Israeli war on Hamas is ‘terrorism,’ Pope Francis tells Israeli president

The charge predated Pope Francis’ similar public comment in November that enraged Israel and Jewish organizations.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Pope Francis privately labeled Israel’s counterattack on Hamas as “terrorism” way before a similar public statement last month aroused the ire of Jerusalem and many Jewish organizations, The Washington Post revealed Thursday.

In a late October phone call, when Israeli President Isaac Herzog was telling him of the trauma the Jewish people were undergoing as a result of the surprise October 7 invasion in which Hamas terrorists slaughtered 1,200 people, including the elderly and infants, the Holy Father responded by saying that it is “forbidden to respond to terror with terror.”

Francis was seemingly reacting to the unsubstantiated reports by Hamas that Israel’s bombing campaign of military targets at the time, prior to the IDF ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, had killed thousands of ordinary Palestinians.

Citing an unnamed senior official who knew of the phone conversation, the daily reported that Herzog had disputed the pope’s characterization of Israel’s actions, saying that the government was doing only what it had to do to defend its citizens. Francis, the official said, had noted that while the terrorists who had committed the atrocities should be held responsible, Palestinian civilians were not to blame.

The Israelis had thought this conversation so “bad,” the official said, that they did not publicize it. Even now, Herzog’s office had no reaction, telling the paper, “We are not inclined to make reference to private conversations.”

The pope then made a similar comment, this time in public, after meeting separately with both relatives of Palestinians in Gaza and Jewish families of some of the 240 hostages Hamas had abducted during its mass attack, who pleaded with him to issue a call for Hamas to release their loved ones.

While telling the Jewish participants that “terror is worse than war,” and speaking warmly to them, he used the word “genocide” when meeting with the Palestinians, according to several who were present. And when he later gave an address to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said, “Here we’ve gone beyond war. This isn’t war anymore, this is terrorism.”

Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican immediately pushed back, saying, “There is a simple distinction: one side is murdering, raping, and does not care about those on their own side. The other side is engaged in a war of self-defense.”

The Assembly of Italian Rabbis was horrified that the pontiff’s “problematic statements” contained “no trace of condemnation of Hamas aggression…in the name of supposed impartiality, they equate aggressor and aggressed.”

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Other Jewish groups demanded that the pope clarify his remarks, something that the Holy See did not do. Francis has also outraged them by speaking often of the Palestinians’ poor conditions and calling regularly for a ceasefire, without expressing equal understanding for Israeli fears over Hamas’ genocidal intent or calling out Hamas’ horrific murders in the Gaza envelope communities.

The Vatican denies that this is the case.

Israel knows that while several heads of state have been calling for weeks for a ceasefire, the pope leads a congregation of 1.36 billion people, and thus his influence is potentially more far-reaching than anyone else.

Jerusalem has so far steadfastly refused to bow to any international pressure, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly reiterating the government’s war aim to utterly destroy Hamas so that it can never threaten its people again.