Jerusalem deputy mayor: Jerusalem patriarch pushing ‘false narrative’

"These tirades are part of a well-orchestrated fundraising campaign to the Christian world."

 The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, leads a procession during Orthodox Palm Sunday, marking the start of Holy Week that ends on Easter Sunday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City April 17, 2022. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, leads a procession during Orthodox Palm Sunday, marking the start of Holy Week that ends on Easter Sunday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City April 17, 2022.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan Nahoum has accused church leaders of painting a “false narrative” and misrepresenting the facts about minorities in Jerusalem as part of a “well-orchestrated fundraising campaign to the Christian world.”

In an op-ed published by The Telegraph and a longer version of the same column that she shared with The Jerusalem Post, Hassan Nahoum described recent attacks by Church leaders, including Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, as “surprising and deeply disappointing.”

“Last week on Easter Sunday, all of Jerusalem's Christian denominations celebrated peacefully as they do every year, their processions around the Old City of Jerusalem with hundreds of worshippers both local and tourists attending,” she wrote. “It was particularly meaningful as the Stations of the Cross were recently made wheelchair-accessible, a mammoth task that took us years to plan and execute, so this year the processions were for the first time in history accessible to all.”

According to Hassan Nahoum, the city has invested “unprecedented resources” into the Old City and east Jerusalem over the past seven years to help close social gaps. 

Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum (Credit: NOAM FEINER)Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum (Credit: NOAM FEINER)

Moreover, she stressed, reports of regular and increasing desecration and vandalism of Christian holy sites in the city are not corroborated by the city or the Israel Police.

“If there was truly a trend of rising violence against Christians, wouldn’t we expect such incidents to be reported to local law enforcement before being aired to the foreign press?” she asked. “The City of Jerusalem and its Police Authorities are completely engaged in protecting the Christian population, and any reported acts of intolerance are acted upon quickly and decisively.”

The deputy mayor shared the following numbers via the Israel Democracy Institute as well: The Christian population in Israel has grown by 1.5% in the last year and 84% of Christians are satisfied with their lives in this country.

“In tragic contrast the Christian communities living under the Palestinian Authority are dwindling, the most glaring example being the Christian population of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, that has shrunk from 80% to 12% in the 27 years the PA control the city,” Hassan Nahoum wrote. “Freedom of worship is a hallmark of our city and we protect it at all costs.”

Finally, she debunked a false narrative shared by Theophilos in January in an article in the Times, where he wrote that “it is at the Jaffa Gate that an Israeli radical group is seeking to occupy two big buildings, acquired through illegitimate transactions.” 

She said that the patriarch began a legal battle against the sale of two hotels by his church to a Jewish NGO in 2004. But the legality of the transaction was upheld by both the Jerusalem District and Supreme courts. 

“The Greek Orthodox Patriarchy has in fact sold large swaths of property in Jerusalem over the last decade, including under Theophilos himself,” Hassan Nahoum said. “His use of the word ‘occupy’ to describe a legitimate real estate transaction is libelous and simply dangerous.”

She said she believes that these Christian leaders have ulterior motives to their accusations: Money.

“It transpires that the central reason for the attacks according to Church sources … is that these tirades are part of a well-orchestrated fundraising campaign to the Christian world,” according to the deputy mayor. “Christian pilgrims are a significant part of tourism coming to Jerusalem and therefore income for the Church. The Greek Patriarchy have had financial problems for decades which is why they began selling land in Jerusalem in the first place. The COVID closures to foreign tourists of the last couple of years have rendered them in financial dire straits and are looking to gather sympathy and much needed donations from the Christian world. 

“Spiritual leaders carry a particularly large responsibility for encouraging harmony across diverse populations, especially in a city as sacred as Jerusalem,” she concluded. “It is so depressing to me that even today in 2022 after hundreds of years of antisemitism and persecution from the different Churches and their leaders that the age-old tactic of scapegoating Jews to gain sympathy is still alive and well.”