PM touts religious pluralism in Christmas greeting

Netanyahu says Christian community in Israel growing, unlike in neighboring countries where they are endangered.

Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher 370 (R) (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher 370 (R)
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Unlike other countries in the Middle East, where Christian communities are shrinking and many of them are in danger, in Israel there is a strong and growing Christian community that participates fully in the life of the country, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a taped Christmas greeting on Monday.
“Israel is proud of its record of religious tolerance and pluralism, and Israel will continue to protect freedom of religion for all,” Netanyahu said. “And we will continue to safeguard places of Christian worship throughout our country.”
In an apparent reference to a spate of vandalism against Christian sites over the last year, Netanyahu – who has come out forcefully against such actions – said: “We will not tolerate any acts of violence or discrimination against any place of worship. This is not our way, and this is something we cannot accept.”
The prime minister invited the world’s Christians to “recall the places where Judaism and Christianity emerged, and then come see our ancient land with your own eyes. Visit Nazareth and Bethlehem, wade into the Jordan River, stand on the shores of the Sea of Galilee [Lake Kinneret] and next year come visit our eternal capital of Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu’s comments about endangered Christian communities in the Middle East follows by a day a report by the British think tank Civitas which concluded that “Christianity is in serious danger of being wiped out in its biblical heartlands because of Islamic oppression.”
According to the report by Civitas, which the BBC characterized as right-leaning, “Western politicians and media largely ignore the widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the wider world because they are afraid they will be accused of racism.”
According to the report, “between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left or been killed over the past century.”
The pace, the report asserts, “is now intensifying with the rise of militant Islam in countries such as Egypt, Iraq and now, with the civil war, Syria.”