The International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations has asked the Israeli government to investigate the circumstances surrounding a group of Austrian Catholic clergy who were prevented from paying their respects at the Western Wall recently.
In a letter to Yitzhak Cohen, the Minister in Charge of Religious Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister, IJCIC expressed concern over international negative impact on Israel and Jewish-Christian interfaith relations as a result of the incident.
The incident occurred when a delegation of Austrian Catholic Bishops seeking to pay their respects at the Western Wall, a remnant of the Second Holy Temple, declined to remove their crosses before entering the wall area.
"The incident could have easily been avoided with advanced planning and communication with the appropriate Christian offices in Israel, said IJCIC chairman Rabbi David Rosen. "Lamentably as a result there have been very negative and public reverberations in Christian communities internationally."
The letter urged the Israeli government to clarify the procedures that members of other faith groups must take if they wish to visit or pray at the Western Wall. "Such action will help prevent similar incidents in the future, serve the interests of the State of Israel and maintain the progress that has been made in relations between Jews and Christians around the world."
The Western Wall is adjacent to the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, and the site of King Solomon's First Temple, the rebuilt Second Temple, and Herod the Great's renovated Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
IJCIC also expressed concern over the recent modification in Israel's visa policies, resulting in the withdrawal of special arrangements enjoyed until now by Christian clergy in Israel. Many serve Palestinian communities who suffer considerable restrictions of movement and freedom.
The letter said the changes cause great distress to Christians in the Middle East and as a result to Christian communities and authorities around the world. "We ask that you and your colleagues in the Israeli government take these issues seriously and attend to them as soon as possible."
"We raise these issues in the interest of creating respect and better understanding between Jews and Christians throughout the world. The progress of this relationship has a profound impact on the wellbeing of Jewish communities as well as on the image of the State of Israel internationally as a country that protects the religious rights of all its citizens," the letter said.
The International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) is a coalition of Jewish organizations representing world Jewry to other world religious bodies. IJCIC's member organizations are American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, B'nai B'rith International, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Israel Jewish Council on Interreligious Relations, Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbinical Council of America, Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, World Jewish Congress