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Jewish leaders worried by escalating Israel-Vatican spat over terror

2005-07-29 10:24:00

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Jewish leaders worried by escalating Israel-Vatican spat over terror comments
01:09 PM EDT Jul 29

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Jewish leaders said Friday they were worried by an escalating spat between the Vatican and Israel over papal pronouncements on terrorism and urged both sides to tone down the rhetoric to avoid any lasting damage to relations.

Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, said the dispute was "only damaging for both parties" and he hoped it ended quickly, particularly before Pope Benedict visits a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, next month.

"As a religious leader, I am really worried about the escalating level of this debate and that we stop as soon as possible," he said.

Both the Vatican and Israel tried Friday to put the dispute behind them, refusing to comment further after a week of tit-for-tat pronouncements that culminated Thursday with a harshly worded Vatican statement telling Israel not to try to give the pope lessons on what to say in his statements.

The dispute erupted Monday, when Israel summoned the Vatican envoy to complain that Pope Benedict had "deliberately failed" to include a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Netanya when he listed countries recently hit by terrorist attacks.

The Vatican press office said Benedict's condemnation during his Sunday prayer covered all terrorist attacks in recent days and the Netanya attack fell under the "general and unreserved condemnation of terrorism."

But the following day, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, Nimrod Barkan, was quoted as telling the Jerusalem Post that Israel had for years quietly protested that John Paul had refrained from condemning attacks in Israel and was now going public with its protest in hopes that the new pope would change the policy.

"Since they never paid a price for the lack of a condemnation, they continued to do it. But if they understand we won't let this pass quietly, I assume they will change their ways," Barkan was quoted as saying.

He said he wasn't concerned that public protest would damage relations with Benedict, saying, "What could be worse than implying that it is OK to kill Jews?"

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls made an unusually harsh rebuttal Thursday evening, issuing a two-page list of the times John Paul condemned attacks against Jews and calling Barkan's accusations "groundless" and invented.

He said the Vatican couldn't condemn every attack against Israel because very often Israel would respond in ways that violated international law. "It would consequently have been impossible to condemn the former and remain silent on the latter," he said in a statement.

"Just as the Israeli government understandably does not allow its pronouncements to be dictated by others, neither can the Holy See accept lessons and directives from any other authority concerning the orientation and contents of its own declarations," he said.

Seymour Reich, who has been involved in Jewish-Vatican negotiations in the past, said both sides had "overreacted" and urged them to "take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture regarding Israel-Vatican relations and the Vatican's world Jewry relations."

Reich, who is past chairman of the New York-based International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, an umbrella group of major Jewish organizations, said he thought the issue would die down and that the pope's Cologne synagogue visit would go ahead.

He said he also didn't think the spat would affect celebrations this fall commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Vatican's "Nostra Aetate" declaration that revolutionized the Vatican's relations with Jews. In the document, the Vatican rejected anti-Semitism and the notion that Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Christ.

" 'Nostra Aetate' is a monumental event that will go ahead without any distractions," he said.

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