00 5/8/2009 8:02 AM

It is ridiculous that an Israeli Minister should have anything to do with whom the Pope meets at the Vatican. As the story says that the 'meeting' will take place Sunday, when the Pope will be celebrating a Canonization Mass, then it is possible he will meet this mayor, if he does, briefly, as part of a group, before he leaves the Piazza to go back to the Apostolic Palace. If the Pope's security is doing their job, all should be well...

Israel urges Pope
not to meet Arab mayor
of an Israeli town
said to 'support terror'

JERUSALEM, April 22 (AFP) – Israel on Wednesday urged Pope Benedict XVI to cancel a planned meeting at the Vatican with the mayor of an Arab Israeli town, calling the latter a "terror supporter and warmonger."

Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ghanaim is due to meet the pontiff on this upcoming Sunday, a spokesman for Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov told AFP.

"This is a terror supporter and warmonger that acts against the national interests of the state in which he serves as mayor, and I call on the Holy See to abstain from meeting with him," Misezhnikov said in a statement.

Ghanaim organised a demonstration in his town against Israel's devastating war in Gaza earlier this year during which he spoke out against the operation that in the end killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

"During it he said, and I paraphrase, that 'I support the people of Gaza who are struggling against this cruel and oppressive occupation'," said Misezhnikov's spokesman, Amnon Lieberman.

"He said, 'long live shahids, long live Palestine with its capital in Jerusalem'... he said, 'this brutal occupation should be stopped'," Lieberman said.

"Which is breaking the rules of the state where you are serving as mayor and where you are getting your salary from," Lieberman said. "It would not be accepted in any other country."

Misezhnikov is a member of Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party, whose top party platform during the recent election was dealing with Israeli Arabs who do not show sufficient loyalty to Israel.

In his post as tourism minister, Misezhnikov is in charge of coordination for the pope's forthcoming visit to the Holy Land in mid-May.

Ghanaim told Arab news sites that Misezhnikov was "irresponsible. It seems that he forgot that the elections are behind us and he does not need to garner extra votes."

I hate to think the new Israeli goverment - its Tourism Minister, at any rate - is trying to set up an excuse to sow dissent, with the Pope's visit about two weeks away.

And here's what happened as a result:

Arab mayor's invite to papal audience
withdrawn after Israeli protest

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM, April 24 (CNS) -- An invitation for the controversial mayor of an Arab-Israeli village to a papal audience in Vatican City was withdrawn following protests by the Israeli minister of tourism.

Mayor Mazen Ghanaim of Sakhnin confirmed April 23 that the invitation for the April 29 audience was canceled. He said he sent a letter of complaint to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a copy to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

On April 22, newly appointed Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov issued a statement denouncing what he called "the planned meeting" as being in "complete contradiction" of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories May 11-15. The papal visit is part of a larger trip that includes a stop in Jordan May 8-11.

Misezhnikov, who heads the team in charge of making preparations for the pope's visit to Israel, said the trip is a "state-religious visit designed to promote peace and dialogue between peoples and religions."

He described Ghanaim as "a terror supporter and warmonger (who) acts against the national interests of the state in which he serves as mayor, and I call on the Holy See to abstain from meeting with him."

Misezhnikov is a member of Lieberman's right-wing party, Yisrael Beitenu. The party, which means "Israel Is Our Home," has caused controversy for its blatant anti-Arab platform.

During the war in January between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, Ghanaim created a stir when he praised Palestinian "martyrs" and declared, "Long live Palestine, whose capital is Jerusalem," at an anti-war demonstration.

In a brief statement to the press, Archbishop Antonio Franco, papal representative to Israel and the Palestinian territories, said it was a "pity to make such a controversy" over the issue of a general audience with the Pope and he regretted that Pope Benedict was dragged into the polemics.

A local Christian source told Catholic News Service that the Vatican also was miffed at Ghanaim's claims that he had been invited to meet with the Pope and discuss the status of Israeli Arabs prior to the papal visit.

"(Ghanaim) would have had the opportunity to shake the Pope's hand and at best exchange a few words with him," said the source, adding that the papal audience had no connection to the Pope's pilgrimage.

I find this a most unsatisfactory report because it makes a number of assumptions that have not been properly established, and omits many details that one would naturally ask when reporting such a story.

The source cited in the last paragraph says more or less what I had figured this 'meeting' would have been - something informal, nothing than a courtesy greeting and a brief exchange of words.

But the first part of th CNS story quotes the mayor as saying his invitation had been 'cancelled', without specifying exactly to what the invitation was and in what form it (and the cancellation) was given - directly from the Vatican or through a local Catholic organization in Israel, in writing or orally. The brief quotation from the Nuncio in Jerusalem is equally uninformative in this respect.

And frankly, in the absence of better, more reliable reporting, I don't know what to make of the Vatican's apparent 'capitulation' to the Israelis on this matter

In the Italian newspapers today, the Israeli demand that the Vatican cancel the 'meeting' between the Pope and the Arab mayor was reported alongside the fact that the Pope yesterday accepted and briefly wore a 'keffiyeh' given to him by a Palestinian girl who came to the GA with a group of other Palestinian Catholics from Bethlehem.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/8/2009 8:05 AM]