Watch out: Photo-op pope is no friend by Joseph Aaron

The pope will be visiting Israel in two weeks — and that has the Jewish officials who make their careers pandering to Catholics giddy with delight.

Instead, it should be filling them, and all Jews who care about Jerusalem, with dread.

Just wait and see. The pope is going to say something while in Jerusalem that will make our hair stand on end. And the whole world will be watching.

I know I sound like a pope-basher, which I assure you I am not — though admittedly I have been critical on several occasions of this pope for what I believe to be very good reasons.

The main reason is that I believe this pope has been, when it comes to Jewish concerns, a master of public relations and a disaster of a true friend.

When it comes to the Jews, he has, in fact, been the photo-op pope.

He definitely has done things that look good. He has visited a shul in Rome, made a visit to Auschwitz, used the Hebrew word "Shoah" to refer to the Holocaust, had Chanukah candles lit on a big menorah at the Vatican, met with all kinds of Jewish groups, and said nice things here and there about the Jewish people.

The pope has basically taken the Hollywood approach to things. He has found nice backdrops that look good on TV and uttered a few obvious cliches that look good in the newspaper.

He's won a lot of points for doing that, but the fact is he's failed to take on meaningful matters in a substantive way.

When a group of Poles placed hundreds and hundreds of crosses in front of Auschwitz, the Vatican said it was a local matter and so it could not and would not do anything.

When Jewish groups asked the pope not to meet with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, a Nazi, he did anyway. When we asked him not to beatify Croatia's wartime archbishop, Alojzije Stepinac, who collaborated with the Nazi puppet regime that ruled Croatia during World War II, he did anyway.

When Jews the world over asked the pope not to make Edith Stein a saint, he did it anyway. Stein, you'll recall, was a woman born a Jew who converted to Catholicism, became a nun and died at Auschwitz. In making her a saint, the pope said "her baptism was by no means a break with her Jewish heritage." Tell that to her Jewish mother, who was heartbroken by the action.

To not recognize that Stein was killed because she was born a Jew and to hold up the example of a Jew who became a nun was an "ultimate injury to Holocaust survivors and the descendants of victims," said one Jewish leader.

When the pope said he was putting Pope Pius XII on the fast track to sainthood, Jews howled in protest that the wartime pope should be so honored. Pius XII did nothing to help Jews during the Holocaust and did much to aid and abet Hitler. John Paul went ahead and did that anyway.

Which brings us to the biggest substantive issue regarding Jews that John Paul has done absolutely nothing about — the Holocaust.

The fact remains that this pope has refused over and over and over again to apologize for what the Vatican did and did not do during the Holocaust.

He has refused to say those two words that would mean so much, say so much. "I'm sorry."

The leaders of most of the nations of Europe have said it and the heads of many American and European dioceses have said it. But the head of the Catholics has not.

Indeed, when the Vatican did make what was touted as its big statement on the Holocaust, a document called "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," the pope used it to strongly defend Pius XII and to completely absolve the Vatican of any responsibility.

Beyond that, the Vatican continues not to open its archives to a full examination by scholars into church actions during the Holocaust.

Still, every time he visits Poland, the pope makes sure to have a photo-op and sound bite at some Jewish site.

That's him, always willing to put on a show, but never willing, when it comes to tachlis, to show he's a true friend of ours.

And we're going to see how true that is in the coming weeks and months, as Jerusalem becomes the sensitive issue on the table in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. For in that, the pope is going to prove himself one big troublemaker.

Indeed, he's already started. Last month, the Vatican and the PLO signed a landmark agreement that says unilateral decisions on Jerusalem would be "morally and legally unacceptable."

The document goes on to call for a "special statute for Jerusalem, internationally agreed" to safeguard "the proper identity and sacred character of the city and its universally significant religious and cultural heritage."

Unbelievable. For starters, what the heck is the pope doing getting in the middle of the Jerusalem issue when the peace talks are at such at a critical point. And why aim a warning clearly directed at only one side?

Most importantly, note that the pope is once again saying that Jerusalem should come under an international mandate. That means no Israeli control, no Israeli sovereignty over any of the city.

Even Arafat doesn't go that far. Even Arafat is only asking for about half the city. Even Arafat agrees that at least half would be Israel's capital, at least half would be under Israeli sovereignty.

When Israel rightly criticized what the Vatican had done, the Vatican, in classic political double talk, said Israel shouldn't be upset since the document makes "no reference to the political situation of Jerusalem," only to the "religious aspect of Jerusalem."

Sure, right. Nothing political about a statement calling for Jerusalem to be an international city, nothing political about signing an accord with Arafat.

John Paul, though he looks eerily like my zayde, is no friend of the Jews. Not when it matters, not how it really counts.

So when the pope shows up in Israel, listen carefully to what he says.

"He has made it clear that his visit will be religious and not political," says the Rev. Michael McGarry, Catholic rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies near Jerusalem. "But he is smart enough to understand that everything will be understood politically."

Yes, he is. This is why, while all those professional Jewish pope lovers are just so thrilled about this pilgrimage, I'd be happier if John Paul, desirous of yet more great Jewish photo-ops, would just visit a deli in Brooklyn instead.