Controversial Orthodox Christian Priest Father Gabriel Naddaf wrote an editorial Thursday on why he supports the nation of Israel. He has paid a personal cost for that support.
The editorial, which was published in the New York Observer, argued that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians could freely exercise their faith and be productive members of society. Naddaf emphasized that his people were not "Christian Arabs" but Arameans, who were the "descendants of people who lived here in Israel since the time of the Bible."
"Over the past three years, I have become a controversial figure in Israel for the simple reason that I embrace Zionism, Jewish sovereignty in Israel, and the tolerance, respect and opportunity for all that have grown out of that sovereignty," Naddaf wrote. "I believe that our youth-Christian youth-should fully integrate into Israeli society."
According to Naddaf, Israel's Interior Ministry officially recognized his people as the "Aramean nation." Given that he wanted Christians to integrate in Israel, he founded the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum (ICRF) in 2012 alongside a few Christian officers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
"My efforts have had mixed results. On the positive side, hundreds of Arab or Aramean Christian youth have heeded my call and have served their country with distinction," Naddaf wrote. "They have been embraced by their fellow soldiers, who regard them as comrades in arms, and not as strangers in their midst."
However, the priest noted that there have been some downsides related to his efforts.
"Christian soldiers have been harassed by their neighbors, and in many cases, by their own families," Naddaf wrote. "These soldiers are forced to change out of their IDF uniforms before returning to their home towns for fear that they may be harassed on their way home."
Naddaf added that he has also paid a personal price for his unwavering support of Israel's policies. However, he did not blame Israel or the Jewish people for his problems.
"For me personally, my conviction and actions have led to numerous death threats, my excommunication by the Orthodox Church Council and the prevention of my entrance to the Church of Annunciation," Naddaf wrote. "None of this has anything to do with the Israeli government or the Jewish community."
Naddaf contended that some Arab leaders both from and outside Israel were trying to sabotage his efforts at integration. He argued that several nongovernmental organizations tied to Israeli Arabs, extreme leftists and anti-Zionist groups challenged him.
"My community is effectively being told to fight for their continued marginalization by Israeli society, even though it is the Israeli government's goal to bring them more fully into the mainstream," Naddaf wrote. "Doesn't the Christian community deserve the right to follow our own will and integrate, if it so chooses, into Israeli society?"
The Orthodox priest concluded that the Jewish state has been a great friend to Christians in the Middle East, noting that others have faced persecution in countries within the region.
"It is important that Christians around the world understand that Jewish Israel has been a responsible steward for its Christians," Naddaf wrote. "We should be supported, and not demonized for our efforts to more fully join this benevolent society."