Theophilus III, the Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem and his church’s senior clergyman in Israel, wrote an article earlier this month in the London Times under the headline, “Christians Are under Threat in the Cradle of Their Faith,” which begins with a declaration that he and his coreligionists in Jerusalem “know what it is to live in darkness.” Flour Hassan-Nahoum, the deputy mayor of the Israeli capital, responds:
Theophilos III claims that there is regular desecration and vandalism of Christian sites in Jerusalem, as well as rising violence against Christians. These allegations are uncorroborated by the city and the police. If there was truly a trend of rising violence against Christians, wouldn’t we expect such incidents to be reported to local law enforcement before being aired to the foreign press? . . . Theophilos’s claims paint a false narrative of the tolerant culture we have so carefully nurtured in our city.
The contradictions between Theophilos’s assertions and the realities of daily life for Christians in Jerusalem and Israel suggests ulterior motives for his claims. The frustration he expresses over property rights in the Christian Quarter provides a hint on what may be behind this.
Theophilos writes: “It is at the Jaffa Gate that an Israeli radical group is seeking to occupy two big buildings, acquired through illegitimate transactions.” When appointed Patriarch of Jerusalem in 2005, Theophilos began a legal battle against the sale of two hotels by his church to a Jewish NGO in 2004. The legality of the transaction was upheld by the Jerusalem district court and later by the supreme court in 2019. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchy has in fact sold large swaths of property in Jerusalem over the last decade, including under Theophilos himself.
The Greek Patriarchy has had financial problems for decades, which is why it began selling land in Jerusalem in the first place. The COVID-19 closures to foreign tourists have rendered it in financial dire straits and it is looking to gather sympathy and much-needed donations from the Christian world. It is so depressing to me that even today in 2022 after hundreds of years of anti-Semitism and persecution from the different Churches and their leaders that the age-old tactic of scapegoating Jews to gain sympathy is still alive and well.