Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at parliament, on October 14, 2013 in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at parliament, on October 14, 2013 in Jerusalem © Gali Tibbon - AFP/File
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at parliament, on October 14, 2013 in Jerusalem
AFP
Last updated: May 13, 2014

Israel MPs pay tribute to John XXIII ahead of papal visit

The Israeli parliament paid tribute to recently canonised pope John XXIII on Tuesday, less than two weeks before a visit to the Holy Land by Pope Francis.

Lawmakers also marked the Turkish mass killings of Armenians in 1915, even as the Jewish state and Ankara seek to patch up ties.

"John XXIII is the one who led to the most significant changes" in the Vatican's attitude towards Jews, speaker Yuli Edelstein said at the opening of a plenary session.

"I hope that in the spirit of John XXIII, the current pope will also know how to bridge over the rivers of hatred and pain between the religions", Edelstein said.

Two parliamentary committees also held meetings on John XXIII, focusing on his actions to save Jews during World War II and his efforts to eradicate prejudice towards Jews from Catholic doctrine.

John XXIII (1958-1963) was proclaimed a saint last month by Pope Francis, who is due visit the Holy Land from May 24 to 26.

Zehava Galon of the opposition Meretz party opened the debate commemorating the "killing of the Armenian nation" in 1915.

"As victims of the Nazi Holocaust who are aware of the dangers of its denial, the Jewish people have the moral obligation to be sensitive to the disasters of other peoples," she said.

Reuven Rivlin of the ruling rightwing Likud party said commemoration of the Armenian "genocide" should not be seen as act of spite against Turkey, "but a human and moral obligation."

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen died in orchestrated killings during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey strongly denies this, saying 300,000 Armenians and as many Turks were killed in civil conflict when the Christian Armenians, backed by Russia, rose up against the Ottomans.

Israel and Turkey are seeking to finalise a deal mending ties broken in 2010 when Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, leaving nine Turkish activists dead.

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