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Holy See- Israel: 25 years of diplomatic relations. David (Amb. of Israel to the Holy See): “Together against religious intolerance”

The year 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel. In fact on December 30th 1993, under the pontificate of John Paul II, the historic Fundamental Agreement between the two States was signed in Jerusalem. It came into effect in April 1994 with the exchange of ambassadors. SIR broached the theme with the ambassador of Israel to the Holy See Oren David.

Papa Francesco riceve in udienza Oren David, ambasciatore di Israele presso la Santa Sede, in occasione della presentazione delle lettere credenziali (Vaticano, 27 ottobre 2016)

“John Paul II, a milestone in our mutual relations, passed away on April 2 2005. Diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See were established in 1994. We cherish his memory with an image of his pilgrimage to Israel.”

With these words the Embassy of Israel to the Holy See commemorated in a tweet the death of Saint John Paul II who made a Jubilee pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the year 2000. In 2019 recurs the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. SIR interviewed the Ambassador of Israel to the Holy See Oren David.

The year 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See. What is the state of health of the relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel after 25 years?
Today, at 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See it can be said that

 

our relations are good, based on dialogue and mutual trust.

 

They can also be defined as unique, since political issues are intertwined with issues of a religious nature. Twenty five years represent a silver Jubilee and this anniversary must act as a thrust to move forward and further strengthen our cooperation, for example at academic and cultural level, in the promotion of pilgrimages to the holy sites in Israel, in the fight against anti-Semitism and against Holocaust denial. All of these phenomena are unfortunately on the rise.

The relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel are based on a “deep, unique bond”, on the sharing of “the same values, virtues and ideals.” In which way did the Vatican II Document Nostra Aetate (1965) contribute to the establishment of diplomatic relations?

 

The Document ‘Nostra Aetate’ is a historic theological document that brought about a fundamental transformation in the Catholic Church’s attitude towards Judaism.

 

With regard to Jewish-Christian relations it led to the signing of the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel- the only Jewish State – on December 3rd 1993. In January 1994, approximately 46 years after the creation of the State of Israel, the Vatican Embassy was opened in Israel and the Israeli Embassy was opened in Rome. Nostra Aetate is a landmark document that is still not known enough and whose content must continue being disseminated.

In which respect can the visits of Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis be considered a thriving building block in the relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See? What is the legacy of these Popes’ visit to Israel? Did they help step up friendly ties between Christians and Jews in Israel?
When a Pope travels to Israel his visit is attentively followed by the whole world. Every journey is different because historical periods are different and so are the Popes’ personalities.

These journeys can be considered a diplomacy of gestures, a form of diplomacy that extends beyond mere words, with a high symbolical value.

John Paul II made an official visit to Israel in the year 2000. He was a Pope who had lived through the tragedy of the Shoah. Diplomatic relations between our two States were initiatied under his papacy, thus his pilgrimage had a great symbolical value and it strengthened the relations between Jews and Christians. In his visit to Israel in 2009, Benedict XVI revived some of the elements characterising the visit of his predecessor and made a further step in our mutual relations, a further step on the path of dialogue. Pope Francis visited Israel in May 2014. He was welcomed with great enthusiasm by the whole Israeli population, without distinction of faith. His visit was short compared to those of his predecessors but it was his fist visit outside Italy chosen by him, and the decision to place a wreath on the grave of the founder of Zionism Theodor Herzl was a gesture that carried major symbolical and political value, a further recognition of the bond between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.

However, after 25 years some issues are yet unsolved, notably the agreements regarding economic and fiscal matters. I am referring in particular to the claims of ownership of some sacred sites (Cenacle) and the taxation of social and reception activities. The Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel has met several times in recent years to continue the negotiations under Article 10 § 2 of the “Fundamental Agreement” between the Holy See and the State of Israel signed in 1993. What progress has been made so far? Will there be a final agreement to be signed in 2019?
The Economic and Financial Agreement deals with issues relating to the properties of the Church in Israel and taxation. Once signed it will represent another milestone in our mutual relations. We must not forget that we are talking about very complex issues also because some of the sites are sensitive sites owing to the fact that they are considered sacred by more than one religion.

 

We have resolved and overcome major obstacles, but more work is still needed to finalize the document. Our guiding principle is to guarantee freedom of worship for all religions, which is a fundamental principle of our democracy.
Dida photo: Pope Francis receives in audience Shimon Peres

In April 2013, in an interview published by L’Osservatore Romano, the then Israeli President Shimon Peres, following a dialogue with Pope Francis, reiterated his openness to the solution of “two States for two People”, to be achieved “through dialogue and negotiations, in a spirit of tolerance and coexistence.” Do you believe that this solution that is so dear to the Holy See is still possible?

First of all Hamas has to stop bombing Israel with its rockets. A rocket recently hit a house in the north of Tel Aviv tearing it down and wounding 7 people including an infant and a three-year-old boy. Israel wants peace, but terrorist organizations don’t want peace.

The solution to this crisis remains the solution of two States living side by side in peace,

 

but in this to happen we need to sit together around the table of peace, and the rocket attacks must stop.

 

The signature of the Fundamental Agreement, in addition to establishing diplomatic relations envisages cooperation in the fight against anti-Semitism and against all forms of racism and religious intolerance, the promotion of exchanges at academic level and the increase of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land. What are the achievements in these fields?
We cooperate fruitfully with Pontifical and Catholic universities, in Italy and worldwide. In fact we have invited several delegations of deans and professors to Israel to settle agreements with Israeli academia. As regards the pilgrimages to Israel, Christian pilgrims keep  arriving in growing numbers.

 

Every Christian believer should visit Israel as it is the birthplace of their faith.

 

As regards the fight against anti-Semitism, Pope Francis met a delegation of the American Jewish Committee in the Vatican past March to whom he conveyed his ‘great concern’ over the outbreak of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide. He said: ‘ I stress that for a Christian any form of anti-Semitism is a rejection of one’s own origins, a complete contradiction.’ What else can be added?

 

For the future, what are the issues of common interest that in your opinion require strong cooperation between Israel and the Holy See: the protection of minorities in the Middle East and thus religious freedom? The problem of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism?

Israel and the Holy See can certainly do a lot to fight religious intolerance and remove any pretext to fundamentalist terrorism that represents a threat not only to Israel but to all democratic societies. Christians and Jews share over 2000 years of history, and our relations have not always been smooth, but we managed to overcome difficulties, establishing a very fruitful dialogue. In this respect we can be considered an example.

Peoples need peace in order to flourish and express their potential; that’s why it is necessary to combat terrorism and fundamentalism.

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