Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s first official visit to Israel was a success, according to a leading rabbi.
The head of the Anglican Church spent five days in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories last week.
Rabbi David Rosen, who advises Israel’s chief rabbis on interfaith dialogue, said that, considering the pressures of the itinerary, the visit was “remarkably successful and a strong affirmation of [the archbishop’s] profound care and concern for Israel’s welfare”.
Rabbi Rosen noted that the first religious site the archbishop visited on his arrival in Israel had been the Kotel.
Archbishop Welby — whose paternal grandfather was Jewish — visited Yad Vashem with his wife Caroline and son Peter, met Israeli President Shimon Peres and attended a lunch for leaders of different faiths hosted by the Foreign Ministry.
Rabbi Rosen said: “I am told that, at Yad Vashem, his tears flowed freely and, when asked by a journalist to comment, he was too emotional to say anything.”
Archbishop Welby had spoken of the interfaith event as a “great source of hope and inspiration,” Rabbi Rosen said. “I don’t think he had had experience of the degree of co-operation in Israel between different communities.”
Although the archbishop’s meeting with Israel’s chief rabbis was cancelled — Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger being under police investigation, while his Sephardi counterpart Shlomo Amar was delayed in Spain — he was able to hold discussions with senior figures such as Rabbi Ratzon Arussi, who is tipped as a future Sephardi chief rabbi.
The Revd Toby Howarth, the archbishop’s Secretary for Inter-Religious Affairs, who was travelling with him, commented: “It was a joy to see the archbishop investing so much personal warmth in the formal dialogue relationships within Israel that his office has developed over many years…
“Crossing from Jerusalem to Ramallah on the West Bank, Archbishop Welby paused at a checkpoint to speak to human-rights observers from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme.
Commenting on the checkpoints, the archbishop spoke of “the frequent indignities that are suffered by people who deserve only dignity and respect, like all human beings should have”.
He later said: “Every time I visit this region, I am struck again by the need for justice and security and peace for the Palestinian people.”
The archbishop had attracted negative headlines, after prompting anger among some Palestinians for failing to visit Bethlehem and Nazareth.
He is now reportedly seeking a new director of communications as part of a reorganisation of his team.