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Israel rejects Church leader’s claim of ‘Zionist extremists’ trying to rid Jerusalem of Christians

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By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israel rejected Sunday unsubstantiated accusations by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem that “Zionist extremists” and “Israeli radicals” are trying to rid the Old City of Christians through intimidation and attacks.

The official referred to a December 22nd statement of the Foreign Ministry that denied similar charges by other Christian Jerusalem church leader.

The Arab clergy was then backed by a letter from the 85-million strong Anglican community’s leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Their joint accusations mentioned unnamed “radical groups” who allegedly assaulted priests, desecrated holy sites, and bought property in the Christian Quarter “with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence” in the Old City.

The Foreign Ministry rebuffed the criticism, noting that it was baseless and “distort[ed] the reality of the Christian community in Israel.” According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of Christians grew by 1.4% in 2020 to 182,000, with 84% saying they are satisfied with life in the Jewish state.

The Ministry also castigated the Jerusalem Church leaders for their “infuriating” silence regarding the persecution of Christian communities in Arab countries in the Middle East.

In a Saturday article in the Times of London, Theophilos III wrote, “Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups. At the hands of these Zionist extremists the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly.”

“Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalized. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation.”

Continuing one of the themes of the earlier letter, the Patriarch ascribed nefarious motives to unnamed organizations that are allegedly attempting to purchase property near Jaffa Gate.

“Their behavior will be devastating for all Christians,” he wrote. “Local families, who have lived here for generations, will be made to feel unwelcome in their own home and pilgrims who have longed to visit the birthplace of the Christian faith will have their experience diminished.”

Theophilos III did make a point of writing that these groups “are not representative of the State of Israel or the Jewish people,” a point that was also made in Welby’s missive.

About a third of all Israeli Christians belong to the general Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Greek Orthodox Church is in charge of its members who live in the central and southern regions of the country.

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