In a pre-Christmas address on Wednesday, a high-ranking Catholic cleric in the Holy Land criticized Israel’s official identity as a Jewish state for discriminating against non-Jews, the Associated Press reports.
Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, delivered his address in Arabic and English. He said other religions are naturally discriminated against in any state of one religion. He said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a "political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews."
"This land cannot be exclusive for anyone," he said.
The archbishop also criticized Israel’s visa restrictions as unfair to Christian clergy.
A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, Arye Mekel, responded to the patriarch, saying Israel provides religious freedom to people of all faiths.
"We reject his claim that other religions are not enjoying equal rights in Israel," Mekel said.
Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, saying that would mean Palestinian refugees would not have the right to return to the homes that they lost after Israel’s creation in 1948.
Israel opposes any return of Palestinian refugees, fearing their numbers would overtake the Jewish majority.
Archbishop Sabbah has been the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem since 1987, and is the first Palestinian to hold the office. There are an estimated 170,000 Christians in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.