The Anti-Defamation League said on Thursday that it was "deeply disturbed" by statements made by the top Roman Catholic clergyman in Israel in which he rejected the country's Jewish identity.
In his annual pre-Christmas address on Wednesday Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah said that if "there's a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against.''
Speaking before an audience in Jerusalem in Arabic and English, Sabbah said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a ''political, normal state."
The ADL said it was concerned that "Father Sabbah would politicize the holy season of Christmas by denying the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state."
It is startling that Sabbah would deny a Jewish state, wrote the ADL, when there are many other sovereign religious states. "His comments are particularly ironic considering that he represents a Catholic state and a theocratic monarchy," the group added.
"Patriarch Sabbah ignores the fact that the State of Israel was established as a Jewish state out of the nationalist aspiration of the Jewish people and an international recognition of the rights of Jews to a homeland following 2,000 years of persecution. To expect Israel to subvert its own sovereign existence and nationalist identity is unacceptable on its face."
In contrast to many sovereign religious states, the ADL said, "all of Israel’s citizens Jewish and non Jewish enjoy the privileges of modern democracy, freely and openly practice their religions and are afforded equal rights under Israeli law."