A day after he threw his moral weight behind the establishment of a Palestinian state, Pope Francis paid tribute Monday at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the man whose dream of a Jewish homeland led to the creation of modern-day Israel.
It was a finely balanced gesture on the last day of the pontiff’s visit to the Holy Land, where even the smallest acts are fraught with political symbolism. The wreath-laying here in Jerusalem also sought to wipe away bitter memories of a previous pope’s rejection of Zionism more than a century ago.
Francis bowed his head and, following Jewish tradition, laid a stone on Herzl’s grave as Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood silently to one side.
The move is likely to annoy many Palestinians, who blame Zionism for the confiscation and occupation of their ancestral lands. But a day earlier, Israelis were themselves dissatisfied with the pope’s decision to travel directly to Bethlehem, in the West Bank, from Jordan rather than arrive in Israel first, and with the Vatican’s pointed reference to the “state of Palestine.”
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