April 8, 2011
AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobby organization based in Washington, DC, which works with the U.S. Congress to strengthen American-Israeli ties. The head of the national Council of Director of AIPAC, Amnon Rodan, greeted the Church representatives on the behalf of the delegation.
Metropolitan Hilarion then presented a report, which positively assessed AIPAC's role in talks between the Israeli government and leaders of the Palestinian autonomy, as well as AIPAC's work in general toward establishing peace in the Mideast. He stated that the Russian Orthodox Church is also interested in creating good neighborly relations between the peoples of the Holy Land, and supports a peaceful resolution to the many years of conflict there. "Opposition has continued for many years now, and has cost the lives and health of many innocent people. The conscience of any religious person protests against a situation of permanent bloodshed in places that are dear to his heart. This is precisely why a solution to the Mideast problem is unthinkable without the return of all the peoples of the region to their religious traditions, which could restrain people from acts of violence. The Russian Orthodox Church is convinced that the Holy Land must be made a place where the faithful of all religions represented there can freely confess their convictions, and have access to their religious sites," the DECR chairman said.
Met. Hilarion noted that according to data collected by the Germany-based, non-governmental organization "Kirche in Not" (Help to Churches in Trouble), three out of every four people persecuted for their religious views are Christians. Met. Hilarion expressed his view that "World society should stand up for the rights of every person to freely confess his faith and live according to his religious norms and principles."
In a question and answer session that followed, The Metropolitan also touched upon the subject of the religious factor in the life of Israel, and the presence of Christians in the Holy Land. He cited the many centuries' existence of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, which governs the Orthodox flock located in Israel, Palestinian Autonomy, and Jordan. He also noted that since the 19th century, the Russian Orthodox Church has had a religious mission structure there, which includes several monasteries and parishes.
Concerning the growing problem of Islamic terrorism in Russia and other countries, Met. Hilarion said that he considered that the problem is no longer confined to one territory or another, but has become a subject of concern for all developed countries. "But we need to remember that any suppression of religious sensibilities can lead to a growth in fundamentalism and radicalism. We see examples of this in the Europe's ban on public expression of religious feeling in Europe and other countries of the world," he said. "The recent debate in Italy over the possibility to display crucifixes in schools is only one illustration of such bans."
The Metropolitan said that he considers secularism and atheism cannot be considered the common denominator for all religions, but that religions should have the right to express themselves in the public arena, and this should apply to Europe and the Islamic states alike. "We talk much about Islamophobia in European and other Western countries, but … until only recently we have spoken very little about incidents of Christianophobia. Now we see that Christians suffer persecution from Islamic fundamentalists; and this, too, should become a subject of our general concern," he said. He expressed the view that if Moslems should be granted rights, prerogatives or privileges in Western countries, something should be demanded of them in exchange. He said that Moslems should be told, that "if they expect a certain degree of tolerance and acceptance from us, then they should cooperate in the establishment of religious freedom in their own countries—not only for Moslems, but also for other religious groups."