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Controversy Continues over O’connor’s Mideast Visit

December 30, 1986
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

It appeared almost certain Monday that there would be no meetings between top Israeli leadership and New York Roman Catholic Archbship John Cardinal O’Connor. The Vatican has prohibited O’Connor from meeting with Israeli government leaders in Jerusalem.

O’Connor said Sunday before arriving in Amman, Jordan, that he had scheduled meetings with President Chaim Herzog, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres as well as with Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek.

He then asked to meet them outside their offices, to avoid any semblance of official contacts. O’Connor said he changed his schedule after orders from the Vatican to cancel the meetings.

However, O’Connor said Sunday his official meeting with Kollek would proceed as planned. But Herzog, Shamir and Peres said they will not meet with O’Connor outside of their offices in Jerusalem.

O’Connor acknowledged that he had made a mistake in originally scheduling the meetings without Vatican approval and said his mistake had embarrassed some Israeli officials.


Many Jewish leaders in New York were critical of O’Connor’s change of plans and noted that he applied a “double standard” by meeting officially with King Hussein of Jordan but not with Israeli leaders. The criticism of the Archbishop, which began over the weekend, continued Monday.

Lester Pollack, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, urged the Vatican to allow O’Connor to meet with Israeli officials. The Vatican’s action “signals a crucial setback in the process of advancing understanding” between the two religions, Pollack said.

Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said, “The Vatican’s refusal to allow Cardinal O’Connor to visit Israeli government leaders has once again called attention, in a rather unfriendly and abrasive manner, to the Vatican’s double standard when it comes to its relations with the Jewish State.

“Apparently, the Vatican had no problem with Cardinal O’Connor’s official visits with Jordanian government officials.”

Siegman added, “The Vatican’s persistent refusal to hold such meetings has therefore little to do with its views regarding the status of Jerusalem and everything to do with a diplomacy that is tilted to the Arab world.”

About 20 supporters of the Jewish Defense Group (JDG) staged a demonstration here Sunday outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where O’Connor has his pulpit, to protest O’Connor’s cancellation of the meetings. Yaakov Lloyd of the JDG called the Vatican an enemy of the State of Israel and of the Jews.

But O’Connor received support from Mayor Edward Koch who called on Israeli officials to welcome O’Connor and said the Archbishop was a good friend of Israel and the Jewish people.


At the root of the controversy is the Vatican’s refusal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the absence of full diplomatic relations.

Concern over O’Connor’s relationship with Israel began after the Archbishop toured Lebanon in June and then called for a homeland for the Palestinian people. Peres, who was Prime Minister at the time, invited O’Connor during an October meeting in New York to visit the country and learn the Israeli side of the conflict.

But O’Connor’s visit was complicated by the Vatican relations with Israel. Formally, the Vatican has never had full diplomatic relations with Israel but recognizes its right to exist.

Israeli officials have paid formal visits to the Vatican and only last year Peres met Pope John Paul II in Rome.

The Vatican does have a representative in Israel, an Apostolic Delegate whose rank is lower than that of an ambassador.


Rabbi Mare Tanenbaum, director of international relations of the American Jewish Committee, reported in a July 17 Daily News Bulletin that O’Connor told him he would support Vatican diplomatic ties with Israel with three preconditions:

Israel should “assist substantially” in finding “a Palestinian homeland;” Israel should help achieve peace in Lebanon; And, Israel should help bring about the security of some eight million Christians living in the Arab world.

Tanenbaum continued that “Not a word was addressed by O’Connor directly nor explicitly to Syria, the Shiite and Sunni Moslems in Lebanon, Iran, nor Libya–all of whom have been active in destabilizing Lebanon and in massacring Christians for their own fanatic purposes of converting the Middle East to an Arab-Moslem hegemony.”

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