Washington – A bipartisan group of congresspeople sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday expressing “deep concern” about the rise in extremist attacks against Jerusalem’s Christians.
The letter, led by Joaquin Castro and Gus Bilirakis, was co-signed by representatives James P. McGovern, Anna G. Eshoo, French Hill, Andy Harris, Nicole Malliotakis and Jackie Speier.
It was also copied to Rashad Hussain, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.
The letter called on Blinken to work with his Israeli counterparts to ensure that Jerusalem continues to be a safe place for Christians, Jews and Muslims to live and worship freely.
“In recent months, the leaders of Christian churches in Jerusalem, including the Greek Orthodox Church, Catholic Church and others have spoken publicly about the mounting challenges faced by Christian communities in Jerusalem,” a release by Castro’s office said.
“While the Israeli government has committed to protecting the rights of all religious minorities in Jerusalem, the actions of radical groups are threatening the safety and long-term viability of Christian worship and presence in the city.”
The letter comes in follow up to a statement released by the Patriarchs and heads of local churches of Jerusalem in December 2021 accusing “radical groups” of systematically attempting to “drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem.”
It also comes after recent frustration by Jerusalem’s Christian community that attendance at this year’s Holy Fire and Easter celebrations had to be limited.
“We write today as a bipartisan group of members of Congress deeply concerned by the rise in attacks against the Christian community in Jerusalem,” the congresspeople wrote.
They cited several incidents of violence, including an Israeli settler who attempted to set fire to the Church of All Nations in December 2020 and four acts of vandalism against the Monastery of the Romanian Church in Jerusalem in 2021.
They also highlighted that “members of a radical group broke into Christian properties around the Jaffa Gate entrance to the ancient Christian Quarter of Jerusalem.”
“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,” they wrote.
“These incidents underscore the need to further work with the Israeli government to uphold its stated commitment to religious freedom.”
“We understand that a senior delegation of church leaders from Jerusalem will soon come to Washington, D.C., and we encourage you to meet with them while they are in our capital in a show of solidarity with Christian minorities in the region and to strengthen friendships with the American people.”
The congresspeople said that there is a decline in Christian presence in Jerusalem, which could harm the work being done by the Churches in support of medical, educational and humanitarian needs of the country’s disadvantaged and harm Christian tourism to ‘Israel’ – an $3 billion a year infusion of funds into the Israeli occupation economy.
“We ask the State Department to work with the Israeli government 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,” the congresspeople concluded.
“We ask you to work closely with counterparts in the Israeli government to ensure Jerusalem is a place where Christians, Jews, and Muslims can worship freely, without fear of attack.”