Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu used a special Christmas address to highlight the plight of Christians in the wider Middle East, while contrasting Israel as a safe-haven for the region's Christian minorities.

"Christian communities across the Middle East are experiencing a particularly difficult time," Netanyahu said. "They're experiencing violence, execution and fear. This has become the daily staple for Christian communities throughout the Middle East.

"Well, not so here in Israel - that's the one exception," he continued. "Because here in Israel religious freedom is a sacred principle. Israel's Christian citizens enjoy the full blessings of freedom and democracy; their equal rights are enshrined in Israeli law."

Netanyahu's message comes at a time of unprecedented danger for many Middle Eastern Christians, particularly in Iraq and Syria, where ancient Christian communities face extinction in the face of the brutal march of the Islamic State. But in other countries as well, Christians are complaining of increased discrimination and pressure - including Iran, Turkey and Egypt.

In contrast, Israel is the only country in the Middle East whose Christian population is steadily growing - a fact not lost on many Israeli Christians, who have been increasingly challenging the anti-Zionist positions of the Arab-Israeli establishment in recent years. 

In a recent address to the United Nations, Israeli Greek Orthodox priest Gabriel Nadaf described Israel as the only country in the entire region where Christians can live safely.

Prime Minister Netanyahu ended his address with a call for Jews and Christians to unite against the common threats they face.

"On this most important day in the Christian calendar, let us remember the common heritage and values that unite us in the face of extremism and hatred - which we will never accept."

"From Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, the city of peace, I join Christians everywhere - and especially those in the Middle East - in a common prayer for a more peaceful and tolerant world. Merry Christmas, and a happy new year."