Democratic, Republican Lawmakers Warn Blinken About Rising Attacks Against Christians in Jerusalem

The lawmakers quote the December 2021 statement of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem who warned of a 'systematic attempt' to drive Christians out of the city

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Greek Orthodox clergymen march in a procession with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem at the Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site overlooking the Jordan river, in January.
Greek Orthodox clergymen march in a procession with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem at the Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site overlooking the Jordan river, in January. Credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington

WASHINGTON A bipartisan group of "deeply concerned" House lawmakers on Friday warned U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the rise in attacks targeting the Christian community in Jerusalem, urging him to work with Israel to uphold its stated commitment to freedom of religion.

"The actions of radical groups who are able to act with impunity directly threaten the religious freedom of the Christian community in Jerusalem and undermine the rich history of interfaith cooperation within the city," eight Democratic and Republican lawmakers warned.

They highlighted the December 2020 incident where an Israeli man attempted to set fire to the Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives, the four acts of vandalism targeting the Monastery of the Romanian Church over the span of one month in 2021, and the May 2021 attack of an Armenian priest heading to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by three Israeli youths.

"These are just a few examples of the attacks sustained against clergy and church properties," they wrote. "Despite general protections afforded to minority religious communities by the Israeli government, the actions of radical groups pose a grave threat to the long-term viability of the Christian presence in Jerusalem."

The lawmakers quoted the December 2021 statement of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem who warned of a "systematic attempt" to drive Christians out of Jerusalem, noting it is "not only a blow to religious freedom but also has humanitarian consequences."

They warn that ministry programs aimed at meeting the medical, educational and humanitarian needs of disadvantaged people in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan would no longer be able to operate should these attacks continue, while further flagged the $3 billion in revenue the Christian tourism industry brings to the Israeli economy.

The lawmakers called on Blinken to work with Israel to "uphold its stated commitment to the freedom of religion and worship for all religions and to hold accountable the radical groups who are engaging in sustained attacks against Christian clergy and destruction of church properties."

They also urged him to work with Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain to ensure the U.S. plays a "proactive role" in defending vulnerable communities.

The letter was led by Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro and Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis, and were joined by Democratic Reps. James McGovern, Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier and Republican Reps. French Hill, Andy Harris and Nicole Malliotakis.

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