Rabbi Calls Israel's Treatment of Vatican 'Outrageous'

Israel's Chief Rabbinate to meet Pope on Sunday to avoid diplomatic crisis over holy sites' taxes.

Cnaan Liphshiz
Cnaan Liphshiz

Israel's behavior toward the Vatican over the past 15 years has been "outrageous," one of the figures behind the 1994 establishment of diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Vatican City told Haaretz last week. "Any [other] country would have threatened to withdraw its ambassador long ago over Israel's failure to honor agreements," Rabbi David Rosen said.

Rosen is to attend the meeting scheduled in Rome today between Pope Benedict XVI and a delegation from Israel's Chief Rabbinate, which is taking place at a time of crisis in the Vatican's relations with Israel and with Jewish leaders.

Rosen, a British-born former chief rabbi of Ireland who is the international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee, said the Vatican agreed to diplomatic relations with Israel after Jerusalem pledged to recognize the legal status of Catholic institutions in Israel and exempt Vatican property in Israel from taxes. The process was to take two years, he said.

"Fifteen years later, the state has not ratified an agreement recognizing the church's legal status," Rosen said. He said the Vatican wants its internal hierarchy recognized by Israeli law, which at present treats each Catholic church as a separate nonprofit organization.

Israeli bureaucrats wore down the Vatican by negotiating every tax clause separately instead of granting a general concession, as expected by the Vatican, Rosen said. He called claims that the Vatican wants Israel to cede territory to it "falsehoods" propagated by "xenophobes."

Last month Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon discussed the legal issues in Rome with Vatican officials. He later said the talks "broke down" and that there was a "crisis" in relations.

Meanwhile, some Israeli politicians and Jewish leaders were angered by the Pope's proclamation last month that Pope Pius XII is eligible for for beatification, despite evidence that he may have turned a blind eye to the Holocaust.

"Most people don't know that almost every current problem in Vatican-Jewish relations began not with Pope Benedict, but with his predecessor Pope John Paul II, who is now seen as a saint by Jews," Rosen said.

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