Text size

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday asked Pope Benedict XVI to condemn the anti-Semitic declarations of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"I asked him, as a moral figure, to make his voice heard loud and continuously against the declarations coming from Iran of their intention to destroy Israel," Netanyahu told reporters following the meeting between the two in the Israeli town of Nazareth.

"I told him it cannot be that at the beginning of the 21st century there is a state which says it is going to destroy the Jewish state, there is no aggressive voice being heard condemning this," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said he was pleased with the pope's response. He said that "he condemns all instances of anti-Semitism and hate against the state of Israel - against humanity as a whole - but in this case against Israel."

During their meeting, Netanyahu underscored before the pope the threat that he felt Iran poses to the Middle East and to world peace. Fending off the Iranian threat will advance peace, Netanyahu said, adding that Israel wants peace with the Palestinians but only the kind of peace that brings security. "We don't want to dominate another people, but we also don't want a terror state backed by Iran to rise alongside us and jeopardize Israel's safety," he said.

The pope replied that he believed extremism must be battled and that moderate elements in the region must be supported. The pontiff stressed the fact that he has spearheaded the battle against anti-Semitism around the world.

The pope asked Netanyahu to step up the negotiations between Israel and the Vatican surrounding the payment of taxes collected from Catholic Church institutions inside the state of Israel. The prime minister insisted that he was in favor of resolving the issue and that he would take steps to speed up the talks.

Netanyahu yielded another of the pope's requests and promised that he would increase the number of visas granted to priests living in Arab states who are interested in visiting Israel.

Prior to the 2006 Second Lebanon War, priests were eligible for long term visas, but after the war, the number of visas granted was dramatically reduced for security reasons. Netanyahu said that Israel would be willing to discuss increasing the number of visas and to ensure that more Catholic priests are granted such visas.

The pope also asked Netanyahu to consider granting more "family unification" authorizations to Christians living in Israel who have family members in Jordan or the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu voiced reservations regarding this request, saying that it would not be possible for Israel to discriminate in favor of Christians. Members of other religions will demand the same treatment, Netanyahu explained.

Following their one-on-one meeting, the pope and the prime minister invited advisers to join them and the expanded meeting focused on the relations between Israel and the Vatican, while stressing financial issues.