In Israel, there is liberty of worship and Christians practice their faith in relative freedom. They can build churches and run schools and other institutions. Christian schools are among the best in the country.
Despite this relative freedom, there is a widespread anti-Christian sentiment in many Jewish quarters. This is based both upon a traditional, religiously based suspicion of non-Jews and a historical perception that Christians have persecuted Jews in the past. Church buildings are sometimes defaced with anti-Christian slogans and traditionally garbed clergy are sometimes spat upon or insulted.
There are three kinds of Christians in Israel:
– Majority of Christians who are citizens of Israel are Christian Palestinians. They live in the north of the country and in the mixed Jewish-Arab cities (like Haifa, Jaffa, Ramleh, Lydda, etc). They suffer from the same discrimination and marginalization as the rest of the Palestinian population in Israel. They make up between 75-80% of Christian citizens in Israel (120 000 -130 000).
– A second group is made up of Christians integrated into the Hebrew speaking, Jewish Israeli sector. Mostly from countries that were once part of the Soviet Union or from Eastern Europe, they often do not proclaim their Christian identity. They constitute between 20-25% of the Christian citizens in Israel (30 000-40 000).
– In addition to the Christians who are citizens of Israel, there is a third group of Christians made up of about 150 000 migrants, who have various kinds of temporary residence permits or reside in Israel without any permits at all. Migrant workers (primarily from Asia) and asylum seekers (primarily from Africa) make up this group, which lives in great social and economic precariousness, facing challenges of poverty, exploitation, discrimination and racism.
Emigration of Christian Palestinians who are citizens of Israel is partly motivated by the lack of equal opportunities for “non-Jewish” citizens and discrimination against those citizens who are Palestinian Arabs. This particularly affects the most educated who are the most likely to emigrate. There is also an internal migration towards Jewish centers where there is more work and a better standard of living.