Israeli embassy blasts Yemeni laureate for ‘genocide’ comments at Vatican event

Tawakkul Karman Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2011, attends the Trento Economy Festival 2023 at Palazzo Geremia on May 25, 2023, in Trento, Italy. | Credit: Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images

The Embassy of Israel to the Holy See on Monday sharply condemned a Yemeni Nobel laureate’s comments on Israel’s alleged “genocide” in Gaza.

“The world is silent in front of the genocide and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in Gaza,” said Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist, politician, and human rights activist on Saturday during a closing event at a Vatican meeting on global peace.

The activist was among the 30 Nobel laureates invited to the Vatican’s second annual World Meeting on Human Fraternity, a two-day event organized by the Fratelli Tutti Foundation, which takes its name from Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical.  

The Embassy of Israel to the Holy See slammed Karman’s remarks in a Monday press release, saying that the basilica “was contaminated by a flagrant antisemitic speech.”

“In a context where the aim was, supposedly, to talk about peace to create a more humane world, a propaganda speech full of lies was allowed to take place,” the press release said. 

“Talking about ethnic cleansing in Gaza while Israel allows large amounts of human aid into Gaza on a daily basis is Orwellian. We also regret that such a speech was made without anyone feeling the moral duty to intervene to stop this shame,” the embassy’s letter added. 

Prior to delivering her speech, Karman wrote on X that she would talk about the “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” in Gaza, writing that “humanity is being slaughtered” there.

Suggesting that the international community has done “nothing” to “stop these massacres,” Karman said in the social media post: “I will also demand that the final statement of the summit condemn these massacres and demand an immediate cease-fire.”

Reuters reported that the activist’s speech was met with “a loud round of applause” by those in attendance after she mentioned the conflict in Gaza. 

Raphael Schutz, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, told the Italian news wire ANSA that the remarks “should have no influence on bilateral relations” as the “shameful statement was not made by the Vatican or on behalf of the Vatican.” 

“However,” Schutz continued, “I expect the Vatican to make an effort to prevent its good intentions and hospitality from being abused by others, as happened in this case.”

“I would expect the Vatican to distance itself from them loudly and clearly.”

The Holy See’s and Israel’s bilateral relations have been stressed in recent months amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Last November, Pope Francis spoke with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in an undisclosed phone call where the pontiff reportedly remarked that it is “forbidden to respond to terror with terror.” 

This was followed by comments from the pope in December when two women were killed outside of Holy Family Parish in Gaza City — the only Catholic church in the Gaza Strip — purportedly by an Israeli sniper. Pope Francis labeled the incident an act of “terrorism.” Israeli forces denied having carried out the killing.

On Feb. 13, the Israeli embassy castigated Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, over his comments on the civilian death toll in the Gaza Strip. 

Parolin reiterated the Holy See’s position that Israel has a right to self-defense, but he added that this defense is conditioned on the principle of proportionality, “and certainly with 30,000 deaths it is not.” 

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The Israeli Embassy to the Holy See issued a sharp rebuke of the cardinal’s remarks, calling them “deplorable,” a term the embassy later retracted, stating that the use of the word resulted from a translation error. 

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