Lod, 28 May-2014, AFP: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed sympathy and lament over the condition in which Christians live in the Arab world.
During his meeting with Pope Francis I at Lod airport which lasted several minutes, according to protocol, Netanyahu said: “You bring with you the spirit of reconciliation, faith and peace. Your visit here is a chance to show you the real Israel; a democratic, sophisticated and prosperous state in the heart of the raging and violent Middle East, Israel is the island of tolerance.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres also claimed that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state that enjoys internal peace and looks forward to peace with its neighbours, even if its way is fraught with pain, “it still remains better than the scourge of war”.
These two statements show one of the faces of the Israeli investment in the visit and the reception of the Pontiff. It is expected that Netanyahu and Peres will repeat these statements during any official meetings with the Pope today.
On the other hand, the newspapers highlighted the absence of half the from the official ceremony that was held to welcome the Pope at Lod airport; in the forefront of them were the Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman; the head of the Jewish Home Naftali Bennett; and the Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
They also highlighted the Pope’s visit to Bethlehem at the Apartheid Wall, where he prayed for a few minutes. The Israeli radio presenter, Arie Golan, commented on the visit saying to the Pope: “You are welcome in the land of conflict.”
In the meantime, Israeli press said the Pope invited both Peres and Mahmoud Abbas to visit the Vatican and pray for peace was arranged in advance and that the Vatican briefed the Peres about that, who in turn informed Netanyahu.
The Israeli newspaper Maariv revealed on its website that the Israeli Ministry of Education has issued instructions for Israeli schools to talk about the visit, focusing on two Popes who were, according to Maariv, “pro-Judaism”, namely John Paul II and John XXIII.
However, the ministry’s decision in this regard sparked angry reactions among the rabbis. Moreover, the ministry did not include the Jewish religious schools in its guidelines. The schools expressed their rejection of the idea out of fear of what the schools called “The Vatican’s missionary activity”.
In this context, Maariv said Rabbi Gan Yaakov Ariel, of the town of Ramat, commented on the decision of the Ministry of Education saying; Christianity has always been anti-Judaism from the beginning. He added that Christians slaughtered millions of Jews and no one can say that the position has changed.
He stressed that only 65 years ago the Vatican opposed the establishment of Israel “because they claim that Christianity came to replace the people of Israel and that the state of Israel conflicts with the Christian belief and, therefore, coming today to tell our children that Christianity has changed its position is an injustice which cannot be forgiven.”
He added: “This situation is very dangerous when it comes to the identity of our children and our children know the inherent danger of Christian missionaries, as Christianity is based on a belief that we will call all to be converted to Christianity eventually.”
On the other hand, the newspaper’s website quoted the rabbi of Modi’in settlement Haim Nefon as saying: “It is important to remember that some of today’s Christians are our allies against radical Islam, we do not want to turn them in to our enemies.”