Israel says Christian community is growing despite Church claims
Israel said its Christian population was growing, days after the Church of England’s top clergyman backed accusations of a “concerted attempt” to oust the community.
Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday there were 182,000 Christians in the country, an increase of 1.4% from last year.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has made Israel cringe when he denounces, alongside the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem Hosam Naum, a “constant decline” among Christians in East Jerusalem.
“Church leaders believe there are now less than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem,” the two wrote in an article published by The Sunday Times.
They said an “escalation of physical and verbal abuse by Christian clergy and vandalism of holy places by marginal and radical groups” was a “concerted attempt” to drive Christians out of Israel.
Their joint letter followed a December 13 appeal from religious leaders in Jerusalem who claimed that “radical groups continue to acquire strategic assets in the Christian quarter, with the aim of reducing the Christian presence.”
The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said the accusations were “baseless and distorted the reality of the Christian community in Israel.”
“The Christian population in Israel – including Jerusalem – enjoys full freedom of religion and worship, continues to grow and is part of the unique fabric of Israeli society,” he said in a statement Monday. .
East Jerusalem includes the Old City, as well as a truth of Christian holy places, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where worshipers believe Jesus was crucified and buried.
Welby and Naoum said Palestinian Christians were leaving the West Bank due to “growing settler communities” and restrictions on movement.
The foreign ministry said Israel was “committed to freedom of religion and worship for all religions, as well as to ensuring freedom of access to holy places.”
“The statement by Church leaders in Jerusalem is particularly infuriating given their silence on the plight of many Christian communities in the Middle East who suffer from discrimination and persecution,” he added.