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Meeting of Catholic, Jewish Figures Blasts Anti-Zionism as Anti-Semitism

This article is reprinted with permission of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Visit www.jta.org.

BUENOS AIRES, July 8 (JTA)--In an unprecedented step, Catholic religious leaders have signed on to a statement rejecting anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism.

A statement expressing "total rejection of anti Semitism in all its forms, including anti-Zionism as a more recent manifestation of anti Semitism," was released Thursday at the end of the 18th International Liaison Committee meeting between Jewish and Catholic intellectuals and religious leaders in Buenos Aires.

The Catholic and Jewish leaders also committed to work together for justice and charity.

"We came to Latin America and brought about a profound change," Elan Steinberg, executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress, told JTA. "The government and the Catholic church, the two most relevant institutions of the region, are supporting us."

Leaders of the WJC, which helped organize the forum, also met with Argentine President Nestor Kirchner. Kirchner agreed to press other Latin American presidents to sign a petition against anti-Semitism, they said.

The Jewish leaders were gratified that the concluding document also condemned terrorism, calling it "a sin against man and God."

The delegates also proposed holding a shared celebration next year for the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a landmark Vatican document declaring that Jews historically are not liable for Jesus' death and establishing a joint annual memorial for Holocaust victims.

The forum was the first international meeting of Vatican officials and Jews in Latin America, a region of 550 million people that includes 475 million Catholics and 525,000 Jews.

The theme of the meeting was tzedek and tzedaka, or justice and charity, because of the work done by the Jewish community and the Catholic Church to help the poor after Argentina's economic collapse in December 2001.

No venue was set for the next meeting, but the religious leaders discussed holding it in Israel.

"It will bring new friends to Israel. We need alliances," said Rabbi Israel Singer, the WJC's chairman.

Shear Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa, told JTA that the meeting was important because it represented a gathering of religious believers, not politicians or human rights organizations.

Judith Hertz of the Union for Reform Judaism--the only woman in the Jewish delegation--said it was "impressive" that Catholic religious leaders would travel so far and spend so much time to understand Jews' concerns.

"Catholics talk about loving God. We, Jews, talk about repairing the world," she said. "Our central value systems are the same: We need to do something for the children with hunger or the elderly that are alone."

Hebrew for "righteousness," it usually means "charity" or "righteous giving." In Judaism, it refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just, including giving to those in need. A form of nationalism of Jews and Jewish culture that supports a Jewish nation state in territory defined as the Land of Israel. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Florencia Arbiser

Florencia Arbiser is JTA's correspondent in Buenos Aires. Prior to joining JTA, she worked for nine years at the Clar'n newspaper, the largest Spanish paper in the world. She also currently writes for Ciudad Abierta, the magazine of the Buenos Aires municipality's Department of Culture. In 1998 she won an Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship.

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