Menu JTA Search

Ajcommittee Says Pope-arafat Meeting Should Not Impede Jewish-catholic Relation

The American Jewish Committee urged that differences between the Jewish and Catholic communities over the recent audience granted to PLO chief Yasir Arafat by Pope John Paul II should not be allowed to “impede the advances in understanding and mutual esteem which have marked the relations between our communities for the past several decades.”

The view was expressed by Maynard Wishner AJCommittee president, in a letter to his Eminence Johannes Cardinal Willebrands, President of the Vatican Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews. In a letter addressed to Wishner, Willebrands sought to explain the reasons why the Pope agreed to receive Arafat. Both letters were released to the press on the eve of the AJCommittee’s annual national executive council meeting at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The meeting opened today and concludes Sunday.

Among other explanations, Willebrands said that “the fact that the Holy Father receives someone in audience is in no way a sign of approval of all the ideas and actions attributed to that person.”

The Cardinal also wrote that “the Holy Father did not fail to express to Mr. Arafat ‘the hope that on equitable and lasting solution of the Middle East conflict should be reached, a solution which, as he said during the audience ‘should exclude recourse to arms and violence of all kinds, especially terrorism and reprisals.’


In his response, Wishner stated that the AJCommittee did not question “the honorable and pacific intentions of the Pope.”

“The Pope’s hope,” Wishner continued, “for an ‘equitable and lasting solution of the Middle East conflict’ as his stated position that such a solution should ‘exclude recourse to arms and violence of all kinds, especially terrorism and reprisals,’ are shared by all persons of good will seeking peace in that troubled region.”

However, Wishner added, “We do strongly disagee regarding the impact of the audience with Mr. Arafat on popular opinion and its widespread interpretation as an act of legitimization for the organization which he heads– an organization which has claimed credit for the murder of innocent civilians, including Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and which has never departed from its stated aim of destroying the sovereign State of Israel.”

Wishner took the occasion of his letter to Willebrands to repeat calls for recognition of the State of Israel — both by the Arabs and by the Holy See. “We fervently share the Pope’s hope, ” Wishner wrote, “that an equitable and lasting solution of the Middle East conflict will soon be reached and his affirmation that the recognition of Israel by the Arabs is a basic condition for the construction of that peace.

“The logic of that important affirmation by the Pope does argue, in our judgment, that the recognition of Israel by the Holy See would constitute a model of moral courage and leadership that would advance the cause of peace and coexistence between the Arab nations and Israel.

“We sincerely hope that such Vatican recognition of Israel would be forthcoming in the not too distant future.”