Benjamin Netanyahu Met with Pope Francis, Gave Him a Book on the Inquisition

Hot off a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin last week, Pope Francis met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday at the Vatican, no doubt in order to discuss what’s going on in the ever-volatile Middle East. Perhaps they talked about the nuclear deal with Iran (which Israel opposed) and the peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians (which Israel’s hard-right is trying to make impossible). The duo spoke for about 25 minutes, and Bibi presented the pope with some gifts, one of which — Bibi’s father’s book on Jews and the Inquisition — seemed like a particularly odd gift. Because, remember: the accepted narrative says that Jews were persecuted by the Catholics. Awkward, right?

Except that Ben Zion Netanyahu’s The Origins of the Inquisition was anything but the accepted narrative. Tablet Magazine’s Yair Rosenberg unpacked the complex book, explaining that “Netanyahu’s argument shifted the root blame for the Inquisition from religion to ingrained racial animus–from the spiritual to the secular.” The Catholics didn’t hate the Jews because they were religiously Jewish, in other words, but just because they were a wildly successful different ethnic group. (So much better, we know.) Rosenberg argued that this interpretation of the Inquisition might even give the pope a new view on Europe’s rising anti-Semitism today.

The New York Times devoted a sizeable part of Ben Zion Netanyahu’s obituary to the book:

And even if it was a snub, Pope Francis is sure to turn the other cheek when he’s expected to visit Israel in May. After all, the pontiff might just be the holiest man alive at this point (sorry, Dalai Lama), and is certainly always in the news. He recently told a working-class parish about working as a bouncer (Yes! Really!) and offered prayers for child victims of the church’s sex abuse (although those kids are more likely to need therapy, and lots of it).

Still, Pope Francis continues to make some real progress.