Jan 19, 2022

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Wadie Abunassar, a spokesman and adviser to churches in the Holy Land, said various denominations were upset over the selective treatment and he accused Israel of discriminating against Christian pilgrims.

“Racism is not acceptable!” Abunassar wrote on his Facebook page. “Yesterday evening, the Israeli Tourism Minister spoke to a number of local and international authorities today expressing my appeal from the decision of the Israeli authorities to allow some foreign Jews (who do not have Israeli citizenship) to visit the country, while the state prohibits Christian pilgrims from doing this! It is worth mentioning that Israel allowed trips organized by the Taglit (Birthright) Foundation to enter the country despite the current restriction related to the outbreak of the Corona pandemic. Meanwhile, there are thousands of Christian pilgrims who are interested in visiting our country who are prevented from doing so. I discussed this with legal advisers who all agreed that such discrimination is illegal, in addition to being unethical!!! Racist discrimination should never be accepted in any way!”

“I urge the Israeli authorities to treat all those who want to visit the country equally without any discrimination between religions,” Abunasassar concluded. 

An official in the Catholic Church told the Associated Press that church officials and members of other denominations are shocked by the decision, and have appealed to Israel’s Tourism Ministry to let Christians travel to the Holy Land for Christmas. The unnamed official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

The Foreign Ministry responded on Thursday, denying any racist basis for their actions.

“These unfounded allegations of discriminatory conduct are outrageous, false and dangerous,” the ministry said in a statement. “We expect religious leaders to not engage in and promote baseless discourse of hatred and incitement that only serve to add fuel to the fire of antisemitism and can lead to violence and cause harm to innocent people.”

Israel last month closed its borders to foreign tourists in response to the outbreak of the omicron coronavirus variant. On Wednesday, government officials decided to extend the country’s ban of foreign tourists by an additional seven days until Wednesday, 29 December 2021, at midnight. They also approved adding the United Arab Emirates, Spain, France and Sweden to the “no fly” list, meaning Israelis will be prohibited from flying to those countries beginning on Sunday. Government ministers are also considering adding the US to the “no fly” list in the coming days, according to Israeli media reports.

But this week, Israeli officials decided to make an exception for Taglit-Birthright Israel. Groups from the United States are expected to arrive next week, with participants all fully vaccinated and remaining in small “capsules.”

The website of the Foreign Ministry reported that 2013 was Israel’s record year for incoming tourism with 3.54 million visitor entries. Christians represented more than half of all incoming tourists (those staying more than one night), 96% of day visitors and 78% of cruise visitors. In total, over two million Christians visited Israel in 2013. About a million (40%) of these Christian tourists defined themselves as pilgrims; about 30% said they were in Israel for sight-seeing and touring and the remainder for other reasons