update deskAntisemitism

Pope Francis condemns the rise in Jew-hatred since Oct. 7

"[The Church] rejects every form of anti-Judaism and antisemitism as a sin against God."

Pope Francis prepares to place a note in a crack of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, May 26, 2014. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.
Pope Francis prepares to place a note in a crack of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, May 26, 2014. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.

Pope Francis on Saturday decried the “terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world” and the rise in antisemitism since Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7.

“We, Catholics, are very concerned about the terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world,” the 87-year-old pontiff wrote in a letter addressed to “My Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel” dated Feb. 2 and made public by the Vatican on Saturday.

Francis wrote that divisive public debates and attitudes surrounding the war between Israel and Hamas terrorists in Gaza have at times veered into antisemitism.

“[The Church] rejects every form of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, unequivocally condemning manifestations of hatred towards Jews and Judaism as a sin against God,” he wrote.

“We had hoped that ‘Never again’ would be a refrain heard by the new generations, yet now we see that the path ahead requires ever closer collaboration to eradicate these phenomena,” he said.

Additionally, the pope called for prayers for the return of the hostages still in the hands of Hamas, which according to Israeli estimates number 136, both dead and alive. Hamas murdered some 1,200 people during the Oct. 7 rampage across the northwestern Negev and wounded thousands more, taking 253 captives back to Gaza.

Francis drew criticism for previous remarks during the now nearly four-month-long war, including on Christmas Day, in which he condemned Israel’s “appalling harvest” of civilian victims in the Gaza Strip.

“I plead for an end to the military operations with their appalling harvest of innocent civilian victims, and call for a solution to the desperate humanitarian situation by an opening to the provision of humanitarian aid,” he said from St. Peter’s Basilica to a crowd of thousands in the square below.

Francis has also appeared to accuse Israel of terrorism.

It’s “forbidden to respond to terror with terror,” the pontiff reportedly told Israeli President Isaac Herzog in November. On Dec. 17, the pope said, “Some say, ‘This is terrorism and war.’ Yes, it is war. It is terrorism.”

The pope’s recent comment

Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa, said that the pope’s recent comment that it is “forbidden to respond to terror with terror” likens “Israel’s just war of self-defense to the barbarism of Hamas.”

In so doing, the pope “repeats the sins of Pope Pius the XII, from the Nazi era, of surreptitiously supporting the forces of evil who seek to annihilate the Jewish people,” Goldstein said.

“If Israel’s war is not just, then there has never been a just war,” he added. (He cited a Dec. 13 Wall Street Journal article, in which David Rivkin and Peter Berkowitz noted the pope’s “primitive pacifism,” and that the “Catholic Church developed just-war theory, but the pontiff doesn’t seem to understand it.”)

“It is a matter of public record that the IDF has done more in this war and previous wars to minimize civilian casualties than any other army in recorded history,” Goldstein said. “International law accepts, unequivocally, that even a just war can, and inevitably will, result in civilian casualties.”

Pope Pius XII, before his papacy, was the Vatican ambassador to Nazi Germany and was “at the very least a passive bystander to the Holocaust, if not an active supporter,” Goldstein said.

“Pope Francis, I turn to you and say: ‘God has given you a historic opportunity to atone for the sins of Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church, during the Holocaust,” he added.

“Pope Francis, to repent on behalf of the Catholic Church, you must not stand by as a passive bystander like Pope Pius did during the first Holocaust, while Iran seeks to perpetrate a second one,” he said.

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