Board of Deputies protests to Archbishop of Canterbury over 'troubling' comments about Christians in Israel

The head of the Anglican Church decried the decline of Palestinian Christians in article jointly written for the Sunday Times


The Board of Deputies has called for a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to discuss “deeply troubling” passages in an article on Christians in Israel he co-wrote for this week’s Sunday Times

In a letter to the arcbhishop, Board president Marie van der Zyl expressed “great regret” that she felt the need to respond to the article, which highlighted attacks on church sites and clergy as a reason for the decline of Palestinian Christians. 

Written jointly with the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, it referred to the recent “unprecedented and urgent alarm call” from churches in Israel about attacks by “radical fringe groups”. 

These included the vandalisation of the Romanian Orthodoxy Monastery in  March this year and a fire lit in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane a year ago. 

 While the number of Christians in Israel had risen, the Christian population in east Jerusalem was in “steady decline” with some estimating that only 2,000 remained in the Old City, the archbishops wrote.

 “Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region,” they said. 

 “But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and the vandalism of holy sites by fringe radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away. 

 "Meanwhile, the growth of settler communities and travel restrictions brought about by the West Bank separation wall have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities. 

 “All of these factors have contributed to a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere — a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.” 

 In her response, Mrs van der Zyl said that assaults on the Christian community in the Holy Land  by “extremists” were unacceptable. 

 But she took issue with the article’s explanations for the long-term time of the Christian population. 

 “In the past century, both in Israel’s heartlands and the West Bank, the demographics show that the Palestinian population has increased significantly,” she noted. 

“If the overall Palestinian population has greatly increased, but the Palestinian Christian population has significantly declined, then clearly there are more complex reasons than those raised in the article, which appeared to attribute this decline to Jewish settlers and the barrier built to halt the wave of terror attacks of the Second Intifada.” 

She said she was “especially troubled” by a reference in the article to “the first Christmas” which “allows for the possibility of comparison to current events,” she said. 

She was also concerned about a reference to the Christmas story taking place against  “the backdrop of a genocide of infants” – an allusion to King Herod’s actions in the Gospel of  Matthew. "I found this reference troubling," she said, "because of the potential linkage which could be made between Christianity, Jews and the killing of children in any current context".

This was “particularly distressing because I know that you have advocated for policies that support Jewish communal concerns. I fear that rather than encouraging reasoned dialogue on the issues you raise, this may in fact divide communities.” 

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