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Cablegate: Relations with Jews and Anti-Semitism High On

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS VATICAN 001302

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE

DEPT. FOR EUR/WE-LEVIN; EUR/OHI (BRAUM); NEA/IAI; EUR/RPM

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM SOCI IS VT
SUBJECT: RELATIONS WITH JEWS AND ANTI-SEMITISM HIGH ON
VATICAN AGENDA

REF: A) Vatican 0260; B) 03 Vatican 5190; C) Vatican 1150

-------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) The Holy See has placed its dialogue with Judaism and
efforts to combat anti-Semitism high on its agenda, as
reflected in recent Papal statements, high profile
meetings, and an increasingly active inter-religious
dialogue. Vatican relations with Judaism have been
steadily improving since the 1960s, and Pope John Paul II
has made the issue a personal priority, doing more than any
other modern pope to promote better inter-religious ties.
Though the uncertain boundaries between religion and
politics can create challenges to relations, as can
controversies such as that surrounding Mel Gibson's film,
"The Passion of the Christ," the Holy See is determined to
weather these tempests and deepen the dialogue. The Holy
See is sending a high-level delegation to the OSCE's April
anti-Semitism conference in Berlin. End Summary.

-------------------------------------------
Combating Anti-Semitism: A Vatican Priority
--------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Father Norbert Hofmann of the Holy See's
Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews recently
reviewed with Poloff the Vatican's efforts to use its moral
influence to combat anti-Semitism on a global scale.
Hofmann, the Vatican's pointman on the issue, served as a
papal delegate to the June 2003 OSCE conference in Vienna,
which recognized anti-Semitism as a human rights issue, and
will also be a member of the Holy See's delegation to the
April OSCE anti-Semitism conference in Berlin. Hofmann
described his work as a priority for the Vatican, and a
crucial piece of the Pope's broader effort to promote
religious dialogue and toleration. Hofmann noted that in
the framework of the CatholicJewish dialogue, the issues
of anti-Semitism and of broader relations between the
religions were inseparable. Any attempt to enrich dialogue
with the Jews, he explained, also had to address anti-
Semitism, since the subject is such a crucial part of the
Jewish experience, historically and today.

----------------------------
Steady Progress in Relations
----------------------------

3. (SBU) Hoffman traced for us the evolution of Catholic
relations with the Jewish community in recent decades,
noting that the landscape had changed dramatically since
the 1950s. The 1965 Second Vatican Council declaration on
the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian
religions, Nostra Aetate, repudiated the historical charge
that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus and
initiated a new relationship between the two faiths. The
declaration also established the Vatican's Commission for
Religious Dialogue with the Jews, which Hofmann said came
to be housed in the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity
as an acknowledgement of the shared roots of Christianity
and Judaism. Since this time, numerous initiatives have
encouraged greater understanding between the two faiths;
for example, since the 1960s Jews and Catholics have taken
part in an annual Day of Dialogue to promote tolerance and
understanding.

4. (SBU) A series of reforms and directives initiated by
the Holy See have also addressed the way the laity and
clergy addresses Judaic issues and the way they are taught
in Catholic catechesis. A Vatican document released March
8 instructing bishops on the exercise of their ministry,
for example, instructs them to encourage respect for Jews
in order to combat anti-Semitism. It also asks bishops to
ensure that the study of Judaism is on the curriculum in
their seminaries for priests. Hofmann endorsed this
approach, observing that the Holy See seeks to use
Christianity's Jewish roots as a springboard to combat
anti-Semitism and promote dialogue. He said such
initiatives had in fact filtered down to the grassroots
level of the Catholic Church.

-----------------------------------
New Impetus under Pope John Paul II
-----------------------------------

5. (SBU) Following the new openings of Vatican II, Pope


John Paul II has made giant strides in combating anti-
Semitism and in the Holy See's relations with Jews, Hofmann
said. Under this Pope, the Vatican has used a combination
of papal statements, education initiatives, and periodic
conferences to advance its agenda. The 2000 visit to
Jerusalem by the Pope, in which he prayed at the Western
Wall and apologized for Christian contributions to anti-
Semitism, was a seminal moment in the relationship. But it
was far from an isolated gesture. The Pope had made an
historic visit to Rome's synagogue in 1986 -- the first
modern-era pope to visit a synagogue -- and has since
maintained excellent relations with the city's Jewish
community. [Comment: Rome's Chief Rabbi has invited the
Pope to the synagogue's centenary celebrations later this
spring. Hofmann told us March 26 that he was still waiting
to hear if the Pope would be able to attend. End comment.]
More recently, Israel's Chief Rabbis expressed their thanks
to the Pope for his strong condemnation of anti-Semitism
during a January 16 audience.

-----------------------------------
Symbolic Events Helpful to Dialogue
-----------------------------------

6. (SBU) Hofmann said that symbolic events such as the
January 17 Papal Concert of Reconciliation organized at the
initiative of the Embassy (ref a), during which Pope John
Paul II sat flanked by Rome's Emeritus Chief Rabbi Elio
Toaff and Imam Abdulawahab Hussein Gomaa, reflected
continued growth in the relations with Judaism and the
shared impetus to battle prejudice. While music could only
go so far, Hoffman said, he believed that the similar
events in other areas could inspire more "concrete
collaboration to be carried out in daily life." Similarly,
gestures such as the Pope's March 29 audience with a
delegation from the American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee (JDC) -- which was given prominent coverage in
Vatican media -- help build trust and understanding. JDC
President Eugene Ribakoff told the Ambassador his group
felt very warmly received by the Pope and felt that he
understood their concerns as Jews. "We were really on the
same wavelength," he said. As far as JewishCatholic
relations went, Ribakoff declared that "this pope has
changed the Vatican."

---------------------------------
"The Passion" Creates Controversy
---------------------------------

7. (SBU) Helpful symbols and dialogue notwithstanding,
Hofmann told us that controversy could flare quickly in the
world of inter-religious relations. He pointed to the
firestorm that had erupted over alleged anti-Semitism in
the film "The Passion of the Christ," and recounted the
recent visit to the Vatican of Abe Foxman of the Anti-
Defamation League to encourage Holy See officials to speak
out against the film. Hofmann said his Council had tried
to be responsive to Foxman's concerns, with Council
President Cardinal Walter Kasper arranging to reiterate
Catholic teaching on anti-Semitism in a CNN interview.
(Comment: The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference put out its
own document seeking to counter potential anti-Semitism
arising from the film. End Comment.) At the same time,
Hofmann said it wasn't the place of the Vatican to condemn
or praise a movie. He said neither he nor most Vatican
officials found the film anti-Semitic - a view echoed
publicly by the Vatican's spokesman March 11 in response to
a call by Rome's Chief Rabbi for Vatican comment. Still,
he said the Holy See did understand the fear of some Jewish
leaders that the film could be used by ill-intended
individuals to generate anti-Semitism.

---------------------------------
Political/Religious Complications
---------------------------------

8. (SBU) In describing other complications for this
important dialogue, Hoffman pointed to the relationship
between Judaism and the state of Israel. He said the
relationship has often blurred issues that, for dialogue's
sake, should remain separate. The Holy See's criticism of
Israel's security wall, for example (ref b), created some
tension in the inter-religious dialogue with Judaism as
well as some frosty commentary from Israeli officials. The
Head of Hofmann's Council, German-born Cardinal Walter
Kasper, told the Ambassador in a March 10 meeting that such
political complications were undoubtedly part of the


minefield of inter-religious dialogue. Kasper warned that
criticism of Israeli policies should not be mistaken for
anti-Semitism. "I may criticize American or French
policies, but that doesn't make me anti-American or anti-
French," he reasoned. He agreed with Hofmann, however,
that policy-based anger at Israeli policies could easily
slip into morally offensive anti-Semitism. In fact, Kasper
suggested the recent rise in anti-Semitism in Europe could
be traced to growing European outrage at Israeli actions in
the Palestinian conflict.

---------------
OSCE Conference
---------------

9. (SBU) Cardinal Kasper will lead the Holy See delegation
to the OSCE anti-Semitism conference in April, along with
Hofmann and a representative of the German Catholic
Bishops' Conference. Hofmann said Kasper would make a
statement reiterating Catholic teaching on anti-Semitism,
and would likely refer to recent Papal and other Holy See
statements on the subject, such as a February Papal
statement at the time of a visit by the American Jewish
Committee when the Pope stated: "there is regrettably a
great need to repeat our utter condemnation of racism and
anti-Semitism." Kasper might also draw from his own
September article on anti-Semitism published in the Vatican
newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. Hofmann told us his
office had reprinted the article in several languages and
distributed it to Jewish leaders worldwide.

-------
Comment
-------

10. (SBU) The Holy See's official position on anti-
Semitism is clear and well documented, and in words and
deeds the Pope has gone far further on the issue and has
done more to improve the Holy See's relations with Jews
than any of his modern predecessors. In fact, the Holy See
has engaged in self-criticism on the subject unimaginable
forty years ago. Still, Hofmann acknowledged that pressure
remains from those who seek further statements of Christian
culpability in the growth of anti-Semitism, or from
recurrent debates such as the Catholic Church's role in
World War II diplomacy. While the Vatican is willing to
acknowledge the Church's share of historical responsibility
for the growth anti-Semitism, it will not compromise what
it sees as its core beliefs to placate those who want
more. Moreover, the Holy See will continue to react
strongly against what it perceives as Israeli excesses in
the Palestinian conflict, risking damage to Jewish
relations and opening itself up to new charges of anti-
Semitism (ref c). Despite these constraints, the Holy See
has emerged as a determined opponent and of anti-Semitism
and an active leader in inter-religious dialogue that will
be an increasingly valuable partner for in our efforts to
eradicate anti-Semitism.

Nicholson


NNNN

2004VATICA01302 - Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

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