Tuesday September 2, 2014
Israel Hayom
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Aharon Lapidot

Christians and Jews, a symbiotic relationship

While several countries and organizations around the world have either decided to support or join an anti-Israel boycott, with some calling to sever all ties with the Jewish state and others trying to wipe Israel off the map both inside and out, there's another group going against the grain. They do it gently and on a small scale, but their efforts are bold. That group is the Christian community in Israel, which comprises 160,000 individuals, 80 percent of whom are of Arab descent.

It's New Year's Day (according to the Western calendar) and it's an appropriate time to pay the Christian Arab Israeli community a little attention. There has always been a Christian minority in Israel that has, albeit tacitly, lent its voice to the general Palestinian narrative. But examine the community more closely -- socioeconomic trends, life expectancy, the number of children per family, etc. -- and you will see that Israeli Christians appear more like Israeli Jews than Muslims.

Perhaps reacting to the Arab Spring and the fate of Christians in the region -- in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and other countries -- Israeli Christians have seemingly realized that they should identify themselves as an independent community, rather than as an integral part of the Palestinian-Muslim community. Increasingly, positive voices among Israeli Christians are calling for closer relations with Jews. Rev. Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest and the spiritual leader of the Forum for the Recruitment of Christians to the Israel Defense Forces, is one of the most prominent voices.

Efforts such as his are not simple. Nadaf's 17-year-old son was attacked and beaten by others his age at the beginning of December because of his father's views. Nadaf has received death threats. His tires have been slashed. He was declared persona non grata at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, ostracized by the community council. MK Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly), in an open letter, called Nadaf a "collaborator," accusing him of endangering the lives of his community members.

The Jewish side has also acted contemptibly toward Christians. Journalist Yigal Mosko produced a segment on Channel 2's "Yoman" program that covered growing abuse among Jews of Christians. His report should make any decent Jew feel ashamed. Spitting on Christian monks or priests on the street, smashing gravestones and desecrating Christian burial sites are abominable acts. Daubing Nazi symbols under slogans such as "Death to Christians" or "Jesus is a monkey" on monasteries or church walls demands censure. Israeli Jews and international Jewry, historical victims of such abuse, know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such acts. We rightly throw a conniption whenever we perceive blatant anti-Semitism.

So what do we call what's being done to Christians in Israel? How do we improve the situation?

Such acts cast an ugly shadow over the Jewish community, shoving Christians between a rock and a hard place. When they try to build closer ties to Jews, their Muslim "brethren" accuse them of being traitors and threaten their livelihoods. A small, extremist group of Jews spit on them in the street, or worse. Not only is such behavior totally unacceptable in and of itself, but these acts also sully our reputation internationally, lending ammunition to those seeking our demise.

And on the contrary, if we encourage closer ties between Christians and Jews in Israel, influencing their integration into our society, the benefits are clear: a significant Israeli Arab community on our side; better national security; a better economy; naturally highlighting the fact that the Palestinians are neither not a homogenous group nor do they have a monolithic perspective; establishing stronger rapport with the international Christian community; deflecting the accusations of our harshest critics ... that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Last week, I visited Nazareth with a group of friends. I was amazed to see the hordes of people thronging the streets, most likely there to take in the Christmas ambiance. Tens of thousands of Israelis, if not more, flocked to Nazareth, visiting famous sites and feasting on the local cuisine. The city welcomed its visitors warmly. At least in public, it appears not all is lost.

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