Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday appealed to Pope Benedict XVI “to make his voice heard” and use his moral authority to condemn the harsh anti-Israel rhetoric voiced by Iran’s hard-line president.
The two men met privately for about 15 minutes, sharing their views about the Middle East. “I think we found in him an attentive ear,” Netanyahu said.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the talks “centered on how the peace process can be advanced.”
Speaking to Israel media afterward, Netanyahu made no mention of the Palestinians, saying he had appealed to the pontiff to speak out against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction and questioned whether the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, took place.
“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. 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.”
The meeting came a day after the pope made an emotional appeal in the West Bank for the establishment of an independent Palestinian homeland – a concept Netanyahu has not yet publicly endorsed, preferring instead to tout his idea of strengthening the Palestinian economy first.
The men appeared to exchange pleasantries before reporters were ushered out of the room to allow them to speak privately.
Before the meeting, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the meeting would be key because “personal contact is always very important.”
Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the pope was “very happy” with the outcome of the trip, which began Monday, and that “all the important meetings were very positive.”
He said the main goal was “peace, peace, peace,” adding that he felt the pope had listened to all sides, acting like a “bridge” between the various positions.