• ISRAEL \ Jul 12, 2001
    reads 3532
    Greek Orthodox accuse Israel of meddling in vote
Greek Orthodox accuse Israel of meddling in vote The Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem yesterday angrily accused Israel of meddling in the election of the church's top clergyman in the Holy Land, after the government disqualified one-third of the candidates, including one of the front-runners.

In a letter signed by Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, five of the 15 candidates for election as Greek Orthodox patriarch were banned for alleged security reasons, said Metropolitan Isychios, a top church official and one of the disqualified candidates.

"The Patriarchate condemns this unwelcome and unlawful intrusion of the Israeli government into church affairs, which serves undisclosed and suspicious interests," the church said in a press release. The church did not elaborate on what hidden agenda it believed Israel had in the matter.

Metropolitan Isychios said the church would ignore the Israeli objections and proceed with the elections, with all the candidates taking part. The five banned candidates included one of the front-runners, Metropolitan Timotheos, who has served for years as secretary and spokesman for the Patriarchate in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's walled Old City. Metropolitan Isychios said the security reasons cited in the letter were "bogus" and Israel was not stating the real reasons. "If I have done anything against Israel, let them arrest me," he said.

The previous patriarch, Diodoros I, died in December, at the age of 77. Under a law dating back to Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who ruled in the 6th century, the government in the Holy Land has the right to approve or disqualify candidates for the office of patriarch. The present list was submitted to the governments of Israel and Jordan, as well as the Palestinian Authority. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority made no deletions.

Israeli officials said they had the right to disqualify candidates. Asked about Israel's objections to five candidates, Raanan Levy, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said: "Israel is sovereign in Jerusalem and the reasons have to do with Israel's interests in Jerusalem." He would not elaborate.

Shmuel Eviatar, an adviser to Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, also said Israel acted within its rights.

"Israel, as the sovereign power in Jerusalem, has the right to disqualify any candidate whom it does not regard as suitable to be head of the biggest and most ancient church in this country," he said.

A senior church official said Israel's intervention violated the freedom of Christian communities in the Holy Land.