An Israeli Greek Orthodox priest who heads a initiative aimed at integrating Israeli Christian Arabs into the Israel Defense Forces, was accused of sexually harassing young people who sought his help, a TV report said Sunday.
Channel 2 aired recordings and transcripts of conversations allegedly between Father Gabriel Naddaf and a series of unidentified young men — including both Israeli soldiers and Palestinians — in which the priest appeared to promise to help them in exchange for sexual favors.
None of the young men has lodged official complaints with authorities, the report noted.
Naddaf, who has been named as one of the ceremonial torch lighters at the state’s Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem next week, firmly denied the allegations against him, and questioned the timing of the report’s publication.
“Criminal elements within the community, along with those jealous of the success of my life’s work, have joined forces in order to distract from by contributions to the recruitment of Christians Arabs to the IDF,” he said in a statement.
“The truth is that I have never done any of things described in the report — I have never sexually harmed anyone, I have never intentionally hurt anyone, nor have I worked to arrange travel permits for Palestinians to come to Israel,” Naddaf said.
Naddaf, who took — and failed — a lie detector test at Channel 2’s request, said in his statement that he has recently passed two other polygraph tests administered by external auditors.
“Because I know that I’m right, I have submitted to this questioning without any fears of repercussions from police and I’m sure the truth — that this is a conspiracy against me — will be revealed,” Naddaf said.
“God will punish these people for harming me, my wife, and two sons who are currently serving in the IDF,” he added.
On Sunday evening, Culture Minister Miri Regev told Army Radio that she supports the committee’s decision to choose Naddaf as a torch bearer, and said he would participate in Wednesday’s state ceremony unless the allegations against him were proven to be true.
Naddaf has become a controversial figure in Israel since joining the Forum for Drafting the Christian Community in October 2012, and for openly calling on Israel Christians to serve in the IDF. His activities have drawn criticism from Arab MKs and even threats against his family.
Recruiting Christian Arabs to the Israeli army has always provoked inter-communal tensions, more so in recent years as the number of Christian draftees has steadily risen.
Regardless of religion, for Israeli Arabs — who are exempted by law from military service — deciding to join the IDF is very much a taboo.
For his work in Christian recruitment, Naddaf has faced harsh opposition from within the Arab and Palestinian communities.
In recent years, he has been banned from entering Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation, his car vandalized and has received death threats.
In 2013, his son was hospitalized after being attacked by activists opposed to Naddaf’s work.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.