Pope Francis welcomed over a hundred leaders of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) on Wednesday and issued a strong condemnation of anti-Semitism. At a private audience with WJC President Ronald S. Lauder in the morning, the pontiff made it clear that outright attacks against Israel’s existence is a form of anti-Semitism.
“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation.
Jews and Catholics today marked the anniversary of the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which condemned anti-Semitism and completely transformed and improved relations between Jews and Catholics.
Lauder praised the Pope for this powerful message and said relations between the two faiths were stronger than they had ever been before. The WJC president added: “Pope Francis does not simply make declarations. He inspires people with his warmth and his compassion. His clear and unequivocal support for the Jewish people is critical to us.”
Nearly 150 delegates and observers from the World Jewish Congress Governing Board took part in the public audience with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. The delegates were in Rome for the Board’s annual meeting.
Recalling Nostra Aetate, a declaration adopted on 28 October 1965 by the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis told the crowd in the square: “Indifference and opposition were transformed into cooperation and benevolence. Enemies and strangers have become friends and brothers. The Council, with the declaration Nostra Aetate, paved the way. It said yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity, and no to any form of anti-Semitism and condemnation of any insult, discrimination and persecution derived from that.”
On Tuesday, the WJC Governing Board, representing over 100 Jewish communities around the world, held discussions which focused on the implications facing Jewish communities in light of the various conflicts in the Middle East, including the threat of jihadist terrorism.
The Governing Board reaffirmed its continued support of a two State solution and urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume peace talks without preconditions as soon as possible.
The Board also called on the international community to maintain and, if necessary, expand sanctions on Iran until there is verification and international acceptance of Iran’s compliance with all the conditions of the nuclear deal.
Concerning the refugee crisis, the delegates passed a resolution calling on the international community to provide refugees with sanctuary irrespective of origin or religion, recalling the Talmudic maxim that says “He who saves a single life saves the whole world.”
Photo (left to right): WJC Governing Board Chairman David de Rothschild, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra, President of Latin American Jewish Congress Jack Terpins, WJC CEO Robert Singer and Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress Claudio Epelman.