Highest Christian Prelate in Israel Says Arabs Enjoy Freedom

Israel’s highest ranking Christian prelate, Georges Hakim, Archbishop of All Galilee and head of the Melchite Church in Israel, declared here last night that “we Christians enjoy complete freedom in Israel for our churches, schools and for all our institutions.”

The Archbishop made that statement in an interview with J. I. Fishbein, editor of The Sentinental, Chicago’s Jewish weekly, during a reception given the prelate by the Chicago Board of Rabbis. The event, at the temple of Emanuel Congregation here, was attended not only by rabbis and other leaders of the Chicago Jewish community, but also by ranking representatives of the Catholic Archdiocese here and the Protestant Church Federation of Greater Chicago.

Archbishop Hakim, who has his headquarters in the all-Arab city of Nazareth, in Israel, noted that there are now about 55,000 Christians in Israel, nearly all of them Arabs. He said that “while they (the Israeli Arabs) do not feel 100 per cent at home, their position is constantly improving.” Improvements, he said, have taken place particularly since 1960, when Arabs were permitted to join Israeli trade unions affiliated with Histadrut, the Israel Federation of Labor. The Archbishop himself is now a member of Histadrut.

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Asked whether or not the Christian Arabs in Israel were engaging in missionary activities among Jews in the country, he replied: “Our institutions are not missionary, but rather Christian institutions. Our purpose is to prove in Israel that all religions–Jewish, Christian and Moslem alike–can live side by side in peace. We have no missionary ambitions whatsoever.”

The Arab minority in Israel, said the Archbishop, is “completely loyal to the Jewish State, and will remain solidly behind her in the event of any trouble with Nasser.”

He asserted that the adherents of his faith in Israel “have very good help from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and from its department for Christian affairs.” “In fact,” he added, “they bend over backward to be fair to us.”

Speaking to the Christians attending the reception, he said that relationships between his church and the Vatican have “improved very much since Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land” last January. This improvement, he declared, “proved that the Ecumenical spirit is a genuine reflection of the Catholic desire to be on good terms with all religions.” The Archbishop, who is in this country visiting parishes of the Melchite rite, said he is leaving for Rome to attend the next session of the Ecumenical Council, being reconvened at the Vatican on September 14. This will be his first attendance at the Ecumenical Council.

The reception had been arranged on behalf of the Board of Rabbis by Rabbi Benzion C. Kaganoff, president, and Rabbi Mordecai Simon, executive director. The State of Israel was represented officially at the event by Jacob Barmore, Israel’s Consul-General here.

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