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Archbishop of Canterbury Blames Israel for Christians Leaving the Holy Land

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Are Jewish settlers “driving out” Christians from the Holy Land?

That’s what Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Palestinian Anglican Bishop Hosam Naoum, insisted in a piece in the Times of London. Not everyone was impressed. Many were outraged. A report on this charge is here: “The Sunday Times Joins Media Tradition of Blaming Israel for Ruining Christmas,” by Adam Levick, CAMERA UK, December 22, 2021:

There’s nothing new about British outlets peddling such smears about the Jewish state around Christmas, typically such propaganda is published at the Guardian, rather than The Times.

The piece reminds readers that the first Christmas took place against “the backdrop of the genocide of infants”, evoking toxic libels about the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians – or, possibly, something even darker. It then notes that “Christmas is a time when we think about the land of the Bible” before citing complaints by Jerusalem church leaders that radical groups are, through vandalism of and physical attacks, engaged “in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.”

The Welby-Naoum piece was prompted by a statement earlier this month from Church leaders in Jerusalem, who warned the actions of radical Jewish groups were “diminishing the Christian presence” in the area. Such acts, they contended, have included the desecration of churches, as well as physical and verbal attacks on priests, monks and worshipers.

Offering some stark statistics to illustrate their point, Welby and Naoum state:

This crisis takes place against a century-long decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. In 1922, at the end of the Ottoman era, the number of Christians in the Holy Land was estimated at 73,000; about 10 percent of the population. In 2019, Christians constituted less than 2 percent of the population of the Holy Land: a massive drop in less than 100 years.

The decline in the Christian share of the population in the Holy Land can hardly be attributed to Israel, which came into possession of Gaza, Judea, and Samaria in the Six-Day War. Before then, the Christian population of those areas – Egyptian-ruled Gaza and Jordanian-ruled Judea and Samaria (known as the “West Bank”) – kept steadily decreasing. It was only when Israel took control of those areas that the Christian populations stabilized. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the decrease in the Christian population resumed. There were 6,000 Christians in Gaza when Hamas took over from Israel; today there are only 1,000 left. And the same was true in those parts of Judea and Samaria that Israel placed under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Christian numbers, never very large, decreased as they had been doing under Jordanian rule between 1949 and 1967. Wherever Israel pulled out – whether in Gaza or in parts of Judea and Samaria –the Christian population declined. But in Israel itself, the Christian population has steadily risen.

They [Welby and Naoum] concede in the following paragraph, however, that the Christian population in Israel proper has actually grown.

The two prelates were forced to recognize that in Israel itself, the Christian population has increased, unlike anywhere in the Muslim lands. But they pass quickly by this remark, not providing any numbers, for that increase clearly disproves their accusation that Israel has been hostile to Christians and Christianity. A handful of Jews have expressed their dismay at the efforts of some Christian clerics to convert Jews to Christianity and tried to impede them; that’s the extent of the anti-Christian “campaign” by individual Israelis, not by the government. It’s not Christians or Christianity whom those Israelis oppose but, rather, the campaign to convert Jews.

Strangely, though, the authors later acknowledge – consistent with Freedom House reports each year – that “Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region”, and that “the overall number of Christians” in Israel “has risen”. In fact, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the Christian community grew 1.4% in 2020.

So which is it? Are Christians in Israel being driven out of the Holy Land, or do they enjoy in Israel complete religious freedom that Christians almost nowhere else in the region enjoy? Are there attacks on Christian churches in Israel the way there have so often been on Coptic churches in Egypt, or on Assyrian and Chaldean churches in Iraq, or on Christian churches and clerics in northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram demonstrates its demonic hatred by slitting the throats of priests? Can Christians in Israel be arrested and expelled merely for quietly singing Christmas carols inside their own homes, as has happened in Saudi Arabia? How is it that the Christian population of Iraq has dropped from 1.5 million in 2003 to 150,000 today? What has caused the steady decline in the Christian population of Lebanon since the mid-1970s? Why was it that during the Syrian civil war, when Christians no longer could reliably count on the protection of the Assad regime, the Christian population declined from one million to 300,000?

How can Justin Welby and Hosam Naoum claim that Christians are being “driven from the Holy Land” while also acknowledging that the number of Christians in Israel “has risen” and that the Jewish state is a “beacon in the region” for “religious freedom”?

Most of their argument seems based on unsubstantiated claims of Jerusalem “church leaders” who described “countless incidents” of “physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, and attacks on Christian churches.” Yet while there have been some incidents of vandalism in recent years, the authors fail to cite even one actual example of physical violence – nor are any statistics provided.

But the dearth of real evidence that Christians are under siege and being ‘driven from Israel’ doesn’t prevent them from citing an ominous, though anonymous and anecdotal, remark such as this: “…when you speak to Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem today, you will often hear this cry: ‘In 15 years’ time, there’ll be none of us left!’”

That statement is absurd, part of the endless propaganda war against Israel that Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, wage against Israel. The Christian population of Israel – including the country’s capital, Jerusalem – has gone up every year since the Six-Day War in 1967.

Interestingly, the article often speaks of the threat to Christianity in the “Holy Land,” a term which elides the fact that the area of greatest concern for Christians in the region is not within Israel, but in the Palestinian territories.

Whilst annual reports by Open Doors, which fights the persecution of Christians around the world, shows that Israel is one of the few Mid-East countries where Christians are NOT endangered, a 2019 Open Doors report put “the Palestinian Territories” on its World Watch List of countries where the persecution of Christians was especially problematic. The report cited “Islamic oppression” as the main source of persecution.

Further, as Jake Wallis Simons noted in an article at the Spectator, not only do Christians in Israel enjoy religious freedom, but the community, by most empirical measures, is thriving:

The education figures alone tell their own story. More Christian Arabs leave school with grades that will get them into university than any other group in the country (71.2 per cent). More Christian women attend higher education than from any other background, excelling particularly in medicine, engineering, architecture, and law.

A greater proportion of Christian Arabs qualify for admission to university than does any other group in Israel, including Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. And more Christian women in Israel go to university than do Muslim or Jewish women. It sounds as if the Christians are doing not at all badly.

Moreover, according to data from Israel’s CBS, surveys shows that “84% of Christians are satisfied with their life: 24% answered ‘very satisfied’ and 60% were ‘satisfied’.” Far from being “driven out” of Israel, the Christian community in the world’s only Jewish state is growing, well-educated, successful, and thriving.

If the Christians in Israel are not emigrating, but staying put, if their numbers are steadily rising (as they are nowhere else in the Middle East, where there has been a colossal outmigration of Christians), if their preparation for university is equal to that of Israeli Jews, if the numbers of Christian women studying at the university level is greater than the numbers of non-Christians, it sounds as if they are doing remarkably well. Finally, if 84% of the Christians in Israel say they are either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their lives, who are the officious and presumptuous and bigoted Archbishop Welby and Bishop Naoum to say them nay?

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