Members of Congress urge Blinken to pressure Israel to protect Jerusalem’s Christian community
Eight Republican and Democratic congressmen sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to pressure Israel to ensure freedom of worship in Jerusalem for Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Congressman Joaquin Castro and Gus Bilirakis led the bipartisan letter, expressing deep concern over a “worrying” increase in recent Israeli extremist attacks on the Christian community in Jerusalem.
In the letter, the lawmakers stressed that protecting religious freedom abroad must be a core part of U.S. foreign policy.
“Religious freedom is a cherished American value and a universal human right, our own experience compels us to stand up for the rights of vulnerable and underrepresented people around the world,” it read.
Signatories to the letter said the United States should maintain its unwavering support for promoting and protecting freedom of religion or belief for all.
He listed several incidents, including an attempt by an Israeli to burn down the Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in December 2020.
“In the space of one month in 2021, the Romanian Church monastery in Jerusalem was the target of four acts of vandalism. Christian clergy are also under attack,” he added.
In May 2021, an Armenian priest was attacked by three young Israelis as he walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the letter adds, noting that these are just a few examples of the attacks suffered against the clergy and the properties of the church.
Despite blanket protections given to minority religious communities by the Israeli government, lawmakers have said the actions of radical groups pose a serious threat to the long-term viability of the Christian presence in Jerusalem.
“Throughout the Holy Land, Christians have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.”
Since 2012, there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults on priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and continued intimidation of Christians locals who simply seek to freely worship and go about their daily lives. .
These tactics are being used by these radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land, they warned.
The lawmakers said the decline of the Christian presence in Jerusalem is not only a blow to religious freedom, but also has humanitarian consequences.
Ministry programs run under the auspices of Christian churches in Jerusalem meet the medical, educational and humanitarian needs of many underprivileged people, regardless of religious affiliation.
He further warned that if radical groups succeed in driving out the Christian community, many of these programs will no longer be able to function.
Moreover, the actions of radical groups able to act with impunity directly threaten the religious freedom of the Christian community in Jerusalem and undermine the rich history of inter-religious cooperation within the city.
Members of Congress called on the State Department to work with the Israeli government to maintain its stated commitment to freedom of religion and worship for all faiths and to hold accountable radical groups who engage in attacks sustained against Christian clergy and the destruction of church property.
During his confirmation testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain pledged, if confirmed, to “implement the continued commitment of the United United in defense of international religious freedom for everyone everywhere”.