Eight Republican and Democrat Congressmen sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to pressure Israel to ensure freedom of worship in Jerusalem for Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
Congressman Joaquin Castro and Gus Bilirakis led the bipartisan letter, expressing deep concern about a "disturbing" rise in recent Israeli extremist attacks against Jerusalem’s Christian community.
In the letter, the lawmakers stressed that the protection of religious freedom abroad must be a critical element of the United States' foreign policy.
“Freedom of religion is a cherished American value and universal human right, our own experience compels us to advocate for the rights of vulnerable and underrepresented people around the world,” it read.
Signatories of the letter said the US should maintain its unwavering support to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief for all.
It listed several incidents, including the attempt by an Israeli man to set fire to the Church of All Nations located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in December 2020.
“In the span of one month in 2021, the Monastery of the Romanian Church in Jerusalem was the target of four acts of vandalism. Christian clergy are also targets of attacks,” it added.
In May 2021, an Armenian priest was attacked by three Israeli youths as he made his way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the letter added, noting that these are just a few examples of the attacks sustained against clergy and church properties.
Despite general protections afforded to minority religious communities by the Israeli government, the lawmakers said actions of radical groups pose a grave threat to the long-term viability of the Christian presence in Jerusalem.
“Throughout the Holy Land, Christians have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.”
Since 2012, there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives.
These tactics are being used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land, they warned.
Lawmakers said the decline of the Christian presence in Jerusalem is not only a blow to religious freedom but also has humanitarian consequences.
Ministry programs organized under the auspices of the Christian churches in Jerusalem meet the medical, educational, and humanitarian needs of many disadvantaged people regardless of religious affiliation.
It further warned that if the radical groups succeed in driving out the Christian community, many of these programs will no longer be able to operate.
Additionally, the actions of radical groups who are able to act with impunity directly threaten the religious freedom of the Christian community in Jerusalem and undermines the rich history of interfaith cooperation within the city.
The congressmen asked 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.
During his confirmation testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain pledged, if confirmed, to “carry out the United States’ abiding commitment to championing international religious freedom for everyone everywhere.”