Priest under fire for touting Arab national service

Arab press, MKs slam head of Greek Orthodox Church of J'lem for encouraging Arab Christians to enlist for IDF service.

June 25, 2013 20:51
2 minute read.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad )

A Christian priest who has been active in promoting Arab enlistment in national service programs has come under heavy fire from the Arab press and Arab members of Knesset, who have called on him to halt his activities or face dismissal from his position.

In response, Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, has come under pressure from several government officials to not discipline the priest, Father Gabriel Nadaf of Nazareth.

Nadaf took part last week in a conference on the issue of Arab enlistment along with IDF officers. Following the conference and coverage of it in the Arab media, several Arab MKs demanded that Theophilos discipline Nadaf.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, MK Basel Ghattas (Balad) said that he had personally written to Theophilos demanding that the patriach fire the priest if he does not desist from promoting IDF service among the Arab population.

“We are against his initiative,” said Ghattas who is Christian. “As a religious man he should be concerned with the affairs and issues of his church and he should not be politically active in this way and seek to get Arab Christians to volunteer for the Israeli army.

Such activity is against the public will and desire of the Christian population. We are Christians and part of the Palestinian people.”

On Monday, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said he had called on Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett to convey to Theophilos that firing Nadaf would be unacceptable.

“Such an action against someone who’s only ‘sin’ is to try and help the people of his community better integrate into Israeli society, is not acceptable and represents an utterly anti-Israeli standpoint, which is injurious to Israeli sovereignty,” Liberman wrote on his Facebook page.

Liberman added that he was calling on Bennett to clarify to the Greek Orthodox Church that future “anti- Israel activities will lead to the taking of steps and injury to the cooperation between the State of Israel with the Jerusalem Patriarchate.”

Sar-Shalom Jerbi – director of the National Civilian Service program, an alternative to military service – also called on Theophilos not to act against Nadaf.

Jerbi said on Monday that he had met with Theophilos several months ago to discuss Nadaf’s activities in promoting national service, saying that the patriarch promised at the time that Nadaf would not be fired.

Jerbi said he was astonished that Theophilos was even considering firing Nadaf.

“I am calling on Patriarch Theophilos to prevent the dismissal of Father Nadaf,” said Jerbi.

“As someone who works towards coexistence between the different communities and religions in the State of Israel, I expect the patriarch to stand by his word and allow Christians who are so interested to be part of the national service program and to feel like citizens with equal rights in the State of Israel.”

The Post has learned that Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan is in touch with the Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who has responsibility for Christian communities in Israel, to coordinate a meeting with Theophilos on the matter.

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