Sucking Up to the Pope

Pope Francis flanked by Israel's PM and President
Pope Francis flanked by Israel’s PM and President

The Pope has left after his 24 hour whirlwind tour of Jerusalem. Not a second too soon, as far as I’m concerned. His visit here epitomizes everything that’s wrong with Israel’s relations with the non-Jewish world. Don’t get me wrong, he seems like a nice enough guy from Argentina and he seems to be a soccer/football fan (since he’s from Argentina, how can he not be?), but he didn’t come to Israel representing himself. He came to Israel representing the very same institution that brought us the Crusades and the Inquisition. Over 2,000 years, the Church forced Jews into ghettos and made Jews wear funny hats and yellow patches, forced Jews into conversion and hounded us to the ends of the earth. You would think that there would be a bit of contrition. You would think that with tears in his eyes, the Pope would beg forgiveness from the Jewish people: “sorry about burning you at the stake, sorry about the forced conversions, sorry about the Inquisition, sorry about the inactivity during the Holocaust.” You would think that there would be some kind of acknowledgment that he represents 2,000 years of the Church’s persecution of the Jews. I mean, it was pagan Rome that crucified Jesus and hundreds of thousands of other Jews, and it was Christian Rome that became heir to Rome’s legacy.

In more modern times, the Vatican refused to recognize Israel until 1993 – 1993! – and the previous Pope was a member of the Hitler youth. One might say that this is all ancient history, but even ancient history has to be acknowledged. I heard no acknowledgment from the Pope. What’s worse, I heard no demand for acknowledgment from Israel’s leaders. Instead, he was treated like a rockstar and Israel’s politicians fell all over themselves in an attempt to suck up to him. President Peres called the Pope “His Holiness”. I understand why Catholics would call him “Your Holiness”, but why a Jewish leader?

What’s “holy” about what the Church did to the Jewish people for the last 2,000 years?

Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the Pope to “pray for us”. Speak for yourself Bibi, the Pope is not my Rabbi. It’s one thing to greet the Pope civilly, it’s quite another to treat him as an icon of love for the Jewish people. As for the Pope, there was not one word taking responsibility for murder, torture and, as in the case of Edgardo Mortara, snatching Jewish babies from their parents’ home.

On the contrary, he lectured Jews and Arabs on the road to peace and Israel’s President Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, agreed to go to the Vatican for a peace pow-wow headed by the Pope. The Pope condemned anti-Semitism, as if the Church had nothing to do with it. For God sake, this Pope was elected in the Sistine Chapel, which is at the heart of the Vatican. The chapel is modelled on the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Sistine Chapel is designed based on the idea that Rome has replaced Jerusalem, the Vatican has replaced the Jewish Temple and the Church has replaced Israel. How dare he lecture Israel when, for 2,000 years, the Church has consistently attempted to do away with the people of Israel, so as to replace them. I mean, even the idea of a “New” Testament is predicated on the idea that our Torah is part of an “Old” Testament, and therefore not the latest from God. Again, in a free world, he can believe what he wants to believe. But where is it written that we need to fawn over him? Especially, if he expresses no regret and no remorse.

And if all that wasn’t enough, the Pope created a photo op next to the security barrier built by Israel to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out of our children’s pizzerias. He seemed positively grief stricken that the barrier is there. He should know better – the word “ghetto” was invented in Italy. It’s based on the word “ghèto” meaning “foundry”. The first ghetto anywhere was built next to the foundry of Venice. It is there that the Jews were first crowded into little areas called “ghettos”. It is there that giant walls were built to lock them in. It’s on the Italian peninsula that ghettos were invented by Catholics to imprison Jews. If the Pope wants to exhibit a sad face next to a wall, he should do it in Venice, not Jerusalem. How dare the Pope condemn a barrier that’s meant to protect Jewish children!

Grieving over barrier
Grieving over barrier

So as the Pope winged his way out of the Holy Land and back to Rome, all I could feel is anger at his performance and shame at ours.

For my part, as a journalist, I had access to the papal entourage. But I wasn’t in Jerusalem fighting the crowds for the privilege of being lectured about peace from the head of an institution that has persecuted my people for thousands of years. I was in Ashdod, Israel’s fifth largest city, in an auditorium with several hundred Ethiopian Jews. We were there at a memorial service for 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who died in the 1980’s en route to Jerusalem. At the service, I saw for the first time heat sensing footage shot in the deserts of Sudan in 1985, by Israel’s secret service. The footage shows men, women and children clinging to each other and boarding Hercules airplanes for their return to Israel after a 2,200 year absence.

Commemorating fallen Jews
Commemorating fallen Jews

Except for the Ethiopians – most of whom lost family in the desert – there were very few Israelis there. Many were home cheering the Pope on TV.

About the Author
Simcha Jacobovici is a Canadian-Israeli filmmaker and journalist. He is a three-time Emmy winner for “Outstanding Investigative Journalism” and a New York Times best selling author. He’s also an adjunct professor in the Department of Religion at Huntington University, Ontario.