Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Netanyahu urges Pope to condemn anti-Israel rants

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appealed to Pope Benedict XVI “to make his voice heard” and use his moral authority to condemn the harsh anti-Israel rhetoric voiced by Iran’s hardline president.

The two men met privately for about 15 minutes, sharing their views about the Middle East.

“I think we found in him an attentive ear,” Mr Netanyahu said.

Pope Benedict has repeatedly called for the establishment of a Palestinian homeland during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Mr Netanyahu, leader of the right wing Likud Party, has pointedly refused to endorse the concept of Palestinian independence — a cornerstone of international policy for the region.

Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi said the talks “centred on how the peace process can be advanced”.

But speaking to Israel TV afterward Mr Netanyahu made no mention of the Palestinians, saying he had appealed to the pontiff to speak out against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian leader has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction and questioned whether the Holocaust in which six million Jews were killed by the Nazis took place.

“I asked him, as a moral figure, to make his voice heard loud and continuously against the declarations coming from Iran of their intention to destroy Israel. I told him it cannot be that at the beginning of the 21st century there is a state which says it is going to destroy the Jewish state, there is no aggressive voice being heard condemning this,” Mr Netanyahu said.

He also added that he was pleased with the Pope’s response.

“He said that he condemns all instances of anti-Semitism and hate against the state of Israel — against humanity as a whole — but in this case against Israel.”

Netanyahu has been trying to rally international pressure to halt Iran’s nuclear programme. Israel, the US and other Western countries believe Iran is seeking nuclear weapons — a charge Tehran denies.

Afterwards Israeli and Vatican delegations met to discuss bilateral issues including travel privileges for Arab Christian clergy, Rev Lombardi told reporters.

The Vatican has asked Israel to allow 500 priests from Arab countries to receive visas to enter Israel at will. Interior Minister Eli Yishai refused the request on security grounds, a spokesman said. But Mr Netanyahu said he would reconsider the request.

The men met in Nazareth, the town of Jesus’ boyhood, on the fourth day of the Pope’s Holy Land pilgrimage to promote peace and unity in the Middle East.

In an open-air mass earlier Pope Benedict greeted tens of thousands of followers with a message of reconciliation.

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