Bronfman Urges New York Cardinal to Press the Vatican to Establish Diplomatic Recognition of Israel

John Cardinal O’Connor, the spiritual head of two million Catholics in the Archdiocese of New York, was urged last night to press the Vatican toward the establishment of diplomatic recognition of the State of Israel.

The dramatic appeal, believed to be the first direct public request to the Cardinal on the issue from a prominent Jewish leader, was made by Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, at a dinner presenting O’Connor with the first Cardinal Bea Interfaith Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Some 700 guests attended the event.

“Please convey to Rome the importance to Jews everywhere for normalizing relations between the Vatican and Israel which is the home for so much of Jewish culture and so many of the world’s Jews — so that all of us — Jews and Catholics alike may work together for a better world,” Bronfman declared.

The Cardinal, after receiving the award, did not refer to Bronfman’s appeal in addressing the guests at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. However, he told reporters later that the decision on diplomatic recognition of Israel is solely that of the Vatican.

NO HESITATION ABOUT BRINGING MESSAGE TO THE POPE

While the Cardinal told reporters he “had no hesitation at all” about bringing the message to the Pope, he added: “It would be presumptuous of me to think that I could do more than that, to express the feelings of the Jewish community that I meet here in New York. And I have great trust for the understanding of the question on the part of the Holy See.”

The Vatican has been urged on numerous occasions by Jewish groups and even members of Congress to extend formal diplomatic recognition to Israel. Last year, 26 Jewish and Roman Catholic members of the House of Representatives issued a letter urging that Pope John Paul II recognize Israel.

There currently exists what is described as “de facto” recognition of Israel by the Vatican, exemplified, Vatican officials say, by meetings between Pope John Paul and Israeli officials in past years. Last February, the Pope met with Israeli Premier Shimon Peres.

But the issue is complicated by the Pope’s repeated calls for a special internationalized status for Jerusalem, so that, according to the Pope, “one side or the other cannot place it under discrimination.” He has also called for “a just solution for the Palestinian people.”

Bronfman, in remarks to reporters during the dinner, said that the issue of Jerusalem should not prevent the Vatican from recognizing Israel. “If there are problems that the Vatican may have over Jerusalem, somebody ought to hear about them, “Bronfman said. “These things should be opened for discussion.”

The award to O’Connor commemorated the 20th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council declaration that deplored anti-Semitism and deicide charges. According to Bronfman, while Nostra Aetate was a landmark in Christian-Jewish relations, there remains much work ahead toward bettering relations between the two people.

“Theres a lot more to be done, including Vatican recognition of the State of Israel,” he said. “To stop at a point that was reached 20 years ago with Nostra Aetate, and that’s it, is a great mistake.”

“REMARKABLE PROGRESS” BY CHURCH NOTED

Nathan Perlmutter, national director of the ADL, praised the success of Nostra Aetate and the “remarkable progress” by the Catholic Church in its teachings about Jews. “To belittle the progress made in 20 years following 2,000 years of teaching of contempt is to overlook the efforts the Church has made to clean its liturgy in its teachings of the Jews.”

But, he said, “The fact is that 20 years later, our hearts are in a different place. As a people, the Jewish people are deeply, deeply concerned with the security of the State of Israel.” To that extent, he said, security can be “heightened” by papal recognition. He said the ADL has raised this point with the Vatican in past meetings.

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