Israel Stops Distributing Booklet About Vatican-Hezbollah Ties

Booklets claiming that the Vatican helped organize tours of the Auschwitz concentration camp for members of Hezbollah, the militant Islamic group in Lebanon, in order to teach them how to kill Jews, were distributed to Israeli soldiers for several months before Israeli military officials suspended the distribution in July. The booklet is purported to be the story of one Hezbollah fighter who had been close to Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and who converted to Judaism. It describes Hezbollah's supposed close relationship with the Vatican and European leaders. The booklet describes an official visit to the concentration camp led by officials from the Vatican. "We knew (the pope) identified with Hezbollah's struggle," the man is quoted as saying in the booklet. The booklet does not specify to which pope he is referring.

Titled "On Both Sides of the Border," the booklet was published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America with the cooperation of Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, according to Ha'aretz, Israel’s daily English-language newspaper. When attention was focused on the contents of the booklet, its distribution was suspended immediately, the Israel Defense Forces said in an official statement following the newspaper's report.

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The booklet in question was received as a donation and was distributed on good faith as a gift for soldiers, Ha'aretz reported on July 19. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in Israel declined comment. Archbishop Antonio Franco, apostolic nuncio to Israel, was out of the country and could not be reached for comment. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not received any complaints from the Vatican or the nunciature about the incident, spokesman Andy David said, adding that the booklet’s claims are known to be “bogus.”   

In a letter to the editor of Ha’aretz, Deborah Weissman, President of the International Council of Christians and Jews, described the booklet as “viciously xenophobic, singling out both Arabs and the Catholic Church for special libels.” Ms. Weissman called on the Israeli Ministry of Defense “to try to repair the damage by initiating educational programs that present a truer picture of other religions and cultures.”

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