Photo Credit: Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90
Last week, in the lead up to Christmas, Israel was once again thrust into the spotlight courtesy of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who jointly published an article with Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem Hosam Naoum in The Sunday Times claiming Christians were being “systematically” driven out of the Holy Land.
Yet the statistics prove otherwise.
While any attacks that have occurred at the hands of Jewish extremists are reprehensible, and widely condemned as such by the vast majority in Israel, the truth remains that the safest place for Christians in the Middle East to be today is the State of Israel.
So where did the archbishop get this misinformation?
Earlier this month, a letter was released by the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem claiming, without any evidence, that Israel is unfairly discriminating against Christians with coronavirus entry restrictions. They also claimed that there are “countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches – with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated…” in order to “drive Christians out” of Jerusalem.
While there have been several despicable incidents of vandalism against churches by Jewish extremists in the last year, there is no evidence or statistics provided for any physical attacks, or for the claim that Jews are driving Christians out of the Holy Land. There is however evidence of the opposite.
Statistics provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) showed that the Christian community in Israel actually grew by 1.4%. Not only that, but the community is thriving and successful, with Christians being among the most educated groups in the entire country, and with Christian women in particular having some of the highest education rates. Israeli Christians also outscore Israeli Jews on matriculation exams by 60% to 51%.
The CBS report also stated that Christians have the lowest rates of poverty and unemployment of any group in the State of Israel, including Jews, and a total of 84% of Israeli Christians are satisfied with their lives in the Holy Land. While Israel undoubtedly has shortcomings, these are not exactly statistics that represent a population being “driven out” by the government.
Contrast this with the population of Palestinian-Christians in the West Bank or Gaza and you see just how off-base the Archbishop’s comments really were. In Gaza, Christians have gone from the thousands to around 1,000 under Hamas. Not only that, but they have been subjected to murders and terror attacks on their homes and places of worship by Islamic extremists.
In the West Bank, Christians have not fared much better with the percentage of Christians in Bethlehem, the very birthplace of Jesus, shrinking from 80% under Israeli control, to roughly 12% today under the Palestinian Authority.
In the Middle East, Christians have gone from 20% of the total population to 5%, and face regular attacks and harassment from extremists across the Arab world, in particular in Egypt and Iraq.
There is nothing wrong with criticizing Jewish extremists in Israel if and when harassment of Christians occurs, and church leaders are certainly entitled to call out such vile acts of hatred. All Israelis should.
But to present the issue without context as the Israeli church leaders and the Archbishop of Canterbury did is simply playing politics. Actions like this do a disservice not only to Israeli Christians, 84% of whom are “satisfied” with their lives in Israel, but also to the Christians of the Middle East who really are being driven out of their homelands like in the Gaza Strip, Egypt, Iraq or the West Bank.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has a responsibility as a major religious leader to examine the full picture before latching on to an intentionally misleading effort to score political points and distract from the true persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East.