What the Pope Said and Didn't Say

Monday, May 26, 2014 |  Tsvi Sadan

In accordance with diplomatic protocol, upon arrival to Israel on Sunday, Pope Francis gave a short speech, as did his hosts, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

There was genuine warmth and friendship, but their concise speeches also revealed the ongoing profound differences between Israel and the Vatican.

Netanyahu opened up with the words: "Welcome to our land, the Land of Israel, the Holy Land."

Pope Francis opened up with: "Thank you most heartily for your welcome to the State of Israel." 

Netanyahu's speech continued: "I welcome the good relations between the Holy See and the Jewish people and Jewish state."

The Pope's next line went: "I greet all the people of Israel with prayerful good wishes."

The Pope announced that "in the footsteps of my predecessors, I have come as a pilgrim to the Holy Land, rich in history and home to the principal events in the origin and growth of the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam."

Netanyahu said of the land in question: "We regained our independence in our ancestral homeland, to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem."

The Pope also informed his hosts that "during my pilgrimage to the Holy Land I will visit some of the most significant places in Jerusalem, a city of universal importance."

Regarding Jerusalem, Netanyahu told his guest that "you are leaving here for Jerusalem, our eternal capital, the heart of our faith. In Jerusalem and around our country, the prophets' vision of our people's renaissance is being fulfilled."

Sometimes nuances make little difference, but not in this case.

Those who listened carefully to the Pope couldn't miss the point that his holiness didn't once refer to Israel as a Jewish state; and by continuously calling Israel "the Holy Land" he reinforced the Vatican's traditional position that refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

This is even more disturbing in light of the Pope's speech in Bethlehem earlier in the day, in which he framed his presence not as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but as an official visit to "the State of Palestine."

To highlight this difference once again, Netanyahu put the "Land of Israel" first, and then "the Holy Land." The Pope chose to emphasize that the Holy Land is the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In doing so he erred on two accounts: As of yet there is not a Palestinian state, and Islam did not originate in the Holy Land.

Though the Vatican would like to claim the Holy Land for itself, the truth is that the only place in the Bible where the Land of Israel is referred to as the "holy land" is found in Zechariah 2, where God fulfills His promise to the people of Israel, through which all those faithful to God will be blessed as well.

In other words, if there is to be peace, Israel as a Jewish state must exist. Though no one should doubt the Pope's genuine desire for peace, it looks as if he to fails to realize that it will not come by insistently labeling this country as "the Holy Land." Peace will come when the people of the world, including the Jewish people, will submit themselves to the God of Israel, who is never once biblically referred to as the God of the Holy Land.

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