Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is accusing the president of a major Christian relief organization of defaming the Jewish state by accusing Israel of restricting Palestinian Christians from attending Easter services in Jerusalem.
Israel issued an additional 500 permits to Palestinian Christians in Gaza, even though “the area is under the control of the terrorist organization Hamas,” Mr. Oren said in a response to Mr. Stearns, also on the Religion News Service.
“With the exception of the very few individuals who have raised security concerns, and not withstanding the measures we must take to protect our citizens, any Christian from the West Bank can reach Jerusalem on Good Friday and Easter,” he said.
“All allegations to the contrary are flagrantly untrue and represent a reckless attempt to defame the Jewish state.”
He noted that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country with a “growing and thriving Christian population.”
“Though we face serious and continuing defense challenges, we uphold the principle of free access to the Holy Places to all religions,” Mr. Oren said.
Mr. Stearns last week, in an article headlined “A Dark Easter for Palestinian Christians,” said Israel approved no more than 3,000 permits and that 50,000 Palestinian Christians wanted to visit Jerusalem for Easter services.
“The restrictions on travel for worship are not only in force during Holy Week, but also for routine Sunday services, weddings, funerals and baptisms throughout the year,” Mr. Stearns wrote.
“Certainly Israel can take care of its own security concerns while accommodating peaceful Palestinian Christian worship.”
Mr. Stearns and World Vision have faced complaints for promoting what critics call an anti-Israel bias in the past. The criticism is directed mostly at World Vision International, the umbrella group of the worldwide children’s charity. Mr. Steans is president of the U.S. branch.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has accused World Vision International of distorting the history of the founding of the Jewish state.
The committee says World Vision International’s website failed to explain that the United Nations offered a two-state proposal in 1947 that would have treated Jerusalem as an international city. Israel accepted the division, but Arab nations rejected it and attacked the fledgling nation.
“World Vision activists in the Middle East unfairly portray Israel in villainous terms to raise money for its operations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” the committee said in a 2008 report.