An interview with Zion Evrony, Israeli ambassador to the Holy See for the past three years
Zion Evrony was born in Iran in 1949 and immigrated to Israel a year later. He has held, among other positions, the role of Israeli Consul in New York (1987- 1991), Consul General in Houston (1995- 2002), and Ambassador to Ireland (2006- 2010). On August 1, 2012, he became Israel’s Ambassador to the Holy See. During the recent festivities for the 67th anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel (May 14, 1948-May 14, 2015), he responded to questions on the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe, Pope Francis’ attitude towards Judaism, and his international actions and the relationship between Israel and the Holy See. We also include here some of his statements from a year ago, made immediately before the Pope’s visit to Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
Ambassador Evrony, let’s start with your memories of an eminent figure in the Italian Jewish community, Elio Toaff, who passed away on April 19. The Jewish Museum of Rome recently inaugurated an exhibit dedicated to some of his private and never-before-shared writings…
Ambassador Zion Evrony: Elio Toaff was an important moral and spiritual leader, and he died in his home in Rome 10 days shy of his 100th birthday. During his long life, he contributed to the fight against Fascism. I would also like to underline the fact that he was a leading figure in interreligious dialogue: in 1986, as Chief Rabbi of Rome, he welcomed John Paul II into the Great Synagogue of Rome, and a deep friendship developed between these two great men. Truly, religious leaders can, at times, pave the way for political dialogue.
Our times are characterized in part by a re-emergence in Europe of anti-Semitism, sometimes open and other times stealthy. Hasn’t history taught us anything?
Evrony: Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is still alive in Europe. History has shown us, and continues to show us, that there will always be people who believe that others’ lives are worth less than their own, due to their nationalities, the color of their skin, their religion. Seventy years after the tragedy of the Holocaust, European Jews are once again living through a period of insecurity. European Jews are not always free to show their Jewish affiliation.
And in Italy?
Evrony: In Italy, too, the atmosphere for Jews can be difficult sometimes. I’d like to use this occasion to bring up the anti-Semitic graffiti in Rome, which appeared after the death of ex-Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff. But all things considered, I think that the situation for Jews in Italy appears better than in other European countries.
What is Pope Francis’ attitude?
Evrony: Pope Francis has spoken out many times, and forcefully, against ant-Semitism. His strong words, “Given our common roots, a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite” should be disseminated to the four ends of the earth. And I’d like to use this opportunity to point out that in these days, from May 12 to 14, 2015, the fifth global forum dedicated to the fight against anti-Semitism took place in Jerusalem. It has been resolved that a homogeneous international policy will be modeled there, through the formulation of a plan of action to combat this scourge.
Did Pope Francis’ visit last year to Jordan, Palestine and Israel, bring any important change in Israel-Holy See relations?
Evrony: At the moment, the relationship between Israel and the Holy See is good, and based on reciprocal trust. This is a unique kind of relationship, as it includes both theological and political aspects. This relationship is based on two pillars, both of which are very strong: one is theological, based on the Second Vatican Council and the 1965 Nostra Aetate document; the other is political, and based on the 1993 Fundamental Agreement. Pope Francis’ visit was of great historical importance. It represented another milestone in the relations between the Jewish Nation and the Catholic Church, and the State of Israel and the Holy See. His visit to Mount Herzl, the site of the tomb of Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl, was a strong symbolic gesture, and contributed to strengthening our relationship and friendship.
You have met Pope Francis…
Evrony: I have had the opportunity of meeting Pope Francis briefly on several occasions, and he has always greeted me in Hebrew with the word Shalom. Pope Francis is a friend of the Jewish nation: as a cardinal he developed very strong and friendly ties with the Jewish community in Argentina, and a sincere friendship with Rabbi Skorka. When a delegation of Argentine rabbis was received at the Vatican, the Pope had an informal lunch with them at the Domus Santa Marta, and he ordered Kosher food for the occasion. Ever since he was elected, the Pope has spoken warmly about the Jewish people and Judaism.
As a diplomat, how do you evaluate Pope Francis’ role internationally?
Evrony: Pope Francis is a moral and spiritual authority, and his words are received with respect. Pope Francis has brought the Vatican around to playing an important role on the international scene. I refer especially to matters concerning Cuba, Syria, the Ukraine and conflicts in Africa. The Pope is a great communicator, and his idea that the world is living through a third world war is significant. And what he says regarding human trafficking and the environment has influence on the developments we see in international politics.