ROME -- World Jewish Congress officials met with Pope Benedict XVI and separately with senior Italian officials on Friday, praising Italy for its support of Israel.
WJC President Ronald Lauder told Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini in their meeting that the Jewish world "deeply appreciates" its "important and well-established friendship with the Italian government" and also appreciates "Italian attention to the safety of the people of Israel." Italy, Lauder later said, "has a key role in advancing the peace process in the Middle East."
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During the meeting, Frattini, who on a visit to Israel last month referred to Italy as Israel's "best friend" in Europe, awarded Lauder the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity.
The leadership of the WJC met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on
Friday, asking the pontiff to denounce the delegtimization of Israel.
"We discussed critical issues affecting world Jewry," said Lauder “and
we expressed to the Pope how much we value the close relationship we
have enjoyed with the Vatican over many years in our quest for a secure
Israel and a safer future for Jews everywhere.”
Benedict stated that the Church recognizes the deep and historical
connection of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland, the Holy
Land, going back to the time of Abraham, and expressed his commitment to
help foster understanding of the bond between the nation of Israel and
the land of Israel among people throughout the world.
In a related development, the Vatican released a statement Friday
describing a "good and open atmosphere" in Thursday's latest round of
talks aimed at finalizing bilateral economic relations between Israel
and the Holy See. The talks, held in Jerusalem, started with mention of
the telegram the pope sent to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
expressing his "prayers and solidarity" with victims of the recent
forest fire and his appreciation of the "selfless dedication" of those
involved in the rescue operation.