Top Christian leader warns Biden of ‘attacks by Jewish extremists’

Theophilos III also claimed that Christians were being denied freedom of worship in the holy city.

By Debbie Reiss, World Israel News

A top Jerusalem Christian leader told President Joe Biden on Friday of  “unprecedented attacks by Jewish extremist groups” that are driving Christians away from Jerusalem, echoing similar charges made earlier this year that Israel said were totally unfounded.

While on a tour of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Patriarch Theophilos III told Biden that “radical” Israeli groups were attacking churches and seizing Christian assets — all in an attempt to “alter history” and “end Christian presence” in Jerusalem.

While Jerusalem’s Christian population has grown, Bethlehem’s has shrunk 80% to 12% in the 27 years since the PA took control the city, according to data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Theophilos III also claimed that Christians were being denied freedom of worship in Jerusalem.

Last December, Christian leaders issued a joint statement denouncing “hate crimes” by radical groups that are aimed at “diminishing the Christian presence.”

A short time later, Theophilos III wrote an oped in the British Times newspaper saying that Christian presence in Jerusalem was “under threat” by “Zionist extremists.”

“Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalized. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation,” he wrote.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry at the time lambasted the claims, saying they  “distort[ed] the reality of the Christian community in Israel.”

Read  Jerusalem Day flag march to test Gaza truce

In her own response published in the Telegraph, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum charged that church leaders were painting an “incendiary false narrative.” She called Theophilos III’s accusations “surprising and deeply disappointing,” especially given the money and resources the city has invested in its Christian sites.

She added that reports of vandalism remain uncorroborated by Israel Police.

Hassan Nahoum pointed to findings from a Israel Democracy Institute poll showing that 84% of Israeli Christians are satisfied with life in Israel.

“Freedom of worship is a hallmark of our city and we protect it at all costs.” she wrote.

About a third of all Israeli Christians belong to the general Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The Greek Orthodox Church is in charge of its members who live in the central and southern regions of the country.