Grapevine: Of presidents and popes

The first pope to visit the Holy Land was Pope Paul VI in 1964, almost 30 years prior to the establishment in 1993 of full and formal diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican.

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August 6, 2015 21:03
Vatican

Pope Francis. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Despite disagreements between Israel and the Vatican with regard to ownership, taxes and access to holy sites, it has become par for the course for presidents of Israel to host papal visitors to Israel and to make a point of meeting with a sitting pope in the Vatican during presidential visits to Italy.

President Reuven Rivlin is no exception, and when he travels to Italy next month, his first official meeting will be with Pope Francis in the Vatican. He will be the second president of Israel to meet with Francis. The first was Shimon Peres, who met the pope on several occasions both in Rome and Jerusalem. It is not unusual, however, for pontiffs to meet successive presidents of Israel, or for that matter for presidents to meet successive pontiffs.

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The first pope to visit the Holy Land was Pope Paul VI in 1964, almost 30 years prior to the establishment in 1993 of full and formal diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican. Contacts between Jews and the Vatican go back far beyond that period; and as far as Zionism and a homeland for the Jewish people are concerned, they can be traced to 1904, when Theodor Herzl, shortly before his death, met with Pope Pius X, in a vain attempt to get the Vatican’s support for the realization of the Zionist dream. The Vatican was not at all in favor of the revival of a Jewish homeland in what was then Palestine, primarily because it did not want its holy sites to be under the sovereignty of the Jews.

Following the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in November 1947 and the ensuing hostilities between Jews and Arabs, Pope Pius XII urged the internationalization of Jerusalem and subsequently called for justice for Palestinian refugees.

This did not include the Jewish refugees who prior to 1948 had lived in Jerusalem’s Old City. Following independence, Israel attempted to get recognition from the Vatican, which maintained its policy on the internationalization of Jerusalem.

Nonetheless, certain understandings and agreements were reached. Moshe Sharett, in his capacity of foreign minister, met with Pius XII in 1952, and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performed for the pontiff in 1955. Yet Israel failed to get de jure recognition from the Vatican and this was made patently clear during the visit to the Holy Land by Paul VI in January 1964.

The Vatican had little choice but to modify its position following Israel’s territorial expansion after the Six Day War, although there had been prior indications that the Vatican was relenting to some extent.

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Among the high-ranking Israeli visitors to the Vatican were Abba Eban in 1969, Golda Meir in 1973 and Moshe Dayan in 1978.

When prime minister Yitzhak Shamir met with Pope John Paul II in 1982, the premier again raised the question of full diplomatic relations; but as far as the Vatican was concerned, the time was not yet ripe. But it was this same John Paul II – who had grown up with Jewish friends in his native Poland and who had lived through the Holocaust – who brought about the change in the Vatican’s attitude.

After the first Gulf War in 1991, when many of the countries that had severed relations with Israel in 1967 and in 1973 began to renew them – the Palestine Liberation Organization followed Egypt in recognizing Israel and signed the Oslo Accords, and countries such as China and India entered into diplomatic relations with Israel – a Fundamental Agreement was signed between the Vatican and the State of Israel on December 30, 1993, and five months later, in May 1994, there was an exchange of ambassadors. Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo was the first papal nuncio in Jerusalem, while Shmuel Hadas, who had previously been the first ambassador to Spain, became the first ambassador to the Vatican.

John Paul, arguably the pope most beloved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, came to Israel during the millennium year in 2000 and met with president Ezer Weizman and prime minister Ehud Barak. When president Moshe Katsav went to Rome in April 2002, he said that he would ask John Paul to return the menorah that was taken from the Second Temple and is believed to be in the vaults of the Vatican. It’s not certain that he asked for its return, but he did ask to see it. Of course he never did see it.

In November 2005, Katsav was again in Rome, this time to meet Pope Benedict XVI, who subsequently visited Jerusalem in May 2009 at the invitation of president Shimon Peres whom he had met in 2007 when Peres visited Italy. They met again in 2010 when Peres was once more in Rome.

In April 2013, Peres was yet again in Rome to meet with Francis, whom he invited to come to Israel, and the invitation was taken up in May 2014, two months before Peres completed his term. But in September 2014, Peres, now ex officio, was once again in Rome, where he asked the pope to head the “United Religions” in a bid to overcome religious extremism in the world today. In making the request, Peres had said that the United Nations and its peacekeepers did not have the force or the effectiveness of any of the pope’s homilies, which can draw half a million people in Saint Peter’s Square alone.

Now it will be Rivlin’s turn to meet with the pope in the first week of September.

Rivlin will also meet with the president and prime minister of Italy as well as other dignitaries and of course with the Jewish community of Rome. He is due to return to Israel three days before his 76th birthday.

■ LAST MONTH, when he could no longer stand the allegations that called his integrity into question or the fact that he was being ostracized by friends and colleagues, National Fraud Squad head Dep.-Ch. Ephraim Bracha took his life.

Only afterward was it announced that all the allegations against him were false.

Had the announcement been made earlier, Bracha, who was working on several high-profile cases, might still be alive.

A memorial ceremony was held for him this week at the National Police Academy in Beit Shemesh, with the participation of his family, Rivlin, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, acting Israel Police chief Bentzi Sau, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and State Attorney Shai Nitzan.

Rivlin spoke of the lessons to be learned from Bracha’s tragic death. “The lesson is simply that in every situation, there is a human being on the other side,” said Rivlin, who emphasized that at the most basic and human level, everyone is first and foremost a human being, be it beneath a judge’s or prosecutor’s robes, a prisoner’s uniform or the suit of a defendant.

There is also a human being behind the placard being held by a protester, he said, “and even beneath the suit and tie of a politician.”

Relating to an era of social media Rivlin cautioned: “In the instant before you send that cutting article, share that vitriolic post, before carrying out an online lynch, consider for a moment that on the other side is a human being. So, too, in the moment before you disseminate an angry protest, before going out to make an arrest, before the use of force and authority – let us remember that on the other side there is a human being.

Think about that before you call a policeman a Nazi or decry an official as a racist, or before threatening a parking inspector, before cursing a teacher, or a moment before blood is shed. Let us always remember that on the other side there is a human being.”

Rivlin voiced the hope that Bracha’s needless death would “serve as a stark warning for us, lest we forget the humanity within us.”

■ RAPAPORT NEWS, an international network of companies that provides information about the diamond and jewelry business worldwide, reports that executives at O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, refused this week to receive a small group of activists who were accusing Israeli diamantaire Lev Leviev of involvement in human rights abuses in the Middle East and Africa. The activists, affiliated with Adalah-NY, an advocacy group focused on boycotting Israel and Israeli products, were rebuffed in their efforts to meet O executives at the magazine’s headquarters at the Hearst Corporation in Manhattan.

The group said that it targeted Oprah Winfrey after she wore Leviev’s diamond earrings on the cover of the magazine’s May 2015, 15-year anniversary issue. A statement released by Adalah-NY said the group had sought to deliver a letter signed by 5,600 people calling on Winfrey to distance herself from companies owned by Leviev. Several other organizations such as Jews against the Occupation have also come out against Leviev. Not all those who are calling for boycotts against him are interested in the Palestinian issue. Some are opposed to his relationship with Angolan leaders which they see as being supportive of the oppression of the Angolan people. On the other hand, Leviev is an extraordinarily generous philanthropist who supports Jewish communities and Chabad projects throughout the former Soviet Union, the United States and Israel as well as projects of Bukharan Jews.

■ KANSAS BORN Rabbi Ze’ev Kalman Levine, who was among the victims of a terrorist attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood last year, was mourned by his Cleveland-born wife, Chaya, nine children and five grandchildren.

Now there is another grandchild, sired by his son Yerachmiel. The baby, who was born almost exactly nine months after his grandfather’s murder, was this week inducted into the faith in the same synagogue in which his grandfather met his death, and of course was named Ze’ev Kalman Levine.

■ IN COMMEMORATIONS of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Jews are more inclined to think of the conflagration in Europe than of anything related to Japan other than the shelter that it provided through the efforts of one man who defied his country’s policy and issued visas to Jews. But Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, which marked the end of the eight-year war in the Asia-Pacific region, was a dramatic turning point in the chronicles of East Asia. So extreme was this turning point that its outcomes are still felt even today, 70 years later, in every country in the region.

In China, the long struggle between the nationalists and the communists resumed, and in four years the country fell into Communist hands, whereas Taiwan became an independent state. The Korean Peninsula was divided into two independent states which fell into an extended armed conflict five years later. Following its takeover of Manchuria, the Soviet Union regained its earlier decisive role in the affairs of East Asia, and the United States established itself as a major player in the region.

Japan was arguably most affected by its surrender. Abandoning its large empire and expansionist strategy, it began a policy of peaceful coexistence alongside a spectacular economic buildup. Israel has also been affected by changes in Japan and Asia as a whole. An overview of this change will be presented at the Japanese Embassy in Tel Aviv on Friday morning, August 14, by Prof. Rotem Kowner of the department of Asian studies, University of Haifa.

Kowner also chairs the Israeli Association for Japanese Studies. His presentation will cover the various developments that took place in East Asia in 1945 and in the immediate aftermath, with a special focus on political, economic and cultural developments in postwar Japan. Kowner’s expertise includes Japanese modern history; race and racism in modern East Asia; European-Asian contacts since early modern times; the Russo-Japanese War.

■ THE TAUB Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel has a new chairman in the person of Michael S. Saxon, who joined the Taub Center board of directors in December 2013 and has served as the chairman of its governance task force and its governance and administration committee.

Saxon takes over the mantle of Greg Rosshandler, who served in this role for the past four years.

Saxon has held a number of important posts in the Baltimore Jewish community and, concurrent with his chairmanship of the Taub Center, will continue to serve on the board of Baltimore’s Jewish Community Services.

■ MEANWHILE, THE Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Israel is looking for a new president to take over the reins from Michael Rosenzweig, who announced last April that he had decided to leave his position and that of Pardes CEO. Considering all the qualifications that are demanded and all the duties and responsibilities that suitable candidates would have to take upon themselves, it’s a miracle that he had the fortitude to go the distance for nearly three years. Even though Rosenzweig is stepping down, he’s not leaving Pardes – at least not for another year, and even then he may stay longer.

He has agreed to remain on board for a year as senior consultant advising and assisting on foundation grants and leadership transition.

Pardes is now looking for a replacement for Rosenzweig, and the people at the top of the totem pole are in a hurry to find a suitable person. It’s not good enough to be smart, eloquent and charismatic. They want a lot more. The successful applicant will be responsible for providing the vision and overall educational and strategic leadership of Pardes and will work directly with faculty, staff and community leaders and major donors worldwide to further the mission, goals and objectives of Pardes, liaising and cultivating relationships with heads of major organizations and strategic partners; providing inspirational leadership and direction to staff and faculty, that will enable Pardes to achieve its long- and short-term goals; being actively involved in fund-raising, solicitation and development activity; ensuring that the budget serves the organizational vision, and that Pardes is financially stable; developing both the Israeli and American boards of Pardes.

This is nothing compared to the required qualifications, which include: significant leadership experience in the world of Jewish education; committed identification with the vision and mission of Pardes; experience in fund-raising, foundation and donor development; proven ability to build consensus and rally support around common goals; management experience in the Jewish nonprofit arena preferable; advanced academic degree or rabbinic ordination preferable; ability to think strategically and creatively; superior written and oral communication skills; excellent interpersonal skills; charismatic, compelling and diplomatic personality; willingness to travel frequently from Jerusalem to all parts of North America, and occasionally worldwide.

The powers that be have set September 10 as a cutoff date for applications. greerfc@gmail.com

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