In July 2016, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria (pictured in front at center)—the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church—hosts Ignatius Aphrem II (left), patriarch of Antioch and All East of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Aram I, head of Lebanon’s Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
While Christianity traces its birthplace to the Middle East, that region has been arguably the most hostile area for the religion in recent years. A new report by the Christian charity group Open Doors has found that most of Israel’s neighbors, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories, are among the world’s most dangerous places for Christians.
Susan Michael, U.S. director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), told JNS that “Islamic extremism originated in the Middle East and is the main cause of persecution of Christians in the world today. It is a dangerous and violent ideology that must be stopped.”
Egypt’s embattled Christian minority, which comprises roughly 10 percent of the country’s population and stands as the largest Christian community in the region, has been the frequent target of Islamic terrorism. Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta were struck by suicide bombers last April, killing 45 people on Palm Sunday. Last December, at least eight Christians were killed in a terror attack on a Coptic church south of Cairo.
According to the Open Doors report, Egyptian Christians suffer in “various ways” such as pressure on Christian converts to return to Islam, severe restrictions on building places of worship and congregating, and violence.
“Egyptian Christians have had significant attacks and pressure from extremist elements seeking to impose sharia standards on minority faiths, as well as from ISIS factions that want to use Christians as a useful target to undermine the Egyptian government and economy,” David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, told JNS. He added that the report “shows that people who want to make a decision to explore or practice the Christian faith face great cultural pressure, if not violence.”
Adel Guindy, the former president of Coptic Solidarity, a U.S.-based human rights organization that promotes equality for Coptic Christians in Egypt, told JNS that the situation for the Copts has worsened considerably under President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi—despite his rhetoric in support of Christians and against radical Islam—and has reached “an all-time high.”
“El-Sisi is quick to blame it on ‘external forces,’ [but] it is in fact homegrown. It’s a direct result of a permeating hate culture that dominates the entire public space,” Guindy said.
“Furthermore, the ‘big violence’ events that attract international media’s attention are in fact a mere tip of an iceberg of systemic and systematic discrimination and persecution that amount to a state-sanctioned ‘war of attrition,’” he said.
The rest of the Middle East
Elsewhere, the Open Doors report noted that Christian converts in Jordan face “a great deal of persecution, Christians in the Palestinian territories (Gaza Strip and West Bank) are “caught in the middle of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” and that “Islamic militant groups are the clear threat” to Syrian Christians.
“The persecution of Christians in Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian territories does not necessarily come from their governments, but from their populations who have been indoctrinated with Islamic theological teachings that are hostile to non-Muslims. It will take a significant amount of years of intentional education to change that attitude,” said ICEJ’s Michael.
The report identified North Korea as the country where Christians face the highest level of discrimination, followed by Afghanistan and Somalia. More than 3,000 Christians were killed worldwide due to their faith last year.
Other Middle Eastern and North African countries that were ranked among the top 10 most dangerous places for Christians were Libya, Iraq, Iran and Yemen.
“Whether in North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, the Palestinian territories or elsewhere, the persecution of Christians has reached near-epidemic levels,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. “We urge world leaders and international organizations like the U.N. to bring this crisis to the top of their collective agenda and seek to protect endangered Christian minorities and all people of faith.”
The persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries presents a stark contrast to the world’s only Jewish state, where the Christian population has steadily increased in recent years to about 170,000, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Israeli Christians enjoy freedom of worship, and even regularly outperform their Jewish and Muslim counterparts in high school matriculation exams.
“The Arab-Christian minority in Israel is a minority within a minority and faces some challenges, but they are citizens of a democracy that protects their freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” Michael said. “This is in such contrast to the Muslim countries around them, where Christians and their places of worship are regularly attacked. There is a growing number of Christians voluntarily serving in the Israel Defense Forces in order to protect their country and their freedoms from the forces of Islamic militants wanting to destroy Israel.”
Vice President Mike Pence is slated to visit Israel, Egypt and Jordan from Jan. 19-23. According to his spokesperson, Alyssa Farah, Pence is expected “to reaffirm our commitment to work with the U.S.’s allies in the region to defeat radicalism that threatens future generations.”
Coptic Solidarity’s Guindy said that Pence, who is a devout evangelical Christian, should take the opportunity to press Egypt’s El-Sisi on human rights and the protection of Christians.
“It’s certainly important to engage Egypt as a partner in the war against Islamic terrorism. But this should not come at the expense of human rights, civil society and upholding equal citizenship rights for all—including, and especially, Christians and others who do not belong to the Sunni-Muslim majority,” he said.
Michael said that Pence “should require that [countries where Christians are widely persecuted] educate their people to be peaceful and respectful of religious minorities by placing controls on their imams, school textbooks and the media; and make future U.S. financial assistance contingent upon them doing so.”
The future for Mideast Christians
Guindy said that recent trends “make it difficult to predict” whether Mideast Christians can survive “the current tsunami” of persecution.
“The picture is rather gloomy, and the fact that Christians’ presence in the Middle East has shrunk from one-fifth of the population a century ago to barely 3 percent today speaks volumes….Islamist pressure, coupled with the West’s lack of action beyond hollow words of sympathy, make it difficult to be realistically optimistic,” he said.
Michael is more optimistic.
“Leaders of Middle Eastern countries are currently doing a lot of soul-searching because of the violence and civil wars generated by extremism, and this should slowly trickle into Africa and Asia,” she said. “The challenge facing these leaders, however, is changing the hearts and minds of their people.adle-christianity/#yYs5ScOlIIIt5pDw.99ge!
Trump hails ‘big week’ for historic move; ‘Congratulations to all,’ he tweets ahead of May 14 opening
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman gives a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 11, 2018, ahead of its opening on May 14 (Screenshot)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Friday gave a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, showing off workers erecting the official seal on the building and preparing for the opening ceremony.
“We are so excited,” Friedman said in a video posted on the embassy’s Facebook page. “We have the official seal of the United States embassy. We have the dedication plaque. They are covered right now, but on Monday they are going to be unveiled.”
‘Next time in Jerusalem,’ jubilant Barzilai yells after victory; ‘Toy’ marks Israel’s 4th win; hundreds jump in Rabin Square fountain to celebrate; PM calls her ‘best ambassador’
Netta Barzilai after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. (AFP/ Francisco LEONG)
Israel won the Eurovision song contest for the first time in two decades Saturday as singer Netta Barzilai clucked and bucked her way to the top of the international song contest with women’s empowerment anthem “Toy.”
Backed up by three dancers, her trademark side buns featuring stripes of pink dyed hair to match her pink-and-black outfit, Barzilai busted her way through “Toy” on stage in Lisbon, Portugal, punctuating her singing with her trademark eye rolls and chicken dance moves
Quoted by US president one day, hosted by Russia’s president the next, PM is on a high, including in the polls. But will this encourage his more divisive tendencies?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Victory Parade marking the 73th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, in Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
JTA — On Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu began his week by meeting his Cypriot and Greek counterparts to finalize the commercial export to Europe of Israeli gas that he has pushed to exploit for about a decade.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from nuclear deal with Iran was widely seen as a coup for Israel’s prime minister, a fierce opponent of the deal.
The same day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Israel seized Iran’s archive of its military nuclear program in Tehran and spirited it to Israel, a video was posted of IDF soldiers singing Soltane Ghalbha, a traditional Persian love song – in Persian.
Taken together, the two events demonstrate the purpose of Netanyahu’s presentation.
Netanyahu’s detractors in the US and Israel called his presentation as a dog and pony show. “He didn’t tell us anything we haven’t known for years,” they sniffed.
Moreover, they insisted, Netanyahu’s presentation was actually counterproductive because he couldn’t show evidence that Iran is in breach of the nuclear deal it concluded in 2015 and so did nothing to persuade the Europeans to abandon the deal.
While US policy-makers are trying desperately to stabilize Afghanistan, a shift is being orchestrated by China.
The Chinese evidently see their role in Afghanistan as the “good cop” versus the U.S. role as “bad cop.” Like Pakistan, China seems to view the Taliban as the political opposition, not as a terrorist organization, and has offered itself as an intermediary to negotiate the departure of the U.S. and, thereby, be in a position to reap the economic and geopolitical benefits of Afghanistan as a client state of the China-Pakistan alliance.
Reuters/Ipsos set a new standard this week when it condemned its own polling as unreliably favorable to the president.
“This week’s Reuters/Ipsos Core Political release presents something of an outlier of our trend,” stated a paragraph that appeared before the press release on its latest polling even began.
“Every series of polls has the occasional outlier, and in our opinion, this is one. So, while we are reporting the findings in the interest of transparency, we will not be announcing the start of a new trend until we have more data to validate this pattern.”
For the sixth Friday in a row, protestors from Gaza came to Israel’s border with intentions to penetrate it. They come with scissors to cut through the fence, with burning tires, Molotov cocktails, slingshots with rocks, and kites with firebombs attached to them to destroy Israeli farmlands and villages.
This is not some peaceful demonstration akin to Selma in the 1960s when blacks were simply trying to sit together with whites at a lunch counter. The usage of the word “demonstrators” is a misnomer; these are “rioters.”
What would happen if the world took Pope Francis’ advice (via a tweet)? “Do we really want peace? Then let’s ban all weapons so we don’t have to live in fear of war,” said the pontiff.
While on the surface, the disappearance of all weapons might suggest the inability to do violence, in reality, it would mean the certain annihilation of the West as a civilization.
When a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called the police after two black men refused to leave, the chain of events ended with the burnt taste of the overpriced coffee chain colluding with anti-Semitism.
Starbucks reacted to the brief arrest by blaming the police, but Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is African-American, initially said that his officers, “did absolutely nothing wrong”. But then he was forced to offer a bewildering apology to the arrested men, the officers and the entire city.
“It is me who in large part made most of the situation worse than it was,” he announced.
“Your threshing season will last until your grape harvest, and your grape harvest will last until the time you plant. You will have your fill of food, and you will dwell securely in your land” (Vayikra 26:5).
This blessing is promised to the People of Israel on condition that, as a unified nation, they observe the laws of the Torah and live by its spirit. Its promise is quite surprising. Not only will the Israelites have plenty to eat but, as the verse clearly indicates, the Jews will experience an overflow of food. The first season, when produce is brought to the threshing floor, will last until the days of the grape harvest, which in turn will continue into the planting season.