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ISRAEL: Atittudes toward Christians

Jewish Israelis are very diverse. In a nation whose immigrants come from countries and cultures far and wide, pluralism often refers to tolerance among different cultural groups of Jews.

But diversity discourse in Israel differs considerably when it comes to interaction with non-Jewish groups. Rival historic, religious and national narratives make real diversity a tough principle to practice.  

Most Christians in Israel are Arabs, a minority within a minority squeezed between different layers of conflict. Christians account for 2.1% of the population. Israel's non-Arab Christians are mainly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, foreign workers, resident clergy and even Catholic Jews. And Jewish Israelis don't quite know how to perceive any of them -- for cultural, national and religious reasons.

Fifty-two percent of Jewish Israelis have no Christian friends or acquaintances, but almost 100% of them have opinions about them. A recent poll surveyed attitudes among the adult Jewish population toward Christians, Christianity and the Christian presence in Israel. The results of the survey, carried out by the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR) and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS), shed light on how Jewish Israelis perceive Christians and what they know about them, or think they do know.

Generally, most answers showed that the higher the level of religious observance, the more negative the attitude toward Christians. Such attitudes also were seen the lower the level of age, income and education. The following numbers mostly refer to the overall sample, but keep in mind the observance breakdown of the respondents: 23% Orthodox, 24% traditional and 53% secular.

  • 54% of the Jewish population think it is necessary to teach about Christianity in schools, including 25% of Orthodox Jews. But only 37%  believe it's necessary to teach about the New Testament.
  • 42% believe Christianity is closer to Judaism than Islam. A total of 32% believe Islam is closer.  The breakdown of religious observance is interesting here, with 49% of Orthodox Jews believing   Islam is closer and only 17% believing that Christianity is. But 54% of secular Jews believe Christianity is closer and 22% that Islam is.
  • 41% agreed very much or largely with the claim that "Christianity is an idolatrous religion," including 24% of secular and 78% of Orthodox Jews.
  • 37% believe it is forbidden for a Jew to enter a church, with the predictable observance differential. Still, the percentage of people who say they do not enter churches in practice is lower (29%) than those who believe it's forbidden.
  • 23% are greatly or significantly bothered when meeting in the street a Christian wearing a cross, including 8% of secular respondents and 60% of Orthodox Jews. This was an issue during the papal visit: Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall, had asked that the pope remove or at least cover his cross when visiting the site. He didn't. Rabinowitz said he felt the same way about a Jew entering a church with a prayer shawl and phylacteries. Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar responded by wearing a chain with a pendant depicting the tablets of the Ten Commandments when he met the pope Tuesday.
  • And here's one that says a lot: 46% do not agree that Jerusalem is a central city for the Christian world, including 31% of secular and 67% of Orthodox Jews.
  • 21% agree with the claim that all or most Christians want to convert Jews to Christianity, including 14% of secular and 43% of Orthodox Jews.
  • 39% believe the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to Judaism and Jews is positive. 58% believe there has been a change for the better in the church's attitude toward Jews in the last 50 years. Nearly 20% had no opinion on this one.
  • 55% say it is acceptable for Jewish organizations to receive financial assistance from Christian religious bodies, including 70% of secular and 20% of Orthodox Jews. 41% of the population said it was unacceptable.
  • So, should Israel allow churches to operate in Israel? 39% say yes -- but that they shouldn't be helped in any way. 34% say they should be assured freedom of religion and helped like any other religious institution, while 20% believe their activities should be restricted as much as possible.
  • And here's one thing most agree on: 71% say Israel should not permit Christian bodies to purchase property in Jerusalem for building new churches.
  • 45% believe the Arab Christians have a positive attitude toward the state; 45% believe their attitude is negative. 39% consider them loyal to the state.
  • 56% don't think Israel needs to take any action on Christian emigration from the country; 9% thought Israel should do something to stop it and 31% say that the state should encourage it.


Briefing reporters before the pope's visit, JCJCR director Daniel Rossing stressed the importance of inter-religious dialogue for society but also for the peace process. One of the flaws of the process, he said, was that the mainly secular actors assumed that to succeed, religion needed to be removed from the picture. Rossing believes this creates a vacuum that invites extremists to fill it.

On Christian emigration, Rossing said it was important that Christians continue to be a vibrant community and that "this not become a Disneyland of holy places without a living community. They can serve as a bridge and everyone stands to lose if they disappear from here."

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Comments () | Archives (8)

paul tyler.christians have converted people world-wide and look what it has done for them, from a time when people still thought the world was flat,christians and their various methods were used primitive people converted their way of life lost and changed,why because they were thought of and treated as nothing better than slaves,their women raped the men beaten and killed and used as human jokes,desease brought by the greed hungry,and a way of life for ever lost/destroyed.and who brought these people to their lands,the christians.what gives you the right to tell these people or any-body else what they should think and beleive,that is some-thing that most sane minded people relate to the terrorists, who like to brain wash others into their way of thinking. thank you.

I do not encourage Christians to convert Jews to Christianity. Judaism has nothing in common with neither mulsims nor christians. Jews do not try to convert anyone to their religion. I would advise you to study all three religions and an answer for yourself wheither you have a right as a Christian to tell other religions that your religion is better.

One of the reasons we christians want to convert jews to christianity is because of the coming of christ. NO ONE can come to the father except through Jesus Christ , the one and ONLY Messiah. Jews don't believe he is the Messiah so they won't be counted as his children in the days to come. That is why we want to convert them to christianity. Not because we think we are better, but because Jesus is the only way to heaven. The path to destruction is wide and many take it, but the path to life is narrow and few find it(Matt. 7:13-14).

If we are not entagled with Israel, Judaism will die. If we entangle with Muslims, Christianity will die, too.

There are less than 15 million Jews in the world, and much more than a billion Muslims, and then there are the Christians and others. Shall we guarentee the rights of one and kill off the Jews? There is no question in my mind that that is what Muslims want.

This just goes to show that much racism still exists in Israel. There is much work to do before Israel will adopt the "multi-cultural consitution."

That's not George Washington "on Israel". Obviously, Israel did not exist at that time and it's misleading for you to quote George Washington in such a way.

I'm an Arab born in Bethlehem..a Christian. Now a citizen of the US and very happy I was able to raised my children in the environment. Much of my family now lives near Jerusalem...they feel safer than they do in Bethlehem. We visit them every Christmas.

The Jews are friendly to my elderly parents, often taking them to Church for Sunday services. Most of the Jews they live near are mostly secular or open minded about cultures.

George Washington on Israel

"A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification." ~George Washington Farewell Address

"The nation which indulges toward another habitual hatred or habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interests." ~ George Washington

"Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none." ~ Thomas Jefferson


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