(JTA) – Pope Francis said that attacks both on Jews and the State of Israel are anti-Semitic.
“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” the pope said in a private meeting at the Vatican with Jewish leaders on Wednesday, according to a statement from the World Jewish Congress (WJC). “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”
WJC President Ronald Lauder praised the pope’s comments, saying the relationship between Jews and Catholics had never been stronger. “Pope Francis does not simply make declarations. He inspires people with his warmth and his compassion. His clear and unequivocal support for the Jewish people is critical to us,” Lauder said.
Pope Francis also met publicly with nearly 150 delegates and members of the World Jewish Congress’ governing board on Wednesday. The meeting marked the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a landmark declaration that rejected the charge of Jewish responsibility for the killing of Jesus and helped transform the relationship between Judaism and Catholicism.
“Indifference and opposition were transformed into cooperation and benevolence. Enemies and strangers have become friends and brothers. The Council, with the declaration Nostra Aetate, paved the way. It said yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity, and no to any form of anti-Semitism and condemnation of any insult, discrimination and persecution derived from that,” Pope Francis said, according to the WJC statement.
The pope’s comments come at a time of strife in the Middle East and heightened violence in Israel. At a meeting on Tuesday, the WJC Governing Board “reaffirmed its continued support of a two-state solution and urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume peace talks without preconditions as soon as possible.”
The board also called upon the international community to maintain and, if required, expand sanctions on Iran pending verification of its complete compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal.