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November 11, 1977 - Image 19

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-11-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS Friday, November 11, 1977 19

Israel and Jerusalem's Christians


World Zionist Organization

Delicacy is the touchstone
of daily Israeli government
policy towards its Christian
minorities in Jerusalem.
Officials must maintain a
deft juggling act between
the various estranged deno-
minations, many of whom
.command powerful support
from outside the Jewish
state, yet within the country
are as one pundit explained,
"minorities three-times
The dual personality of
lsalem's Christians
is the basis of how the
government deals with
them on an everyday level.
The Holy City is not the
world center for any Chris-
tian group. Thus all the
sects are representatives of
more powerful elements
outside Israel. The Latin
Patriarch here, to put it
mildly, has a friend at the
Vatican. Jerusalem Angli-
cans can turn to Canter-
bury. Rival church hier-
archies in New York and
Moscow monitor the treat-
ment of their. respective
Russian Orthodox commu-
nities here. And church
bureaucracies in Soviet
Armenia and Ethiopia keep
a watchful eye of the fate of
their Jerusalem congrega-
tions. So it goes.
On the other hand, the
phrase "minorities three-
times over" is not a mere
rhetorical one. Firstly,
most of Jerusalem's 12,000
Christians are Arabs, a
people who are a minority
vis-a-vis the Jews. Sec-
ondly, because they are
Christian, they are a minor-
ity within Arab society,
which is predominantly
Moslem. And thirdly, since
there are 35 different Chris-
tian groups in Israel, unless
they belong . to a dominant
group like the Greek Ortho-
dox, these people are also a
minority within the Chris-
tian population at large.
The conflicting character-
istics of the Holy City's
Christians have caused a
relationship where the
Israeli government gives a
kind of preferential treat-
ment to its Christian
inhabitants as if they were
official representatives of
foreign states, because in
many ways they are. This
special treatment must be
handled very efficiently.
Since the triple minority
status makes the sects so
sensitive to their already
weakened position, a minor
crisis in this relationship
can revolve around some-
thing like failure of the gov-
ernment to grant a tax
, exemption on a clergy-
I's car or refrigerator.
one official of the Reli-
gious Affairs Ministry said:
"The ministry on one'hand
compensates for their
minority status, but at the
same time is sort of con-
ducting diplomatic relations
with foreign powers."
How does this extra spe-
cial relationship work?
Very efficiently. The reason
is simple. The Ministry of
Religious Affairs is in the
words of one expert, the
Christians' "right hand
man" in Israel. If a clergy-
man has trouble with a cus-
toms deduction at the Cus-
toms House, if he can't get
a slip from the Health Min-

istry, if he has visa prob-
lems at the Interior Min-
istry, he turns to the eight-
member department at the
Religious Affairs Ministry,
and then they handle it all,
like a private ombudsman.
A principle duty of these
eight officials is to dispense
privileges to Christian
clergymen in Israel. These
rights, very generally, are
similar to rights given to
new Jewish immigrants,
except they don't expire
after three years.
The 40 French and Italian
Christian institutions in
Jerusalem, such as the
Ecole Biblique for example,
receive the most benefits
simply because their rights
were negotiated between
France, Italy and Turkey in
Ottoman times, and all the
succeeding governments in
this area have kept the
status quo in this regard.
These rights mostly include
tax exemptions on all
imported merchandise,
little different than immi-,
grant benefits. When
French and Italian clergy
travel outside Israel, they
are exempted from the
travel tax. Also, all Chris-
tian community heads are
entitled to purchase a new
car every three years, tax
Government officials note
that the other Christian
groups enjoy less benefits
than the French and Ital-
ians. But an insider
reported that the Religioug
Affairs Ministry is "work-
ing in the direction" of
bringing the benefits
received by the other
groups "up to the level" of
the French and Italians. '
All these exempted taxes
are paid by the govern-
ment, with the Religious
Ministry transferring the
funds to the appropriate
government office. Cur-
rently,, the Ministry' main-
tains a yearly IL 30 million
budget for such purposes.
This tax-exempt status
also extends to construc-
tion. Costs of church build-
ing in Israel are tax free, a
benefit not enjoyed by syna-
gogues or yeshivot. In addi-
tion to all this, the Ministry
occasionally gives grants
for the purpose of new
church building or acquisi-
tions. An IL 50,000 gift to
the Maronite Christians for
their soon-to-be-completed
center in the Old City, and
an IL 30,000 gift to the
Armenians for book pur-
chases are examples. The
gift to the Maronite Chris-
tians is especially welcome,
since that group's resources
are taxed by assistance
given to Lebanese Maro-
nites through the "good
fence. -
The Ministry is also in the
business of mediation
between Christian groups
that happen to be at odds.
This mediation can some-
times be financially costly.
The ministry will soon
spend IL 23,000 for roof
repairs in the Chapel of St.
Helena in the church of the
Holy Sepulchre. Both the
Copts and the 'Ethiopians
claim rights to the roof.
Since paying for repairs sig-
nifies ownership, the state
of Israel will bear the cost.
The ministry also acts as
an information- center for

foreign visitors seeking
knowledge about Jerusalem
Christians. This information
drive is exemplified by
Christian News from Israel,
a quarterly' publication in
three languages to which
many libraries and
churches in the West

Unfortunately, the people
of Israel don't receive much
applause for their behavior
towards area Christians.
This, admittedly, is partly
the ministry's fault. Though
it invests much effort in dis-
tributing information about
Jerusalem Christians, it
invests little effort in dis-
tributing information about
what it does on their behalf.
Its helpful policy towards
the various groups is well
known within those commu-

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But Christian publications
from outside Israel rarely
mention such things. Per-
haps we should be thankful
for small mercies: most
Christians in the West do
recognize by now the
simple fact that the Holy
places here are "open."

li! ll



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