Sunday, May 10, 2009

Israel fears Jewish attack on ‘Hitler Youth’ Pope

The Pope will be given unprecedented security when he arrives in Israel tomorrow because of fears that his brief enrolment in the Hitler Youth as a boy of 14 could trigger an assassination attempt by Jewish zealots.

The Israeli government has ordered Shin Bet, the domestic security service, to take command of the visit. Four Audi armoured cars have been imported from Germany and security chiefs have banned the use of the familiar glass-sided “Popemobile” except for a short journey in Nazareth.

In Jordan yesterday, on the first stage of his middle eastern tour, the pontiff held a meeting with Muslim leaders to express “deep respect” for Islam. He offended Muslims in a speech in 2006 in which he quoted a Medieval scholar who linked Islam to violence.

In Israel Benedict XVI’s German nationality, his service in Hitler’s army, his support for the proposed beatification of Pius XII – known in Israel as the “Nazi pope” – and his decision to revoke the excommunication of Richard Williamson, the British bishop and Holocaust denier, have all sparked anger. The Pope was forced to apologise for mishandling the Williamson affair.

General Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel’s national security council, reflected the views of many Israelis. “It would have been better if the visit wasn’t taking place,” he said. “The Pope’s service in the Wehrmacht is a stain.”

The Vatican insists that Joseph Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth only because it was compulsory and did not attend its meetings. He was drafted into an antiaircraft corps in 1943 and trained in the infantry, but deserted in the last months of the war.

“The fact that he was a member of the Hitler Youth and later served in the German army is more than enough for a lone gunman to try to kill him,” said a security source.

Security chiefs are concerned that a group of fanatical Israelis, such as those behind the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, in 1995, could be planning an attack. “To penetrate this group of messianic Jews is more difficult than infiltrating Hamas,” said a Shin Bet source.

The arrest of some zealots as a preventive measure is being considered. About 60,000 policemen and 20,000 secret service agents will make up the visible security, codename Operation White Cloak.

Dov Lior, the hardline chief rabbi of Hebron in the West Bank, called on his followers “not to participate in any event or show respect to the Pope”. He also asked members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, who are affiliated to his religious party to boycott the visit.

Michael Ben-Ari, a Knesset member, said the visit would be an insult to the memory of Holocaust victims. Referring to the rehabilitation of Williamson, he said: “This Pope brought back to the church priests who deny the Holocaust and has renewed discussion on the accusation that Jews murdered Jesus.”

The Pope is to celebrate open-air masses in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Nazareth.