Israel calls Vatican a forum for Arab propaganda


THE VATICAN’s two-week long synod on the Middle East ended on a polemical note this weekend when Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon accused the Vatican gathering of having become a “forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda”.

Mr Ayalon was referring to the synod’s final message, released on Saturday, and to the words used by Msgr Cyril Salim Bustros, a Greek Melkite archbishop from Boston, when explaining the message.

Lebanese-born Msgr Bustros, who headed the synod Commission for the Presentation of the Message, said at a Vatican news conference: “The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of the Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands . . . We Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people – all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.”

The synod message, the fruit of the reflections of 170 synod fathers from all the different Catholic Churches of the Middle East and surrounding regions, called on Israel to accept UN resolutions urging an end to its occupation of Arab lands, saying: “The citizens of the countries of the Middle East call upon the international community, particularly the United Nations, conscientiously to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region, through the application of the security council’s resolutions and taking the necessary steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories . . .”

Furthermore, the synod fathers expressed their solidarity with the Palestinians while attempting not to alienate Jewish opinion, saying: “We have taken account of the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the whole region, especially on the Palestinians who are suffering the consequences of the Israeli occupation: the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socioeconomic life and the thousands of refugees. We have reflected on the suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live . . . With all this in mind, we see that a just and lasting peace is the only salvation for everyone and for the good of the region and its peoples.”

Mr Ayalon said: “We express our disappointment that this important synod has become a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda. The synod was hijacked by an anti-Israel majority.”

Mr Ayalon called on the Vatican to “distance” itself from Archbishop Bustros’s comments, calling them a “libel against the Jewish people and the state of Israel”. Speaking at a Mass in St Peter’s yesterday which closed the synod, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Peace is possible. Peace is urgent. Peace is an indispensable condition for a life worthy of the human person . . . Peace is also the best remedy to avoid immigration from the Middle East.”