Franco is shunning the service due a photograph displayed at the Holocaust museum depicting then-Pope Pius XII. The caption beside the photo comments on the pope's dubious reaction to the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.
The controversial photograph first appeared at the new Yad Vashem museum in 2005. In early 2006, the previous Vatican ambassador turned to the museum with the request that the caption be changed. In response, Yad Vashem said they would readily examine Pius XII's conduct during the Holocaust if the Vatican opened its World War II-era archives to the museum's research staff. The Vatican however did not open the archives, and thus the caption remained.
The Holocaust Day memorial service is annually attended by all foreign ambassadors to Israel, or by their representatives if they cannot attend. "If the Vatican ambassador does not come to the ceremony, his absence will definitely stand out," Foreign Ministry officials said.
Officials involved in the matter told Ynet, "This is a very sensitive matter which needs to be examined in depth. It is important to us that all diplomatic delegates attend the memorial ceremony. As well, Israel aspires to good relations with the Vatican.
"On the other hand history cannot be changed, and if certain officials failed to help Jews during the Holocaust – that is the reality. There are nations that take responsibility for their actions during the Holocaust and those that don't. The Vatican did not actively participate in exterminating Jews, but questions remain regarding the pope's actions.
"Since the Holocaust there have been substantial improvements in relations between Israel and the Vatican, but certain scars from the past cannot be ignored. History can't be tossed in the trash."
Other officials noted that the incident wouldn't likely lead to an irreversible rift between Israel and the Vatican. "Yad Vashem's presentation of the facts is historical and reliable, but there will always be people that want to challenge it," they said.
"It would be unthinkable to use diplomatic pressure to further historical research," Yad Vashem staff said. "The museum also presents many stories of members of the church who saved Jews during the Holocaust."
'Shocked and disappointed'In an official response, Yad Vashem noted: "We are shocked and disappointed that the Vatican's delegate to Israel has chosen not to respect the memory of the Holocaust and not to participate in the official ceremony in which the State of Israel and the Jewish people join in memory of the victims. This contradicts the pope's statement during his visit to Yad Vashem regarding the importance of remembering the Holocaust and its victims."
"Yad Vashem is dedicated to historical research, and the Holocaust museum presents the historical truth on Pope Pius XII as is known to scholars today. Yad Vashem told to the Vatican's representative in Israel that it was willing to continue examining the issue, and noted that if granted access it would gladly study the Vatican's archives from the era of Pope Pius XII's service, to possibly learn new and different information than what is known today."
The Foreign Ministry refused to respond to the report.