Pope Francis, at the request of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, visited Yad Vashem on Monday, a day after praying at the Israeli security fence near Beit Lechem.
The impromptu visit to Israel’s Holocaust museum appeared to be an attempt to appease his Israeli hosts following his controversial stop at the concrete security barrier daubed with anti-Israeli graffiti.
On Monday, an Israeli government official said the Palestinians pressured the pope to make his unscheduled visit to the security barrier, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Oded Ben-Hur, a diplomatic adviser to the Knesset and a former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, said Israeli diplomatic officials were unhappy the Palestinians had “used the pope as a political tool” by taking him to the security barrier.
“This was the result of enormous pressure from the Palestinian Authority. They exerted heavy pressure through different channels, and eventually the Vatican succumbed to their demand and took him for this moment at the barrier,” Ben-Hur said.
But on Monday, Pope Francis honored Jews killed in the Holocaust and other attacks, met with a half-dozen Holocaust survivors during the visit, and listened to their stories and of loved ones killed by the Nazis during World War II.
Netanyahu showed him the section dedicated to the victims of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish association in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
The Argentinean-born Francis was an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires at the time of the attack and later became archbishop.
“When incitement and terror against Israel stops, there won’t be the need for the security fence, which has saved thousands of lives,” Netanyahu told the pope during a meeting.
President Shimon Peres asked Pope Francis to help Israel locate its missing soldiers, including airman Ron Arad.
Arad was 28 when his plane was shot down over Lebanon in October 1986. He survived the crash, was captured by Shi’ite group Amal, who then handed him over to Hizbullah in 1988. Israel had received three letters and two photographs of Arad from this period in captivity, but no other substantive information has been obtained to prove that he survived beyond 1988.