The Palestinian foreign ministry has protested Pope Francis’ acceptance of an award from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University this week.
The pontiff was awarded the school’s highest award on Monday, but Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki wrote in a letter to the Vatican that the university was closely tied to the settlement movement.
“Bar-Ilan University violates international law by directly and indirectly supporting the illegal Israeli settlement enterprise,” Maliki wrote, according to the Ma’an, a Palestinian news agency. He added that the university “is one of the institutions most committed to the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestine” and advocates “hatred and incitement against non-Jews.”
There was no immediate response from the Vatican.
Pope Francis received Bar-Ilan University President Rabbi Daniel Hershkowitz at the Vatican Monday and was honored with the Israeli Award of Distinction for his lifelong efforts promoting peace and fighting for human rights.
Bar-Ilan, based in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, is considered closely tied to the national-religious stream of Israeli society and is seen as generally more politically conservative than the country’s other universities.
“We are the sons of Abraham, and we have the privilege and the responsibility to guide humankind on the path to peace,” Francis told the Bar-Ilan delegation of 25 academics, as well as businesspeople from South America and Spain.
Hershkowitz told the pope that former Israeli president Shimon Peres asked that Bar-Ilan serve as a home base for dialogue among religions, an initiative that Francis and Peres have agreed to work together to advance. The pope welcomed the development.
The reception with Francis and presentation of the award marked the official opening of a year of festivities in celebration of the school’s 60th anniversary.
“Peace and harmony were born much before religions were. The concepts of harmony and unity are shared by our respective religions,” Hershkowitz told the pontiff. “Unfortunately, however, we are living in a world that is filled with hostility and animosity. Our very presence here signals a new beginning, a vista of opportunity. We are ever so aware of the need for dialogue and harmony, peace and coexistence.”