Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not meet with Pope Francis I during his visit to Rome this week, but the Simon Wiesenthal Center did — a 60-strong delegation that included Holocaust survivors, Christians and a prominent Muslim — in a private audience Thursday in the Vatican.
Pope Francis reaffirmed his condemnation “of all forms of anti-Semitism” and told the group the “problem of intolerance must be confronted in all its forms… [including] the marginalization and the very real persecutions which not a few Christians are undergoing in various countries.”
The center’s founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, raised the continuing threats from terrorists and rogue nations like Iran. “There are some nations who can’t compromise. That’s what Chamberlain forgot in 1938 when he returned from Munich with his ‘Peace in Our time.’ Only Churchill understood who Hitler really was. If not for him, today’s audience with Your Holiness and a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center could never have taken place,” said Hier.
The rabbi said the pope was “an ally in our struggles against anti-Semitism,” and hailed his efforts to “secure the rights of religious minorities everywhere, especially endangered historic Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq and beyond.”
Hier also thanked the pope for planning to visit Israel next year. “May your presence there help all those committed to a lasting Middle East peace, to finally recognize the existence of a Jewish state alongside her 23 Arab neighbors,” Hier concluded.
Netanyahu’s office announced last week that he would be meeting the pope during his trip to Rome on Tuesday. It turned out, however, that no formal plans had been put in place for the meeting. Meetings with the pope typically have to be scheduled far in advance.
The meeting would have been Netanyahu’s first with the current pope, who met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last Thursday at the Vatican and with President Shimon Peres in April.
Netanyahu met with the previous pope, Benedict XVI, in 2009, as well as with Pope John Paul II in 1997.