Netanyahu Thanks Pope for Deepening Christian-Jewish Ties

Honduran possible successor to Benedict XVI accused of expressing anti-Semitic views.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday thanked outgoing Pope Benedict for his efforts to shore up often troubled relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Jews, including with his 2009 visit to the Holy Land.

That trip, in which the German-born Benedict paid respects at Yad Vashem, was seen by many Jews as atoning for his lifting of the excommunication of a bishop who questioned the scale of the Holocaust. On other occasions he visited Auschwitz and the Cologne synagogue.

The pontiff, who will abdicate on February 28, also changed a Latin prayer for Good Friday services by traditionalist Catholics in 2008, deleting a reference to Jews and their "blindness" but still calling for them to accept Jesus.

"In the name of the people of Israel, I would like to thank you for everything you did in your capacity as pope in the name of strengthening ties between Christians and Jews and between the Holy See and the Jewish State," Netanyahu said in a letter to Benedict, a copy of which was circulated to the media.

"I thank you also for bravely defending the values of Judaism and Christianity during your papal term," he wrote.

"I have no doubt that these values, which were so crucial to building the modern world, are no less critical for ensuring a future of security, prosperity and peace."

Meanwhile, in letter to the editor of The Miami Herald, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said that one of the leading candidates to replace Pope Benedict XVI was an anti-Semite.

Responding to a list published last week that identified Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras as the next possible pope, Dershowitz wrote: "He has blamed the Jews for the scandal surrounding the sexual misconduct of priests toward young parishioners! He has argued that the Jews got even with the Catholic Church for its anti-Israel positions by arranging for the media - which they, of course, control, he said - to give disproportionate attention to the Vatican sex scandal. He then compared the Jewish controlled media with Hitler, because they are 'protagonists of what I do not hesitate to define as a persecution against the church.'"

Maradiaga, in a May 2002 interview with the Italian-Catholic publication "30 Giorni," said Jews influenced the media to exploit the controversy regarding sexual abuse by Catholic priests in order to divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

At the time, the Anti-Defamation League expressed outrage at the cardinal's comments. In a later conversation with ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, Maradiaga apologized and said he never meant for his remarks to be taken as perpetuating an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about Jewish control of the media, and promised never to say it again.

"The Vatican has rightly called anti-Semitism a sin, and yet an unrepentant sinner is on the short list to become the leader of the Catholic Church," Dershowitz wrote in his letter. "If that were to occur, all of the good work by recent popes in building bridges between the Catholic Church and the Jews would be endangered. This should not be allowed to happen."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, February 18, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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