recognize our State, we cannot recognize the Catholics.”

Yeshayahu-Ben Porat, writing in Yediot Achronot, criticized the Israeli press for creating “an historic atmosphere” around the meeting which turned out not to be historic and was followed by a demonstration of “impoliteness that borders on a slap in the face.”

Ben Porat also questioned the wisdom of Premier Meir’s trip to Paris to attend the meeting of the Socialist International after President Georges Pompidou’s denunciation of the visiting ministers. Commenting on her trip to Geneva to meet President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, the journalist observed, “Blessed be he who believes that this meeting will help Israel’s position in Africa.”

(Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff of Rome, charged in an interview yesterday that the Vatican had committed a “grave discourtesy” by allowing its spokesman to play down the meeting. Rabbi Toaff said he was convinced that Allessandrini had been instructed by superiors to make his negative comments because “the Vatican wanted to prove its equidistance from Israel and the Arabs.”)

ONLY HANDFUL KNEW OF MEETING

It was learned today that only a handful of people were aware of Mrs. Meir’s intention to visit the Pope before it was announced last Sunday. These included Foreign Minister Abba Eban and his senior advisor, Arthur Lourie; Deputy Premier Yigal Allon; Justice Minister Yaacov Shimshon Shapiro and one or two other ministers. Mrs. Meir did not advise her full Cabinet of her plans because she feared a leak to the press. Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig, whose duties would seem to make him privy to such information, was kept in the dark.

In the Knesset today, the Gahal and Free Center factions called for an urgent debate on Allessandrini’s statement which MK Shmuel Tamir of the Free Center called “an insult to Israel and the Jewish people.”

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