Windsor Terrace — Staten Island state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who was the GOP’s mayoral candidate in 2017, spoke out against persecution against Christians in the Middle East after she returned from a trip to the Holy Land and learned about the situation there firsthand.
During an interview at The Tablet’s offices in Windsor Terrace on July 18, Malliotakis called the three-day mission trip she went on an “eye-opener.” The trip was sponsored by the National Council of Young Israel, a U.S.-based organization of synagogues.
“To learn both historical and current events, for me, [as] a Christian of Greek Orthodox faith, was very special,” Malliotakis said.
In addition to visiting and praying at several religious sites — including Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and Yad Vashem (Israel’s memorial for the Holocaust) — Malliotakis met with some Israeli government officials. She said that she was most interested in learning about the region’s rich political and religious history, as well as about its divisions.
“It’s important for us as elected officials to speak up, fight back and condemn it, and that’s one of the reasons why I believe all elected officials should visit the Holy Land and see firsthand what is happening there,” she said. “It’s so critical, I think, when we’re making decisions in policy.”
The fate of Christianity in the Holy Land is precarious because of growing Islam presence, Western political influence and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Christians who live in Middle Eastern countries that have an historic Christian presence, including Egypt and Syria, face religious discrimination and routine violence.
“Speaking to individuals who are living there and are of Christian faith, they’re seeing the population fleeing, particularly in the west bank of Bethlehem, a very prominent Christian population,” Malliotakis said.
She said she was struck by the relatively small Christian presence in the area. According to one report, the Christian population in and around Bethlehem dropped to about 12 percent last year from about 80 percent in 1950.
Malliotakis also talked about New York state’s strong relationship with Israel, and said governments must fight religious persecution at home and abroad.
“I think it’s a mutually beneficial relationship, and it comes with great importance,” she said. “When we hear of elected officials who are spewing anti-Semitic rhetoric, [it’s] very dangerous, and we need all elected officials to denounce it. We need to show each other compassion and respect, that this is a country that respects all religions.”
Alexandra Moyen contributed to this story.