Netanyahu gives pope his late father’s book on the Inquisition

In their first sitdown, Francis and Israeli premier discuss peace talks with Palestinians; pontiff voices hope for lasting peace

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Pope Francis and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet when the pope visits Israel in May (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Pope Francis and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet when the pope visits Israel in May (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Monday morning with Pope Francis at the Vatican and presented the pontiff with a copy of his late father’s book about the Spanish Inquisition.

Netanyahu presented a Spanish translation of the 1995 book, “The Origins of the Inquisition,” to Francis during their 25-minute closed-door meeting, as well as a Hanukkah menorah.

Netanyahu’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, was an Israeli historian who died last year. A Zionist activist who opposed partitioning Palestine between Arabs and Jews, he was best known in academic circles for his research into the Catholic Church’s medieval inquisition against the Jews of Spain.

“To his Holiness Pope Franciscus, a great shepherd of our common heritage,” the Israeli leader wrote on the inside cover of the book.

Francis thanked him and presented Netanyahu with a small bronze plaque of St. Paul.

The Vatican Press Office said the conversation touched on “complex political and social situation in the Middle East, with Particular reference to the reinstatement of Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, expressing Hope that a just and lasting solution Respecting the rights of Both Parties may be reached as soon as possible.”

According to Ynet, Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife told the Holy See after the meeting, “We’re expecting you, we can’t wait.” The paper quoted Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi saying that the Pope had yet to set a date to visit the Holy Land.

Later Monday, Netanyahu met with Italian Premier Enrico Letta and warned that Iran represented a threat to Europe and the entire world if it acquires nuclear weapons.

Letta, for his part, announced that Italy had set aside funding to build a Holocaust museum in Ferrara, and invited Netanyahu to join him for the inauguration.

The encounter was the prime minister’s first with the current pope, who has already met at the Vatican with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in October and with Israeli President Shimon Peres in April. Netanyahu met with the previous pope, Benedict XVI, in 2009, and with pope John Paul II in 1997.

Citing an anonymous official Israeli source, CNN reported last week that the pope was scheduled to make his first visit to Israel in May. The Vatican has not confirmed that report.

Six government ministers joined Netanyahu on the trip and were set to meet with Italian ministers.

The pope and the prime minister reportedly discussed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and security threats Jerusalem faces in the region from Iran and elsewhere, as well as recent European legislation banning circumcision and kosher slaughter, said Murray Watson, a Christian-Jewish relations expert.

“The Vatican’s support for the Jewish community in various European countries, where either kosher slaughter or circumcision have recently been called into question or forbidden by law” would likely come up, said Watson, a co-founder of the Centre for Jewish-Catholic-Muslim Learning at King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario.

Attempts to bring about a meeting between the two leaders have not always gone smoothly. In October, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement announcing that the prime minister would be meeting with the pope at the Vatican shortly thereafter to discuss nuclear talks with Iran and the ongoing peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

However, it later emerged that the PMO’s announcement was premature; there were no confirmed plans for a meeting with the pontiff, which typically has to be scheduled further in advance.

Peres and Abbas both invited the pontiff to Israel and the Palestinian territories, and Francis has said he would like to visit the Middle East.

Abraham Skorka, a rabbi closely affiliated with the leader of the Catholic world, said in October that the pope aimed to visit Israel in March 2014. Skorka said that Francis’s “lifelong dream” was to visit the Holy Land and “to embrace” the rabbi in front of the Western Wall.

Around that time, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) met Pope Francis in the Vatican, and invited him to Israel and to the Knesset.

Francis replied emphatically, “I’ll come! I’ll come!”

Pope Francis’s visit would coincide with the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Jerusalem in 1964, which took place before the Vatican recognized the State of Israel.

The future trip would mark Francis’s second visit to the Holy Land. He arrived here in 1973, just as the Yom Kippur War broke out. As The Times of Israel revealed in April, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (as he was then) spent six days confined to his Jerusalem hotel, studying the Letters of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.

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