On Tuesday, the Education, Culture and Sports Committee of the Knesset held a discussion in honor of Pope Francis` visit to Israel next week.

At the beginning of the discussion Speaker of the Committee Amram Mitzna (Hatenua) said ”This debate is important in any event, but even more so now considering the reality here in our corner of the Middle East, where the Pope is visiting and there is a growing number of hate crimes occurring. Manifestations of racism and hatred that unfortunately exist in Israeli society have become pervasive at an alarming rate. The idea behind education in addition to teaching values and morals is to respect others as they are and to give equal opportunity for everyone to excel and integrate. Therefore there is an increasing importance for the education system to deal with these questions and to produce new relationships.”

Yair Tzaban, Former Minister of Absorption and Member of Knesset said ”One of the things that brought me to sponsor this discussion was the recognition that until now, Israel and the Jewish nation have not found a way to express appreciation for the unique character that was John XXIII. The Pope is commendable both as regards to his relationship to the Jewish nation and to the Israeli nation. I think that he is the most humanitarian and enlightened pope ever regarding his attitude towards Jews. Pope John XXIII was the one who gathered the College of Cardinals in order to remove the collective guilt for the murder of Jesus.”

”We are in the midst of a wave of hate crimes that could make a person lose his mind. We know how much noise we make, and rightly so, regarding hate crimes against Jews in the diaspora and how we honor all those who criticize these crimes, unfortunately we do not do the same ourselves. What kind of Judaism do we want to portray? The educational background of the national system and especially the ultra-Orthodox must weigh on our hearts, the Ministry of Education and those who work in the field.”

Professor Alberto Melloni, Pope John XXIII`s biographer who came to the committee discussion from Italy, spoke about the moderate catholic background from which the Pope came and his special relationship with Judaism. Professor Yair Auron said ”This reality in which Israeli children know almost nothing about John XXIII does not have to be. We have a mindset that the world is against us and we must fight against this notion, which has become a part of our identity. We must also remember the righteous of the world who risked themselves for our sakes and we must view them as exemplary models. The racism in Israeli society continues to develop in an amazingly terrible way.

Dr. Orna Katz Atar, historical researcher in the Ministry of Education, said: ”In the last few years, children have learned about Jewish communities in the Christian world and in Europe. Our emphasis is on integration and rejection, not just rejection. The matter of the righteous gentiles is, in my opinion a most valuable and important matter for us to teach. We are preparing for the Pope`s visit and we intend to work on this in all of the schools.”

Geryes Mansour, who is in charge over Christian studies in the Ministry of Education: ”We decided to hold visits at Christian holy sites and to take Arab students, not just Christians, to visit sights from all the religions. Today in the core studies of the Ministry of Education, the topic of tradition and religion is an obligatory topic for the graduation exams. This is the first time in Israel that religion and tradition will be obligatory.

Bishop Marcuzzo Giacinto, Deputy Archbishop in Israel, said during the discussion that ”it is my desire to note that many things have changed in Israel and the Knesset. The fact that the Education Committee of the Knesset organized this discussion is a sign of a great change and we welcome it. Another point that relates to not just today is that the people who worked very hard in order to save Jews in the Holocaust did indeed do so due to their personal desire, but also because their connection to the church. Monks, priests, bishops and other men of religion did so not just from their personal initiative, but also because of a strong faith a part of which, among other things, is the Old Testament. Schools need to work hard to fight against hate. The slogan ”the other is me” is beautiful, but we need to carry it out and to work hard in order to spread the message of the other and to promote cooperation between us.”

MK Basel Ghattas spoke about the hate crimes that have spread around Israel and called the Pope`s visit an opportunity to start a conversation.

Mitzna finished the debate by saying: ”Here in our committee we have dedicated a lot of time to the topic of recognizing the other, not just as empty words, but as truth for every instance for which there is unwillingness to accept the other. The mindset of `everyone is against us` is wrong and to my great dismay exists in our midst among the highest elected officials and in all the parties. Besides the fact that we are distorting history, we are hurting the positive actions necessary to educate future generations.