How do Middle Eastern Christians feel about Jews?

On his visit to the Middle East last
January, Vice-President Mike Pence planned to meet with local Christian
leaders and to follow up on the promise he had made to suffering Christian communities in Iraq and Syria: “help is
on the way.” To his dismay, not a single Christian leader agreed to meet
with him. The reason: the Trump administration’s announcement that it
would relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Samuel Tadros in Mosaic reports on the frequently hostile or ambivalent relationship between Middle Eastern Christians and Jews. (With thanks: Michelle)

Orthodox priests in Istanbul

Few instances in recent memory so starkly illustrate the gulf between
American and Middle Eastern Christians as do the enthusiasm for the
embassy move expressed by evangelical Christians in the U.S. versus the
anger of their coreligionists in Arab lands. Underlying this difference
in attitudes toward the Jewish state, moreover, are fundamentally
different attitudes toward Jews themselves.

The major shifts that took place in Western churches’ relationship
with Judaism—some in the wake of the Holocaust, others going all the way
back to the Protestant Reformation—never occurred in the Eastern
churches. Middle Eastern clergy do not speak of a “Judeo-Christian”
tradition, or of a special relationship with the Jews, or even of a need
to distance themselves and their flocks from historical anti-Semitism.
Thus, the latest manifestation of Jewish-Christian harmony—Pope
Francis’s 2013 Evangelii gaudium, in which he wrote that “the
Church believes that Judaism, the faithful response of the Jewish people
to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is
faithful to His promises”—is simply unimaginable in the East. Even less
imaginable are the motives and convictions that have led so many
American evangelicals to support Israel.

For the most part, Middle Eastern Christianity has firmly rejected Nostra aetate,
the Second Vatican Council’s declaration condemning anti-Semitism and
exculpating the Jewish people of collective responsibility for the
crucifixion of Jesus. Instead, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, rife
today in the Islamic world, find fertile ground among Middle Eastern
Christians as well. Over recent years, an Egyptian Coptic priest could
write of the dangers allegedly posed to his church by Jews and
Zionist-controlled Freemasons; the bishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church
in Lebanon, citing as evidence the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
could blame the Jews for the civil wars and violence sweeping the Arab
world; and the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch in Iraq could trace a
deadly 2003 terrorist attack to “a Zionist conspiracy against Islam.”

Conventional wisdom holds that behind
such attitudes there lies the Arab-Israeli conflict—either because
Middle Eastern Christians see themselves as Arabs and therefore will
automatically side against Israel and the Jews or because, as a
vulnerable religious minority, they fear provoking the animosity of
their anti-Israel and frequently anti-Semitic Muslim overlords. But
these explanations, while telling part of the story, by no means tell
all of it. Not only are there deeper historical and theological factors
at play, but attitudes toward Jews and Israel are at once more intricate
and more contradictory than they might appear at first glance.

Any examination of this topic is complicated by the multicolored
mosaic that is Middle Eastern Christianity. While the Roman Catholic
Church and various Protestant denominations do have a presence in the
Middle East, most Christians in the region belong to one of the dozens
of Orthodox native churches that broke off from European Christianity as
a result of theological debates in the 5th century or the Great
East-West Schism of 1054.

Broadly speaking, we can discern three major groupings. The Oriental
Orthodox churches—an example is the Coptic church that predominates in
Egypt—are in communion with each other but not with the major European
churches. Then come the Eastern Orthodox churches of Alexandria,
Antioch, and Jerusalem. Finally, and smallest in number, there are the
Eastern Catholic churches, of which the most important is the Maronite
church in Lebanon.

Nor do the native churches break down neatly along geographical
lines. Syrian Christians are divided between the Eastern Orthodox
churches and the Oriental Syriac Church, while most Iraqi Christians are
either Catholic Chaldeans or Assyrians. Notably, Maronite, Coptic, and
Assyrian Christians don’t consider themselves Arabs, even if Arabic is
their primary language, in contrast to many Syrian, Israeli, and
Palestinian Christians who do so identify themselves.

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4 Comments

  • The world council of churches is an elitist organization that has been criticized by ordinary middle eastern Christians for ignoring their plights in order to concentrate on Israel. There are anti-Semitic middle eastern Christians, of course, but I believe, and based on my experience, they are in the minority.

    I haven't googled Norman l. Roth yet but when I do, I'll let you know.

    Reply
  • One of the sickest and saddest organizations on the planet is the "WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES"
    This collection of hyper dhimmis is dominated by the sad remnants of the native Christians who were permitted to survive by the denizens who inhabit the Muslim orient. They've been groveling at the hooves of innately genocidal Muslims for so long, that they don't know what the sky-above looks like. They are a perfect case of "Sink into the mud and embrace the butcher".{Berthold Brecht, 1931} Their "leaders" ritualistic bad mouthing of the "chooze" are a classic illustration of the French proverb: "The fringes… always {try to be} stronger than the materiel"} The "progressive" leftie, Jews of the 'Diaspora' and those who fund & employ them, are not far behind them. As Dennis Prager clearly understands: WE HAVE MANY SICK PEOPLE AMONG US". But OUR corrupt dhimmis have far less excuse for being what they are: Among us, but not of us".

    Please GOOGLE: Norman L. Roth

    Reply
  • I've met many maronites, copts, and Syriacs and I had nothing but positive experiences with them, especially in regards to israel. Most (even though not the entirety) of this article comes as a surprise to me.

    Reply
  • I was friends with a (seemingly) Pro-Israel Maronite Lebanese on Facebook for years. That is until I last year shared an article on a antisemitic evangelical missionary who had sent antisemitic leaflets to a jewish school (or something). Her response? "Stop sharing anti-christian bullshit it´s getting annoying". I deleted her comment.

    Later when she did it again I told her I found it fascinating how she was more offended that I shared something bad about a Christian than the antisemitism of that Christian. I then blocked her.

    It is not the first time I had seen such behaviour from Maronites.

    Reply

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