Israel's identity as a Jewish state discriminates against non-Jews, its top Roman Catholic clergyman said
in a pre-Christmas address on Wednesday in Jerusalem.
''If there's a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against,'' Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah told reporters at the annual press conference he holds in Jerusalem before Christmas. In his address, which he read in Arabic and English, Sabbah said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a ''political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews.''
Sabbah denounced Israel's demand to be recognized as a Jewish state by the Palestinians and said "God made this land for all three of us, so a suitable state is one who can adapt itself to the vocation of this land.
''This land cannot be exclusive for anyone,'' he said, adding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had unleashed "forces of evil" across the Middle East and that it was Israel's obligation, as to end the warring. "The one who will decide is Israel. If Israel decides for peace, there will be peace… Until now, there has been no peace, simply because there has been no willingness to make it."
Sabbah expressed hope for peace in the Holy Land and urged both sides to shun violence, whether "carried out by the state or by extremists".
Arye Mekel, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, said Israel provides full religious freedom to people of all faiths. ''We reject his claim that other religions are not enjoying equal rights in Israel,'' Mekel said.
Israel has long pointed out that
other countries call themselves Islamic republics and are not criticized.
Sabbah, who has been the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem since 1987, is the first Palestinian to hold the post and is frequently critical of Israel.
He also lashed out at Israel for visa restrictions he said were unfair to Christian clergy.