Religious leaders declare: religious freedom is alive and well in Israel

On 25 November, the Council of Religious Community Leaders in Israel convened at the Domus Galilaeae International Center to discuss religious and theological topics. Before the start of the dialogue, a half-day seminar was held on the subject of freedom of worship in Israel. A film produced by the Foreign and Interior Ministries depicting freedom of religion and worship in Israel was shown at the seminar.

The convention was hosted this year by the leaders of the Christian churches in Israel, headed by Archbishop Elias Chacour of the Greek Catholic Church in northern Israel. This is the largest Christian community in Israel, numbering more than 70 thousand.

Attending the convention were the chief rabbis of Israel, heads of the Christian churches and heads of various other religious communities such as the Muslim, Druze, Baha’i, Ahmadiyya, Circassion, and others.

The statement issued at the conclusion of the convention stressed that freedom of religion and worship exists in Israel and all believers are free to follow the dictates of their faith without interference, as guaranteed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. The statement disproves the accusations voiced at the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, convened at the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI in October to discuss the situation of the Christians in the Middle East. At that meeting, delegates from Arab states accused Israel of not permitting freedom of religion and worship. 

Speakers who addressed the Council included the chief rabbis, Archbishop Chacour, Sheikh Tarif (Druze), the Qadi Hamzeh (Muslim), the director general of the Chief Rabbinate, the director of the Religious Communities Division in the Ministry of the Interior, and Mr. Bahij Mansour, Director of the Inter-religious Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Prof. Naim Araida chaired the meeting.

The event received broad coverage from the local and foreign media.