AFP and Israel’s Cross to Bear

Israel’s usually accused of pressuring its Arab-Christian community, making Christian life untenable in the West Bank, and even ruining Christmas. But now that Israel’s reaching out to its Arab Christians, you’d think the Jewish state would catch a break.

Christians make up about two percent of Israel’s population. And there’s a lot more to this new engagement that you won’t read about in a shallow AFP dispatch that’s long on sound bites, but scant on the more moderate middle ground.

But ahead of a key visit to the Holy Land by Pope Francis which begins on Saturday, this apparent strategy of divide and rule has Israel’s Arab community worried.

Haifa University study of Israeli-Arabs (not limited to Christians) found that attitudes towards the Jewish state are softening. Legislation distinguishing between Arab Christians and Muslims is intended to boost Christian representation in public life and employment opportunities. The rate of Christians in the IDF is rising, and they have role models climbing the ranks like Yasmin Chayach, Tanus Eid, and Mona Abdo.

You might think from AFP that army service for Christians is becoming mandatory:

Military service is not compulsory for Israel’s Arabs, except for the tiny Druze community, and only around 100 Christians volunteer for service each year, army figures show.

But last month, Israel said it would start sending enlistment papers to all Christian Arabs of military service age, angering Arab MPs who accused the government of seeking to divide Christians from Muslims.

But as the Israeli media more clearly reported weeks ago:

Their service, however, will remain strictly voluntary.

AFP’s nameless Nazareth priest sacked for encouraging Christian army service is Father Gabriel Naddaf. His movement calling for Christian integration into Israel is a legitimate news story getting attention. It also threatens Arab-Israeli political leaders. Haneen Zoabi was thrown out of a Knesset session for making an implied threat to an Arab Christian IDF officer. She and fellow Balad MK Basel Ghattas went so far as to meddle in church affairs, seeking to have Naddaf dismissed.

Memo to AFP: That’s politics, not piety.

The upcoming visit of Pope Francis will mean an even greater media spotlight on Israeli-Christian relations. Will unfair coverage like AFP’s become Israel’s cross to bear?

Image: CC BY-SA

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