President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday hosted a delegation of European Roman Catholic leaders, urging a unified, inter-religious response in combating all forms of terrorism and vowing to work to preserve religious freedom in Israel.
In his address to members of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, Rivlin drew parallels between the recent uptick in violence in Jerusalem and attacks against Christian holy sites in the country by Jewish extremists.
“This bloody attack, the murder of Alexander Levlovich, shows us once again that terror is terror – whether with rocks, guns or other weapons – and it shows us we must act firmly against all terrorism,” he said, referring to the deadly stone-throwing attack that killed an Israeli man on Sunday.
Israel, Rivlin said, was “proud” to be home to Christians, who “enjoy freedom of religion, and do not fear for their lives.”
“An attack on any place of worship is an attack on all of us,” he said.
“When there has been vandalism at holy sites, we stood together, and continue to stand together with the Christian community to condemn these terrible acts,” Rivlin told the 33 bishops, referring to an arson attack on a Galilee church in June that police suspect was perpetrated by far-right Jewish extremists.
Rivlin noted the atrocities perpetrated by jihadist militants against Christian minorities in other Middle Eastern countries, and stressed that he was committed to preserving Israel’s tiny Christian minority.
“It is not enough for us, for Israel, to only be a safe haven for the Christian community. We want the community to flourish, to play a part in the Israeli experience, and to be part of Israeli society,” he said.
The visit of Roman Catholic bishops comes amid an ongoing strike by Israel’s Christian schools over the decreasing amount of state funding for their 47 institutions. Christian schools accuse the government of discrimination in funding their establishments, and say they receive a third of what Israel allocates to Jewish schools.
“I know there are issues of concern for the Christian community, Rivlin said. “We must continue to work together to find a solution as soon as possible. This is my commitment to you.”
The president said three consecutive days of violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces on the Temple Mount a result of “those who seek to provoke and create hatred between people, between believers in God.
“We must deal with these provocations and do everything in our power to prevent those from the Islamic movement creating these provocations,” he urged.
Rivlin went on to urge the European bishops to take a cue from Pope Francis and vocally condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, along with all other forms of hatred and racism.
The president of the council, the Primate of Hungary Cardinal Péter Erdő, thanked Rivlin for his commitment to finding a solution for the issues facing the Christian community, and said interfaith dialogue should be rooted in the context of Israeli and Jewish history.
“Mutual knowledge and mutual understanding are what is most important for constructive dialogue between people of different cultures and religions. For this we believe it is important that in all our countries, Christians and society in general form a realistic and empathetic view of the history of the Jewish People and Israel,” Erdő said.
“In these past days we have been able to express our closeness to the Christians of the Holy Land. We have admired the dynamism and the modern vitality of the State of Israel and its people, and we were able to reflect on our experiences of inter-religious dialogue,” he concluded.