The iconic Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Catholic clerics in the city are deeply concerned about a new law that gives Jews a special status. Photo: iStock

Senior Catholic clerics in Jerusalem called Sunday for the Israeli government to repeal a controversial law giving Jews a “unique” right to self-determination in the country at the expense of non-Jewish citizens.

In a joint statement, bishops and archbishops of the Roman Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic and Greek Melkite churches said, “We must draw the attention of the authorities to a simple fact. Our faithful, the Christians, our fellow citizens, Muslim, Druze and Baha’i, all of us who are Arabs, are no less citizens of this country than our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

The nation-state act was passed by parliament in July and forms part of Israel’s basic laws – a de facto constitution.

It speaks of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews and demotes Arabic from its former status as an official language.

Because it omits any reference to equality or the country’s democratic nature, Israeli Arabs say it will legalize discrimination.

There were widespread Arab protests after it passed into law and some Jewish politicians said it should be amended.

President Reuven Rivlin said the act “in its current version is bad for the state of Israel and bad for the Jews.”

Arabs account for 17.5 % of Israel’s nearly nine million population.

“Christians, Muslims, Druze, Baha’i and Jews demand to be treated as equal citizens,” said the letter which was also signed by the Maronite archbishop of Cyprus and the Greek Melkite archbishop of Petra, in Jordan.

“We, as the religious leaders of the Catholic Churches, call on the authorities to rescind this basic law and assure one and all that the state of Israel seeks to promote and protect the welfare and the safety of all its citizens.”

– With reporting from Agence France-Presse

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