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PM Tries Again to Appoint Arafat-Crony

Prime Minister Sharon continues to want Irineos as Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Patriarch - a man who is a close friend of Yasser Arafat, strongly supports the PA in its struggle against Israel, and has deep-seated anti-Semitic sensitivities.
First Publish: 8/18/2003, 7:19 PM

The Cabinet Secretariat dryly announced yesterday that the government had decided to "renew the activities of the ministerial team regarding the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate's choice of Irineos I as Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Patriarch." The announcement neglected to mention that Irineos is a close friend of Yasser Arafat, strongly supports the PA in its struggle against Israel, and has deep-seated anti-Semitic sensitivities.

Copies of letters from Irineos to Arafat in which he uses sharp anti-Semitic terminology and openly expresses support for PLO terrorism against Israel can be seen on Arutz-7's website at "www.israelnationalnews.com/news.php3?id=36169". On July 17, 2001, Irineos wrote,
"You [Arafat] are aware of the sentiments of disgust and disrespect that all the Holy Sepulcher fathers feel for the descendants of the crucifiers of our Lord... actual crucifiers of your people, Sionists [sic] Jewish conquerors of the Holy Land of Palestine..."

Irineos asks Arafat to support him in his quest to become Patriarch, promising that if he is elected, "rest assured, Mr. President, that the rights of our most beloved Palestinian people on the Holy City of Jerusalem will find the most 'hot' supporter."

As head of the Greek Orthodox Church, considered the richest in Israel, Irineos would have responsibility for the church's extensive land holdings. These include the land on which the Knesset was built, the Prime Minister's and the President's official residences, parts of Jerusalem's wealthiest neighborhoods, and locations in the Old City and in the new Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. It has been widely reported that Irineos promised to give Arafat church property in Jerusalem as a gift.

Irineos' appointment has already been approved by Jordan and the Palestinian Authority - but he cannot assume the post until Israel also gives its assent. In April 2002, the Cabinet voted to approve the appointment, but then put it on hold after his connections with the PA were revealed. The re-establishment of the ministerial committee is thus a worrisome sign to those opposed to the appointment.

The committee is manned by Ministers Natan Sharansky and Zevulun Orlev, who are known to oppose Irineos; Ministers Lapid and Sheetrit, who favor the appointment; and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who appears to be wavering. The committee will invite experts to report on Irineos' actions and opinions, and will then submit its recommendations to the full Cabinet for a final vote.

Priests in the Greek Orthodox Church are very wary of testifying before the committee, in the knowledge that Irineos is keeping close tabs on them. He recently banished from Israel four priests whom he suspected - with apparent justification - of acting to depose him. The ministerial committee will presumably summon them individually to closed-door sessions if it wants to hear their true opinions on Irineos.

Prime Minister Sharon, who is very much in favor of Irineos' appointment, attempted to have it passed in a telephone polling of the ministers last week. The majority objected, however.