Prime Minister Yair Lapid met Jordan’s King Abdullah II on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Tuesday, and afterward issued a statement that this represented a strengthening of Israeli-Jordanian ties.
That’s the good news.
Relations with Jordan are strategically important for both Israel and Jordan, and meetings such as these can only help improve communications and foster closer ties. It is good that ties with Amman, which suffered under Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure, are being strengthened. That is to be applauded.
The bad news is that just before that meeting, Abdullah addressed the UN body and lied, libeling the Jewish state by saying that Christianity is under attack in Jerusalem.
As custodians of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites, Abdullah said, “we are committed to protecting their historical and legal status quo and to their safety and future. And as a Muslim leader, let me say clearly that we are committed to defending the rights, the precious heritage, and the historic identity of the Christian people of our region. Nowhere is that more important than in Jerusalem.”
Christianity in the Holy City is “under fire,” the king declared. “The rights of churches in Jerusalem are threatened. This cannot continue. Christianity is vital to the past and present of our region and the Holy Land. It must remain an integral part of our future.”
“The rights of churches in Jerusalem are threatened. This cannot continue. Christianity is vital to the past and present of our region and the Holy Land. It must remain an integral part of our future.”Jordan’s King Abdullah II
Christianity is retreating through the Middle East, with ancient Christian communities in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Gaza and – yes – Bethlehem, shrinking. Three years ago the British Foreign Secretary commissioned a report that concluded that the pervasive persecution of Christians, sometimes amounting to genocide, is taking place in the Mideast, triggering a massive Christian exodus from the region. There is only one state in the region where the Christian community is actually growing: Israel. Yet that is precisely the state that Abdullah chose to target as the place where Christianity is under fire.
This represents unparalleled chutzpah, for two main reasons.
First, because the king knows that it is not true, and that Israel zealously protects the rights of the churches in Jerusalem, as well as the freedom of worship for Christians throughout the city. He is also certainly aware that while the Christian community in his own country is shrinking, across the River Jordan in Israel it is growing.
Secondly, Abdullah’s presenting himself as some kind of guardian of religious liberty is misleading, considering that Jordanian officials at the border with Israel regularly prevent Jews crossing into Jordan from bringing in with them religious objects they need for daily ritual practice, such as tallitot and tefillin.
In one instance written about in the Post just last week, Jordanian border officials prevented two Jews carrying US passports who were traveling to Saudi Arabia via Jordan from bringing their tallitot and tefillin into the Hashemite Kingdom, and even checked under their caps to make sure – God forbid – they weren’t wearing kippot.
Yet Abdullah is lecturing Israel about religious freedoms.
Beyond the utter cheek of the matter, there was something else problematic about Abdullah’s words. At a time when tensions are running high in Jerusalem on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, responsible leaders of goodwill – among whose ranks Abdullah wants to be counted – should seek to lower the temperature, not artificially raise it.
But by accusing Israel of threatening Christianity in Jerusalem, Abdullah was doing just that. Listening to Abdullah speak, one could conclude that not only is al-Aqsa Mosque in danger under Israeli control, as the Muslim Brotherhood wants everyone to believe, but that Christianity as well is under siege.
None of this was mentioned, understandably, in the short statement that Lapid released after he met with Abdullah. The prime minister was looking to improve – not harm – the atmosphere between Israel and Jordan.
We earnestly hope, however, that Lapid took Abdullah to task in private for his outrageous remarks, and urged him to carefully weigh his words regarding Jerusalem, especially at a time of increased tension. Improving the atmosphere between Jerusalem and Amman is a Jordanian interest as much as it is an Israeli one. We hope Lapid made this clear.