Fr. Pawet Rytel-Andrianik of Vatican News writes that Isaac Herzog, President of Israel, has pledged to defend religious freedom amidst protests from the Christian community in Haifa. As the third-largest city in Israel, Haifa is known for its diverse Muslim, Christian, and Jewish population.
In the past year, radical groups have broken into Christian churches and cemeteries, leading to accusations that the government of Israel isn’t doing enough to protect its religious minorities from extremists. Access to holy sites, even among different Christian denominations, has long been a contentious issue.
The Israeli President said, “We must respect the members of all religions. We have been committed to it from the beginning of our existence. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Isaac Herzog emphasized that “in recent months, we have seen serious occurrences against Christian denominations in the Holy Land. Our brothers and sisters, Christian citizens, feel that they are under attack in their places of prayer, cemeteries, and streets. I consider this extremist phenomenon unacceptable in every respect. This phenomenon must be eradicated, and I am grateful to the police and other law enforcement agencies for taking this matter seriously.” He added, “Here, in this peaceful and beautiful community, which has hundreds of years behind it for no reason should its members feel threatened.”
The Israeli President concluded, “My message both to Christians residing in Israel and believers around the world is that Christian communities are safe, secure, and thriving in the Holy Land.” Police chief Yaakov Shabtai was also present at the meeting.
Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa spoke on behalf of all Christian communities in the Holy Land. He thanked the Israeli President and members of his delegation for their support not only in words but also in deeds. “We must work together to strengthen the dialogue of solidarity and love between us,” he said. “We live in the same places, side by side, and we should live in peace, build our future together and support each other.”
President Herzog added, “Yes, it is important for all religions.” And the Patriarch concluded, “We are all children of the same God.”