ROME (JTA) — World Jewish Congress leaders in an audience at the Vatican urged Pope Benedict XVI to speak out against the delegitimization of Israel.
They also thanked the pope at the Dec. 10 audience for his commitment to interfaith dialogue.
"We discussed critical issues affecting world Jewry," WJC President Ronald Lauder said following the meeting, “and we expressed to the pope how much we value the close relationship we have enjoyed with the Vatican over many years in our quest for a secure Israel and a safer future for Jews everywhere.”
Lauder said he had expressed concern to the pope that both Christians and Jews in the Middle East face the threat of radical Islam and had called on the pope to speak out against the denial of Jewish holy sites such as the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.
Newly named WJC Secretary General Dan Diker asked the Church to help combat a political assault on Israel that he called a new "politically correct" form of anti-Semitism.
According to a WJC statement, Benedict responded that the Church recognizes the deep and historical connection of the Jewish people to the Holy Land and expressed his commitment to help foster global understanding of the bond between Jews and Israel. He also told the WJC leaders that "the bonds of brotherhood and good will" between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people should continue to be strengthened.
In a related development, the Vatican and Israel released a joint statement Dec. 10 describing a "good and open atmosphere" in the latest round of talks aimed at finalizing bilateral economic relations between the two states. The talks, held the previous day in Jerusalem, started with mention of the telegram the pope sent to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing his "prayers and solidarity" with victims of the recent forest fire and his appreciation of the "selfless dedication" of those involved in the rescue operation.
Meeting separately Dec. 10 with senior Italian officials, Lauder praised Italy’s support of Israel and friendship to the Jewish people. Italy, he said, "has a key role in advancing the peace process in the Middle East."
During that meeting Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who in Israel last month referred to Italy as Israel’s "best friend" in Europe, awarded Lauder the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity.