Pope Francis made the remarks in a private meeting with the World Jewish Congress

Pope Francis told Jewish leaders an outright attack on the State of Israel is just as ‘anti-semitic’ as attacks against Jews.

The Pope made clear that attacks on the State of Israel are a form of anti-Semitism in a private audience with World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder and delegates.

“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”

The gathering marked the anniversary of the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which condemned anti-Semitism and transformed relations between Jews and Catholics.

Lauder praised the Pope for his ‘powerful message’ and said relations between the two faiths were stronger than ever before.

He added: “Pope Francis does not simply make declarations. He inspires people with his warmth and his compassion. His clear and unequivocal support for the Jewish people is critical to us.”

Nearly 150 delegates from the WJC board attended the audience with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday, when they were in Rome for the board’s annual meeting.

Recalling Nostra Aetate, which was adopted by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, the Holy Father told those gathered that the document transformed “indifference and opposition…into cooperation and benevolence.”

He added: “Enemies and strangers have become friends and brothers.

“The Council, with the declaration Nostra Aetate, paved the way. It said yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity, and no to any form of anti-Semitism and condemnation of any insult, discrimination and persecution derived from that.”

Earlier in the week, the WJC board discussed the implications facing Jewish communities in light of the conflicts in the Middle East, including the threat of jihadist terrorism.

The board passed a resolution calling on the international community to provide refugees with sanctuary regardless of where they come from or their religion.