Behind the Headlines Italian Jews Disturbed over Capucci’s Unrestrained Activities

The Italian Jewish community is seriously disturbed by the Vatican’s inability or unwillingness to restrain Msgr. Hilarion Capucci, the former Melchite Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, who has emerged of late as the foremost propagandist for the Palestine Liberation Organization in Italy if not all of Western Europe.

Despite the Vatican’s pledge that he would not be allowed to engage in activities “detrimental to the State of Israel,” Capucci is currently touring Italian cities championing the Palestinian cause and condemning Israel. His flair for self-dramatization has gained him immense exposure in the press, radio and television. The media regularly refers to him as “The Vatican’s ambassador for Mideast affairs.”

Capucci was convicted in Israel on Dec. 9, 1974 of gun-running for Palestinian terrorists and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. But he was released in 1977 by President phraim Katzir in response to an appeal by Pope Paul VI. The Papal intervention was accompanied by written assurances from the Vatican that Capucci would be restricted thereafter to pastoral duties away from the Middle East.

VIOLATED VATICAN’S UNDERTAKING

But after a brief stint in South America, Capucci brazenly violated the Vatican’s solemn undertaking by attending PLO meetings in Syria and Lebanon and resuming his propaganda activities on behalf of the terrorist organization. Protests from Jewish community leaders have been to no avail.

His Palestinian connections apparently convinced church authorities that Capucci could be “useful” in Vatican attempts to mediate the Iranian hostage crisis last year. He “intervened” on behalf of the American hostages without success but with considerable publicity for himself. Later, he played a role in arranging an audience for Farouk Kaddoumi, the PLO’s foreign affairs spokesman with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli.

The Jewish community protested vigorously. Last April I, the vice president and the secretary of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Tullia Zevi and Alberto Levy, respectively, were received by the Vatican Secretary for Public Affairs, Msgr. Achille Silvestrini who acknowledged their protest. But the Vatican never denied Capucci’s involvement in gaining an audience for the PLO’s No. 2 man — a clear violation of its promise that he would not be allowed to engage in political activities.

MAJOR PUBLICITY IN THE MEDIA

Jewish community leaders have been trailing Capucci on his propaganda tour. But their letters to the editors are a weak response to the lengthy interviews with Capucci published in the newspapers of Leghorn, Genoa and Padua.

His most recent stopover was in Venice at the end of June. He was received there by a committee of local political leaders headed by Carlo Bernini, president of the Venetian regional government. Two days of dinners, speeches and press conferences, attended by representatives of the region and the province, were arranged for Capucci by Walid Chazal, head of the PLO office in Rome and Gianfranco Lai, leader at the leftist Partito Democratico di Unita Populare.

Capucci states that his objective is to “inform” public opinion on the plight of the Palestinian people and the “PLO program.” He insists that his motivation is “religious, not political.”

But his propaganda line is identical to the most extreme positions of the PLO. In an interview published in the Leghorn daily, II Tirreno, on May 24, Capucci contended that Europe must concentrate on “recognizing the inalienable national rights of Palestinians, that is, the right to national self-determination, to the return of the refugees to Palestine, to the building of an independent Palestinian state and the recognition of the PLO as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

PROPAGATES A HARD LINE AGAINST ISRAEL

While Capucci insists that his aim is “peace and brotherly love, particularly on the part of my Jewish brothers,” he fails to mention the PLO’s covenant calling for Israel’s destruction. He insists, in fact, that Israel’s return to its 1967 borders would be only a first step toward “a re-unification into a single Palestinian nation with a democratic, secular state in which three religions can live in peace.”

Jews here are particularly concerned by the way the Italian media accepts Capucci’s propaganda without question while ignoring his involvement with terrorists. To overlook his false claims to have been “Archbishop of Jerusalem,” a post he created for himself, or to be now the “representative of the Palestinian (Christian) church in exile” is almost farcical.

More serious is the residue of anti-Israel sentiment Capucci leaves wherever he appears. Italian Jewry is looking to the Vatican to keep Capucci in line but so far there has been no move in that direction.

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