Report: Pope told Herzog last month Israel can’t ‘respond to terror with terror’

Washington Post says Israel didn’t publicize details of ‘fraught call’ because it seemed Francis was equating IDF offensive in Gaza with terrorism

Pope Francis arrives for the weekly general audience at Paul-VI hall in The Vatican on November 29, 2023. (Tiziana FABI / AFP)
Pope Francis arrives for the weekly general audience at Paul-VI hall in The Vatican on November 29, 2023. (Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Pope Francis held a tense phone call with President Isaac Herzog last month in which he appeared to categorize Israel’s military operations against the Hamas terror group in Gaza as “terrorism,” the Washington Post reported Thursday, citing an unnamed senior Israeli official familiar with the call.

It is “forbidden to respond to terror with terror,” Francis told Herzog, who protested this classification, according to the report.

Israeli officials did not publicize the “fraught call” or its contents, the Washington Post reported, because “the pope was calling their campaign in Gaza an act of terrorism.”

War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw thousands of 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 majority of those killed were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly.

In response, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched an air and ground offensive that the Hamas-run healthy ministry in Gaza says has killed over 15,000 people. These figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The Washington Post report was published during a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, which had seen 97 civilian hostages released from Hamas captivity in Gaza as of Wednesday: 73 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals, and one Filipino.

The Vatican confirmed that the call took place, though it did not elaborate on the details. Herzog’s office refused to comment.

Earlier in November, the pope held separate meetings with Jewish relatives of hostages held by Hamas and Palestinians with family in Gaza. In public remarks after the meetings, he said, “We have gone beyond wars. This is not war. This is 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)

Jewish groups urged Francis to clarify those remarks and whether he was saying Israel was engaged in terrorism.

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.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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