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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Finally: Christian Arabs form their own Israeli political party

In a move that is probably long overdue due to the increasingly Islamist nature of Israel's Arab political parties, Arab Christians have decided to form their own political party.
Bashara Shlayan, 58, a ship captain from Nazareth, founded the new party. In an interview with Israel Hayom, he says he was motivated to enter politics not only because of the rapid changes gripping the region, but also because the Arab political parties in Israel predominantly serve the interests of Muslims and have a communist platform.
“People see what is happening now in Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. They understand where we are living. I tell them, ‘For 65 years we have given to the Arab communist parties; 65 years and they have done nothing!’ Give me three years, I will manage and solve their problems,” he says.
“Look at what the Arab parties have done. Just talking nonsense about nothing but communism; [MK Dov] Khenin and [MK Mohammad] Barakeh (Hadash/Communist Party), what have they done for us? They want us to disappear and are not acting according to the integrity of their country’s citizens,” Shlayan adds.
Further distinguishing himself from his Muslim Arab neighbors, Shlayan says he is an “Arab Christian in Israel who recognizes the land of Israel as belonging to the Jews.”
“Firstly we are completely Israeli, and then comes religion,” he says.
There is fierce opposition among Muslims living in Israel to serve in the IDF, a position that in the past influenced Christian Arabs to opt out. Though there is a draft in Israel, the government does not require Christian or Muslim Arab citizens to serve, due to possible conflicts of loyalty as family members may reside in Lebanon, Syria or other Middle Eastern countries still officially in a state of war with Israel.
Shlayan says he wants to change that, and helped his nephew and son enlist in the IDF. Since they were the trailblazers, that effort was a challenge.
“When I wanted my son to join the army we decided to create a forum for Christian enlistment. We also invited priests from the church to a conference we held in Nazareth Illit. One of them is the Church patriarch, Father Gabriel Nadaf [who has drawn the ire of Arab MKs recently for encouraging Christian Arab youth to join the IDF], who preferred [our way] and said we were right.”
Today Shlayan’s nephew is a major in a combat unit.
Because he publicly backed enlistment for Israel’s 130,000 Christian Arab citizens, Father Nadaf was “banned from entering Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation, and was threatened with being fired from his position in Yafia. The tires of his car were punctured and a rag with bloodstains was laid at his doorstep,” writes the Times of Israel.
I wish them all the luck in the world. 

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