By RYAN JONES, ISRAEL TODAY—
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has officially put his weight behind growing efforts to encourage young Israeli Arab Christians to join the Israeli army and fully integrate with Israeli society.
The government has tried to initiate such programs in the past, only to create rifts in the Christian community and more hostility toward the Jewish state.
But this time, the initiative is coming from the Christians themselves.
Last week, Netanyahu met with Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth who has been actively recruiting local Christian youth to the cause.
Together with Christian Arab army officers from the area, Naddaf has established a forum aimed at educating Christian youth on why they should brush aside old anti-Israel biases, and view the Jewish state as their home and ally.
Netanyahu’s decision will make the Israeli government a direct partner of this Nazareth forum.
The move is precisely what Father Naddaf and others had been hoping for. Months ago, under heavy criticism and even threats from Arab members of Israel’s Knesset, Naddaf cautioned that without official government recognition and support, the movement to bring local Christians into the Israeli fold would fail.