Particularly as it happened that no one here posted on the Closer to Israel event over the weekend – which seems to have been highly successful – I thought people might like to read about the recent Israel Connect Lobby of Parliament. Here are some extracts from a speech given by George Robinson. He touches on Christian communities in Israel and Palestine, and the treatment of minorities more generally in Israel and other countries in the region.
First of all, I would like to thank you for coming to the Israel Connect Parliamentary Lobby today, and send my gratitude to the Zionist Federation for giving me the opportunity to speak and to Young Christian Friends of Israel for hosting the event with Israel Connect.
Just to give you some background on what I do, while I’m not an MP I do have the pleasure of working for them, through an organisation called the Policy Research Unit, or PRU for short.
The PRU was set up after 1997 to help Conservative MPs with their daily tasks in Parliament. This can range from writing speeches and briefings for debates, to writing letters to constituents, along with everything in-between.
My specific responsibility at the PRU is Foreign Affairs, mostly relating to the EU, but this does frequently bring in other areas, notably the Middle East, given that it is frequently described as being in Europe’s ‘back yard.’
Can you can ask yourself, where is it best in the Middle East to belong to a religious or ethnic minority? In Syria, Kurds and Jews are not allowed to take any part at all in political life. In Iran, one cannot even go to university without passing an exam on Islamic ideology, nor get a senior post in any organisation unless one belongs to the majority Shi’a group.
In Israel, Israeli Arabs have always had all rights – the same as Israeli Jews – except for one: they do not have to serve in the armed forces, because the state of Israel recognises that it would be unfair to set them against their Arab brothers.
It is also worth noting that since 1948 the Christian population has risen significantly in Israel, the only country where this has happened in the Middle East. Indeed, the number of Christians in Israel has increased from 34,000 to over 150,000.
Contrastingly in Bethlehem, controlled by the Palestinian Authority since 1995, the numbers of Christians as a percentage of the city is down to 20 per cent and continues falling, down from around 80 per cent.
This is quite a complex issue, and I’d be interested to hear readers’ views about the reasons why there are now fewer Christians in Bethlehem, while numbers have gone up in Israel.