NEWS - News of B'nai B'rith
Bnai Brith meets the Pope
A multinational delegation of B'nai B'rith leaders met privately with Pope Francis on June 25 at the Vatican, the first international Jewish audience with the pope since the Vatican announced an agreement on church issues with "the State of Palestine" and the pope separately acknowledged non-recognition of Israel as amounting to anti-Semitism. The meeting came during the 50th anniversary year of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council document that helped to transform Catholic-Jewish relations.
The delegation, in addition to Allan Jacobs and Dan Mariaschin, was composed of other members of the B'nai B'rith delegation as Chairman of the Executive Board of Directors Gary Saltzman (Denver, Colo.); B'nai B'rith Europe President Erika van Gelder (The Netherlands); B'nai B'rith International Senior Vice President for Europe (Daniel Citone); Chairman of the B'nai B'rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy Joseph Harari (Panama); Haim Katz, Chairman of the B'nai B'rith World Center in Jerusalem (Israel); and President of B'nai B'rith Argentina Mario Wilhelm (Argentina).
The B'nai B'rith statement said that the "continuing, extraordinary transformation in the relationship between our faith communities can serve as a source of inspiration and optimism for so many others around the world, not least at a time of tensions and conflicts too often influenced by religion... We must make the deepening Christian-Jewish kinship further known among our own adherents around the world—from clergy to educators to young people—and we must progress from dialogue to concrete partnership in tackling the array of challenges that confront our constituencies and all members of the human family. Among these are the protection of our shared environment, care for the poorest and most vulnerable in society, the advancement of quality education for all, the encouragement of international peace, and the combating of all forms of extremism and bigotry."
B'nai B'rith International President Allan J. Jacobs celebrated the pope's commitment to "advancing the path of your predecessors in signaling the Church's commitment to the Jewish people, its respect for Judaism, its denunciation of persisting anti-Semitism, and its due recognition of the State of Israel." At the same time, he told the pontiff that "tragically, no enduring Palestinian-Israeli peace can be possible as long as powerful forces deny the right of a Jewish state to live within any boundaries in Jews' only ancestral homeland. It is in light of this that it is so important that Palestinians not be afforded incentives to pursue political aims outside of meaningful and direct negotiations, compromise and comprehensive bilateral agreement with Israel."
On the eve of the current June 30 deadline for international negotiations with Iran over its illicit nuclear program, Jacobs also emphasized that "if it weren't enough that Iran openly pledges Israel's destruction and lethally empowers foremost terrorist groups—responsible for carnage as far away as Buenos Aires, whose unresolved 1994 AMIA bombing you have consistently highlighted—this rogue government has aggressively pursued the ability to acquire the most dangerous of weaponry... [M]ore attention needs to be paid to the telling fact that Iran's actions have broadly united its neighbors—Arabs and Israelis alike—in urgent, and unprecedented, alarm."
B'nai B'rith expressed support "to our Christian friends worldwide—and we specifically offer our immense concern, and abiding solidarity, as Christians in so many parts of the Middle East are now faced with discrimination, threats and outright persecution. We have them in our thoughts and our prayers."
Since Israel, a rare Middle Eastern democracy where Christians and other minorities have continually increased, itself represents a threatened minority presence in the region, the B'nai B'rith delegation decried "an economic warfare movement, present even in some religious denominations, that singles out the Jewish state for punitive campaigns."
This is not B'nai B'rith's first time meeting with Pope Francis: In 2013, B'nai B'rith International Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs David Michaels attended the installation of the pope and the first interreligious meeting with him at the Vatican. In 2014, Michaels also greeted Francis at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the papal visit to Israel. And before he was known around the world at Pope Francis, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio hosted B'nai B'rith's Kristallnacht commemoration in Buenos Aires in 2012.
"Our meeting with Pope Francis provided us an opportunity to directly reaffirm the bond between the Jewish community and Catholics worldwide, on the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate. It also gave our delegation an important chance to discuss urgent issues in the Middle East that affect both faiths in the region," B'nai B'rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said.