Jewish groups ask Pope Francis to clarify Israel ‘terrorism’ comments

Criticism from European, US groups comes after ambiguous comment last week: ‘We have gone beyond wars. This is not war. This is terrorism’

Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, November 22, 2023 (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, November 22, 2023 (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Jewish groups have criticized Pope Francis for appearing to accuse both Israel and Hamas of “terrorism” in their ongoing war that started on  October 7, sparked by the terror group’s murderous attack on Israeli communities in the south.

“This is what wars do,” the pope had said at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. “But here we have gone beyond wars. This is not war. This is terrorism.”

Francis’ comments followed separate meetings with Jewish relatives of hostages held by Hamas and Palestinians with family in Gaza on Wednesday. His remarks came a month after he called on Hamas to free the hostages being held in Gaza, and weeks after calling for a ceasefire and for more Palestinian aid.

Noemi Di Segni, the president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy, issued a statement Wednesday saying that she would have preferred Francis had issued a clear condemnation of October 7.

“Certainly we cannot equate the responsibilities of those who have a design of extermination and terror versus those who are defending themselves and defending an entire country and a community that includes both Muslims and Palestinians,” Di Segni said.

In a statement published on the official website of the Jewish community of Milan, the Council of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis (ARI) charged the pope with “publicly accusing both sides of terrorism.”

Rachel Goldberg shows footage of the attack in which her son Hersh was attacked, injured and abducted by Gaza terrorists on October 7, 2023, to Pope Francis, November 22, 2023. (Screenshot / Aviva Klompas/X/ used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, the American Jewish Committee expressed gratitude for the pope’s meeting with families of the hostages and calling for their release, while also criticizing his other remarks.

“Hamas’ butchering and kidnapping of civilians is terrorism. Israel’s self-defense is not,” the AJC wrote. “Vatican, please clarify.”

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna, defended Francis on Thursday.

“The pope is careful,” Zuppi told reporters. “And look, this does not mean putting everyone on the same level… It is not that he does not understand the motivations of the Israeli government,” Zuppi added.

Following Francis’s meeting with 10 Palestinians on Wednesday, a dispute also arose as to whether he used the word “genocide” to describe the situation in Gaza, Reuters reported. Palestinian participants in the news conference say they heard him use the word, while a statement sent by Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said he did not.

War erupted with Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 people were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.

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