The head of the Council of Arab Orthodox Community Dr. Azmi Hakim on Tuesday filed a police complaint claiming he received death threats after voicing opposition to the recruitment of Christians following a conference in Nazareth Illit.
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He later said he has no problem with those who choose to join the army but remains opposed to the idea.
Threats were apparently also made against other members of the community who promote enlistment, according to Defense Ministry official Haim Ben-Ami.
The affair began early last month during a conference which was attended by Defense Ministry representatives as well as Nazareth Illit Mayor Shimon Gabso and Reverend Jubrail Nadaf.
During the conference, Christian teens were encouraged to join the IDF which sparked uproar among clerics and members of the Christian community council.
They called to boycott Nadaf claiming he does not represent them. "We will not let anyone sully the community's name by recruiting Christians to the IDF or National Service. We must fight this," one councilman said.
Reverend Nadaf said, "I am not responsible for what was said at the conference. Anyone who says otherwise is inciting against me as a religious figure and will pay for it in court." Nadaf filed a police complaint against the council citing defamation.
Data show that 18% of Christians in Israel volunteer for National Service, the director of the National Service Directorate, Sar-Shalom Jerby, said. "Of the 3,000 Arabs volunteering for National Service 570 are Christians," he said.
"There is some opposition to National Service in the Arab community," Jerby added. "Some treat the volunteers as traitors. At times they are even attacked."
'I love helping my community'
While the community's leaders continue to quarrel over the matter, it appears that the young Israeli Christians embrace the opportunity to serve their communities.
"I volunteer at a school in the village and am very satisfied with my service because I'm helping my community," said 19-year-old Jana.
"All the people who are against it don't understand what we contribute. In the beginning, those who weren't happy with my decision created problems for me but I've proven myself."
Another young Christian said she volunteers at a cultural institute and is happy she is able to help others. "I'm thinking about also serving in the IDF because I'm an Israeli citizen and want to contribute to the country," she said.
One volunteer said she is determined to continue her service despite receiving threats. "It made me want to stop but my parents supported me and gave me strength. It made me go on without being scared of all the threats. I never expected Christian religious figures to stoop so low because of the conference, which is hardly something new."
The Nazereth Illit Municipality said in response, "The event was a tribute to Christian soldiers serving in the IDF and performing National Service. It was not aimed at recruiting more Christians to the IDF."
The Defense Ministry said, "We will not tolerate threats or attacks against those who promote enlistment. They will receive our support."
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