Priest blasted over Israel slur

JEWISH community leaders have slammed comments by an Australian priest claiming Israel is trying to rid itself of its large Christian community.

In a January 20 article in e-mag Eureka Street, Archpriest Dr Lawrence Cross (pictured), leader of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Mission in Australia, claimed Israel’s debate on declaring itself “a Jewish state” is having a negative impact on Christians.

“The corollary is that they have an interest in getting Christians out,” he wrote. “There are regular attacks on Christian institutions. Christian properties in East Jerusalem are slowly being seized. Nuns and clergy are routinely abused in an effort to encourage them to leave. Being spat upon in the street is not a rare occurrence.”

Dr Cross added, “The Zionist fundamentalists in Israel wish to impose a religious apartheid on what has been the heart of Christianity since its inception … Zionists only have eyes for their own interests, rejecting the universalism of their own faith.”

Responding to the article, Zionist Federation of Australia president Danny Lamm noted Israel is the only Middle East country where Christians have increased their numbers in recent years. “Israel grants absolutely free access to Christian observance and there is no interference whatsoever in Christian lives.”

Zionist Council of Victoria president Sam Tatarka said Cross was correct about “the exodus of Christians and the pressure they are under in the Palestinian territories”, but “fundamentally wrong in extending his criticism to Israel which is the one country in the region that truly fosters freedom of religion”.

Author and ABC religion broadcaster Dr Rachael Kohn posted on Eureka Street: “Christians throughout the Mid East are expelled, massacred, driven out, and deprived of their freedoms everywhere but in Israel … Cross’s bogus claim that the Jewish State wishes to exclude non-Jews is pure fiction.”

She told The AJN: “It alarms me that a respected online magazine would publish something that has no foundation in fact.”

Contacted by The AJN, Dr Cross said: “No one will be a greater supporter of Israel than me. I know why Israel gets up the nose of all the other nations in the Middle East, because it’s a genuine democracy and they’re not. But ‘Jewish State’ is an ambiguous thing for outsiders like myself and for Christians in that it can mean two things – a state only for Jews or a state for Jews but [for] others.”

He said “rumps of more extremist [Jewish] groups definitely exist in Israel … it does happen … Israel isn’t perfect.” But he conceded his “apartheid” comment referred to a small minority of extremists.

Dr Cross also said he would consider qualifying his comments in the online article.

PETER KOHN

Archpriest Dr Lawrence Cross.