Israel's Foreign Ministry criticized Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara for stating that the violent earthquakes that struck Italy last week were divine punishment for Italy's abstention on a controversial UNESCO resolution regarding the status of Jerusalem's holy sites.
UNESCO adopted a resolution on Oct. 13 that reaffirmed Jerusalem's status as a World Heritage site important to all three Abrahamic religions, but did not include the Hebrew or Jewish names for the sites known in Judaism as The Temple Mount and in Islam as The Noble Sanctuary. A similar resolution passed Wednesday without Italy's participation. However, that same day a pair of powerful aftershocks rocked central Italy, still reeling from a deadly earthquake that killed nearly 300 people two months ago. Kara, a Likud member of the Israeli Knesset and deputy minister for regional cooperation, made the remark during a Wednesday visit to the Vatican.
“I am sure that the earthquake happened because of UNESCO’s decision that the pope really didn’t love; and (he) even publicly expressed that the Holy Land belongs to the Jewish people,” Ayoub was quoted in Israeli media as saying.
Ayoub briefly spoke with Pope Francis during his trip. The Israeli politician reportedly thanked the pope for asserting the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. Ayoub's remark, which came just before an official visit to Jerusalem by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, was met with sharp criticism by the Italian government, which contacted Israeli Ambassador Ofer Zaks demanding a clarification Friday. Israel's Foreign Ministry responded Friday with an official statement by a ministry spokesperson.
"We repudiate the remarks of Deputy Minister Kara. They are unworthy, and it would have been best had they not been made at all," the statement read.
The statement added that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would summon Kara for a "clarification" of his comments and that Kara had since apologized.
The Temple Mount, as its called in Judaism, is revered as the religion's holiest site and the site of the first temple. The Noble Sanctuary, as its known to Muslims, is considered Islam's third holiest site and believed by followers to be the place from which Mohammed ascended into heaven.