Monday, April 20, 2009

Rift in Jewish-Vatican relations over Durban II

Reuters reports that Pope Benedict's decision to send a Vatican delegation to a United Nations conference on racism has opened a new rift in relations with Jewish groups:
"By participating, the Vatican has given its endorsement to what is being prepared there (against Israel)," Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

The United States and some of its allies, including Italy -- a country which often sees eye-to-eye with the Vatican at international conferences -- are boycotting the meeting.

Shimon Samuels, head of the European office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said the Vatican "is giving a seal of approval in the hate campaign" against Israel.

"This is not a position on which one can hedge," Samuels said. "You can't have it both ways. The Vatican is a powerful voice and (a boycott) could have had a strong demonstrative effect."

As if on cue, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel the "most cruel and repressive racist regime", prompting the walkout of European diplomats (Wall Street Journal April 21, 2009):
Mr. Ahmadinejad, in his rambling speech Monday, castigated the U.S. and Europe for acting after World War II to make "an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering," according to an English translation of the speech released by the AP. He said the West used Jewish suffering as a pretext for hostility against Palestinians.

Protesters in clown wigs interrupted his speech with shouts of "Shame! Shame!" and "Racist! Racist!" and threw red clown noses at the Iranian president, the AP reported.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is expected to run for a second term in elections this summer, may have been playing more to his audience back home, in a region where Israeli policies toward the Palestinians are widely condemned.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the chief Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, told Catholic News Service by telephone April 20 it was important for people not to be distracted by the remarks of the Iranian president:

Archbishop Tomasi said much more significant than Ahmadinejad's speech were the real advances made in the draft conference document, which recognizes the Holocaust as something not to be forgotten and condemns anti-Semitism as well as intolerance against other religions. The text under consideration in Geneva has been revised in recent months, and the latest draft does not include references to Israel or Zionism.

The archbishop said it was also essential for the international community to give attention to the new forms of racism and discrimination that are emerging, especially against immigrants, the indigenous and the economically marginalized.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told Vatican Radio April 20 that "statements like those of the Iranian president do not go in the right direction, because even if he did not deny the Holocaust or the right of Israel to exist, he expressed extremist and unacceptable positions."

"For this reason it is important to continue to affirm with clarity the respect for human dignity against every form of racism or intolerance. We hope the conference can still serve this purpose," he said.