As Francis’s trip to Israel winds down, Israeli media is noting that his meeting with Netanyahu at the Notre Dame Center just after noon seems to have become the trip’s keystone, at least from official Israel’s perspective.
At that meeting, Netanyahu explained Israel’s need for the security barrier, trying to pour cold water on Francis’s visit to the wall in Bethlehem a day earlier.
“When incitement and terror against Israel stops, there won’t be the need for the security fence, which has saved thousands of lives,” Netanyahu told the pope during the meeting.
“We hope that your call for tolerance and coexistence and an end for incitement, anti-Semitism and terror, will be accepted,” he said.
Netanyahu also said that Israel’s Christian population has quadrupled since the country’s founding in 1948 and lauded Israel’s treatment of its Christian population.
“We guard the rights of Christians in Israel. That unfortunately does not exist in many places in the Middle East. Even Bethlehem, where your holiness visited, Jesus’ birthplace, has become… a Muslim city,” Netanyahu said.
Hana Bendcowsky, an expert in Jewish-Christian relations, said Netanyahu’s figures were somewhat misleading. She said the Christian population’s growth is mostly due to Israel’s granting residency to about 10,000 Palestinian Christians when it captured East Jerusalem in 1967, and some 30,000 Christians who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union because of Jewish family ties. These Soviet immigrants have generally been absorbed into the Jewish majority.
(AP/Times of Israel staff)