Campaign against Christian Arab conscripts condemned by Knesset

MK denounces Arab MKS responsible for campaigning against Greek-Orthodox priest pushing for Christian enlistment to IDF.

July 4, 2013 04:44
3 minute read.
Members of the Greek Orthodox clergy and altar ser

Members of the Greek Orthodox clergy and altar servers 370. (photo credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad)

MK Miri Regev denounced on Wednesday Arab MKs who have campaigned for the dismissal of a Greek-Orthodox priest for backing IDF enlistment in the Christian community, during a hearing in the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee.

Last week, Balad MKs Basel Ghattas and Haneen Zoabi wrote to Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem Theophilus III, demanding that Father Gabriel Nadaf either halt his activities supporting Christian Arab enlistment or be fired by the patriarch from his position as a serving priest in his congregation in Yafia, near Nazareth.

Nadaf told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he had met with Theophilus earlier this week, and that he would be remaining in his post as head of the Yafia church where he officiates. The priest said that due to the sensitivity of the issue, he could not divulge further information about the meeting.

Nadaf is, however, still banned from entering the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, an important Christian shrine, and has been for several months.

Despite an announcement by the police in the committee that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein had opened an investigation into the MKs, Weinstein denied that any such probe had been initiated.

Weinstein said that, to date, the only investigation that was opened was a police investigation which was opened half-a year ago, and that the police investigation was only against unspecified elements that had threatened violence against the priest.

Speaking during the committee hearing, Regev said that “the time has come for Arab MKs to understand that they cannot incite against IDF conscripts.”

“It’s unacceptable that Arab MKs should think that they can be Trojan horses in the Knesset and send letters of incitement against a Christian priest who encourages young Christians to enlist in the IDF,” said Regev.

Last week, Ghattas acknowledged that he had personally written to Theophilus demanding that the patriach fire the priest if he does not desist from promoting IDF service among the Arab population.

Shaadi Halul, the spokesman for the Forum of Christian IDF Officers, said during the hearing that threats against his organization constituted terrorism and that Arab MKs such as Ghattas and Zoabi were heavily involved in activities against the forum.

“This is terrorism in every way. Today they are threatening us, and tomorrow they will threaten Jews,” said Halul.

The forum of officers recruited three spiritual leaders to help their campaign, including Nadaf, all of whom received threats against their activities and one of whom stopped participating in the events because of the threats.

Halul requested the appointment of a Christian religious leader to assist Christian recruits in the IDF, police assistance against threats and harassment of their activities, and state encouragement for Christian youth to enlist.

According to Pini Ganon, head of the Defense Ministry department for Christians and Beduin, approximately 100 Christian youth enlist in the IDF every year out of a possible 3,000 potential recruits.

Police Chief Superintendent Revital Karko said during the hearing that eight complaints of incitement against Christians involved in IDF enlistment activities were being investigated, although Karko also reiterated the claim that the attorney-general was investigating Arab MKs for incitement.

Separately, Sar-Shalom Gerbi, the head of the Civilian Service Directorate, called on the attorney- general to open an investigation into Balad MK Jamal Zahalka for stating in a public forum last month that Arab youth who signed up to the civilian service program, a voluntary alternative to military service, would suffer social consequences.

“Anyone who does civilian service should be ashamed,” said Zahalka in a meeting of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, an extra-parliamentary organization representing Arab citizens. “A girl should know that if she does civilian service, there’s a chance she won’t get married and that she’ll be ostracized. The same thing for a boy.”

Approximately 2,000 Israeli Arabs volunteer for national service programs every year, according to the National Civil Service Volunteers Association.

Gerbi said that recent increases in the number of Arab volunteers had caused an increase in opposition to the program. and that the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee frequently denounces civilian service volunteers and has established a special committee to campaign against the program. He also said that, along with verbal attacks against civilian service volunteers, who are referred to as “lepers” and “traitors,” incidents of physical violence have been recorded as well.

One civilian service volunteer at the Beit Levenstein rehabilitation center in Ra’anana, who had been given a citation for excellence, had the tires of her car punctured when news of her citation was reported in the media, Gerbi noted.

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