Israeli-Arab Christians Form New Political Party

ICEJ News, 11 Jul 2013

In a sign of an emerging sea change in the attitudes of Israelís Christian-Arab population, a group of community leaders have announced the formation of a new political party called "Bínei Brit Hahadasha" or "Sons of the New Testament" which has as part of its platform encouraging Arab-Israeli Christian youth to volunteer for the IDF or National Service. The platform of the party also calls for Israelís Arab-Christian community to be fully integrated into the State in all areas, peace with a democratic Palestinian state and all of Israelís neighbors, increased tourism and trade, and the return of Israelis who have left the country.

Analysts have assessed that the new party and the attitude among Arab-Israeli Christians it reflects is in part a reaction to the so-called "Arab Spring" which has seen the rise to power of Islamist movements in the region. Many Arab-Israeli Christians want to demonstrate a distinct identity from the regionís Moslem majority as well as support the State of Israel as a bulwark against the kind of anti-Christian persecution which has become common in many of its neighbors.

"If I was in America, I wouldnít be American?" Bishara Shilyan, a 58-year-old sea captain from the mixed Christian-Muslim city of Nazareth who founded the movement, told Israel Hayom. "At least in Israel, everyone who stayed was given the right to become a citizen and integrate into society. But the first demand of Israel, and Iím for it ó you need to understand it ó is that it is the land of the Jewish people."

"People see whatís happening now in Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria," said Shilyan. "They understand where weíre living."

The effort has already born fruit, as the number of Arab-Israeli Christian high school graduates entering the IDF has more than tripled in the last two years, despite fierce opposition from leaders of Israelís Moslem population, including Balad MKs Hanin Zoabi and Bassel Ghattas, as well as the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

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