Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay met Pope Francis in the Vatican Tuesday, and brought him letters from the families of Israelis held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza asking for his support in bringing them back home.
The pope discussed the situation in the Middle East with Gabbay and ways to advance peace in the region. The Zionist Union leader told the the head of the Roman Catholic church that it requires strong leaders who are prepared to take difficult decisions and not align themselves with extremists.
Gabbay updated the pontiff on the current situation in Gaza and the pope surprised him by speaking of a childhood friend of his who lives in an Israeli town near the border.
The pope was given letters from the families of IDF servicemen Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whose remains have been held by Hamas since the summer 2014 Gaza war, and from the family of Avera Avraham Mengistu, a civilian who is being held by the terror group.
“My world ended when my son, Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, was abducted in Gaza in 2014 by the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas,” wrote Zehava Shaul. “His fate is uncertain although we know that he continues to be held captive by Hamas to this day. While the international community has long forgotten my son, I have not.”
She called on the pope, “In the name of the world peace that you and all of us seek,” to help return her son to Israel.
The pope promised to use whatever diplomatic means he could to help the families.
Francis also criticized the BDS Israel boycott movement, pointing out that there is a difference between legitimate criticism of government policies and those who deny the legitimacy of the Jewish state — the latter he decried as anti-Semitic.
Gabbay was accompanied by journalist Henrique Cymerman, who is close to the pope and who recently joined the Labor party.
Cymerman was involved in bringing the pope on an official visit to Israel in 2014 and helped arrange a subsequent prayer meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Vatican.