Pope Francis’ statements on the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, which erupted on October 7, have caused a stir among various communities. Speaking to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope described the conflict as exceeding typical wartime activities, stating, “This is what wars do…But here we have gone beyond wars. This is terrorism.” These remarks followed his engagements with Jewish families affected by Hamas hostage-taking and Palestinian families from Gaza.
Reaction from the Jewish Community
The Jewish community has expressed its dissatisfaction with the Pope’s comments. Noemi Di Segni, the leader of the Union of Jewish Communities in Italy, criticized the Pope for not strongly condemning the actions on October 7. She highlighted the stark contrast between those perpetrating acts of terror and those who are defending their nation and communities. Similarly, the Council of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis (ARI) has accused the Pope of indiscriminately labeling both parties in the conflict as terrorists, signaling deep concern within the Jewish community regarding the Pope’s statements.
Position of the American Jewish Committee
While the American Jewish Committee (AJC) appreciated the Pope’s efforts to engage with families of the hostages and his advocacy for their release, they were critical of his broader statements. The AJC asserted that Hamas’ conduct could be classified as terrorism, but Israel’s actions were defensive. They have asked the Vatican for further clarification on these remarks.
Defense from the Vatican
In response to the uproar, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna, defended the Pope. He emphasized that Pope Francis is cautious with his words and does not lump all involved parties together. He implied that the Pope has an understanding of the Israeli government’s motivations.
Controversy Over Alleged Use of “Genocide”
An additional point of contention emerged over whether Pope Francis used the term “genocide” in reference to the situation in Gaza. Participants from Palestine at a news conference claimed that the Pope used this word, but the Vatican, through its spokesperson Matteo Bruni, refuted this claim.
Pope Francis’ statements have shed light on the intricate and delicate nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, igniting debates and reactions from various groups. This incident underscores the difficulty in addressing this long-standing, deeply rooted conflict.