In a meeting with heads of Churches, Rivlin calls to condemn antisemitism

Both Rivlin and Deri voiced their individual commitment to maintain these freedoms of worship and accessibility.

 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Struggling valiantly against the discomfort of an extremely hoarse voice, President Reuven Rivlin on Monday urged heads of churches and all other Christian clergy to condemn antisemitism and all forms of racism and incitement.
Rivlin was speaking at the annual New Year’s reception traditionally hosted by the presidents of Israel between the Christmas dates of the Western and Eastern Churches.
Rivlin’s plea was echoed by Interior Minister Arye Deri, whose office is responsible for ensuring the freedom of religion of all faiths and access to all holy sites in Israel.
Both Rivlin and Deri voiced their individual commitment to maintain these freedoms of worship and accessibility and each also spoke of the importance of Jerusalem as a city of peace and harmony between people of all faiths.
Rivlin, who has been personally involved in the restoration of Qasr al Yahud on the Jordan River where it is believed that Jesus was baptized, said that even though the renovation work has not yet been completed, the fact that most of it has, brought 900,000 Christian pilgrims to the site in 2019. He anticipated that the work will be completed in 2020 and invited all those present to join him at the official opening of the project, which he envisaged will be visited by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians.
For Christians, the site is third in importance after the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
As he has been doing for several weeks now when hosting both large and small groups, Rivlin referred to the upcoming 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and of the world leaders who will be coming to Israel to commit themselves to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, and to fighting antisemitism and all forms of racism and incitement.
Rivlin welcomed the denunciation of antisemitism by Pope Francis and other Christian leaders who say that antisemitism is inhuman and not Christian.
Deri, in referencing the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, spoke of the atrocities that had taken place there and lamented the current resurgence of antisemitism around the globe. “We see antisemitism in places we never imagined,” he said. “Who would have dreamed that such incidents as the one that took place in Monsey during Hanukkah could take place in America?” He characterized Monsey, where a recent violent incident occurred, as a small, quiet place.
Describing the antisemitic attack in the home of a rabbi, Deri said that it had been perpetrated for no apparent reason. “The assailant simply decided to kill Jews.”
Deri spoke of the attack as a link in what has become a long chain of antisemitism throughout the world. This is one of the reasons, he said, that the Holocaust must not be forgotten: “Every day we are confronted with a new outbreak of antisemitism.”
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III expressed gratitude from the Christian communities to Rivlin for “the strong and unwavering support” he has given “to the integrity of the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious character of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.”
Theophilos said that they were particularly thankful for Rivlin’s special efforts in supporting the renovation work at Qasr al-Yahud and around the baptism site, “for protecting and promoting its restoration and for upholding the sanctity of this holy place.”
Theophilos underscored that the baptism site continues to be “a beacon of peace and a spiritual oasis that embraces the various faith traditions and national identities which make up our beloved Holy Land.”
He emphasized that the work of the Christian communities there is crucial, and the restoration has enabled them to welcome pilgrims without distinction and to nourish their spiritual aspirations.
Strongly, albeit gently voicing complaints in past years, Theophilos was much more restrained on this occasion, saying, “The dynamics of the Holy Land and its Holy Places, which of course include the Holy City of Jerusalem, also lay upon us various challenges. For instance, the well-known case of Jaffa Gate continues to be a source of anguish to all of us, for it is endangering the unique and sacred character of our Christian Quarter.”
He was referring to a decision by Israel’s Supreme Court to deny an appeal made by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate against the sale of three of its properties to a radical Jewish religious group. The properties are in the vicinity of Jaffa Gate.
Church leaders believe that the sale was conducted by trickery, with the aim of diluting the Christian presence in the old city.
Theophilos noted that changing the character of the area around Jaffa Gate will jeopardize access to the headquarters, schools, health facilities and places of worship of the various Christian denominations, and will diminish opportunities for Christian pilgrims to walk the ‘pilgrim way’ to the holy sites of the various Churches and to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. “We remain steadfast in our resolve to maintain our historic and sacred rights,” he declared, “and we acknowledge all the valuable support accorded to us locally and globally.”
While appreciative of the assistance of the Tourism Ministry, Theophilos, commenting on ever-increasing pilgrim tourism, urged the government to take fuller consideration of the request by Church leaders to ensure that all holy places offer essential services, such as the water supply at Mount Tabor, which is one of several major destinations for many thousands of pilgrims who visit holy places on a daily basis.
Theophilos voiced special appreciation to Yacoub Salameh and Sezar Marjieh of the Office for Christian Communities, who he said “have worked above and beyond the call of duty to help facilitate our common life.