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Jewish Religious and Lay Leaders Condemn Assassination Attempt on Pope John Paul Ii

May 15, 1981
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American Jewish religious and lay leaders spoke with one voice today in condemning the assassination attempt yesterday on Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. In statements released here they deplored violence and terrorism rampant in the world and wished the Pontiff a swift and full recovery from the wounds he suffered.

The would-be killer, who seriously wounded the Pope in St. Peters Square, was identified as Mehmet Ali Agca, 23, a Turkish national of Armenian descent who is a member of the “Ulkucler” (Gray Wolves), a fanatical rightwing Moslem terrorist group affiliated with the ultra-nationalist National Movement that Interpol has branded “neo-Nazi.” He is a self-proclaimed enemy of the U.S., the Soviet Union and Israel.

Howard Squedron, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said today that “Every creed and color and country is wounded by the attack on Pope John Paul II for he embodies qualities of gentleness and humanity that have made him a beloved figure around the globe … We share the deep sadness of all men and women who love peace, at the senselessness, violent attack on this man of peace, and we join in prayer that his life will be spared and that he will recover swiftly and fully to resume his noble task.”

Rabbi Marc Tanenboum, national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, expressed “shock” at the assassination attempt and observed: “This is the latest demonstration of the epidemic of violence and terrorism that has threatened world order. Together with people of all faiths, the American Jewish Committee condemns the religious and ideological fanaticism which has

now sought to destroy the life of one of the great moral and spiritual leaders of this generation.

Nathan Pert mutter, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, called for prayer. “Let us vow that we will give no quarter to terrorism, no matter its source. Failing in either, we are all of us at the mercy of terrorists and of madmen.”


Rabbi William Berkowitz, president of the Jewish National Fund, said: “The tragic assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II leaves us all deeply shocked and saddened…What this latest incident points to again is the pervasive presence of terrorism and violence in our world. Citizens the world over must join together in this hour toward a common commitment against those who would use violence to further their ends and causes.”

Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, of Cleveland, president of the Synagogue Council of America, observed: “That one so innocent of personal evil, who symbolizes peace and love for countless millions should be the target of a would-be assassin boggles the mind and makes devastatingly clear the frightening escalation of mindless violence in the world.”

Charlotte Jacobson, chairman of the World Zionist Organization-American Section, declared, in a cable to the Pope: “Our prayers are joined to those of all faiths and peoples who wish you a rapid and complete recovery so that you may pursue your efforts in behalf of peace and good will for all mankind. We are shocked and dismayed at this new dastardly act of terrorism which threatens us all with its power to do evil. Humanity will continue to be at the mercy of this disease unless it unites to eradicate it from the earth.”

Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, declared: “We are shocked and outraged by the attack on His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, one of the world’s great religious leaders. We pray for his speedy recovery and for the end to the hate and sickness which have, in recent years, increased violence and terrorism in the world.”

Nathaniel Saperstein, president of the National Council of Young Israel, said that his organization, its congregations “and the Jewish people join men and women of good will everywhere in deploring the attempt on assassinating Pope John Paul II. We are shocked and saddened that yet another world-renowned leader and man of peace has fallen victim to the organized violence which has attacked civilized societies throughout the world. We urge all nations to band together to ruthlessly stamp out this scourge of terrorism.”


Jack Spitzer, president of B’nai B’rith International, deplored the assassination attempt and called on governments around the world to join “in a determined effort to stamp out terrorism and to delegitimize terrorists and the organizations and governments behind them.” Spitzer, who wished the Pope a “swift and full recovery, described terrorism as “The Black Death of the 20th Century” and warned that it would persist until nations “take a resolute and concrete stand against it and until terrorists are treated as terrorists and not as ‘national liberators’.”

Ivan Novick, president of the Zionist Organization of America, stated: “This despicable act is a clear warning that society cannot condone any element that utilizes violence to accomplish its goals. Any tendency to accept the premise that terrorism can be seen in moderate terms is a basic fallacy and only encourages the practitioners of ###.”

Roselle Silberstein, president of the American Mizrachi Women, said her organization was distressed but not shocked by the assassination attempt because “The international climate today is one that simply accepts further and further acts of terrorism. If we do not forbid and severely punish terrorism at its outset, those dedicated to violence advance to more drastic measures.”


According to reports from Rome and Ankara, Agca is a fugitive who escaped from a Turkish prison while serving a sentence for the February, 1979 murder of Abdi Ipekci, editor and chief columnist of the Istanbul liberal newspaper, “Milliyet.” He left a note in his jail cell threatening the life of the Pope who was then about to visit Turkey. The note called for revenge against the Moslem extremist attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca earlier in 1979.

Agca claimed the incident was part of an American or Israeli crusade against Islam and accused the Pope of being “the masked leader of the crusade.” Italian police who seized him after he fired shots at the Pope found several handwritten notes in his pocket.

One said he was killing the Pope to “protest against the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the United States and against the genocide that is being carried out in Salvador and Afghanistan.” Agca is also known to have threatened the lives of the American, Soviet and Israeli Consuls in Turkey.

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