Croatia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits incitement of religious hatred. All religious communities have the same religious protections under the law. The government has written agreements with the Roman Catholic Church that provide state financial support and specific tax and other benefits; 19 other registered religious communities have agreements with the state offering benefits not available to registered religious communities without such agreements or to unregistered religious groups. Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) representatives said that although some property had been returned, the restitution of property seized by the Yugoslavia government remained an outstanding issue. This was echoed by representatives of the Catholic Church. The British newspaper The Guardian reported that some police officers spray-painted Christian crosses on the heads of presumably Muslim migrants attempting to illegally enter the country during Ramadan with the intent to “mark, humiliate, and traumatize” them. The Interior Ministry said The Guardian’s report was a “premeditated attack” against the government that incited religious intolerance without knowledge of the facts, as authorities maintained “excellent relations with the Islamic religious community.” Interior Ministry officials said they investigated all allegations and found no irregularities in the conduct of police in this case. In October, Minister of Culture and Media Nina Obuljen Korzinek attended the installation of the first of 20 Stolpersteine stones or “stumbling blocks” recognizing Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Zagreb and said the project would educate society regarding the Holocaust. Senior government officials, a representative from the Alliance of Anti-Fascists, and leaders of the Serbian, Roma, and Jewish communities jointly commemorated victims of the World War II concentration camp at Jasenovac for the first time since 2015. On January 23, the parliamentary Education, Science, and Culture Committee for the first time adopted a resolution encouraging state institutions and civil society organizations to promote the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

SOC representatives anecdotally reported incidents targeting individuals of Serbian ethnicity increased compared with 2019, including physical and verbal attacks, especially in the city of Vukovar, a site of intense fighting during the war in the 1990s, although they said they did not have detailed records on the number of incidents. According to SOC representatives, it was unclear if these incidents were religiously or ethnically motivated. As in recent years, members of some Jewish groups reported hate speech, especially on the internet, and incidents such as graffiti on Jewish-owned buildings. Representatives of the Jewish community expressed concerns regarding the use of Ustasha (pro-Nazi World War II era government) insignia in society. On February 4-5, the country’s Islamic leaders and the Muslim World League, in cooperation with the Croatian Conference of Catholic Bishops, organized an international conference entitled “Human Fraternity as the Foundation of Peace and Security in the World,” focusing on world peace and coexistence.

U.S. embassy officials discussed the status and treatment of religious minorities, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust revisionism with cabinet ministers and other senior government officials. During the year, embassy officials attended major events that emphasized the importance of Holocaust remembrance and interreligious dialogue. Embassy officials continued to encourage the government to amend legislation covering Holocaust-era property restitution to allow for restitution and compensation claims with a revised deadline for new applications. Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues, including freedom of expression and efforts to counter discrimination, with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and representatives from a broad spectrum of religious groups. In January, the embassy launched a monthly diversity and inclusion initiative in which embassy staff engaged representatives from different religious and secular groups to promote tolerance and discuss challenges and cooperation among different religious communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.2 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the 2011 census (the most recent), 86.3 percent of the population is Catholic, 4.4 percent Serbian Orthodox, and 1.5 percent Muslim. Nearly 4 percent identify as nonreligious or atheist. Other religious groups include Jews, Protestants, and other Christians. According to the World Jewish Congress, there are approximately 1,700 Jews.

Religious affiliation correlates closely with ethnicity. Ethnic Serbs are predominantly members of the SOC and live primarily in cities and areas bordering Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most members of other minority religious groups reside in urban areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for equality of rights regardless of religion, as well as freedom of conscience and religious expression. It prohibits incitement of religious hatred. According to the constitution, religious communities shall be equal under the law and separate from the state; they are free to conduct religious services publicly as well as open and manage schools and charitable organizations under the protection and with the assistance of the state.

The Roman Catholic Church receives state financial support and other benefits established by four concordats between the government and the Holy See. One of these agreements provides state financial support for some religious officials. Another agreement stipulates state funding for religious education in public schools.

The law defines the legal position of religious communities and determines eligibility for government funding and tax benefits. Registered religious communities are exempt from taxes on the purchase of real estate, the profit/capital gains tax, and taxes on donations. According to the law, a religious community previously active as a legal entity before enactment of the current law in 2002 (amended in 2013) need only submit its name, the location of its headquarters, information on the office of the person authorized to represent it, and the seal and stamp it uses to register. To register as a religious community, a religious group without prior legal status as a religious community must have at least 500 members and have been registered as an association, with at least three members, for at least five years. To register as a religious community, a group submits a list of its members and documentation outlining the group’s activities and bylaws and describing its mission to the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration. Nonregistered religious groups may operate freely but do not receive tax benefits. They may conduct financial transactions as legal entities. A contractual agreement with the state, which grants a registered religious community eligibility for further funding and benefits, defines the community’s role and activities and provides for collaboration with the government in areas of joint interest, such as education, health, and culture.

There are 55 registered religious communities, including the Roman Catholic Church, SOC, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Christian Adventist Church, Church of Christ, Church of God, Croatian Old Catholic Church, Catholic Old Church, Evangelical Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church, Pentecostal Church, Reformed Christian Church, Union of Baptist Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Union of Pentecostal Churches of Christ, Coordination Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia (an umbrella group of nine distinct Jewish communities), Jewish Community of Virovitica, Bet Israel (a Jewish group), and the Islamic Community of Croatia. In addition to the Roman Catholic Church, 19 of the registered religious communities have formal agreements with the state that more clearly define activities and cooperation, such as in the areas of marriage and of religious education in public schools. These groups may access state funds for religious activities.

The state recognizes marriages conducted by registered religious communities that have concluded agreements with the state, eliminating the need for civil registration. Marriages conducted by registered communities that have not concluded agreements with the state, or by nonregistered religious groups, require civil registration.

Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and nonregistered religious groups may not conduct religious education in public schools. Nonregistered religious groups have no access to state funds in support of religious activities, including charitable work, counseling, and building costs. Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and nonregistered religious groups may engage in worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature. Only registered religious communities, with or without agreements with the state, may provide spiritual counsel in prisons, hospitals, and the military.

Public schools at both the primary and secondary levels must offer religious education, although students may opt out without providing specific grounds. The Catholic catechism is the predominant religious text used. Other religious communities that have agreements with the state may also offer religious education classes in schools if there are seven or more students of that faith. Eligible religious communities provide the instructors, and the state pays their salaries. Private religious schools are eligible for state assistance and follow a national curriculum. Registered religious communities may have their own schools. Unregistered religious groups may not have their own schools.

Education regarding the Holocaust is mandatory in the final year of elementary school (eighth grade) and during the final year of high school.

The law allows foreign citizens whose property was confiscated during and after the Holocaust era to seek compensation or restitution if the applicant’s country has a bilateral restitution treaty with the state; however, no such bilateral treaties currently exist. Two court cases have held that such treaties are not required; however, the law has not changed. The law does not allow new property claims because the deadline expired in 2003.

The ombudsperson is a commissioner appointed by parliament responsible for promoting and protecting human rights and freedoms, including religious freedom. The ombudsperson examines citizens’ complaints pertaining to the work of state bodies, local and regional self-governments, and legal persons vested with public authority. The ombudsperson may issue recommendations to government agencies regarding human rights and religious freedom practices but does not have authority to enforce compliance with his or her recommendations.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In May, during Ramadan, an article with photographs in the British newspaper The Guardian stated local police officers spray-painted Christian crosses on the heads of (presumably Muslim) migrants attempting to enter the country illegally. According to the article, the police officers intended to “mark, humiliate, and traumatize” the migrants, since the migrant population is predominantly Muslim. In a press release responding to the allegations, the Interior Ministry said, “The publication of such an article during the month of Ramadan, which incites religious intolerance, is especially worrisome and warrants scathing denunciation. The fabrication that migrants are marked in the sign of the cross because of their faith demonstrates the author’s ignorance and a premeditated attack against Croatia without any knowledge of the basic facts. Croatian authorities have excellent relations with the Islamic religious community, which is greatly valued in the Croatian society and which the worldwide public recognizes as an exemplary cooperation between religious communities.” Interior Ministry officials said they investigated all allegations and found no irregularities in the conduct of police in this case.

SOC representatives said their community still had outstanding issues with the government, mainly regarding repossession of property and residential buildings that the government appropriated during the Yugoslav period. The government reported that since 1999 the state had returned in-kind or provided compensation for 323 properties, including businesses and agricultural and forest land, to the SOC. Representatives of the Eparchy of Slavonia (a territorial division of the SOC) said the government returned 383 hectares (946 acres) of forest during the year, which belonged to the SOC’s Pakra Monastery. Some SOC representatives reported problems with enforcement of legal decisions in their favor regarding return of their properties, which in some cases, such as for properties with tenants, led to delays in the SOC being able to physically take possession of the properties.

Catholic Church representatives also said there remained a significant number of outstanding claims for Catholic properties appropriated during the Yugoslav period.

In September, the ombudsperson for children said her office “sees a problem in religious content being practiced often in some schools even outside religious education classes, for example at school events and during the school lessons, which are intended for all pupils,” and said this was unacceptable. In response, media quoted Prime Minister (PM) Andrej Plenkovic, who said he “did not understand the criticism, noting that religion was part of the Croatian tradition and identity.” The ombudsperson also said some elementary students not enrolled in religious studies courses were required to attend those classes because due to COVID-19 restrictions, there were no alternative spaces within the schools while the religious studies classes were in session. She stated that religious education, like any other elective subject, should be held at the start or end of the day, with an alternative elective offered to elementary students who do not attend such classes, similar to the practice in secondary schools, which offer ethics as an alternative subject.

Atheist, Jewish, and Serbian Orthodox organizations continued to report that although the law allows students to opt out of religious education, in practice most public primary schools did not offer any alternatives to Catholic catechism.

Atheist groups continued to complain that Roman Catholic symbols remained prevalent in government buildings such as courtrooms, prisons, and public hospitals. They said they believed this practice was inconsistent with the constitution, which states religious communities shall be separate from the state.

On July 23, President Zoran Milanovic held talks with Porfirije Peric, Metropolitan of Zagreb and Ljubljana, on the activities and concerns of the Church and its relationship with the government, as part of the government’s regular engagement with leaders of the country’s major religious groups.

On June 3, the High Misdemeanor Court in Zagreb ruled the use of the slogan Za Dom Spremni (For the Homeland, Ready) by singer Marko “Thompson” Perkovic contained in one of his songs was not illegal. The slogan was used by the pro-Nazi World War II-era government of the Independent State of Croatia. According to a majority ruling, Perkovic’s use of the slogan did not violate the Law on Misdemeanors against Public Order and Peace because it was used in the context of a song. In its statement on June 3, the Zagreb-based chapter of NGO Human Rights House said the decision was contrary to the article of the constitution prohibiting incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred. In 2019, the court ruled in a separate case that the slogan “conveyed hatred towards people of different races, religions, and ethnicities” and fined a singer who performed Perkovic’s song.

On October 1, Minister of Culture and Media Nina Obuljen Korzinek attended the installation of the first of 20 Stolpersteine stones or “stumbling blocks” recognizing Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Zagreb. Obuljen Korzinek said the project would educate society regarding the Holocaust, and such education was a vital component to nurturing a modern, democratic society in the European Union. The Center for Promotion of Tolerance and Preservation of Holocaust Remembrance, the Bet Israel Jewish community, and the Spuren Foundation organized the installation.

On April 22, PM Plenkovic and President Milanovic attended the annual commemoration for the victims killed by the Ustasha regime at the Jasenovac World War II prison camp. The Jewish community, along with the Serb National Council, a representative of the Roma minority, and the Alliance of Antifascist Fighters joined the official commemoration for the first time since 2015. PM Plenkovic said his government had no tolerance for historical revisionism, while President Milanovic said the commemoration “sent a message with no speeches.” Head of the Jewish Community of Zagreb Ognjen Kraus said he attended to “extend the hand of friendship and goodwill” but still sought tangible results from the government in the fight against historical revisionism. Serbian Independent Democratic Party President and Member of Parliament Milorad Pupovac stated the participation of the victims’ groups, in spite of a March earthquake in Zagreb and the COVID-19 pandemic, represented a show of solidarity.

On February 5, PM Plenkovic opened a Holocaust exhibition in Zagreb entitled “If I forget you…The Holocaust in Croatia 1941-1945 – Final destination Auschwitz” near the site where Jews were transported to concentration camps in the country and across Europe. Plenkovic highlighted the Ustasha in his speech, noting, “We forget every time we fail to clearly speak about the Holocaust, notably about the consequences of the undemocratic, totalitarian, and racist Ustasha regime in Croatia.”

In January, in remarks at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, Plenkovic said, “Awareness and education of young people about historical atrocities, particularly about the Holocaust, is key so that present and future generations can build a society in which there is no room for exclusion, intolerance, and violence.” He also stated, “The unspeakable pain of Auschwitz and many other Nazi camps commits us to strongly resist any such attempts and all forms of discrimination and hatred, and to advocate the values of peace, tolerance, and dialogue.”

PM Plenkovic and other officials laid wreaths in the Jewish section of the Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb on January 24 to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Plenkovic said the country needed to work not only on a culture of remembrance, but also on protecting human rights and promoting tolerance in society.

In January, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a press statement saying the country, as a member of the IHRA, had been recognized as actively involved in Holocaust education, research, and commemoration. On January 19, together with ministers from other member countries, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gordan Grlic-Radman participated in an IHRA ministerial conference and said, “Croatia attaches great importance to educating the youth about the causes and consequences of the Holocaust. Holocaust education is a part of Croatia’s school curriculum. The IHRA’s recommendations on Holocaust education have been translated to Croatian and will be presented at the national conference on Holocaust education.”

On January 23, the parliamentary Education, Science, and Culture Committee for the first time adopted a resolution on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The resolution encouraged state institutions and civil society organizations to promote the working definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the IHRA. The committee emphasized that education, particularly of children and young people, has an essential role in the prevention of intolerance and xenophobia, and highlighted the need for remembering the victims of the Holocaust in a dignified manner.

During the year, the government did not take action to adopt amendments to legislation providing for restitution of private property from the Holocaust era for foreign claimants or reopen the deadline for potential new claims.

On January 20, as part of an event hosted during the country’s EU presidency, PM Plenkovic met with European bishops who underscored the importance of the EU in promoting and protecting the right to religious freedom both within its borders as well as in relations with third countries.

According to the Office of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the government budgeted 293.1 million kuna ($49.26 million) during the year for the Roman Catholic Church for salaries, pensions, and other purposes, compared with 299.5 million kuna ($50.34 million) in 2019. The government provided funding to other religious communities that had concluded agreements with the state, a portion of which was based on their size, in addition to funds provided to support religious education in public schools and the operation of private religious schools. The government budgeted 22.7 million kuna ($3.82 million) to these groups, compared with 22.0 million kuna ($3.7 million) in 2019. Atheist groups again criticized the government for allocating more to the Roman Catholic Church than to other groups.

Some minority religious and secular groups, including atheist groups, continued to say the Roman Catholic Church enjoyed a special status in relation to other religious communities, in part because of its concordats with the government, which provided the Church with significant financial support, and in part because of its far-reaching cultural, educational, and political influence as the majority religion.

The ombudsperson’s 2019 report released in April stated that as in previous years, there were not many complaints regarding discrimination on the grounds of religion. The complaints mostly referred to religious symbols and religious content in public institutions and the inability to use nonworking days for religious holidays. Amendments to the Law on Holidays, which entered into force in January following recommendations from the Ombudsperson’s Office, stipulated more precisely that Muslims who celebrated Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha and Jews who celebrated Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah had the right not to work one day of their choice for each of these holidays with full salary compensation, while Orthodox Christians who celebrated Easter according to the Julian calendar had the right not to work on Easter Monday, also with the right to full salary. The Ombudsperson’s Office said it also received several complaints of potential discrimination against persons who did not belong to the majority Catholic Church because of the overt display of Catholic religious symbols in public spaces, primarily in schools and hospitals. The office received a complaint that one county official held an event on official premises during working hours that included a blessing offered by a priest.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

SOC representatives anecdotally reported increased incidents targeting individuals of Serbian ethnicity compared with 2019, including physical and verbal attacks, especially in Vukovar, a site of intense fighting during the war in the 1990s. They said, however, it was unclear to what extent religious motivations played a part.

According to the Ombudsperson’s Office, the Croatian Bishops’ Conference complained of what it said were sensational or untrue media articles regarding the Catholic Church. As in recent years, members of some Jewish groups reported hate speech, especially on the internet, and incidents such as graffiti on Jewish-owned buildings. Representatives of the Jewish Community of Zagreb expressed concerns regarding the inappropriate use of Ustasha insignia in public.

On February 4-5, the country’s Islamic leaders and the Muslim World League, in cooperation with the Croatian Conference of Catholic Bishops, organized an international conference entitled “Human Fraternity as the Foundation of Peace and Security in the World,” focusing on world peace and coexistence. The conference was held under the auspices of the country’s EU presidency. At the event, the mufti of the Islamic community, Aziz Hasanovic, said that there was no alternative to religious dialogue, highlighting the value of systematic dialogue between the Islamic community and Catholic Church. Then-President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said, “This valuable initiative was an opportunity for Croatia to present itself as a country that promotes the highest standards of religious rights and dialogue.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and embassy staff regularly discussed religious freedom issues, including the status and treatment of religious minorities, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust revisionism, with representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Public Administration, and Culture and Media; the ombudsperson; representatives of parliament; youth representing different religious groups; and other officials.

The Ambassador and embassy staff met with the Ministers of Justice and Administration, Education and Science, senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, staff from the Ministry of Culture and Media, and leaders of Jewish organizations to discuss a wide range of issues, including restitution of private and communal properties from the Holocaust era, restitution of art, and Holocaust education and remembrance. U.S. officials continued to encourage the government to adopt amendments to legislation to provide for restitution of private property, including provisions that would unequivocally allow for foreign claims and reopen the deadline for potential new claims. Embassy engagement also focused on the restitution of Jewish communal properties, including resorts, land, cultural centers, synagogues, and cemeteries.

During the year, embassy officials attended major events that emphasized the importance of Holocaust remembrance and interreligious dialogue. On October 1 in Zagreb, embassy officials, along with city and national government officials, select other foreign diplomats, and Jewish group members, attended the installation of the first of 20 Stolpersteine stones recognizing Jewish victims of the Holocaust. During the event, embassy officials discussed with participants the importance of the Holocaust remembrance activities. On February 5, the Ambassador and embassy staff attended the opening of the Holocaust exhibition in Zagreb, during which embassy officials discussed challenges and priorities with the Jewish representatives and the importance of Holocaust remembrance with government officials. Also in February, embassy officials attended the international conference organized by the leadership of the Islamic community and the Muslim World League in cooperation with the Croatian Conference of Bishops. During the conference, embassy staff engaged with senior government officials and religious leaders on the importance of interfaith dialogue.

In January, the embassy inaugurated a diversity and inclusion program that brought representatives from different religious and secular groups each month to speak to the embassy community and share personal views and experiences. The program deepened embassy engagement on religious freedom issues with the invited groups, which included a Jewish group, the SOC, the Islamic community, an atheist group, the Roma community, and the Church of Jesus Christ.

Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues, including freedom of expression and efforts to counter discrimination, with NGOs such as Human Rights House, Documenta, and Protagora, as well as with representatives from Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, Baptist, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious groups. During the COVID-19 pandemic and March 22 earthquake in Zagreb that damaged or destroyed many religious buildings, embassy officials discussed with religious community representatives their challenges and new opportunities for utilizing social media (rather than meeting in person) to support their members and the most vulnerable within their respective communities. Embassy representatives provided grants to local NGOs for the advancement of education on Holocaust issues in the country. The embassy used social media platforms to highlight a range of religious freedom issues, including support for Holocaust commemorations, and a pluralistic view of faith and religion, particularly among youth in the country.

Greece

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship, with some restrictions. It recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.” On October 7, an appeals court in Athens ruled the Golden Dawn political party, commonly characterized as neo-Nazi, was a criminal organization, finding seven of its 18 party leaders guilty of directing a criminal organization. The court found Golden Dawn members responsible for a series of physical attacks and verbal harassment since 2012 against perceived outsiders, including Muslim asylum seekers and Jews. On February 29, the government issued new curricula to conform to a 2019 Council of State ruling that the school curricula failed to “develop a religious conscience in students” as required by the constitution. Changes and adaptations included the removal of topics not relevant to the Greek Orthodox faith and the introduction of new material. Legislation approved on January 20 removed the requirement that middle and high schools list each student’s religion and nationality, following 2019 rulings by the Data Protection Authority and the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court. On June 25, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found the government had violated the European Union Convention on Human Rights because a registry office noted on the birth certificate that the child’s name came from a civil act, not a christening, which violated the right not to disclose religious beliefs. On June 18, the ECtHR determined the government owed a Muslim widow 51,000 euros ($62,600) for applying “sharia against her late husband’s wish.” During the year, the government authorized the construction of several places of worship, including a mosque, a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Hall, and an Egyptian Coptic Church temple. It also issued 14 new house of prayer or worship permits for several Christian denominations and five permits for Islamic houses of prayer. On November 2, the first government-funded mosque opened in Athens. On June 25, authorities closed an unlicensed mosque operating in Piraeus. A civil court also approved the registration of a Protestant group as a religious legal entity. In April, media reported that the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church wrote to the Prime Minister, stating his opposition to the government’s announced plans to allow all houses of worship to open their doors for individual prayers in small numbers but not allow services due to COVID-19. The Orthodox Church, as well as other religious groups, followed all government restrictions throughout the year. On January 27, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attended memorial events marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and became the first Greek premier to visit the former concentration camp. According to Jewish leaders, the government continued to help the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in its efforts to recover its original archives, found by Soviet troops in a castle in Lower Silesia, Germany, following Germany’s defeat and subsequently transferred to Moscow.

On social and other media, individuals continued to directly and indirectly link Jews to conspiracy theories about Jewish global power. In January, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) issued a statement protesting a sketch showing the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon arguing against lifting protection of primary residencies from foreclosures after April 30. KIS called the cartoon unacceptable because it trivialized a symbol of horror. The newspaper called the Jewish community’s reaction “justifiable,” stating it had not intended to trivialize or deny the Holocaust. Incidents of vandalism of religious properties continued during the year, with anti-Semitic graffiti spray-painted on the historic synagogues in Trikala and in Larisa, in the central part of the country, at the Jewish cemeteries in metropolitan Athens, Rhodes, and Thessaloniki, as well as at the Holocaust monuments in Thessaloniki, Larisa, and in Drama. Police arrested a suspect for the acts of vandalism of Jewish sites in Larisa and another one for the vandalism that took place in Drama. Vandals damaged an old mosque in Trikala and, on dozens of occasions, Greek Orthodox churches in Thessaloniki, Lesvos, Crete, Samos, Xanthi, and Rodopi.

The U.S. Ambassador, visiting government officials, and other embassy and consulate general representatives met with officials of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, including the Minister and the Secretary General for Religious Affairs, and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and governors. They continued to discuss the ability of minority religious communities to establish houses of worship and government initiatives affecting both the Muslim minority in Thrace and Muslim immigrants. In meetings with government officials and religious leaders, including the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, U.S. government officials expressed concern about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric and attacks on Orthodox churches. On September 29, the U.S. Secretary of State, Ambassador, Consul General in Thessaloniki, and other embassy officials visited the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki. On July 9, the Ambassador discussed with leaders the implementation of the new Holocaust Memorial Museum in Thessaloniki. On October 7, the Ambassador met with KIS president David Saltiel to discuss legislation required to build the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the stalled return of the archives from Russia of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.6 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to research polls, 81 to 90 percent of the population identifies as Greek Orthodox, 4 to 15 percent atheist, and 2 percent Muslim.

Approximately 140,000 Muslims live in Thrace, according to government sources using 2011 data; they are largely descendants of the officially recognized Muslim minority according to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. According to a Pew Research Center study released in November 2017, an additional 520,000 Muslims – mostly asylum seekers, refugees, and other migrants from Southeastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa – reside throughout the country, clustered in communities by their countries of origin or in reception facilities. Government sources estimate half reside in Athens.

Members of other religious communities that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Old Calendarist Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, members of polytheistic Hellenic religions, Scientologists, Baha’is, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, Buddhists, and members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Independent and media sources estimate Ethiopian Orthodox number 2,500, and Assyrians less than 1,000. According to the Armenian Orthodox Archbishop, interviewed in 2018, approximately 100,000 Armenian Orthodox live in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.” It states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship under the protection of the law, with some restrictions. The constitution prohibits “proselytizing,” defined by law as “any direct or indirect attempt to intrude on the religious beliefs of a person of a different religious persuasion with the aim of undermining those beliefs through inducement, fraudulent means, or taking advantage of the other person’s inexperience, trust, need, low intellect, or naivete.” The constitution prohibits worship that “disturbs public order or offends moral principles.” It allows prosecutors to seize publications that “offend Christianity” or other “known religions.” The law provides penalties of up to two years in prison for individuals who maliciously attempt to prevent or who intentionally disrupt a religious gathering for worship or a religious service, and for individuals engaging in “insulting action” inside a church or place of worship. A 2019 amendment to the penal code abolishes articles criminalizing malicious blasphemy and religious insults. The constitution enumerates the goals of public education, including “the development of religious conscience among citizens.” Greek Orthodox priests and government-appointed muftis and imams in Thrace receive their salaries from the government.

The constitution states ministers of all known religions are subject to the same state supervision and obligations to the state as clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church. It states individuals are not exempt from their obligations to the state or from compliance with the law because of their religious convictions.

The Greek Orthodox Church, Jewish community, and Muslim minority of Thrace have long-held status as official religious public law legal entities. The Catholic Church, Anglican Church, two evangelical Christian groups, and the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, and Assyrian Orthodox Churches acquired the status of religious legal entities under a 2014 law. The same law also allows groups seeking recognition to become “religious legal entities” under civil law.

The recognition process requires filing a request with the civil courts, providing documents proving the group has “open rituals and no secret doctrines,” supplying a list of 300 signatory members who do not adhere to other religious groups, demonstrating there is a leader who is legally in the country and is otherwise qualified, and showing their practices do not pose a threat to public order. Once a civil court recognizes a group, it sends a notification to the Secretariat General for Religions. Under the law, all religious officials of known religions and official religious legal entities, including the Greek Orthodox Church, the muftiates of Thrace, and the Jewish communities, must register in the electronic database maintained by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.

The law also provides a second method for groups to obtain government recognition: any religious group that has obtained at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship is considered a “known religion” and thereby acquires legal protection, including a tax exemption for property used for religious purposes. The terms houses or places of prayer or worship are used interchangeably; it is at the discretion of a religious group to determine its term of preference. Membership requirements for house of prayer permits differ from the requirements for religious legal entities. Local urban planning departments in charge of monitoring and enforcing public health and safety regulations certify that facilities designated to operate as places of worship fulfill the necessary standards. Once a house of worship receives planning approvals, a religious group must submit a description of its basic principles and rituals and a biography of the religious minister or leader to the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs for final approval. The application for a house of prayer or worship permit requires at least five signatory members of the group. The leaders of a religious group applying for a house of prayer permit must be Greek citizens, EU nationals, or legal residents of the country, and must possess other professional qualifications, including relevant education and experience. A separate permit is required for each physical location.

A religious group possessing status as a religious legal entity may transfer property and administer houses of prayer or worship, private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities. Some religious groups have opted to retain their status as civil society nonprofit associations acquired through court recognition prior to the 2014 law. Under this status, religious groups may operate houses of prayer and benefit from real estate property tax exemptions, but they may face administrative and fiscal difficulties in transferring property and in operating private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities.

All recognized religious groups are subject to taxation on property used for nonreligious purposes. Property used solely for religious purposes is exempt from taxation, as well as from municipal fees, for groups classified as religious legal entities or “known religions.”

The law allows religious communities without status as legal entities to appear before administrative and civil courts as plaintiffs or defendants.

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne accords the recognized Muslim minority of Thrace the right to maintain mosques and social and charitable organizations (awqaaf). A 1991 law authorizes the government, in consultation with a committee of Muslim leaders, to appoint three muftis in Thrace to 10-year terms of office, which may be extended. The law also allows a regional official to appoint temporary acting muftis until this committee convenes. The law mandates official muftis in Thrace must request notarized consent from all parties wishing to adjudicate a family matter based on sharia. Absent notarized consent from all parties, family matters fall under the jurisdiction of civil courts. The law also provides for the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs to assume all operating expenses for the muftiates in Thrace, under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance Directorate General for Fiscal Monitoring.

The law establishes an individual’s right to choose his or her burial or cremation location and mandates that death certificates detail this information. In the presence of a notary, individuals may designate the location and method of funeral service under conditions that adhere to public order, hygiene, or moral ethics, as well as designate a person responsible for carrying out funeral preferences.

The law allows halal and kosher slaughtering of animals in slaughterhouses but not in private residences or public areas.

Home schooling of children is not permitted. The law requires all children to attend 11 years of compulsory education in state or private schools, including two years of preschool education, in accordance with the official school curriculum. Religious instruction, mainly Greek Orthodox teachings, is included in the curricula for primary and secondary schools. Primary schools cover grades one to six, while secondary school includes three years of middle school and three years of high school. Students may be exempted from religious instruction with a parent’s or guardian’s submission of a document citing religious consciousness grounds, according to new regulations issued by decree during the year. Exempted students may attend classes with different subject matters during that time. Under legislation passed during the year, secondary schools no longer list their students’ religion and nationality on transcripts.

The law provides for optional Islamic religious instruction in public schools in Thrace for the recognized Muslim minority and optional Catholic religious instruction in public schools on the islands of Tinos and Syros. The law also includes provisions to make it easier for schools to hire and retain religious instructors for those optional courses.

By law, any educational facility with fewer than nine students must temporarily suspend operations, with students referred to neighboring schools.

The law allows Muslim students in primary and secondary schools throughout the country to be absent for two days each for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

According to the law, parents may send their children to private religious schools. Private Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish schools operate in the country. As per the Lausanne Treaty, the government operates bilingual secular schools in Thrace. Bilingual schools operate in Greek and Turkish, and their number may vary according to the number of registered students, with a minimum of nine per school. There are two Islamic religious schools in Thrace for grades 7-12. In addition, Muslim students in Thrace wishing to study the Quran may attend after-hours religious classes in mosques.

The law establishes an annual 0.5 percent quota for admission of students from the recognized Muslim minority in Thrace to universities, technical institutes, and civil service positions. Similarly, 2 percent of students entering the national fire brigade school and academy are required to be from the Muslim minority in Thrace.

The law provides for alternative forms of mandatory service for religious conscientious objectors in lieu of the nine-month mandatory minimum military service for men. Conscientious objectors must serve 15 months of alternative service in state hospitals or municipal and public services. Amendments in 2019 to a law on conscientious objection provide for greater civilian leadership in assessing conscientious objection petitions; abolishes the Defense Minister’s ability to suspend the provisions for conscientious objectors during wartime; requires the state to cover expenses for transportation of conscientious objectors; provides an additional five-day parental leave per child for conscientious objectors who are fathers; protects the return of conscientious objectors to their previous employment after civilian service; reduces by two years (from 35 to 33 years) the age after which a conscientious objector may buy off the greatest part of civilian service; and reduces from 40 to 20 days the required time before conscientious objectors are eligible to buy off the remaining time of the service.

According to what is commonly referred to as the “anti-racist” law, individuals or legal entities convicted of incitement to violence, discrimination, or hatred based on religion, among other factors, may be sentenced to prison terms of between three months and three years and fined 5,000 to 20,000 euros ($6,100-$24,500). Violators convicted of other crimes motivated by religion may be sentenced to an additional six months to three years, with fines doubled. The law criminalizes approval, trivialization, or malicious denial of the Holocaust and “crimes of Nazism” if that behavior leads to incitement of violence or hatred or has a threatening or abusive nature toward groups of individuals.

The law requires all civil servants, including cabinet and parliament members, to take an oath before entering office; individuals are free to take a religious or secular oath in accordance with their beliefs.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The criminal trial of 69 Golden Dawn members and supporters, including 18 former members of parliament, ended on September 4. On October 7, an appeals court in Athens ruled that Golden Dawn, commonly characterized as neo-Nazi, is a criminal organization and found seven of its 18 party leaders guilty of directing and participating in a criminal organization. On October 14, the court sentenced the seven to 13.5 years each in prison. An additional six defendants, whom the court found guilty of membership in a criminal organization, received prison sentences from five to seven years; the tribunal in total handed down more than 500 years of incarceration to 57 defendants convicted of murder, assault, weapons possession, and either running or participating in a criminal organization. The court found that Golden Dawn members committed a series of physical attacks on and verbal harassment of individuals they perceived to be outsiders, including Muslims and Jews, continuing when the party entered parliament in 2012. According to media, prominent Golden Dawn member Christos Pappas refused to surrender to authorities and remained at large at year’s end. Another party leader, Yannis Lagos, remained out of prison at year’s end because as a member of the European Parliament he was immune from prosecution. At year’s end, Greece’s parliament continued to examine this immunity rule.

On November 2, the first government-funded mosque opened in Athens. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout the spring and autumn lockdowns, government regulations allowed up to nine persons to take part in the early morning prayer. An official opening of the mosque with government participation was postponed, pending the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

On February 29, the government’s Institute for Educational Policy issued new curricula for religious education in primary and secondary schools to comply with a 2019 ruling by the Council of State, which ruled the curricula did not “develop a religious conscience in students” in accordance with constitutional requirements. According to the ruling, the class offered to Greek Orthodox students was more of a sociology of religion class, not fulfilling the constitutional requirement for developing a religious conscience in students. Non-Orthodox students could request and be granted a waiver from taking the class.

On August 8, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs issued new regulations clarifying that students could be exempted from religious instruction by citing “religious consciousness” grounds instead of being forced to state “they were not Christian Orthodox believers.” On January 20, the parliament passed legislation stating that secondary-level students’ transcripts should not list their religion or nationality to comply with a 2019 ruling by the Data Protection Authority.

In accordance with the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, the government continued to operate bilingual secular schools in Thrace, a total of 115 primary schools in 2019-20, compared with 128 in 2018-19, as well as two secondary schools, although government operation of bilingual secondary schools – grades 7 to 12 – is not required under the treaty. Turkish-speaking representatives of the Muslim minority said the number of bilingual middle schools – grades 7 to 9 – was insufficient to meet their needs, while stating the government ignored their request to privately establish an additional minority secondary school. The same representatives noted a decreasing trend in the number of primary minority schools – grades 1 to 6 – which the government attributed to the decreasing number of students, particularly in rural areas

The Christian Charismatic Church applied to a civil court for recognition as a religious legal entity; the Church’s application was approved and it was subsequently registered. Applications from an Old Calendarist group and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo in Athens, submitted in 2019, remained pending at year’s end.

Groups lacking religious-entity status and without a house of prayer permit, including Scientologists and ISKCON, which had not applied for a house of worship permit, continued to function as registered, nonprofit civil law organizations. The government did not legally recognize weddings conducted by members of these groups, who had the option of civil wedding.

During the year, the government approved 14 permits for houses of prayer, including for two Protestant churches (Baptist and Apostolic Christian), six private mosques in Athens, and six Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Halls – two of them in Karditsa, one in Larisa, one in Imathia, one in Naousa, and one in Lamia. On July 20, the government authorized the construction of a mosque, with a capacity of 214 individuals, in Thrace, in the district of Zoumbouli in Xanthi. During the year, the government approved the construction of a new Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Mesolongi, in the central part of the country; a building for the Baptist Church of Athens; and a building for the Egyptian Coptic Church. On February 6, the government reissued a permit for a Kingdom Hall in Thessaloniki, which authorities revoked in 2019 on the grounds the facility did not meet fire protection requirements.

On June 25, law enforcement authorities closed an unlicensed private mosque operating in Piraeus. Officials said the association managing the facility never requested a license, unlike approximately 10 other private, licensed Muslim houses of prayer in wider Athens and in the region of Viotia.

On April 3, authorities revoked a house of prayer permit granted to a Protestant group at the latter’s request. The group cited the lower number of followers as the reason for its decision.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report some doctors in public hospitals did not understand or respect their refusal to receive blood transfusions. They said in one case, medical doctors defied the objection of a pregnant woman and gave her a blood transfusion against her will. In another case, a local public hospital refused to accept a patient for a surgical operation when he stated he could not receive a blood transfusion. He was transferred to a central hospital in Thessaloniki where he successfully underwent the surgery without a transfusion.

Some members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government’s practice of appointing muftis, pressing instead for direct election of muftis by the Muslim minority. The government continued to state that government appointment was appropriate because the constitution does not permit the election of judges, and the muftis retained judicial powers on family and inheritance matters as long as all parties sign a notarized consent stating they wish to follow sharia instead of the civil courts. During the year, all three muftiates in Thrace continued to be led by government-appointed acting muftis.

On February 26, an appeals court upheld a 2017 ruling sentencing Mufti Ahmet Mete, an unofficial mufti not recognized by the government, to four months in prison for usurping government authority by attending a religious ceremony and ordering the official mufti to leave so he could lead it. The court reduced the sentence, already suspended, from seven months to four months, ruling Mete would only serve the sentence if he committed a crime during the period of suspension. The same court acquitted a follower of the unofficial mufti, an imam convicted and sentenced to seven months in prison in the same case of the unofficial mufti.

Some members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government appointment of members entrusted to oversee endowments, real estate, and charitable funds of the Islamic Community Trust or awqaaf, stating the Muslim minority in Thrace should elect these members.

As a result of government-ordered closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic and in the absence of an official mosque in Athens for the most part of the year, central and local government authorities did not provide space for Muslims during Ramadan. COVID-19 restrictions applied to public gatherings, including religious ones, during the spring and winter lockdowns, which were in effect through the end of the year.

In April, media reported that the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church wrote to the Prime Minister, stating his opposition to the government’s announced plans to allow all houses of worship to open their doors for individual prayers in small numbers but not allow services due to COVID-19. The Orthodox Church, as well as other religious groups, followed all government restrictions throughout the year.

Muslim leaders continued to criticize the lack of Islamic cemeteries outside Thrace, stating this obliged Muslims to transport their dead to Thrace for Islamic burials. They also continued to state that municipal cemetery regulations requiring exhumation of bodies after three years due to a shortage of space contravened Islamic law. At least three sites – on Lesvos Island, in Schisto, and near the land border with Turkey in Evros – served unofficially as burial grounds for Muslim migrants and asylum seekers.

The government continued to fund Holocaust education training for teachers but temporarily suspended government-funded educational trips, including to the Auschwitz concentration camp, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On October 26-27 and November 2-3, a group of 35 schoolteachers from Greece and North Macedonia digitally participated in the fourth of a series of seminars on “the Holocaust as a starting point: comparing and sharing.” The seminar involved lectures on the Holocaust in Europe, the deportation of Jews in the Bulgarian-occupied territories, the Nazi vision of the world, and the aftermath of the Holocaust, as well as workshops on education and methodology. Coorganizers of the seminar included the Memorial de la Shoah, the General Secretariat for Religious Affairs of the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, and the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of North Macedonia.

On January 27, Prime Minister Mitsotakis attended memorial events marking the 75th anniversary since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. He became the first Greek premier to visit the site, stating he did so to honor the memory of all Greek Jews who perished there.

On January 9, during a visit by the Prime Minister to Washington, the Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) signed an agreement allowing researchers to examine records of Nazi atrocities in Greece between 1940 and 1945. The Ministry of Culture also cooperated with the USHMM on a joint effort to retrieve personal items belonging to Jewish refugees from the 1946 Athina shipwreck off Astypalea Island for inclusion in the USHMM’s permanent exhibition.

On June 22, the main opposition party SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) produced a television advertisement entitled “How much does Moses cost?” The advertisement criticized government funding to mass media outlets during the pandemic, calling it “manna from heaven,” inspired by the biblical story of Moses. KIS issued a statement asking, “How was it possible for a party determined to fight against anti-Semitism to reproduce anti-Semitic stereotypes, linking Moses with money falling down from the sky?” KIS also expressed disappointment that, despite many other protests, including by the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers, SYRIZA did not withdraw its televised message. KIS said SYRIZA’s “only reaction was to characterize the spot as ‘satiric.’”

According to Jewish leaders, the government continued to help the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in its efforts to recover its original archives, found by Soviet troops in a castle in Lower Silesia, Germany, following Germany’s defeat, and subsequently transferred to Moscow.

The government continued to provide direct support to the Greek Orthodox Church, including funding the salaries of clergy, estimated at 200 million euros ($245.4 million) annually, the religious and vocational training of clergy, and religious instruction in schools. The government provided the support in accordance with a series of legal agreements with past governments and as compensation for religious property expropriated by the state, according to Greek Orthodox and government officials. The government also provided direct support to the three muftiates in Thrace, including salaries for the three official muftis and for teachers contracted to teach the optional class on Islam in local public schools. The government paid the salaries of the imam of the new Athens public mosque and the salaries of Catholic teachers at the state schools of Tinos and Syros islands.

On June 25, the ECtHR found that the government violated the EU Convention on Human Rights because a registry office noted on a birth certificate that the child’s name came from a civil act, not a christening, which violated the right not to disclose religious beliefs.

On June 18, the ECtHR determined the amount of compensation the government owed to a Muslim widow to whom the courts had applied sharia against her late husband’s wish. The court ordered 51,000 euros ($62,600) in damages for the applicant. The ruling stemmed from a case filed in 2017 regarding a widow’s right to inherit her husband’s estate. According to media, prior to his death in 2008, her husband drew up a will with a notary, in accordance with civil law, leaving his estate to his wife. The husband left his sisters out of the will, which they contested, stating that because their late brother was Muslim, his inheritance should be adjudicated in an Islamic court and that under Islamic law, they would have received three-fourths of the estate. A lower court agreed with the widow, but on appeal, the Supreme Court ruled the will was invalid based on 100-year-old treaties between Greece and Turkey. Her lawyer said the woman’s husband had decided how he wanted his inheritance to be passed on, and his client was discriminated against on religious grounds. Although the ECtHR ruled in favor of the widow in 2018, it left the decision on compensation until later.

On January 20, Prime Minister Mitsotakis met with the Metropolitan of Orthodox Armenians of Greece, Kegham Khatcherian. According to Orthodox Armenian community representatives in Greece, Mitsotakis was the first Prime Minister to officially receive a prelate of the Armenian community in 125 years.

Some religious groups and human rights organizations continued to call the discrepancy between the length of mandatory alternative service for conscientious objectors (15 months) and the length of mandatory minimum military service (nine months) a discriminatory policy.

Government officials publicly denounced the vandalism of Jewish sites, including of the Holocaust memorials in Thessaloniki, Larisa, and Drama, the synagogues in Trikala and Larisa, and the Jewish cemetery in the greater Athens area. On December 4, the Foreign Ministry denounced the desecration of the Holocaust Memorial in Larisa, calling it an “abhorrent act” that is “counter to Greek culture and the values of the Greek society.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Statistics by the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) for 2019, the most recent year available, showed 51 cases in which immigrants or refugees were targeted for their religion, among other grounds, compared with 74 cases in 2018. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as solely or primarily based on religious identity. During the year, RVRN, a network of nongovernmental organizations, recorded two incidents in which the targets were sacred or symbolic for the Jewish community, compared with nine in 2019. Both involved the desecration of Holocaust memorials, one in the city of Thessaloniki and the other in the city of Trikala. A third incident involved the desecration of an Islamic cemetery in Alexandroupoli, in the northeastern part of the country. Police arrested two suspects separately for the vandalism in Larissa and in Drama.

In its 2019 report, RVRN included information communicated to the network by police regarding incidents reported to law enforcement authorities that potentially involved religious motives. Based on this information, police received 36 reports of violence based on religion, compared with 28 in 2018, but did not provide details on specific cases.

According to a European Union Agency for Human Rights report released in September, there were 10 reported cases of anti-Semitism in 2019, the same number as in 2018. According to agency, cases included anti-Semitic hate speech, vandalism of Jewish sites, and trivialization of the Holocaust, with the government starting prosecution of nine of the 10 cases.

On social and other media, individuals continued to directly and indirectly link Jews to conspiracy theories about Jewish global power. On April 11, during an interview with a Russian journalist, Gavriel, a nonrecognized monk residing on Mount Athos, said Jews and Masons would try to control the world’s population through a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus and a microchip implanted into humans. On May 11, the Racist Crimes Watch filed a complaint with the police’s antiracism department regarding these statements, citing anti-Semitism and spreading of “fake news.” No arrests were made by year’s end.

On November 10, the daily newspaper Makeleio, whose publisher, Stefanos Chios, was convicted in October of anti-Semitic defamation, warned its readers that Pfizer’s Greek Jewish CEO, Albert Bourla, would “stick the needle” into them and stated the pharmaceutical company’s prospective COVID-19 vaccine was “poison.” The front-page article included a photograph of Bourla, a veterinarian, next to Nazi war criminal and physician Josef Mengele. KIS leadership condemned the newspaper, expressing “outrage and repulsion” over the article for perpetuating “hatred and bigotry against the Jews,” and called on authorities to intervene. The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs condemned the newspaper, characterizing the article as the “most vile anti-Semitism reminiscent of the Middle Ages.” In November, Racist Crimes Watch filed a complaint with police against the newspaper.

On January 29, KIS reiterated concern about political cartoons and images using Jewish sacred symbols and Holocaust comparisons. KIS issued a statement protesting a January 27 sketch in the Newspaper of the Editors showing the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon that argued against lifting protection of primary residencies from foreclosures after April 30. KIS called the cartoon unacceptable because it trivialized a symbol of horror. The newspaper called the Jewish Community’s reaction “justifiable,” stating it had not intended to trivialize or deny the Holocaust.

The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs reported a reduction in the number of violent incidents against religious sites in 2019, the most recent year for which data was available, compared with those of the previous year. In 2019 there were 524 incidents, compared with 590 in 2018. The majority of incidents targeted Christian sites (514); five were against Jewish and five against Islamic sites.

On October 16, unidentified individuals spray-painted the Holocaust monument in Thessaloniki with the phrase “with Jews you lose,” an act which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly denounced. The Hellenic Solution Party also issued a condemnatory statement. According to an October 19 statement by KIS, the vandalism was preceded days earlier by the destruction of four tombs in the Jewish cemetery of Rhodes and a spray-painted slogan on the wall of the Jewish cemetery in Thessaloniki, reading “Death to Israel.”

Media reported that on October 5, unidentified persons spray-painted anti-Semitic slogans, including “Juden Raus” (“Jews out”), on the exterior walls of the Athens Jewish cemetery in Nikaia. KIS denounced the incident and said the municipality of Athens acted promptly to erase the slogans and clean the walls. Government spokesperson Stelios Petsas issued a statement denouncing the act, noting law enforcement authorities would do everything possible to identify and arrest those accountable. Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Niki Kerameus made similar remarks. By year’s end, the government had not arrested any suspects.

On August 13, a memorial to fallen Greek Air Force personnel in Athens was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti reading “Satanic Jews Out!” interspersed with Christian symbols. Yaakov Hagoel, vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization, said, “Unfortunately, the bigotry and incitement against the Jewish people has also reached the memorial sites of the Greek Air Force, falsely pointing the finger and blaming the Jews.”

On December 3, unidentified individuals defaced the synagogue and the Holocaust memorial in Larisa with the sign of cross spray-painted in graffiti with the words “Jesus Christ Wins.” The act was denounced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary General for Religious Affairs, and the local Metropolitan. On December 5, police identified and arrested a suspect on charges of property damage and breaking the anti-racist law.

On December 30, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the desecration of a Holocaust memorial and a memorial plaque at a tobacco warehouse in the northern city of Drama, stating they were “heinous acts that are an affront to the memory of the victims of Nazi brutality and to Greek culture.” The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki also condemned the incident, stating it “brutally insulted the memory of the 1,200 [Greek] Jews who were exterminated in the Treblinka camp, as well as the very few survivors who returned to their homeland after the end of World War II.” The city of Drama promptly repaired the damage.

On July 13, media reported that unknown perpetrators threw stones at the entrance of a 16th-century mosque no longer used for worship, in Trikala, shattering the windows of the entrance door.

On dozens of occasions, unidentified vandals defaced Christian Orthodox churches and chapels around the country, including in Thessaloniki, Lesvos, Crete, Samos, Xanthi, and Rodopi. In all cases, the perpetrators avoided arrest. On February 3, in Crete, unknown individuals damaged the icons of a small chapel, spreading and rubbing human waste and writing slogans on the walls such as “Eat [expletive], Zeus’s treat.”

Social media users criticized the government for not banning the Islamic call to prayer while other COVID-19 restrictions were in place. Government officials and media reports attributed this reaction to the ignorance of social media users about Islam and their misinterpretation of the call to prayer with the actual prayer, leading them to state that the government allowed mosques to operate at the expense of other houses of prayer.

In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes toward democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 83 percent of Greek respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” ranking it among the highest of their priorities for democratic principles among the nine tested.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, visiting officials, and embassy and consulate general representatives discussed religious freedom issues with officials and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including Deputy Minister Konstantinos Vlassis and Civil Governor for Mount Athos Athanasios Martinos. They discussed the ability of minority religious communities to exercise their rights to religious freedom, government initiatives affecting both the Muslim minority in Thrace and Muslim immigrants, progress regarding the opening of the first public mosque in Athens, the enforcement of counter-proselytism legislation by law enforcement, and government initiatives promoting interreligious dialogue.

In meetings with government officials and religious leaders, including the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, U.S. officials expressed concerns regarding anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric and attacks on Orthodox churches. U.S officials also denounced vandalism of religious sites, including the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in the greater Athens area.

The Ambassador worked with the Prime Minister’s Office and, respectively, with the Ministers of Defense and Culture for two projects with the USHMM; the first involved an agreement allowing USHMM-affiliated researchers to examine records of Nazi atrocities in Greece between 1940 and 1945, and the second involved the retrieval of personal items belonging to Jewish refugees from the 1946 Athina shipwreck off Astypalea Island for inclusion in the museum’s permanent exhibition.

On September 29, the Secretary of State visited the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki, accompanied by the Ambassador and Consul General. During his visit, the Secretary tweeted, “In recognition of Yom Kippur, I am honored to pay my respects at the Thessaloniki Jewish Museum, which commemorates the city’s once-vibrant Jewish community. The U.S. remains committed to fighting anti-Semitism and promoting religious tolerance and freedom.” On July 9, the Ambassador discussed developments needed to start construction of the Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki with David Saltiel, KIS president, and Yiannis Boutaris, president of the board of directors of the planned Holocaust Memorial Museum & Educational Center of Greece on Human Rights. On October 7, the Ambassador and the president of KIS met to discuss progress regarding required legislation for the construction of the Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki, delayed due to technical reasons, and the stalled return from Russia of the archives of the Jewish community of Thessaloniki.

Embassy officials, including the Ambassador and the Consul General in Thessaloniki, also visited the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens and met with religious leaders, including the Archbishop and other representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as members of the Catholic, Muslim, Baha’i, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities to promote interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and diversity. Through these meetings, the embassy monitored the ability of minority religious groups to freely practice their religion and the extent of societal discrimination against both indigenous religious minorities and newly arrived minority religious group migrants.

On July 27-28, the Consul General in Thessaloniki visited four monasteries on the monastic peninsula of Mount Athos and expressed U.S. government support for religious freedom. The Consul General met with the Metropolitans of Larisa and Tyrnavos, Xanthi, and Alexandroupoli, with the Mufti of Xanthi, as well as with academics and theologians, to discuss the status of religious freedom in the northern part of the country and concerns of religious communities. On October 19-21, a senior embassy official and the Consul General in Thessaloniki met with various metropolitans in a trip through Thrace, as well as with official muftis and representatives from the local Muslim minority, reinforcing U.S. government support for religious freedom.

Iceland

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and practice, as long as it is not prejudicial to good morals or public order. The constitution also protects the right to form religious associations. It names the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the state church, to which the government provided financial support and benefits not available to other religious groups. A new agreement between church and state removed ELC clergy and staff from civil service status on January 1, and in June the government passed laws amending the financial structuring and subsidies for the ELC. The government allows other spiritual and humanist groups (“life-stance groups” under the law) to register to receive state subsidies. The government registered two new religious groups during the year.

The National Commissioner of Icelandic Police cited one religiously motivated incident during the year involving property damages, in which a person connected to the Nordic Resistance Movement – a pan-Nordic neo-Nazi group – hung anti-Semitic posters in the downtown Reykjavik area. According to a February Gallup poll, 31 percent of the public expressed trust in the ELC, a result virtually unchanged from 2019 but down from 41 percent in 2009.

U.S. embassy officials met with representatives from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Registers Iceland, and the district commissioner office (the local authority responsible for registering religious groups) to discuss the status and rights of religious groups. Embassy officials also maintained contact with representatives of religious groups and life-stance organizations to discuss their perspectives on religious tolerance, interfaith dialogue, and the role of religious groups in education and refugee integration. In November, the embassy launched its Religious Freedom Initiative to work with Icelandic partners to champion and advocate for shared values of religious tolerance and freedom. The Ambassador hosted the Chabad Jewish community for a celebration of the group receiving the country’s first Torah scroll.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 351,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). According to January figures from Statistics Iceland, members of the ELC make up 63 percent of the population; Roman Catholic Church, 4.0 percent; Free Lutheran Church in Reykjavik, 2.7 percent; Free Lutheran Church in Hafnarfjordur, 2.0 percent; other Christian, non-Christian, and “life-stance” groups, 5.0 percent; Asatruarfelagid, 1.3 percent; other or unspecified groups, 14.2 percent; and persons not belonging to any religious group, 7.1 percent. The Association of Muslims in Iceland estimates there are approximately 3,000 resident Muslims, primarily of immigrant origin. The Jewish community reports there are approximately 300 resident Jews.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes the ELC as the national church and stipulates the government shall support and protect it. The constitution states all individuals have the right to form religious associations and practice religion in accordance with their personal beliefs, as long as nothing is “preached or practiced which is prejudicial to good morals or public order.” It stipulates everyone has the right to remain outside religious associations and no one shall be required to pay personal dues to any religious association of which he or she is not a member. The constitution also specifies individuals may not lose their civil or national rights and may not refuse to perform civic duties on religious grounds. The constitution bans only religious teachings or practices harmful to good morals or public order. The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their religion.

The law grants the ELC official legal status, and the government directly funds it from the state budget. Following the 2019 subsidiary agreement, the ELC Bishop, Vice Bishop, and other ELC ministers and general staff no longer have civil service status and are no longer paid directly by the government. The Church pays salaries, benefits, and operating costs out of its own budget, which still comes from an annual government lump-sum payment. The ELC also receives funding from government-levied church taxes, as do other registered religious and life-stance groups.

In June, the government passed additional amendments as a part of the 2019 subsidiary agreement. The amendments abolished three separate funding streams previously provided to the ELC (parish equalization fund, church affairs fund, and district funds) and replaced them with a lump-sum contribution. They also ended government subsidies for funeral services provided by religious and secular groups. Under the new law, religious groups, including the ELC, are responsible for collecting payment for funeral and burial services from the family of the deceased.

The penal code establishes fines of no specified amount and up to two years’ imprisonment for hate speech, including mocking, defaming, denigrating, or threatening a person or group based on religion by comments, pictures, or symbols or disseminating materials that do so.

Religious groups other than the ELC and life-stance organizations may apply for recognition and registration. Only registered groups are eligible for state funding and entitled to legal recognition of religious ceremonies, such as marriages, that they perform. Groups apply for recognition to a district commissioner’s office (at present, designated as the district commissioner of Northeast Iceland), who forwards the application to a four-member panel that by law the Minister of Justice appoints to review applications. The University of Iceland faculty of law nominates the chairman of the panel, and the university’s Departments of Social and Human Sciences, Theology and Religious Studies, and History and Philosophy, respectively, nominate the other three members. The district commissioner then approves or rejects the application in accordance with the panel’s decision. Applicants may appeal rejections to the MOJ, resubmitting their application to the district commissioner with additional information. The same four-member panel reviews appeals.

To register, a religious group must “practice a creed or religion,” and a life-stance organization must operate in accordance with certain ethical values and “deal with ethics or epistemology in a prescribed manner.” The law does not define “certain ethical values” or the prescribed manner in which groups must deal with ethics or epistemology. Religious groups and life-stance organizations must also “be well established,” “be active and stable,” “not have a purpose that violates the law or is prejudicial to good morals or public order,” and have “a core group of members who participate in its operations, support the values of the organization in compliance with the teachings it was founded on, and pay church taxes in accordance with the law on church taxes.” The law does not define “well established” or “active and stable.”

According to the district commissioner’s office of Northeast Iceland, which covers the administration of religion on a national level, any unregistered religious group or organization may work in the same way as any company or association, provided it has, as the other organizations do, a social security number. Unregistered religious groups may, for example, open bank accounts and own real estate. Members are free to worship and practice their beliefs without restriction as long as their activities do not cause a public disturbance, incite discrimination, or otherwise conflict with the law.

The law specifies the leader of a registered religious group or a life-stance organization must be at least 25 years of age and fulfill the general requirements for holding a public position. These include being physically and mentally healthy and financially independent, not having been sentenced for a criminal offense as a civil servant, and possessing the general and specialized education legally required for the position. Unlike the requirements for most public positions, a religious or life-stance group leader need not be a citizen but must have legal domicile in the country. All registered religious groups and life-stance organizations must submit an annual report to a district commissioner’s office (currently the district commissioner’s office of Northeast Iceland) describing the group’s operations during the previous year. Registered religious groups and life-stance organizations are required to perform state-sanctioned functions, such as marriages and the official naming of children, and preside over other ceremonies, such as funerals.

The law provides state subsidies to registered religious groups and life-stance organizations. For each individual 16 years of age or older who belongs to any of the officially registered and recognized religious groups or life-stance organizations, the government allocates an annual payment out of income taxes, called the “church tax,” to the individual’s respective, registered organization. The per capita payment amount varies every year according to the annual budget bill. The government allocates the payment regardless of whether the individual pays any income tax. The government registrar’s office (“Registers Iceland”), which describes itself on its website as the government office that maintains records of basic information on everyone who is or has been domiciled in the country as well as citizens residing abroad, maintains a tally of the number of members of each registered group, records the religious affiliation or nonaffiliation of each citizen at birth, and adjusts the information if individuals report a change.

Persons who are not members of a registered organization are still required to pay the church tax, but the government retains their contributions as general revenue rather than allocating them to religious or life-stance organizations.

By law, a child’s affiliation or nonaffiliation with a registered religious or life-stance group is determined as follows: (1) if the parents are married or in registered cohabitation and both belong to either the same registered organization or no organization, then the child’s affiliation shall be the same as its parents; (2) if the parents are married or in registered cohabitation, but have different affiliations or if one parent is nonaffiliated, then the parents shall make a joint decision on which organization, if any, the child should be affiliated, and until the parents make this decision, the child shall remain nonaffiliated; (3) if the parents are not married or in registered cohabitation when the child is born, the child shall be affiliated with the same registered organization, if any, as the parent who has custody over the child. Change in affiliation of children younger than 16 requires the consent of both parents if both have custody; if only one parent has custody, the consent of the noncustodial parent is not required. The law requires parents to consult their children regarding any changes in the child’s affiliation between the ages of 12 and 16. After turning 16, children may choose affiliation on their own.

By law, schools must operate in such a manner as to prevent discrimination on the basis of religion. Grades one through 10 (ages six to 15) in public and private schools must provide instruction, by regular teaching staff, in social studies, which includes Christianity, ethics, and theology as well as some content on other world religions. The law specifies the curriculum for these classes must adopt a multicultural approach to religious education, encompassing a variety of beliefs. The law also mandates that “the Christian heritage of Icelandic culture, equality, responsibility, concern, tolerance, and respect for human value” shape general teaching practices.

Parents wishing to exempt pupils from compulsory instruction in Christianity, ethics, and theology must submit a written application to the school principal. The principal may request additional information. The principal then registers the application as a “special case” and writes an official response to the parents, accepting or denying the request. School authorities are not required to offer other religious or secular instruction in place of these classes.

Of the 12 largest municipalities in the country, eight have adopted guidelines or rules governing the interaction between public schools and religious and life-stance groups. The Reykjavik City Council prohibits religious and life-stance groups from conducting any activities, including the distribution of proselytizing material, in municipal preschools and compulsory schools (grades one through 10) during school hours or during afterschool programs. Reykjavik school administrators, however, may invite the representatives of religious and life-stance groups to visit the compulsory classes on Christianity, ethics, and theology, and on life skills. These visits must be under the guidance of a teacher and in accordance with the curriculum. Any student visits to the gathering places of religious and life-stance groups during school hours must be under the guidance of a teacher as part of a class on religion and life-stance views. During such classes or visits, students may only observe rituals, not participate in them. The municipality of Hafnarfjordur has similar rules governing the interaction between schools and religious or life-stance organizations. The municipalities of Kopavogur, Gardabaer, Mosfellsbaer, Arborg, Fjardarbyggd, and Seltjarnarnes have either adopted or adapted guidelines on these interactions that the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture has set. The ministry’s guidelines are broadly similar to those of Reykjavik and Hafnarfjordur.

Private schools must follow the same curriculum as public schools, including the Christianity, ethics, and theology curriculum taught in social studies classes. Private schools are free, however, to offer additional classes not in the public-school curriculum, including classes in specific religious faiths.

The law prohibits all forms of discrimination in all fields of society, including those based on religious beliefs. The Equality Complaints Committee reviews complaints and issues fines in cases of violations unless other applicable statutes specify more severe penalties.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The atheist organization Sidmennt criticized the 2019 subsidiary agreement legislation and the June amendments regarding funding for the ELC for several reasons. The organization stated that the process lacked public consultation and that the law and the agreement were anachronistic, since they ensured continued funding to the ELC despite decreasing membership numbers and increasing public support for separation of church and state. The organization said that the government should cease direct subsidies to all religious groups for funeral services. Sidmennt stated the ELC’s stronger financial standing allowed it hypothetically to waive fees where smaller organizations could not, leading to inequity.

The government church tax payment to registered religious and life-stance groups was 11,700 kronur ($92) for each member, age 16 or older. According to the government budget bill introduced in October, the church tax in 2021 will be 11,760 kronur ($93) per member.

According to the official state budget bill, in 2019, the latest year for which data were available, the government allocated approximately 7.3 billion kronur ($57.43 million) to religious affairs, of which 4.8 billion kronur ($37.76 million) was in direct subsidies to the ELC and an additional 2 billion kronur ($15.73 million) was in church tax. The other 50 recognized religious and life-stance groups received a total of 468 million kronur ($3.68 million) in church tax.

The government approved the registration of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Lakuish Yoga during the year, bringing the number of registered groups to 52. The district commissioner of Northeast Iceland said the government was reviewing the application of Chabad Jewish Center of Iceland and expected to approve the application in early 2021. The Chabad Center’s rabbi stated its application process, which started in 2019, was still underway but had experienced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials from the Interfaith Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation had previously noted some issues in the dealings between registered religious organizations and the government registrar’s office. In 2019, the registrar had restricted religious organizations’ access to membership lists, citing the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation as the reason, but later overturned that decision. Officials from the government registrar’s office confirmed that religious groups would have access to the government’s membership tallies upon filing appropriate forms and paying required processing fees. Some religious groups complained about having to pay the fee and that individual member registrations were only electronic. Officials from Registers Iceland confirmed, however, that paper applications are accepted and processed.

The ELC continued to operate all cemeteries, and all religious and life-stance groups had equal access to them. Gufunes Cemetery had a special area designated for burials of Muslims and persons of other faiths.

The ELC and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the public University of Iceland continued to train theology students for positions within the ELC.

State radio continued to broadcast Lutheran worship services every Sunday morning as well as a Lutheran daily morning devotion. According to the station’s chief of programming, other religious groups could also broadcast their religious services, but none had sought to do so.

The government continued to require persons applying for a passport to present proof of religion from a religious organization if they wished to receive a religious exemption allowing them to wear a head covering for their passport photographs.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The National Commissioner of Icelandic Police cited one religiously motivated incident during the year against the Jewish community. In September, press reported that on Yom Kippur, a person linked to the Nordic Resistance Movement, a pan-Nordic neo-Nazi group, hung anti-Semitic posters in downtown Reykjavik. According to the Jewish community’s rabbi, a member of the community filed a police report but had not received any updates regarding the investigation. Social media posts suggested the same neo-Nazi group hung racist posters in Reykjavik in October.

All religious groups reported generally good relations with the government and society at large. Some religious leaders expressed frustration with increased secularism and low levels of religiosity in society.

A Gallup Iceland poll conducted in February and released on February 26 found 31 percent of the public expressed trust in the ELC, compared with 34 percent in 2019, 33 percent in 2018, 41 percent in 2009, and 61 percent in 1999.

The Forum for Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation, whose membership consisted of registered religious and life-stance groups – including the ELC as well as other Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist groups – met three times. The COVID-19 pandemic severely affected the forum, and public health concerns prevented meetings for most of the year. Although the interfaith forum allowed unregistered groups to apply to join it, none had done so.

The Islamic Foundation of Iceland organized community information and integration programs for Muslim migrants with representatives from local government and legal offices on such issues as voting and women’s rights. The foundation also provided translation assistance to asylum seekers.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community planned to hold its annual peace conference on promoting religious freedom and tolerance but postponed the meeting due to COVID-19 considerations.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials met with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the MOJ, the government’s registrar’s office, and the district commissioner’s office of Northeast Iceland to discuss the roles of religious equality and religious tolerance in the country. Specific topics included the status and rights of religious groups, religious group relations with government and interfaith relations, and the impact of the subsidiary agreement between the ELC and the government.

Embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of the ELC, the Islamic Foundation of Iceland, the Chabad Jewish Community, the Pagan Society, the Baha’i Center, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, and life-stance organizations such as the atheist group Sidmennt to discuss such issues as their relations with the government, religious tolerance, the extent of their involvement in interfaith dialogue, and the role of religious groups in education and refugee resettlement.

In February, the Ambassador hosted members of the Jewish community to celebrate the arrival of the country’s first Torah scroll. Speaking at the event, the Ambassador stressed the unwavering commitment of the United States to promoting religious freedom around the world.

In November, the embassy renewed its efforts to work with local partners to promote and advocate for shared values of religious tolerance and freedom. Through an action plan based on three pillars, the embassy committed to meet regularly with a diverse group of religious leaders, leverage social media to amplify antiextremist and protolerance perspectives, and promote diplomatic advocacy with all levels of the country’s government authorities as well as with civil society to promote religious freedom worldwide.

Ireland

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion. It references Jesus Christ and God and stipulates the state shall respect religion. On January 1, a law repealing the constitution’s prohibition on blasphemy entered into force. From March until June, and again in October, all in-person religious services were suspended due to COVID-19 mitigation measures. Critics said it was inconsistent to ban religious services but keep certain businesses open. In July, parliament passed a law that allowed civil courts to accept written evidence accompanied by a “statement of truth” rather than sworn on a religious oath. There were reports some school authorities in national Catholic schools continued to give preferential treatment to students for participating in religious activities and told parents that, contrary to law, their children could not opt out of religion classes. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to urge the government to adopt hate crime legislation, including for religiously motivated crimes, and improve monitoring of such incidents. In February, a member of parliament made anti-Semitic statements on Twitter, which were repudiated by her party and for which she later apologized. President Michael Higgins and other senior government officials participated in the National Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration.

On July 31, approximately 200 Muslims performed prayers at an interfaith celebration to mark Eid al-Adha in Dublin’s Croke Park. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish community leaders, as well as members of government, attended. A group of young people protested Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin’s attendance at the event. In August, members of the far-right group Siol na hEireann protested outside the church of a Catholic priest who had allowed two members of the Muslim community to give a blessing at a Mass in April and accused him of being a heretic. Five members of this group held an anti-Muslim protest at a mosque in Mayo in October. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), an independent statutory body, reported it received 36 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion in 2019.

U.S. embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and integration of religious minorities into the community with members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Education and Skills, and the police. Embassy officials met with religious groups, secularist advocates, and NGOs to discuss their concerns over religious tolerance, secularism, and religion in the national school system.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.2 million (midyear 2020 estimate). The 2016 census (the most recent) indicates the population is approximately 78 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent Church of Ireland (Anglican), 1 percent Muslim, 1 percent Orthodox Christian (including Greek, Russian, and Coptic Orthodox), 1 percent unspecified Christian, and 2 percent other religious groups, while 10 percent stated no religious affiliation, and 3 percent did not specify their religion. There are small numbers of Presbyterians, Hindus, Apostolic Pentecostals, Pentecostals, and Jews. The census estimates the Jewish population to be 2,500. The number of Christians and Muslims from sub-Saharan Africa, Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, Muslims and Hindus from South Asia, and Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe continues to grow, especially in larger urban areas. NGOs such as Atheist Ireland and the Humanists Association of Ireland said the census overestimates religious affiliation by asking, “What is your religion?” which they said was a leading question.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees the free profession and practice of religion, subject to public order and morality. The constitution references “the Most Holy Trinity” and “our divine Lord, Jesus Christ,” and stipulates the state shall hold the name of God in reverence and honor and respect religion. The constitution requires the President, judges, and members of the council of state to swear a religious oath, which begins with a reference to “Almighty God.” It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and states, “The State guarantees not to endow any religion.”

The constitution stipulates every religious denomination has the right to manage its own affairs, own and acquire property, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes. It prohibits the diversion of property of any religious denomination except for necessary works of public utility and upon payment of compensation. The constitution states legislation providing for government aid to schools shall not discriminate among schools under the management of different religious denominations nor affect the right of a child to attend any school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

On January 1, a law repealing the constitution’s prohibition on blasphemy entered into force. This followed passage in November, 2018 of a constitutional amendment to remove blasphemy as an offense.

In August, parliament passed a law providing that when submitting written evidence in civil proceedings, a “statement of truth” may be used, in accordance with the rules of court, in place of affidavits and statutory declarations sworn on a religious oath. The document must contain a statement that the person making the statement of truth has an honest belief that the stated facts are true. Religious oaths and affirmations are still required when a witness is giving oral evidence in court. The law does not apply in criminal proceedings.

The law forbids incitement of others to hatred based on religion, among other categories, and carries a maximum penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 25,400 euros ($31,200). The law does not address or define hate crimes other than incitement of others, although a hate motive is an aggravating factor that judges may take into account on a nonstatutory basis at sentencing for any criminal offense.

There is no legal requirement for religious groups to register with the government, nor is there any formal mechanism for government recognition of a religious group. Religious groups may apply to the Office of the Revenue Commissioners (the tax authority) as a charity to receive tax exemptions, and the groups must operate exclusively for charitable purposes, which under the law may include “the advancement of religion.” The law requires all charitable organizations carrying out activities in the country to register with and provide certain information relating to their organization to the Charities Regulator, a government-appointed independent authority. The regulator maintains a public register of charitable organizations and ensures their compliance with the law. Organizations must apply their income and property solely toward the promotion of their main charitable object, as set out in their governing instruments (such as a constitution, memorandum and articles of association, deed of trust, or rules).

Under the law, individual medical professionals are able to opt out of participating in certain legal procedures, such as abortion, on conscience grounds; however, institutions may not refuse to perform such procedures.

Under the constitution, the Department of Education and Skills provides funding to privately owned and managed primary schools – most of which are affiliated with religious groups, particularly the Catholic Church – referred to as “national schools,” or just primary schools. Most children receive their elementary-level education at these privately-owned schools. The government pays most of the building and administrative costs, teachers’ salaries, and a set amount per pupil.

Denominational schools are under the patronage of a single religious community. They provide religious education according to traditions, practices, and beliefs of the specified religious community. Interdenominational schools are under the patronage or trusteeship of more than one religious faith community. Such schools provide for a variety of religious education opportunities. There are also two types of multidenominational schools at the primary school level: schools that do not provide religious education as formation during the school day, but do provide education about religions and beliefs (parents/guardians may arrange for denominational religious education outside school hours in such schools); and schools that provide education about religions and also provide some faith formation for different denominations, depending on parental requests, during the school day.

Ninety percent of all national schools are Catholic, 6 percent Church of Ireland, 2 percent multidenominational, 1 percent other religious groups, and 1 percent not religiously affiliated. Patrons, who are usually members of the religious groups and affiliated with religious organizations with which the school is associated, manage the schools themselves or appoint a board of management to do so. Patrons often provide land for schools and contribute to building and administrative costs.

According to legislation enacted in 2018 that became effective with the 2019-2020 school year, Catholic national schools are no longer allowed to discriminate on religious grounds when making admissions decisions. National schools under the patronage of other religious groups may continue to discriminate in admissions on religious grounds in order to preserve, according to the law, their distinct religious identities, but only in schools that are oversubscribed. The law prohibits discrimination in admissions based on religious beliefs in secondary schools.

In funding schools, the constitution stipulates the state shall have due regard “for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.” The government permits, but does not require, religious instruction, faith-based classes, or general religion classes in national schools. Although religious instruction is part of the curriculum of most schools, parents may exempt their children from such instruction. Religious schools teach about their religion, while multidenominational schools generally teach about religion in a broader context. Students may opt out and sit in a classroom where religious instruction is not being conducted. The Catholic Church certifies teachers of religion classes in Catholic schools.

Approximately half of secondary schools are religiously affiliated. The government funds religiously affiliated secondary schools.

Vocational schools are state run and nondenominational.

The WRC hears cases of reported workplace discrimination, including claims based on religion. The WRC may refer cases for mediation, investigate these cases, or decide the case itself. If the adjudicating officer finds there has been discrimination, he or she can order compensation for the effects of discrimination and/or corrective action. Litigants may appeal WRC decisions in the courts.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is an independent public body accountable to parliament whose stated purpose is to protect and promote human rights and equality and to build a culture of respect for human rights, including religious freedom. The commission works at the policy level to review the effectiveness of human rights and equality law, as well as public policy and practice. It also works with communities, including religious and other civil society groups, to monitor and report on the public’s experience of human rights, religious freedom, and equality.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

From March until June, all in-person religious services were suspended as part of COVID-19 mitigation measures. The government again suspended in-person religious services on October 21 as part of a second national lockdown, although churches remained open for private prayer, and up to 25 attendees were allowed for weddings and funerals. A group of Catholic archbishops met with Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Micheal Martin on October 28 to express support for public health measures but also to press the government to reconsider restrictions on religious services, which they said were a source of comfort to religious communities during the pandemic; the government, however, did not loosen restrictions. Critics said it was inconsistent to ban religious services but keep certain businesses open. On October 6, the news site Crux reported that Michael Kelly, editor of the newspaper The Irish Catholic, said, “At a time when there is no evidence that going to church increases risks more than any other activity currently permitted, Catholics are dismayed. It doesn’t seem fair that one can get a haircut or a pedicure, but it is not permitted to go to Mass.” Crux reported that Senator Ronan Mullen said the government’s decision to stop public worship was “disappointing.” On November 17, the Taoiseach met virtually with representatives from Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and humanist groups to discuss resuming in-person services when public health circumstances allowed.

School patrons, generally affiliated with religious denominations, continued to define the ethos of schools and to determine the development and implementation of the religious education curriculum in primary schools. Curricula varied by school and could include teaching about the patron’s religion, the religious history of the country, or an overview of world religions. Atheist Ireland continued to criticize the government for primarily delivering moral formation through religion and not offering students moral education outside of religion classes.

Atheist Ireland and the media continued to report incidents of school authorities giving preferential treatment, such as homework exemptions, to students in national Catholic schools that engaged in activities such as singing in religious choirs or preforming altar services in church. In May, the WRC found that, in 2019, Yellow Furze National School in County Meath discriminated on religious grounds against a family. The school, which was under Catholic patronage, gave homework passes to children who attended Catholic religious services, but refused to give the same pass to a child from an atheist family who opted out of the services.

The government continued to encourage patrons to open more schools with multidenominational patronage. Thirteen new multidenominational national schools opened during the year as part of the government’s plan, announced in 2018, to encourage the establishment of 42 multidenominational schools – 26 primary and 16 secondary – from 2019-2022. The Department of Education and Skills said it considered parental preferences and projected demand when deciding which patrons would be allowed to sponsor the new schools. A separate process, the “Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity,” aimed to accelerate the creation of multidenominational and nondenominational schools in the country, in line with parental preference, and the government’s stated commitment to having a total of 400 multidenominational or nondenominational schools by 2030.

There were no reports of complaints by parents or others about the law that forbids Catholic national schools from taking students’ religion into account when making admissions decisions but allowed other national schools to continue to do so. In November, however, Atheist Ireland published a report stating that many schools were not complying with legal requirements under a 2018 education law requiring them to detail in their admission policies what arrangements were available for students who did not wish to attend religious instruction. In a survey of 100 school admission policies at the primary and secondary levels, Atheist Ireland found some schools did not inform prospective families that students had the option of opting out of religion classes. Some schools said parents must seek a meeting with the principal to discuss the request to opt out, which was not a step required by law. Some schools required parents to provide a reason for not wanting their children to receive religious instruction, also not a step required by law, while others said written requests by parents would be considered “on a case-by-case basis.”

In rural areas, parents continued to report finding non-Catholic national schools was difficult.

Catholic religious orders remained affiliated with 20 of the country’s 45 hospitals.

Some legal advocates stated legislation passed in August allowing “statements of truth” to be used when submitting written evidence in civil proceedings in place of affidavits and statutory declarations sworn on a religious oath was too limited in scope. In August, the Legal Society stated the law should have abolished all religious oaths, as originally recommended by the Law Reform Commission. Law Society President Michele O’Boyle said she would lobby for statements of truth to apply not just to litigation but to all areas of law, including conveyancing (transfer of property) and probate.

Several state agencies, including IHREC, WRC, and the police’s National Diversity and Integration Unit (GNDIU), continued to enforce equality legislation and work on behalf of minority religious groups. According to GNDIU representatives, GNDIU’s liaison officers continued to engage regularly with immigrant minority religious groups to inform them of police services and educate them on their rights.

Police continued to implement the 2019-21 Diversity and Integration Strategy, with the stated aim of protecting all minorities and diverse groups (including religious groups) in society, although sources said progress was hampered by COVID-19 restrictions. The strategy focused on improving the identification, reporting, investigation, and prosecution of hate crimes. It introduced a working definition of hate crime for the police; emphasized human rights as a foundation for providing policing services; and initiated diversity, integration, and hate crime training within the police. The strategy defined a hate crime as “any criminal offense which is perceived by the victim or any other person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, color, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.” The police’s official website further clarified that “[r]eligion includes ‘non-believers.’”

NGOs, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Immigrant Council of Ireland, Anti-Racism Network Ireland, National Steering Group Against Hate Crime, and European Network Against Racism Ireland, as well as IHREC, again advocated better monitoring of hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents, legislation against hate crimes, more stringent laws against hate speech, and action to ensure authorities took prejudice into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing criminals. ICCL welcomed a Department of Justice report in December signaling its intention to draft legislation on crimes motivated by hate and prejudice, while remaining “cautious about the possible conflation of hate speech with hate crime.”

In February, media reported that Member of Parliament Reada Cronin, a Sinn Fein representative from Kildare North, posted on Twitter in 2019 that the Israeli Secret Service had been involved in British politician Jeremy Corbin’s electoral defeat that year. The Israeli Embassy in Ireland called Cronin’s remarks “paranoid, hate-driven conspiracy theories,” and urged her to retract them. A spokesperson for Sinn Fein said Cronin’s views did not represent those of the party. Media also reported in February that Maurice Cohen, chair of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, criticized Cronin for Twitter posts she made prior to being elected in which she said Israel had “taken Nazism to a new level” and suggested that a picture of monkeys working on computers reminded her of the Israeli embassy. According to media, Cronin apologized for the comments. Then Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said her comments should “trouble us all.”

Media reported that in June, the incoming coalition government shelved a bill that proscribed fines and prison terms for individuals doing business in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Fianna Fail party promoted the measure, which passed several readings in both chambers of parliament, but then Prime Minister Varadkar opposed it, stating it violated EU trade rules.

In June, the Department of Justice published a report entitled Legislating for Hate Speech and Hate Crime in Ireland, based on consultations with the public, academics, and human rights NGOs in 2019. The report found that the majority of respondents believed all faiths should be protected equally and that even actions and speech that did not incite others to commit physical violence, e.g., cases where threatening and abusive communication and harassment was made directly against individuals, should be considered crimes. Based on the report, the government committed to drafting hate crime legislation within 12 months for consideration in parliament, and to revising and updating the Incitement to Hatred Act of 1989 law.

On January 26, President Higgins and other senior government officials participated in the national Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration. In his remarks, the President paid tribute to Holocaust survivors. He warned, however, that despite the gradual economic recovery, “An ugly anti-migrant sentiment is attempting to rear its head in Ireland, a corrupted form of populism has not abated across Europe, and anti-Semitism has not been eliminated from the extreme rhetoric of those seeking to scapegoat the vulnerable in order to inflame the bewildered and angry. Those forms of misused nationalism and populism are a salutary reminder of just how fragile democracy is.” The NGO Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, in association with the Department of Justice and Equality, Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration, and Dublin City Council, organized the event, which included readings, survivors’ remembrances, and music, as well as the lighting of six candles symbolizing the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Media reported that on July 31, approximately 200 Muslims performed prayers to mark Eid al-Adha in Dublin’s Croke Park. Shaykh Umar al-Qadri, chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, organized the interfaith event, which was held outdoors due to COVID-19 restrictions, in cooperation with the Gaelic Athletic Association. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish community leaders, as well as members of government attended. According to media, a group of young people protested the presence of Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin. A video posted to YouTube showed some individuals surrounding the Archbishop’s car and banging on it, while others shouted “traitor.” Individuals also criticized the Archbishop online for attending the celebration.

During the year, there were multiple instances of Muslim imams taking part in Catholic services. Media reported that in August, approximately 10 members of the far-right group Siol na hEireann confronted Father Stephen Farragher in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo outside his church. Farragher had invited two members of the Muslim community to give a blessing at a Mass in April. They carried a banner reading, “No Sharia in Ireland” onto the church grounds and accused Farragher of being a heretic. Individuals online called him a “traitor.”

Five members of Siol na hEireann held a protest targeting Muslims at a mosque in Mayo in October. They carried a banner reading, “No Sharia in Ireland.”

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), an independent statutory body, reported it received 36 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion in 2019.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and integration of religious minorities into the community with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Justice, the Department of Education and Skills, and the police. Embassy officials also met with representatives of religious groups, including the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the Islamic Cultural Center of Ireland, and the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, interfaith organizations, and NGOs to discuss their concerns regarding religious tolerance, secularism, and religion in the national school system.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: Israel

West Bank and Gaza

Executive Summary

The country’s laws and Supreme Court rulings protect the freedoms of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religious affiliation. The 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state.” The 2018 Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People law determines, according to the government, that “the Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people; the State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and exercising the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.” In June, authorities charged Zion Cohen for carrying out attacks on May 17 on religious institutions in Petah Tikva, Ashdod, Tel Aviv, and Kfar Saba. According to his indictment, Cohen sought to stop religious institutions from providing services to secular individuals, thereby furthering his goal of separating religion and the state. He was awaiting trial at year’s end. In July, the Haifa District Court upheld the 2019 conviction and sentencing for incitement of Raed Salah, head of the prohibited Islamic Movement, for speaking publicly in favor an attack by the group in 2017 that killed two police officers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. In his defense, Salah stated that his views were religious opinions rooted in the Quran and that they did not include a direct call to violence. He was in prison at year’s end. The government continued to allow controlled access to religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount (the site containing the foundation of the first and second Jewish temples and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque). Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. In January, worshippers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and mosques in Gaza and the occupied West Bank engaged in a protest campaign called “The Great Fajr [Dawn] Campaign” after dawn prayers. Starting in January at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the occupied West Bank, Islamic organizations, including Hamas, called on worshippers to gather for Friday fajr prayers to defend the sites against Israeli “violations.” On July 2, the Jerusalem Police informed the Jordanian government’s Islamic Religious Endowment (Waqf) that they had petitioned the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court requesting the closure of the Bab al-Rahma/Gate of Mercy, a building within the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, on the grounds that the move was necessary because of evidence that the building had been used in 2003 by an organization affiliated with Hamas. On January 1, the Department for Investigations of Police Officers (DIPO) indicted a detective from the Beit Shemesh police for assault and obstruction of justice after he detained an ultra-Orthodox protester and pulled him by his earlock. Following the announcement of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab countries, Muslim visitors from the Gulf were at times harassed in person or vilified on social media by Muslim and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem for visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site in coordination with the government. The Palestinian Authority-appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (who has no authority over the site) issued a fatwa denying access to the site to Muslims from countries that established diplomatic relations with Israel, but the Waqf (which administers the site) rejected it, stating that Muslim visitors from those countries were brought by Israeli officials without coordination with the Waqf. The government continued to implement some policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law. Some minority religious groups complained about what they said was a lack of police interest in investigating attacks on members of their communities. The government maintained its policy of not accepting new applications for official recognition from religious groups but stated that members of unrecognized religious groups remained free to practice their religion.

In June, a Catholic friar reported being assaulted in public by three men wearing kippot (yarmulkes) who spit at and verbally attacked him before assaulting him physically. Yuri Logvanenko, a chef formerly employed by the Rehovot branch of the Yochanof supermarket chain, filed suit against the store after the chain demoted and then fired him after his Jewish identity was questioned by a kashrut (the body of Jewish religious laws concerning the suitability of food, the fitness for use of ritual objects, etc.) supervisor. According to press reports, on August 5, former member of the Knesset (MK) Moshe Feiglin posted a comment on Facebook calling the massive August 4 explosion in the port of Beirut “a gift from God” in time for the celebration of the Jewish feast of Tu B’av. Press and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said that the COVID-19 outbreak intensified tensions between ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis, some of whom shared viral videos showing large gatherings at ultra-Orthodox weddings and funerals to reinforce a stereotype that the ultra-Orthodox disregarded state authority and the public good. Many ultra-Orthodox stated they disagreed with COVID-19 restrictions that limited religious gatherings but permitted months of large demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In its 2020 Israel Religion and State Index poll (of 800 adult Jews) published in September, the NGO Hiddush found that 65 percent of respondents identified as either secular (47 percent) or “traditional not religious” (18 percent), whose positions regarding public policy on religion and state were close to the positions of secular Israelis.

Visiting high-level U.S. government officials, including the Vice President, met with government officials, religious groups, and civil society leaders to stress the importance of tolerance and dialogue and ways to reduce religiously motivated violence. Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. In meetings with government officials and public speeches, embassy officers stressed the importance of religious freedom and respect for all religious groups. Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated for a shared society for Jewish and Arab populations. Embassy officials participated in religious events organized by Jewish, Muslim, Druze, Christian, and Baha’i groups to show U.S. support for religious pluralism.

This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 Armistice Agreement line as well as Golan Heights and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war and where it later extended its domestic law, jurisdiction, and administration. The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.7 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) classification system, approximately 75 percent of the population is Jewish, 18 percent Muslim, 2 percent Christian, and 1.6 percent Druze. The remaining 4 percent consists of those the CBS classifies as “other.” This includes those who identify as Jewish but do not satisfy the Orthodox Jewish definition of “Jewish” the government uses for civil procedures, such as many immigrants from the former Soviet Union. There are also relatively small communities of Samaritans, Karaite Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, Messianic Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of the Baha’i Faith. The majority of non-Jewish citizens are of Arab origin. This includes approximately 77 percent of the country’s 180,000 Christians, according to the CBS as of December. Non-Arab Christians are mainly those who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s as descendants of Jews or alongside Jewish family members and their descendants.

According to the annual religion and state poll conducted by religious freedom NGO Hiddush, 60 percent of Jewish citizens do not affiliate with any religious group, 17 percent are “Zionist Orthodox,” 12 percent “ultra-Orthodox” (including 2 percent “Zionist ultra-Orthodox”), 7 percent “Reform,” and 4 percent “Conservative.”

Muslim, Druze, and Christian communities are located throughout the country. For example, in the Galilee region, some communities are homogenous, while others feature a mix of these groups. There are also dozens of Muslim-majority communities in the Negev. In addition to an Alawite community in Ghajar, there are several Druze communities in the Golan Heights.

The CBS estimates 563,200 Jews, 345,800 Muslims, and 12,850 Christians live in the current municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, accounting for approximately 99 percent of the city’s total population of 936,400 as of 2019.

According to government and NGO data, there are approximately 330,000 foreign workers in the country, including 97,000 documented Palestinian workers; 31,000 undocumented Palestinian workers; 98,000 migrant workers with permits, 77,000 non-Palestinian undocumented workers (either migrant workers without a permit or tourists who overstayed their visa); and 31,000 asylum seekers, of whom an unknown number work. Foreign workers and asylum seekers include Protestants, Roman Catholics, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Catholics among the foreign worker population include 30,000 Filipinos, 15,000 Indians, 5,000 Sri Lankans, 2,500 Colombians, and 1,100 individuals from South American countries.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Although the country has no constitution, a series of “Basic Laws” enumerate fundamental rights, which serve as the country’s constitutional foundation. The 1992 “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state” and references the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which protects freedom to practice or not practice religious beliefs, including freedom of conscience, faith, religion and worship, regardless of an individual’s religion. The law incorporates religious freedom provisions of international human rights covenants into the country’s body of domestic law, which applies to citizens and Palestinian residents.

The 2018 “Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People” (Nation State Law) recognizes only the Jewish People as having a national right of self-determination and calls for promotion of “Jewish settlement” in “the Land of Israel.” The law recommends – but does not require – that judges use Jewish jurisprudence and heritage as a source of legal principles in cases in which there is no relevant legislation or judicial precedent.

The Chief Rabbinate retains the sole authority to issue certificates of conversion to Judaism within the country under Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law. The Council of the Chief Rabbinate consists of Orthodox rabbis chosen by an assembly of rabbis, local government leaders, government ministers, and laypersons appointed by the government.

The government provides funding for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox conversion programs. Relatives of Jewish converts may not receive residency rights, except for the children of converts born after the parent’s conversion was complete.

The law recognizes only Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Druze faith, and the Baha’i Faith. Christian religious communities recognized according to the adopted Ottoman millet (court) system include Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean (Chaldean Uniate Catholic), Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Evangelical Episcopal. The Anglican and Baha’i communities are recognized through a British Mandate-era law adopted by the government. The government does not recognize other religious communities, including major Protestant denominations with a presence in the country, as distinct ethnoreligious communities. There are two legal pathways to formal recognition, according to laws adopted from the British Mandate period: by petitioning either the Prime Minister’s Office, according to the Order in Council, or the Ministry of Interior (MOI). Groups may appeal rejected applications to the Supreme Court.

Recognized religious communities are exempt from taxation of places of worship and may have separate courts to apply their religion’s personal status laws. Municipalities may levy property taxes on religious properties not used for prayer, such as schools, monasteries, pilgrim hostels, and soup kitchens.

Legislation establishes religious councils for Jewish communities and for the Druze. The Ministry of Religious Services (MRS) has jurisdiction over the country’s 133 Jewish religious councils that oversee the provision of religious services for Jewish communities. The government finances approximately 40 percent of the religious councils’ budgets, and local municipalities fund the remainder. The MOI Department of Non-Jewish Affairs has jurisdiction over religious matters concerning non-Jewish groups and oversees the religious council for the Druze. The Department of Non-Jewish Affairs annually convenes an interreligious council of all recognized religions, including Judaism, which serves as a discussion forum for recognized religious communities. The council did not meet in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law criminalizes the damage, destruction, or desecration of religious sites (subject to seven years’ imprisonment) and actions that “harm the freedom of access” of worshippers to religious sites (subject to five years’ imprisonment). Certain religious sites considered antiquities receive further protection under the antiquities law. The Ministry of Tourism is responsible for the protection and upkeep of selected non-Jewish religious sites, while the MRS protects and maintains selected Jewish religious sites. The law also provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for actions “likely to violate the feelings of the members of the different religions” regarding their religious sites. The law grants the government, not the courts, the authority to decide the scope of the right to worship at certain religious sites.

The law criminalizes willfully and unjustly disturbing any meeting of persons lawfully assembled for religious worship or assaulting someone at such a meeting. It also criminalizes intentionally destroying, damaging, or desecrating any object held sacred by any group of persons, with punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for violations. Government regulations recognize 16 sites as holy places for Jews, while various other budgetary and governmental authorities recognize an additional 160 places as holy for Jews.

The law criminalizes calling for, praising, supporting, or encouraging acts of violence or terrorism where such actions are likely to lead to violence, including calls for violence against religious groups. The law criminalizes statements demeaning, degrading, or showing violence toward someone based on race, but provides an exception for statements citing a religious source, unless there is proof of intent to incite racism. The infliction of “injury to religious sentiments” constitutes a criminal offense and is punishable by one year’s imprisonment. Such injury includes publishing or saying something that is liable to offend the religious sentiment or faith of others.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled since 1993 that Jews have the right to pray on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, but police can restrict this right in the name of public order and safety. The court reiterated in 2019 that its precedent on this issue is nonintervention in government decisions, “except in highly unusual cases when the decision constitutes a major distortion of justice or is extremely unreasonable.” The court upheld this position again in a decision on May 19.

The “Nakba Law” prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”

The law requires citizens to obtain a permit from the MOI or the Prime Minister for travel to countries with no diplomatic relations with Israel, including Hajj travel to Saudi Arabia; the government issues these permits in the vast majority of cases. Illegal travel is punishable by a prison sentence or fine if the traveler does not request prior approval.

It is illegal to proselytize to a person younger than 18 without the consent of both parents. The law prohibits offering a material benefit in the course of proselytizing.

The government provides separate public schools for Jewish and Arab children, with instruction conducted in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively. For Jewish children there are separate public schools available for religious and secular families. Individual families may choose a public school system for their children regardless of ethnicity or religious observance. Minor children have the right to choose a public secular school instead of a religious school regardless of parental preference. By law, the state provides the equivalent of public school funding to two systems of “recognized but not official” (a form of semiprivate) ultra-Orthodox religious schools affiliated with ultra-Orthodox political parties, the United Torah Judaism-affiliated Independent Education System and the Shas-affiliated Fountain of Torah Education System. Churches, however, receive only partial government funding to operate “recognized but not official” schools. Palestinian residents in Jerusalem may send their children to one of these church schools or a private school operated by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf; both include religious instruction. Some Israeli-funded public schools in Jerusalem use the Palestinian Authority curriculum. Religious education is part of the Palestinian Authority curriculum for students in grades one through six in these schools, with separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians. Students in these schools could choose which class to take but could not opt out of religion courses.

The Law of Return provides the right for any Jew, including those who converted to Judaism, or any child or grandchild of a Jew, to immigrate to the country from a foreign country with his or her spouse and children. The minor children of a grandchild of a Jew receive humanitarian status but are not automatically granted citizenship. Non-Jews who are not descendants of Jews do not have this route to immigration. Under this law, those who completed an Orthodox Jewish conversion inside or outside the country are entitled to immigration, citizenship, and registration as Jews in the civil population registry. Those who completed conversion to Judaism outside the country, regardless of affiliation, are eligible for these benefits even if they are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate; this would include Reform, Conservative, and other affiliations of Judaism. The Population and Immigration Authority of the MOI recognizes Conservative and Reform conversions in the country for the purpose of being registered as Jewish in the population registry; however, those who convert through a non-Orthodox denomination, whether inside or outside Israel, are not able to obtain such religious services as marriage, divorce, or burial in a Jewish cemetery. Descendants of Jews qualify for immigration under this law regardless of the religious beliefs under which they were raised. The law considers those who were eligible for immigration and those who converted as adults to another religion, including Messianic Judaism, as no longer eligible for benefits under the Law of Return.

The Law of Citizenship and Entry, renewed annually, explicitly prohibits residence status for non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, unless the MOI makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.

The Chief Rabbinate determines who may be buried in Jewish state cemeteries, limiting this right to individuals considered Jewish by Orthodox Jewish standards. The law provides for the right of any individual to burial in a civil ceremony and requires the government to establish civil cemeteries in various areas around the country. The law criminalizes the intentional desecration of, or trespass on, places of burial, which is punishable by three years’ imprisonment.

Laws inherited from the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate periods establish the legal authority of religious courts operated by officially recognized religious communities over their members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial. The law allows for civil registration of two persons as a married couple outside of the religious court system only if they married outside the country or if the partners are of different religions and their respective religious courts do not object to a civil registration, or if both partners are listed as “lacking religion” in the population registry. A law mandating women’s equality contains language that explicitly exempts matters of marriage, divorce, and appointments to religious positions.

The only domestic marriages with legal standing and that may be registered are those performed according to the religious statutes of recognized religious communities. Marriages performed outside of the country may be registered with the MOI. Members of some nonrecognized groups may process their personal status documents, including marriage licenses, only through the authorities of one of the recognized religious communities if those authorities agree.

The law imposes a two-year prison sentence for persons who conduct or are married in a Jewish wedding or divorce outside the Chief Rabbinate’s authority.

Religious courts have exclusive jurisdiction over divorce cases when the husband and wife are registered with the same recognized religion. Members of religious groups not permitting divorce, such as Catholics, may not obtain a divorce. Paternity cases among Muslim citizens are the exclusive jurisdiction of sharia courts. Civil courts have jurisdiction over personal status cases when religious courts lack jurisdiction, as in cases of interfaith and same-sex couples.

Matters stemming from divorce proceedings, including alimony, child support, child custody, guardianship, and property division, are under the parallel jurisdiction of religious and civil courts. The first court to receive a case acquires exclusive jurisdiction over it. The Jordanian Waqf administers Islamic courts in Jerusalem for Muslim residents, with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Jordan having appellate authority.

In accordance with halacha (Jewish religious law), a Jewish woman whose husband refuses to give her a get (Jewish legal writ of divorce) may not legally remarry in the country. While a rabbinical court may order a husband to give a get, it does not have the power to terminate the marriage if he refuses. In such cases, rabbinical courts may impose community-based punishments on the husband, including avoiding financial dealings with a get-refuser, excluding him from community activities, and advertising these decisions to the public. The law permits rabbinical courts to hear cases of get refusals in which the spouses are not Israeli citizens, if certain other conditions are met (for example, if the couple lives abroad in a location where there is no rabbinical court).

Secular courts have primary jurisdiction over questions of inheritance, but parties may file such cases in religious courts by mutual agreement. Decisions by these bodies are subject to Supreme Court review. The rabbinical courts, when exercising their power in civil matters, apply religious law, which varies from civil law, including in matters relating to the property rights of widows and daughters. A child born to a woman still married to another man is considered a mamzer (child of an unpermitted relationship) under Jewish law, which restricts the child’s future marriage prospects in the observant Jewish community.

Military service is compulsory for Jewish citizens, male Druze citizens, and male Circassian citizens (Muslims originally from the northwestern Caucasus region who migrated in the late nineteenth century).

Religious Jewish women and ultra-Orthodox men may request an exemption from military service. For most ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Druze religious students, military service is postponed for several years, after which they receive an exemption. A petition on the conscription of ultra-Orthodox men was pending at the Supreme Court as of the year’s end. Arab Muslims and Christians as well as Druze and Circassian women receive a de-facto exemption by not being called for military service. Those exempt from military service may volunteer for it or for civil-national service.

Membership in a recognized religion is recorded in the National Registry and generally passed from parents to children unless a person changes it through a formal conversion to another recognized religion. Religious identification is listed in the National Registry but not on official identity cards.

All citizens who meet the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria as “Jewish” under Jewish religious law are recorded as Jewish, whether Orthodox or not (unless they convert to another religion). Approximately 450,000 citizens who identify as Jewish but do not meet the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria as “Jewish” as well as members of religious groups that are not recognized are recorded as “lacking religion.” The vast majority are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their children, who gained citizenship under the Law of Return but are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate because they cannot prove they meet the Orthodox definition of Jewish through matrilineal descent.

There is no legal requirement regarding personal observance or nonobservance of the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat), from sunset on Fridays until sunset on Saturdays, and on Jewish holidays. The law, however, declares in the context of labor rights that Shabbat and Jewish holidays are national days of rest, while permitting non-Jewish workers alternate days of rest. The law criminalizes (up to one month imprisonment) employers who open their businesses and employ Jews on Shabbat, except those who are self-employed. There are exceptions for essential infrastructure and the hospitality, culture, and recreation industries. The law instructs the Minister of Labor and Welfare to take into account “Israel’s tradition,” among other factors, when considering whether to approve permits to work on Shabbat. The law prohibits discrimination against workers who refuse to work on their day of rest based on their religion and regardless of whether they are religiously observant.

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on age, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and disability. The Equal Employment Opportunities Law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees, contractors, or persons seeking employment.

The law includes hostility based on the victim’s religion as an aggravating circumstance in a murder charge, making the offense punishable by life imprisonment.

The law states that public transportation operated and funded by the national government may not operate on Shabbat, with exceptions for vehicles bringing passengers to hospitals, remote localities, and non-Jewish localities and for vehicles essential to public security or maintaining public transportation services.

The Chief Rabbinate has sole legal authority to issue certificates of kashrut, which certify a restaurant or factory’s adherence to Jewish dietary laws. On August 31, in response to a 2017 Supreme Court ruling, the Chief Rabbinate released guidelines formally permitting restaurants and other food businesses to display a declaration regarding the kashrut standards they observe and the organization that supervises those standards. A business may not use the words “kosher” or “certificate” and must clearly state that it does not have a kashrut license from the rabbinate.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with a reservation stating that matters of personal status are governed by the religious law of the parties concerned and the country reserves the right to apply that religious law when inconsistent with its obligations under the covenant.

Government Practices

Because religious and national identities were often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

On June 7, authorities charged Zion Cohen in the Central District Court for arson and attempted arson, producing and holding weapons, breaking and entering, and attempting to destroy property with explosive materials. The Ministry of Justice said Cohen, a resident of the Golan Heights, carried out attacks on May 17 on the Rabbinical Court in Petah Tikva, the Ashdod Religious Council, the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court, the Kfar Saba Religious Council, and the Kfar Saba Rabbinical Court. According to his indictment, Cohen sought to stop religious institutions’ provision of services to secular individuals, thereby furthering his goal of separating religion and state. According to authorities, Cohen began visiting religious institutions around the country, posing as a homeless person, to collect information. He set off 12 devices simultaneously, causing thousands of shekels worth of damage. According to the newspaper Haaretz, the government also suspected Cohen of carrying out a 2005 attack on a Tel Aviv rabbinical court that caused 2.7 million shekels ($840,000) in damage. As of the year’s end, Cohen was awaiting trial.

In July, the Haifa District Court upheld the 2019 conviction and sentencing of Raed Salah for incitement after he spoke at the 2017 funeral of three terrorists in favor of an attack that they had carried out earlier in the year that killed two police officers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. In the sermon, Salah, head of the prohibited Islamic Movement, described the men as “martyrs of al-Aqsa.” In his 2019 defense, Salah stated that his views were religious opinions rooted in the Quran and that they did not include a direct call to violence. The three-judge appellate panel said that Salah’s arguments were “outrageous.” On August 15, Salah briefly addressed hundreds of supporters gathered outside Kishon Prison, where he was about to begin his 28-month sentence (including 11 months credited for time served), stating, “Every Muslim and Arab in the world is proud of you. I do not respect the court’s decision.”

On January 1, DIPO indicted a detective from the Beit Shemesh police for assault and obstruction of justice after detaining an ultra-Orthodox protester in 2019 and pull him by his earlock. The police suspended the officer, and authorities continued to investigate the case as of November.

On December 4, police arrested an Orthodox Jewish man for trying to set fire to the Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemene on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The suspect poured flammable liquid inside the Catholic church and set it on fire before a church guard detained him and police took him into custody. On December 31, a judge found the assailant mentally incompetent and remanded him to a psychiatric institution for up to 20 years.

On December 22, press outlets reported that hundreds of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators blocked several main roads in Jerusalem to protest the arrest of 20-year-old yeshiva student Shechna Rotenberg, who failed to report for induction into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) after being conscripted. The protestors threw bottles at police who responded to the demonstration, injuring three. Protestors also surrounded the car of a senior IDF officer, Major General Yoel Strick, whom they identified as he passed by the area, threatening to physically harm him. A special police unit rescued Strick after he drew his handgun in self-defense. Police arrested three demonstrators.

Press reports stated that, on December 7, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators protested in Jerusalem against light rail construction on Bar Ilan Street, which borders neighborhoods inhabited by ultra-Orthodox Jews, arguing that it would harm the ultra-Orthodox character of the area. Police said 25 protesters were arrested, saying that one of them had been in possession of a pocketknife, a baton, and pepper spray. Organizers of the protest posted signs that said “Ultra-Orthodox Judaism will in no way accept the destruction of its neighborhoods, and the ultra-Orthodox of Jerusalem will all stand firmly…and will not rest until the complete abolition of the horrific decree.”

The government continued to allow controlled access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, with only Muslims permitted to engage in religious worship there. The government stated it understood the post-1967 status quo pertaining to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount to allow non-Muslim visitors but prohibit non-Islamic worship on the compound, while Israel respects Jordan’s “special role” at the site, as reflected in the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty. Muslim representatives stated that they generally have a different understanding of the status quo and that the Waqf should have full autonomy in administering the site (reflecting wide Palestinian and Muslim rejection of Israeli authority or sovereignty at the site) and that only Muslim worshippers are entitled to unrestricted access to the site.

In January, worshippers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and mosques in Gaza and the occupied West Bank engaged in a protest campaign called “The Great Fajr [Dawn] Campaign,” after daily dawn prayers. Hamas and other Islamic organizations called on worshippers to gather for Friday fajr prayers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the West Bank to defend them against “violations” by Israeli Jews. Media reports on January 17 stated that police dispersed protestors at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount after Friday dawn prayers. Press reports said that Palestinian demonstrators chanted slogans recalling the Muslim massacre of Jews at the Battle of Khaybar, near Medina, in the seventh century. Police broke up the impromptu demonstration without incident. Clashes between police and demonstrators occurred at other times near the site in January and February. Press reports stated that at least 10 Palestinian Muslims were injured by rubber bullets fired by police on January 31 and that police turned away “hundreds” of worshippers from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on February 7.

The Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem administers the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, while the Jordanian Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Holy Places supports maintenance and salary of the Waqf staff in Jerusalem. The issue of the use of the Bab al-Rahma/Gate of Mercy, a building within the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount that was reopened by the Waqf in 2019 after it had been closed since 2003, remained unresolved. The government stated it regarded the reopening as a violation of the status quo. On July 2, Israeli police asked the Jerusalem Magistrate Court to reimpose the court-ordered closure of the building, stating, according to the media, that it would be used again by Hamas, based on evidence that the building had been used in 2003 by an organization affiliated with Hamas. Police asked the Waqf to close the building permanently. On July 12, the court asked the Waqf to provide its views within 60 days regarding the closure of the Bab al-Rahma. The Waqf stated that it did not recognize the authority of Israeli courts over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Throughout the year, Muslim worshippers could generally enter the site, although Israeli police regularly conducted security searches there.

Israeli media reported that security forces arrested six Muslim worshippers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on January 7 for “shouting nationalist rhetoric.” Video of the incident showed police kicking one of those arrested. Police and the Waqf reached agreement to close the site from March 22 to May 31 to both Muslim and non-Muslim visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Waqf said it sought to close the site on one other occasion but kept it open because Israeli authorities did not agree to simultaneously close it to non-Muslim visitors. The Israeli government stated that the public regulations in place at that time did not mandate closure of the site. Government authorities closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, other houses of worship, and holy sites for Passover, Eid al-Fitr, and Easter holidays as well as for the Ramadan and Lenten seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Christian leaders stated that they were frustrated when Israel restricted indoor gatherings, including religious services, to 10 persons, saying that the cap was based on the number of men required for a minyan (a Jewish prayer quorum) and did not allow for greater numbers by taking into account the size of religious buildings and ability to socially distance safely. Israeli authorities made exceptions to health restrictions for Easter and Christmas services, allowing greater but still limited public attendance. Authorities also restricted the size of synagogue congregations during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Government restrictions on gathering for prayer varied from March through December due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During a nationwide lockdown in the spring, no gatherings were allowed, including for prayer; at other times, prayer gatherings of 10 to 20 persons were allowed, including in roped-off groups at the Western Wall. Guidelines at other periods were more lenient.

On January 29, Israeli authorities briefly closed the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount after two Palestinians were arrested for attempting to carry out a stabbing attack against police.

On September 6, an association of Islamic leaders in Jerusalem issued a statement accusing police and authorities of violating the sanctity of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount by erecting ladders and installing loudspeakers at the entrance to the Lions Gate. The Waqf posted photos showing the police and other staff mounting the roof and installing the equipment. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the speakers were installed outside the compound and were for the safety of individuals visiting the site.

Authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site, including Jewish activists believed to have violated the status quo understanding prohibiting non-Islamic prayer, Muslims believed to have verbally harassed or acted violently against non-Muslim visitors to the site or incited others to violence, and public figures whose presence authorities feared would inflame tensions. Banned individuals included Waqf guards and administrative and maintenance staff and imams delivering sermons at the site. The Wadi Hilweh Center reported that Israeli authorities banned 46 Waqf staff during the year. The government stated the police banned individuals from accessing the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount only in cases of violation of public order or a disturbance to the freedom of worship. The government said that these bans were authorized according to procedures approved by police officials and courts, and that they targeted both Jews and Muslims who “called for violence and disrupted the peace” at the site. According to the government, 225 individuals, including Jews and Muslims, were banned from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for different time periods. The Wadi Hilweh Information Center reported Israeli authorities banned 315 individuals from the site during the year.

While the government stated it was rare for any individual to be barred entry to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities banned Palestinians from Gaza and the occupied West Bank, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, as well as Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. Palestinian civil society organizations said that starting in November, police checked the identify cards of individuals entering the Old City to visit the site for Friday prayers and would bar from entry those with West Bank identity cards and return them to the West Bank.

Media outlets reported Israeli authorities barred prominent Muslims from the site for periods of time. Radwan Amr, director of the manuscripts department at al-Aqsa Mosque was barred for six months. Sheikh Issam Amireh, a senior leader of the Hizb al-Tahrir political party, was also barred for six months after he called the beheading of a teacher by a Muslim terrorist in France a “great honor for all Muslims” during a sermon at the site. On January 18, the Israeli police barred Ekrima Sabri, the imam of the al-Aqsa Mosque, head of the private Islamic Higher Committee in Jerusalem, and the former Palestinian Grand Mufti, from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for a period of four months after accusing him of incitement in a January 17 sermon. On May 29, authorities detained Sabri again and later informed him that he would not be allowed to visit the site for an additional four months. On October 28, police raided the office of the deputy director of the Waqf, Najeh Bkirat, in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and told him to report to the intelligence services in seven days, when he was told that he would be banned from entering the site for six months. According to media, Bkirat was banned for “incitement” against the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries, and against the visitors from those countries to the site, as well as for his possible linkages to Hamas. On November 26, authorities presented him with an order that he would not be allowed in the site for three months. Bkirat told the International Middle East Media Center in November that since 2003, police had banned him from the site 21 times for a period of more than seven years, adding: “In 2019, I was admitted into the mosque only for one week.”

In addition, human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities at times restricted some Muslims based on gender and age from entering the site. Israeli authorities have not issued permits for Gazans to visit the site during Muslim holidays since 2017, when it issued a few hundred permits during Ramadan, according to UN reports. Muslims who are Israeli citizens, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, or foreigners already present in Israel do not need permits to visit the site.

The Waqf also said that Israeli authorities interfered in the administration of the site by the Waqf, including maintenance and restoration work. Israeli officials and activists stated the Waqf sometimes attempted to conduct repairs without coordinating with Israeli authorities. For example, pictures on the Waqf’s Facebook page showed their personnel digging at the site on March 31, while the site was closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the police banning individual Waqf staff members from visiting the site, the Waqf said that it had a greatly reduced capacity to administer the site because Israeli authorities refused to grant permits to new staff.

In January, the Attorney General allowed the Chief Rabbinate, for the first time, to issue indictments against business owners who presented their products as kosher without having a kashrut certificate. During the year, the rabbinate filed 21 such indictments.

In July, the Chief Rabbinate council exempted, for the first time, importers of foods from presenting a local kashrut certificate prior to receiving a kosher stamp when the imported product already had been certified as kosher by a local kosher certification agency or rabbi.

Some religious minority groups complained of lack of police interest in investigating attacks on members of their communities. Data from the NGO Tag Meir, which tracks hate crimes, and from media reports indicated in recent years authorities had indicted few suspects in attacks on religious sites in the country.

According to the most recent data from the MRS, 30,260 individuals applied for Jewish marriage during the year, although no figures were available regarding the number of those who were asked by rabbinical courts to prove their Jewish identity. In 2019, 34,083 individuals registered a Jewish marriage and rabbinical courts instructed 3,064 who self-identified as Jewish to prove their Jewish lineage. One-and-a-half percent of the 4,449 cases of proving Jewish lineage closed in 2019 were unsuccessful, some of which carried over from previous years. Jewish couples who could not marry through the rabbinate or travel abroad to marry due to government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions generally were left without an opportunity to marry. Similarly, those who otherwise wanted to marry outside the rabbinate were left without an alternative due to the pandemic. According to the CBS, 9,021 weddings took place abroad and were later registered in the country during 2018, the most recent data available.

In late December, according to the press and NGOs, several couples married online in the state of Utah in order to circumvent the law’s requirement that marriages must be performed according to the religious statutes of a recognized religious community in order to be registered. The Population Immigration and Border Authority accepted four couples’ marriage certificates and registered the marriages, including of a lesbian couple. Upon learning of the loophole, Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri ordered the registration process for the couples to be stopped to allow further review by senior officials. According to the NGO Hiddush, this action contradicted previous Supreme Court verdicts.

On August 17, the Jerusalem Administrative Court ruled that an initiative of the Jerusalem municipality to hold small ceremonies in public venues during the COVID-19 pandemic must not discriminate against couples who could not or were not interested in an Orthodox ceremony, although such marriages could not be officially registered.

On June 21, the Tel Aviv Municipality announced that it would allow couples who could not or chose not to marry under current laws to register and enjoy all the rights and financial benefits provided to married couples by the municipality. According to the announcement, LGBTI couples, interfaith couples, couples who could not marry under current laws, and secular couples who did not want to marry in the rabbinate were among those allowed to register. Registration as a couple provided discounts on such items as property taxes and preschool registration for children. Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai stated the city was taking the step to celebrate gay pride week, and the municipal government had decided to “challenge the [central] government [on the issue of civil marriage] and enable partnership based on a declaration.” The Ramat Gan and Rishon LeTzion municipalities adopted similar policies in November and December.

Local authorities circumvented the ban on public transportation on Shabbat by funding privately operated bus lines. On March 26, the Tel Aviv District Court rejected a petition filed by the NGO Chotam against the operation of transportation services on Shabbat by the Ramat Gan municipality, arguing that the services were planned to balance the different needs of Ramat residents, and an effort was made to minimize passage through religious areas. According to a September Hiddush poll, 71 percent of Jewish citizens were in favor of transportation on weekends, including 96 percent of citizens who described themselves as secular.

Women’s rights organizations, including the Israel Women’s Action Network, expressed concern about gender segregation in publicly funded or sponsored events and in academia, to accommodate ultra-Orthodox and some Orthodox Jews.

The Chief Rabbinate continued not to recognize as Jewish some citizens who self-identified as Jewish, including Reform and Conservative converts to Judaism and others who could not prove Jewish matrilineage to the satisfaction of the Chief Rabbinate. As a result, the government prohibited those individuals from accessing official Jewish marriage, divorce, and burial services in the country. Some Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis, however, officiated at a growing number of these ceremonies outside of the authority of the Chief Rabbinate. The government continued not to allow Jewish men with priestly patrilineage (kohanim) to marry converts or divorcees, in accordance with halacha.

On August 4, following a 2019 order by the Supreme Court, an additional closed hearing was held by an expanded panel of the Supreme Court on a 2018 Supreme Rabbinical Court ruling which found that a woman who engaged in an extramarital relationship had no rights to her and her husband’s home. In 2019, the petitioners argued that the rabbinical court put a heavy weight on the adultery in its decision, which they said should not be a consideration in decisions regarding property. The case was pending as of year’s end.

According to the NGO Mavoi Satum, not wanting to be married is not one of the specific causes for divorce allowed based on halacha, and over the years, some rabbinical courts have ruled against this argument as a cause for divorce. According to Mavoi Satum, in two cases during the year, rabbinical courts overreached their authority by allowing recalcitrant husbands to reopen negotiations over divorce agreements signed between partners and validated by another rabbinical court.

On September 21, the Supreme Court ordered the Minister of Justice to hold a disciplinary hearing for the chief rabbi of the city of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, for making racist and offensive statements against Arabs and for defaming state institutions following a 2016 petition against his comments filed by the Israel Religious Action Center, Tag Meir, and other NGOs. The court stated, however, that comments the rabbi made against Arab, Druze, women, and the LGBTI community based on his religious perspective were protected within his freedom of speech as a city rabbi.

Israeli police continued to be responsible for security at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, with police officers stationed inside the site and at entrances. Police conducted routine patrols on the outdoor plaza and inside buildings on the site and regulated pedestrian traffic exiting and entering the site. Israeli police continued to maintain exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance through which non-Muslims entered the site and allowed visitors through the gate during set hours; however, police sometimes restricted this access, citing security concerns.

Some Jewish groups performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount despite the ban on non-Islamic prayer there. The government reiterated that non-Islamic prayer was not allowed on the grounds of the site; Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated this view in a campaign event in March. However, NGOs, media, and Jewish Temple Mount advocacy groups continued to report that in practice, police generally allowed discreet non-Muslim prayer on the site. Police continued to screen non-Muslims for religious articles. Police allowed Jewish male visitors who were visibly wearing a kippah (head covering) and tzitzit (fringes), and those who wished to enter the site barefoot (in accordance with interpretations of halacha) to enter with police escort.

The Waqf continued to restrict non-Muslims who visited the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount from entering the Dome of the Rock and other buildings dedicated for Islamic worship, including the al-Aqsa Mosque, unless they were participating in a Waqf-sponsored visit. The Waqf also lodged objections with Israeli police concerning non-Muslim visitors wearing religious symbols or religious clothing. Israeli police sometimes acted upon these objections.

Waqf officials repeated previous years’ complaints over their lack of control of access to the site. The Waqf objected to non-Muslims praying or performing religious acts on the site and to individuals whom they perceived to be dressed immodestly or who caused disturbances, but they lacked authority to remove such persons from the site. Waqf officials stated Israeli police did not coordinate with the Waqf on decisions regarding entry and barring of Muslim and non-Muslim visitors to the site. Waqf employees remained stationed inside each gate and on the plaza, but Waqf officials exercised only a limited oversight. The government extended visiting hours in the afternoon by 30 minutes to prevent large groups forming at the entrance for non-Muslims in accordance with COVID-19 health restrictions.

Following the announcement of normalized relations with several Arab countries, Muslim visitors from the Gulf were at times harassed in person and vilified on social media by Palestinian Muslims for visiting the site. The Palestinian Authority Mufti of Jerusalem, who has no authority over holy sites, issued a fatwa denying access to the site to Muslims from countries that established diplomatic relations with Israel, but the Jordanian Waqf rejected the fatwa. The Waqf stated that Muslim visitors from those countries were brought by Israeli officials without coordination with the Waqf. The government welcomed these visits as a positive outcome of normalization and as a demonstration of freedom of religion.

The NGO Returning to the Mount filed a petition to the Supreme Court May 4 demanding the government allow Jewish visitors to enter the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The NGO argued that the arrangement at that time – in which only Muslim Waqf staff were allowed to enter the site due to the COVID-19 pandemic – discriminated against Jews who wished to visit. The court rejected the petition on May 19, stating it did not find grounds to interfere with the government’s discretion. On June 23, the Supreme Court ordered the government to respond by November 21 to a petition by the NGO Moked Israeli Center for the Advancement of Democracy and Protection of Human Rights, which objected to a sign near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount discouraging non-Muslim visitors from entering the site. The case was ongoing as of the years’ end. The Waqf and others criticized non-Muslim visitors who entered the site escorted by police as “settlers” and said they “stormed” the site.

Many Jewish religious leaders, including the government-appointed rabbi of the Western Wall, continued to say Jewish law prohibited Jews from entering the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for reasons of ritual purity. Some Jewish religious leaders, MKs, and activists called for reversing the policy of banning non-Islamic prayer at the site to provide equal religious freedom for all visitors.

The government continued to allow MKs and ministers to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. MKs were required to inform the Knesset guard at least 24 hours prior to the visit to allow for coordination with police.

At the main Western Wall plaza, the place of worship nearest the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, the government continued to prohibit the performance of any “religious ceremony that is not in accordance with the customs of the place, which harms the feelings of the public towards the place.” Authorities interpreted this prohibition to include mixed-gender Jewish prayer services, to the objection of the Jewish Conservative and Reform movements. The organization Women of the Wall, whose goal is to secure the official right for women to pray at the Western Wall, argued that their monthly presence at the wall for more than 30 years had established them as part of the “customs of the place.”

Authorities continued to prohibit visitors from bringing private Torah scrolls to the main Western Wall plaza and women from accessing the public Torah scrolls or giving priestly blessings at the site. Authorities, however, permitted women to pray with tefillin and prayer shawls pursuant to a 2013 Jerusalem District Court ruling stating it was illegal to arrest or fine them for such actions.

Within COVID-19 limitations, authorities allowed Women of the Wall to hold its monthly service in a barricaded portion of the women’s area of the main Western Wall, or as a pod at the rear of the main plaza along with other separated prayer pods. However, when the Western Wall was open for prayers by groups of only 10 people at a time, Women of the Wall reported that rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz rejected their April 19 request for a group of 10 women from Jerusalem to pray there, despite approving such requests for ultra-Orthodox visitors from outside of Jerusalem.

Representatives of Women of the Wall complained of a lack of effort by police or ushers from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the Western Wall main plaza, to intervene when ultra-Orthodox women and men disrupted their monthly prayer service with screaming, whistling, and pushing. In response, the government stated that large numbers of police, ushers, and security personnel maintained order on occasions when Women of the Wall prayed there. A 2017 petition to the Supreme Court by Women of the Wall asking that ushers and police prevent disruption of their services was under review at year’s end.

Authorities continued to allow use of a temporary platform south of the Mughrabi ramp and adjacent to the Western Wall, but not visible from the main Western Wall plaza, for non-Orthodox “egalitarian” (mixed gender) Jewish prayers. Authorities designated the platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, including for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs. The Supreme Court criticized the government on November 4 for its lack of progress since 2018 on upgrading the area to a permanent egalitarian prayer space. The government blamed the delay on multiple rounds of national elections, the COVID-19 pandemic, and an obstacle posed by a Jerusalem municipality planning committee, but also stated that it was not under a legal obligation to implement the construction plan. The court ordered the government to make progress by April 4, 2021. This case was a combination of lawsuits against the government, some dating back to 2013, that would allow prayer for all religious streams of Judaism at the Western Wall. In 2017, the government “froze” a 2016 agreement with non-Orthodox Jewish groups that would have offered them symbolic recognition, in addition to upgrading the egalitarian prayer space. In 2018, a special government committee approved expansion of the temporary platform. The non-Orthodox Jewish movements stated that upgrading the prayer space alone would not fulfill their 2016 agreement with the government. The court case was ongoing as of the end of the year. In addition, observers stated that scaffolding prevented visitors from touching the sacred wall in the egalitarian prayer space since a rock fell there in 2018. Over the same period, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation managed large construction projects in the main plaza, making routine inspections for loose rocks at the main plaza without blocking access to the wall.

The government continued to promote the establishment of a cable car route from the First Station cultural complex in Jerusalem to the Dung Gate of the Old City that would pass over a Karaite cemetery. In September, the Jerusalem Municipality published a tender for the construction of the cable car, and on September 9, a Jerusalem local planning committee approved the expropriation of more than 10,000 square meters (108,000 square feet) of private lands, mostly in Silwan, for construction of the project. According to the Karaite community, the cable car would desecrate the cemetery, thus preventing its further use. The government stated the cable car was meant to solve accessibility problems to holy sites such as the Western Wall, but some NGOs said the project was meant to specifically promote Jewish touristic sites in East Jerusalem and to reinforce Israel’s claims of sovereignty over the area. The plan was pending final approval from the government at year’s end. Three petitions against the cable car, filed by the Karaite community, the NGO Emek Shaveh, and the NGO Israel Union for Environmental Defense were pending with the Supreme Court at year’s end.

After workers sent by the Jerusalem municipality demolished a wall and stairs in the Islamic al-Yusufiye Cemetery to make way for a park in November, local Palestinians gathered in protest and the work stopped. On December 24, the Jerusalem District Court issued a temporary restraining order against the municipality, forcing the city to suspend its work. The cemetery, which is hundreds of years old, is affiliated with the Islamic Waqf and adjacent to the Old City.

The barrier that divided the majority of the occupied West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons.

On November 30, a court cited the country’s Nation State Law in dismissing a lawsuit brought by two Arab schoolchildren against their northern town of Carmiel, ruling that the town’s “Jewish character” must be preserved. The children’s family asked to be reimbursed for expenses incurred for traveling to an Arabic-speaking school outside the city, because there are no such schools in Carmiel which has a population that is only 6 percent Arab. Although the court provided seven reasons for dismissing the suit, Haaretz reported that the ruling drew “criticism for citing the controversial nation-state law passed in 2018, which officially defines Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and asserts that ‘the realization of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people’” and for stipulating that the Jewish people alone, as a people, have the right to self-determination in Israel. According to the magistrate court judge’s ruling, “Carmiel is a Jewish city which is intended to strengthen Jewish settlement in the Galilee.” The court ruling also said “The development of Jewish settlement is therefore a national value, one anchored in basic law. It ought to be an appropriate and dominant consideration in the array of municipal considerations, including for the issue of establishment schools and funding transportation.” A Justice Ministry attorney told a Knesset panel that the Nation State Law should not impinge on the individual civil rights of non-Jews. In a separate court proceeding, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit stated that he believed the dismissal of the case expressed a misinterpretation of that law. The children’s family said they would appeal the court’s decision. Bills to cancel or amend the Nation State Law have been submitted in the Knesset but have not been approved.

Several groups, including religious minorities and human rights NGOs, continued to criticize the Nation State Law. On December 22, the Supreme Court heard 15 petitions filed by human rights groups and Arab and Druze citizens asking the court to strike down the law and declare as unconstitutional several specific articles the plaintiffs said were discriminatory. As the court was hearing arguments in the case, Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote on Facebook that the Supreme Court “has no authority to debate the validity of Basic Laws,” adding that the court “is not an absolute ruler.”

In 2019, six Orthodox women halacha students and NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court to permit women to take halacha examinations used to ordain rabbis. While Orthodox women cannot become rabbis, passing the examinations is equal to receiving a bachelor’s degree and grants an advantage when applying for certain public sector positions. On June 29, in its response to the petition, the government proposed to establish a parallel examination operated by the Ministry of Education rather than the rabbinate. On June 30, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef threatened that the rabbinate would not conduct any exams to ordain state-authorized rabbis, including for men, if the court ruled that women could be ordained, in contradiction to halacha. On July 27, the Supreme Court issued an injunction ordering the government to explain why the rejection of registration of women for halacha examinations does not constitute discrimination and why the court should not rule that the Chief Rabbinate must allow women to register for such examinations. At year’s end, the case was still pending.

Separate public and semipublic school systems varied widely in educational quality, according to NGOs and international organizations. Muslim, Christian, Druze, and ultra-Orthodox students passed the matriculation exam at lower rates than their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish counterparts.

The government continued operating educational and scholarship programs to benefit Arab students. Between the academic years 2009/10 and 2020/21, the percentage of Arab students rose significantly in all university degree programs, increasing from 13 percent to 19 percent in undergraduate programs, from 7 percent to 15 percent in master’s programs, and from 5 percent to 7 percent in doctoral programs, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

According to the press, in June, a kosher supervisor from the Chief Rabbinate revoked the kashrut certificate of Kalo Cafe, a Jerusalem restaurant, for allegedly allowing a Palestinian cook to operate kitchen equipment in contravention of Kashrut rules that only allow Jews to do so. The cafe’s owner decided to renounce the kashrut certification, which the restaurant had maintained for 25 years, and said he regarded the rabbinate’s suggestion that he fire his employee as “racist.” Social media users protested the certificate decision on the Chief Rabbinate’s Facebook page, which, according to the Times of Israel, evoked “insulting” responses from the rabbinate’s account, for which the Chief Rabbinate apologized; the responses were also deleted.

In June, Falafel HaTeomim, a restaurant in Givataim, stopped paying the rabbinate for supervision of its kitchen after 42 years due to a downturn in business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The rabbinate subsequently withdrew its kosher certificate for the restaurant and according to media reports, placed notices in the nearby city of Bnei Brak that the rabbinate could no longer certify the restaurant as kosher and that the public should “know and beware.” Strong public reactions supporting the restaurant and its owners and against the rabbinate followed the press reports, including from the chair of the Reform movement, who said the rabbinate was “rotten from its base, filled with corruption and inconsiderate of business owners.”

In June, city officials in Lod stated that the Islamic call to prayer, particularly at high volume and in the early hours of the morning, was a violation of city ordinances. According to the website Al-Monitor, for several months municipal authorities measured the volume of the call to prayer and issued warnings to the imams of local mosques. The authorities asked police to enforce the law, stating the mosques were disturbing the peace. They also asked the MOI to summon one of the mosques’ imams to a hearing, stating that since his salary was paid by the ministry, he should follow their instructions. In April, Arab members of the city council, local imams, and the People’s Committee of Lod sent a letter demanding that the municipality refrain from intervening in the calls to prayer. The letter was distributed in mosques and stated that the muezzin and the call to prayer represented “our Islamic presence, identity, and roots.” The letter said the city’s efforts regarding the calls to prayer were a declaration of a “religious war” and that the clerics and the Arab leadership in the city would not be responsible if the situation worsened.

The MOI continued to rely on the sole discretion and approval of the Jewish Agency, a parastatal organization, to determine who qualified to immigrate as a Jew or descendant of a Jew. The government continued to deny applications from individuals, including those holding Messianic or Christian beliefs, whom the government said became ineligible when they converted to another religion.

A group of Orthodox rabbis continued to operate a private conversion court for children of families whom the state or rabbinical courts did not recognize as Jews. The Chief Rabbinate and MOI continued not to recognize non-Orthodox converts to Judaism as Jews, although they remained eligible for immigration under the Law of Return if they converted outside the country. In June, the press reported that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri asked the Prime Minister to support a bill that was aimed at giving the rabbinate sole control over conversions, precluding private Orthodox conversions and those recognized by the Conservative and Reform movements.

A series of Supreme Court cases on conversion rights, including a petition demanding immigration rights to those who completed Reform or Conservative conversions inside the country, continued through year’s end. On December 7, the Supreme Court, noting that the case had been pending since 2005 and that the government had filed numerous requests for delays while it sought a legislative solution, said that there was no reason to further delay a ruling. It asked the petitioners to update their legal briefs by December 21. The petition was pending at year’s end.

The rabbinate asked some individuals from the former Soviet Union to take DNA tests in order to prove their Jewish heritage. On January 22, the Supreme Court “erased” a petition against such DNA tests and gave the Chief Rabbinate a year to regulate the procedure, including setting clear criteria for when a test should be conducted and clarifying the meaning of refusal to be tested. If after one year the issue is not regulated, the court said the petitioners would be legally able to submit a new petition.

In February, Hiddush filed suit in the Jerusalem District Court challenging the Jerusalem municipality’s exclusion of synagogues representing Reform, Conservative, egalitarian Orthodox, and other independent Jewish communities as well as non-Jewish religious institutions (primarily Muslim and Christian) from the “Religion and Tradition” section of the municipal website, which only includes information about Orthodox synagogues and institutions. In July, after the city deleted the list of synagogues in the city from the municipal website, Hiddush stated the municipality took the step to avoid publicizing non-Orthodox synagogues and non-Jewish houses of worship.

According to a November 9 Times of Israel report, Jerusalem mayor Moshe Lion and his administration proposed a plan to designate seats on Jerusalem community councils as either ultra-Orthodox or not. Jerusalem is the country’s only municipality to use community councils, which were established to provide greater communication between the city’s diverse populations and the municipal government. Each council has 15 members, nine elected and six appointed. Lion said the proposal was designed to reduce conflicts on the councils and to ensure that the views of minority communities were represented. Members of both the ultra-Orthodox and non-ultra-Orthodox communities expressed concerns about the proposal, with one describing it as “undemocratic.” There are eight community councils serving Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as well, but none of them has elected members.

On January 7, Ynet posted a video of Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yosef speaking at a conference in which he referred to immigrants from the former Soviet Union as “not Jews at all,” “communists,” “hostile to religion,” and “haters of religion,” who “vote for parties that incite against the ultra-Orthodox and against religion.” The video also depicted Yosef saying the immigrants were brought to Israel to “act as a political weight against the ultra-Orthodox.” On February 16, the predominantly secular Yisrael Beitenu party filed a Supreme Court petition against the chief rabbi that demanded the court issue an injunction to force the Minister of Justice to explain why the religious court judges’ committee had not convened to discuss the termination of the chief rabbi and why a complaint had not been filed against him in the disciplinary tribunal. Reacting to the chief rabbi’s comments, the Prime Minister said that immigration from the former Soviet Union had been a “boon” for the country. The head of the Blue and White Party said that the chief rabbi needed to apologize and that the country had a “debt” to those who had emigrated from the former Soviet Union.

On July 9, media published a speech of Chief Rabbi Yosef in which he stated that Reform Judaism is “falsified Judaism.” On October 25 the ombudsman of the Israeli judiciary recommended the committee appointing rabbinic judges convene to discuss whether Chief Rabbi Yosef, who also acts as the president of the rabbinical court, should continue in this role, following a complaint by the NGO Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC) regarding his negative statements against the Reform movement, women, and the High Court of Justice. The chief rabbi stated that he stood behind his words.

Members of some minorities said that the government did not provide the same service and benefits to them as to the country’s majority Jewish population. In May, the Druze and Circassian communities called a general strike in their villages and protested in front of the Prime Minister’s office, complaining that budgetary funding for their communities at large and for their towns and villages was insufficient to meet their needs and that the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated their challenges. In May, Arab citizens’ local councils also led protests against what they described as the failure to offer Arab municipalities sufficient COVID-19 relief for tax shortfalls in those localities. Arab leaders also stated that there was insufficient information or COVID-19 testing provided to their community after the pandemic’s outbreak.

On April 30, a national labor court ordered an examination of retroactive salary compensation to 16 Ethiopian Israeli keisim (Jewish religious leaders) and rabbis as a result of wage gaps between them and other religious council employees from 1992 onward.

The MRS listed 28 dedicated cemeteries in Israel and West Bank settlements for civil burial and burial of persons the government defined as “lacking religion,” but only three were available for use to the general public regardless of residence, and one had been full for several years. The other cemeteries, located in agricultural localities, were permitted to bury only “residents of the area.” This, according to Hiddush, left the majority of the country’s population deprived of the ability to exercise its right, as mandated by law, to be buried in accordance with secular or non-Orthodox religious views. The two MRS-administered cemeteries in West Bank settlements were available only for the burial of Israeli citizens. On December 12, the Supreme Court, as a part of a petition by Hiddush, issued an order instructing the state to explain why it would not allow civil burial in agricultural localities for individuals who were not local residents and who do not have another alternative. The case was pending as of the end of the year.

According to Hiddush, an absolute majority of the MRS licenses for civil burial are held by Jewish Orthodox NGOs and religious councils. Some of these organizations, according to Hiddush, conducted a “less religious burial” rather than a secular one, did not allow burial in a coffin, and stated on their websites that their services were only for non-Jews. In an October letter, Hiddush called upon the Minister of Religious Services to cease issuing licenses to these groups and to set clear rules regarding the obligations of the organizations providing civil burial services.

The government again did not propose new draft legislation to reduce inequality in the burden of military service between ultra-Orthodox and other Jews, despite its commitment to the Supreme Court following the 2017 Supreme Court verdict which struck down the exemption of ultra-Orthodox men from military service. On November 3, after approving several postponements over the years, the Supreme Court rejected a government request to postpone the implementation of the verdict again, ruling that the amendment providing for the exemption of ultra-Orthodox men from military service would be canceled on February 1, 2021. According to press reporting, the court determined that no additional deferrals would be granted to the government on the issue.

While some ultra-Orthodox communities stated that mandatory conscription was a violation of the right to conscientious objection on the basis of religious beliefs, the Ministry of Defense rejected this argument. The IDF reported increasing numbers of ultra-Orthodox recruits since at least 2011, mainly into dedicated ultra-Orthodox units such as the Netzah Yehuda Battalion. A scandal arose in December 2019, however, when media reported that the IDF inflated the number of ultra-Orthodox men in its ranks over several years to meet its quotas. For example, 1,300 ultra-Orthodox men enlisted in 2017, but the IDF reported 3,070, according to KAN Radio. In 2018, the IDF established the Ultra-Orthodox Draft Administration. The commander of the administration, Lt. Col. Telem Hazan, opened an inquiry after an unnamed official asked him to file a falsified report with inflated numbers, according to press reports.

Those exempt from compulsory military service continued to have the option to join the National Service, a civilian alternative in which volunteers work for two years to promote social welfare in schools, hospitals, or NGOs. According to government officials and NGOs, this alternative was more popular among women from Jewish Orthodox backgrounds than other exempt groups.

Members of the ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit community did not receive an exemption from military service based on its members’ conscientious objection on religious grounds because its yeshivas were not recognized by the state and young men studying in those yeshivas did not submit draft exemption applications. As a result, dozens of them were arrested every month, according to representatives of the community.

On August 9, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by members of the ultra-Orthodox Satmer community demanding an exemption from military service based on conscientious objection on religious grounds because they do not recognize the state. The court ruled it would not intervene in the state’s rejection of a blanket exemption for a specific community.

According to the Karaite community’s NGO, during the year the IDF requested religious Karaite women who sought to be exempted from military service to declare their status as religious women at a rabbinical court, which would be contrary to their beliefs. Up until 2020, Karaite women were able to submit a letter from a Jewish Karaite court to the IDF to prove their status.

On June 28, the government’s Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council announced that it had ordered a U.S.-based evangelical broadcaster, GOD TV, off the air, saying the company’s Hebrew-language Shelanu channel hid its missionary agenda when it applied for a license. The chairman of the council, in explaining the decision, said, “The channel appeals to Jews with Christian content.” Its original request was for a “station targeting the Christian population.” In a statement, the broadcaster said that the license unambiguously states that the channel will broadcast Christian content in Hebrew to the general Israeli public and accused the council chairman of revoking the license because he was close to former Communications Minister David Ansalem, who had condemned the license granted to the Shelanu channel before he left the ministry. A spokesman said the Shelanu channel would reapply for a license. According to Haaretz, several government ministers and the Chief Rabbinate were among those who complained to the council about the station’s proselytizing of Israeli Jews. During the council’s review of the station’s license following public criticism of its programming, Shelanu said that the threat to suspend its license was unprecedented and that such a suspension “could constitute blatant discrimination on the basis of religion.” On June 30, the cable provider that had carried the station said it would not act on Shelanu’s behalf to reapply for the license.

According to the website of Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center, the government maintained an agreement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that no member of the Church “will engage in proselytizing of any kind” within Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, as a condition of its lease of land for its campus on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Some other nonrecognized Christian communities reported that the MOI Department of Non-Jewish Affairs discouraged them from proselytizing or holding large public gatherings outside their houses of worship.

The Center of Scientology Israel reported that it was targeted by the NGO Israeli Center for Victims of Cults (ICVC) and falsely categorized as a “domestic violence and familial sexual abuse” organization. ICVC was partially funded by the government and paid for a campaign to target Scientology online.

The government maintained its policy of not accepting applications for official recognition from nonrecognized religious groups, including evangelical Christian churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The government stated no religious community had attempted to apply for recognition during the year. The government stated some leaders of nonrecognized religions were invited and participated, along with the leaders of recognized religions, in official events and ceremonies.

A Supreme Court petition by Jehovah’s Witnesses that requested official recognition as a religious community was pending as of the year’s end. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, despite repeated requests, the government had not taken action on the group’s original 2017 application for recognition. The court had not reached a decision by year’s end.

The Knesset’s finance committee rejected applications for tax-deductible status by Jehovah’s Witnesses NGO Watchtower Association of Israel and the Messianic Jewish NGO Yachad Ramat Hasharon, despite objections from legal advisors in the Ministry of Justice and the Tax Authority. A petition by the Jehovah’s Witness to the Supreme Court regarding the matter was pending at the year’s end.

According to the Secular Forum, growing “religionization” (hadata) of the education system continued, including in textbooks and through programs in schools taught by Orthodox NGOs. On February 6, the Supreme Court issued an injunction ordering the Ministry of Education to explain why it should not expand its criteria to fund religious NGOs conducting Jewish education in secular schools to include pluralistic organizations conducting religious education in secular schools. According to Molad – The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, the hadata in schools was politically motivated with the goal of increasing support for settlers.

Public Hebrew-language state schools taught Jewish history, culture, and some basic religious texts. Many ultra-Orthodox religious schools in the “recognized but not official” category continued not to offer the basic humanities, mathematics, and science curriculum. The government, however, included that basic curriculum in public ultra-Orthodox schools. Public Arabic-speaking schools continued to teach religion classes on the Quran and the Bible to both Muslim and Christian Arab students. A few independent mixed Jewish-Arab schools also offered religion classes. For example, the curriculum at the nonprofit school Hand-in-Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education, which received a third of its funding from the government, emphasized commonalities in the holy writings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The government funded approximately 34 percent of the budget of Christian school systems in the “recognized but not official” category, in which schools had autonomy over hiring teachers, admitting students, and the use of school property, according to church officials. The government repeated its offer made in previous years to fully fund Christian schools if they became part of the public school system, but churches rejected this option, stating that, unlike in Orthodox schools, they would lose autonomy over hiring, admitting students, and use of property. Church leaders criticized the disparity between government funding for their schools and those affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox political parties United Torah Judaism and Shas, which were also categorized as “recognized but not official” but received full government funding.

Seventh-day Adventists and others who worshipped on Saturday stated they faced difficulty traveling to their houses of worship in cities in which public transportation was unavailable on Shabbat, including Jerusalem. Some nonrecognized religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, received a property tax exemption on their houses of worship, although others, such as Buddhists and the Church of Scientology, did not. The government said local authorities conducted tax collection from nonrecognized religious groups in accordance with the law. The government stated it was unaware of any recent case in which a religious house of worship was not granted a property tax exemption, although representatives of religious groups stated that tax collection by local authorities remained a concern.

Christian leaders reported little difficulty obtaining visas for clergy to serve in the country, except for Christian clergy from Arab countries, some of whom reported long delays for, and periodic denials of their visa applications. The government stated Christian clergy from Arab countries were subject to the same entry laws and similar security procedures as clergy from other parts of the world and that any visa delays or denials were due to security reviews. The government also said there were some “unavoidable delays” in cases of applicants from countries that did not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Church officials noted that the clergy visa did not allow the bearer access to basic social benefits such as disability insurance or national health insurance, even for those who had served in the country for more than 30 years.

The government continued to approve annual “delays” of conscription to military service for individual members of Jehovah’s Witnesses upon presentation of documentation of their continued affiliation with the religious community without acknowledging their right to conscientious objection. Because members of the community were not legally exempt from military service, they could not participate in the national civil service program as alternative service.

The government employed an “appropriate representation” policy for non-Jewish minorities in the civil service. The percentage of Arab employees in the public sector was 12.2 percent (61.5 percent of them entry-level), according to the Civil Service Commission. The percentage of Arab employees in the 62 government-owned companies was approximately 2.5 percent; however, during the year Arab citizens held 12 percent of director positions in government-owned companies, up from 1 percent in 2000, and Arab workers held 11 percent of government positions, up from 5 percent in 2000, according to Sikkuy, an NGO that supports full equality between Jewish and Arab citizens.

The MOI appointed and funded approximately half of the Druze and Muslim clerics in the country and continued to train Druze and Muslim clerical employees of the state on how to work with government ministries. Muslim leaders criticized the MOI for appointing non-Muslims – mostly Druze former military officers – to head the Muslim Affairs Department at the ministry. Muslim leaders again said the MOI routinely monitored and summoned for “talks” those whom the ministry suspected of opposing government policies. The government said it did not monitor clerics, but government employees of all faiths were “expected not to incite against the state in their official capacities.” The government stated the remaining Druze and Muslim clerics were not state employees due to either the preference of the local community or lack of MOI budgetary resources. Muslim leaders stated sharia court judges, who were Ministry of Justice employees, were their preferred religious representatives.

No Islamic seminaries remained in the country, and students of Islam traveled elsewhere, primarily Jordan or the West Bank, to study. The government stated there were “Islamic colleges” in Umm al-Fahm, Baqa’a al-Gharbia, and Kfar Baraa. Muslim leaders continued to reject this assertion and stated that none of those institutes was an Islamic seminary.

The government continued to promote measures to encourage increased Israeli residence and economic development in the thinly populated Negev Desert in the south of the country, including development plans for military industries, railways, the expansion of Road 6, and a phosphate mine. Civil society organizations criticized government plans, stating they could lead to the displacement of 36,000 Bedouins. The government made more funding available for government-approved Bedouin cities and towns to relocate Bedouins displaced by the economic expansion.

In reports on its website, the NGO Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, stated that the government discriminated against the Bedouin residents of the Negev in several ways, including charging those in unrecognized villages the highest water prices in the country; refusing to classify camels as “farm animals”; preventing Bedouin herders from using the grazing land in the region; not addressing overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in local schools; and displacing residents to allow for the expansion of primarily Jewish towns and the relocation or expansion of government military facilities.

In March, the NGOs Adalah and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking that it order the investigation of the death of teacher Yaqub Musa Abu al-Qian be reopened. Police shot and killed Abu al-Qian, a teacher in his fifties, in 2017 during an operation to demolish homes in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran, which was scheduled to be replaced by the Orthodox-only Jewish town of Hiran. After he was shot, Abu al-Qian’s car struck and killed a police officer. The government accused Abu al-Qian of intentionally killing the officer. The then-Minister of Public Security said Abu al-Qian was a “terrorist.” The NGOs’ petition disputed the details of the government’s account of the incident and presented a review of the police investigation by outside experts to support their argument that Abu al-Qian was driving at a speed of 10 kilometers (six miles) per hour when police opened fire, that the officer who shot Abu al-Qian did not believe his life was in danger, and that police and medical personnel had not provided medical care that may have saved Abu al-Qian’s life, but allowed him to bleed to death. Similar accounts appeared in the media, including in television news reports featuring internal police communications about the incident and the newspaper Haaretz. On September 13, Adalah and PCATI submitted an urgent motion to the Supreme Court for an immediate hearing on their March petition and asked for a reopening of the investigation. No hearing had been held by year’s end.

Bedouin residents in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran continued to not fulfill their 2018 agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev to demolish their structures and relocate to vacant plots in the Bedouin town of Hura. The agreement followed years of legal battles and negotiations on replacing Umm al-Hiran with a new community called Hiran. Jewish families sponsored by the OR Movement (an organization dedicated to expanding the Israeli population of the Negev and Galilee regions) to move to Hiran remained in the forest outside Umm al-Hiran, living in mobile homes donated by the Jewish National Fund, while waiting for the village land to become available.

Some former mosques and Islamic cemeteries remained sealed and inaccessible, including to Muslims. These sites belonged to a defunct prestate Waqf (distinct from the Jordanian-administered Waqf in Jerusalem) until confiscated by the state after the 1948 War of Independence. Other former mosques continued to be used for secular purposes. According to the Turkish press agency Anadolu, a study prepared by Kamal Khatib of the High Follow Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel found that since the War of Independence, 15 mosques had been converted into synagogues by the government, 40 mosques were either destroyed, closed, or abandoned, while 17 others had been turned into barns, bars, restaurants, or museums.

On June 8, the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality decided to resume construction of a homeless shelter on the remains of the Ottoman-era al-Issaf Islamic cemetery, sparking protests from Jaffa’s Arab citizen residents. While the protests remained mostly peaceful, some residents were arrested for violently confronting the police and destroying municipal property. Several Arab and ultra-Orthodox political parties publicly showed support for the demonstrators, calling on authorities to respect the sensitivity of burial sites. Two city council members from Jaffa resigned from the city’s ruling coalition to protest the municipality’s decision. The Tel Aviv District Court initially ordered all construction to cease due to lack of up-to-date construction permits, but later approved the construction. The Islamic Council of Jaffa petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop construction but asked the court to delete the petition on August 27. Construction resumed soon after, and the Tel Aviv Municipality committed to excavate the site using manual methods acceptable for burial sites and avoid harming the remains of the cemetery.

Muslim community leaders reported no difficulties obtaining municipal approval for construction of mosques in Muslim-majority localities, but they sometimes faced difficulty in Jewish-majority localities.

On June 6, the Karaite community submitted a second petition to the Supreme Court to block the expropriation of land previously allocated to a Karaite synagogue in Ramla for the construction of a highway interchange. The Karaites stated that the loss of land and the new interchange would disrupt their religious and communal activity. The petition remained pending at year’s end.

The Government Press Office requested journalists to refrain from reporting from ultra-Orthodox areas in April due to the occasion of Passover.

The IDF continued to have only Orthodox Jewish chaplains. The government employed civilian clergy of different faiths, including Muslim imams, as chaplains at military burials when a non-Jewish soldier died in service.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men. The Supreme Court ordered the Beit Shemesh municipality to remove such signs in 2018 or face fines. While the municipality took down some signs, it did not fully implement the ruling, and some that were removed were replaced by new ones. The court extended the deadline for the removal of the signs to September 30 to allow the municipality to discuss the matter with the residents.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, vandals repeatedly tore down or defaced billboards showing pictures of women, including commercial advertisements, public awareness campaigns, and political advertisements.

On April 30, the Supreme Court ruled on a petition by NGOs Adalah and the Secular Forum against a ban on bringing nonkosher foods (known as hametz) into public hospitals during Passover. According to the verdict, hospitals must allow nonkosher food for Passover, while finding appropriate arrangements within 10 months that would allow keeping the hospital food kosher. The alternatives offered include establishing hametz areas or using disposable plates and utensils for hametz. On June 16, the Chief Rabbinate requested an additional hearing on the case; the court had not ruled on the request as of year’s end.

According to the NGO HaMoked, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians living in Israel, including in Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the citizenship and entry law, with no legal guarantee they could continue living with their families. There were also cases of Palestinian spouses of Palestinian residents living in East Jerusalem without legal status. Some Palestinian residents moved to Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the security barrier to live with their nonresident spouse and children while maintaining Jerusalem residency. According to Christian religious leaders, this situation remained an especially acute problem for Christians because of their small population and consequent tendency to marry Christians from the West Bank or elsewhere (Christians who hold neither citizenship nor residency). A Christian religious leader expressed concern that this was a significant element in the continuing decline of the Christian population, including in Jerusalem, which negatively affected the long-term viability of their communities.

According to NGOs, community members, and media commentators, factors contributing to Christian emigration included political instability; the inability to obtain residency permits for spouses due to the 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry; the limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to building restrictions; the difficulties Christian clergy experienced in obtaining Israeli visas and residency permits; loss of confidence in the peace process; and economic hardships created by the establishment of the barrier and the imposition of travel restrictions. The government stated such difficulties stemmed from the “complex political and security reality” and not from any restrictions on the Christian community itself.

The law continued to prevent the Israel Land Authority (ILA), which administered the 93 percent of the country in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners. In practice, however, foreigners were allowed to lease if they could show they would qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return. This public land included approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes strictly prohibited sale or lease of land to non-Jews. The application of ILA restrictions continued to limit the ability of Muslim and Christian residents of Jerusalem who were not citizens to purchase property built on state land, including in parts of Jerusalem. In recent years, however, an increasing number of Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem have acquired property built on ILA-owned land. Arab citizens were allowed to place bids on JNF land, but sources stated that the ILA granted the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab citizen of Israel won a bid. Despite a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that the ILA Executive Council must include an Arab, Druze, or Circassian member to prevent discrimination against non-Jews, there were no members from these groups on the council at year’s end.

On June 24, the Jerusalem District Court denied a request by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to block the transfer of three properties in Jerusalem’s Old City to Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish prosettlement organization, which signed a 99-year lease for the properties in 2004. The District Court’s decision followed similar rulings by the Supreme Court in 2019 and a lower court in 2017. The Church had argued that its official who signed the lease was not authorized to do so. The Church filed the district court lawsuit after the Supreme Court decision, stating it had new evidence of corruption and fraud involving the sale. Following the district court decision, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate released a statement saying it received the ruling with “surprise” and that “We believe the court erred in its decision and intend to launch an appeal at the Supreme Court.”

On July 7, 13 heads of churches and Christian communities in Jerusalem issued a joint statement that the court’s ruling on the three properties threatened Christian presence in the city. The heads of the churches said that they stood united in their “commitment to safeguarding the historical status quo of the Holy Sites and rights of the churches which are universally recognized.” According to the statement, the case represented a “systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the holy city, to obstruct the Christian pilgrim route, and to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem.” The heads of the churches called on the Israeli government “to act in order to safeguard the integrity of the Christian heritage and patrimony in the Old City as well as the holy sites and the rights of the residents of the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem.”

Under the Israeli Antiquities Law, excavations within a sacred site require the approval of a ministerial committee, which includes the Ministers of Culture, Justice, and Religious Affairs. The government stated that Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) researchers “have greatly intensified their research on ‘non-Jewish’ periods in the history of the land of Israel, [including] the Prehistoric, Early Bronze, Byzantine, Muslim, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.” Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Muslim leaders continued to protest archaeological excavations and construction work done at the City of David National Park in the Silwan neighborhood outside the Old City, and in the Old City near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, including an elevator being installed at the rear of the Western Wall plaza. Some NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in Jerusalem continued to state the IAA emphasized archaeological finds that bolstered Jewish claims while minimizing historically significant archaeological finds of other religions. Archeologists from Emek Shaveh continued to dispute the government’s representation of the “Pilgrim’s Road,” a tunnel dug by the IAA and inaugurated in Silwan in 2019, as being historically part of the pilgrimage route to the Jewish Second Temple; Emek Shaveh said the excavation method did not establish with certainty the date and purpose of the road. NGOs such as the City of David Foundation (El-Ad) and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies continued to support the government’s position.

The Secular Forum and Hiddush continued to demand regular family visits to army bases on Shabbat, although the IDF committee established in 2019 following a petition by the Secular Forum and Hiddush concluded its work, according to a July 7 letter to Hiddush. In the letter, the IDF stated that the committee created unified procedures for visits on Shabbat but had not yet published them. Secular Forum and Hiddush originally petitioned the IDF because family visits on Shabbat were regularly cancelled.

The NGO Secular Forum reported that in response to complaints it had filed about IDF members being punished for using private refrigerators to store personal food items, the IDF issued an order allowing soldiers to bring outside food, including nonkosher food, into IDF facilities and to store nonkosher food in private or communal refrigerators.

The Israel Women’s Action Network and other women’s rights NGOs continued to cite a trend of gender segregation in government institutions, including the IDF. The NGOs said this increased accommodation of Jewish religious observance was intended to attract more personnel from groups that strictly interpreted Jewish law prohibiting mixing of the sexes. In 2019, following a wave of protests by “national religious” rabbis, the IDF stopped allowing women to serve in combat positions in the armored corps despite a successful pilot program. The IDF chief of staff, in a response to Supreme Court petitions on the matter, announced he would extend the pilot program and make a final decision on the matter in 2022. Many observers, however, stated that the trend in recent years has been toward greater inclusion of women in the IDF, including in combat roles and senior leadership positions.

According to a November report in the Jerusalem Post, the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court convicted an unnamed Bedouin man of polygamy and sentenced him to seven months in prison, the second such conviction in two years. According to a 2019 Associated Press report, the government was trying to end the custom of polygamy among Bedouins in the Negev and, for the first time, prosecuted suspected polygamists. Many Bedouins stated they saw this new policy as a means to curb their population growth and criminalize community members. On August 14, Haaretz reported that the government said it would change its method for selling building lots in Bedouin communities in order to prevent them from being purchased by women in polygamous marriages. Although the country outlawed polygamy decades ago, approximately 20 to 30 percent of Bedouin men practiced polygamy, according to government figures, with the rate as high as 60 percent in some villages.

On August 19, Minister of Education Yoav Galant intervened in Bible studies curriculum by cutting out Jewish history satirical sketches from the television show HaYehudim Baim (The Jews are Coming), posted on a Ministry of Education’s website including supplementary content for Bible studies teachers, following a protest from Orthodox rabbis. On August 21, the NGO Association for Civil Rights in Israel demanded that the Attorney General instruct the Minister that he has no authority to intervene in the school curriculum.

At year’s end, the Knesset had 17 members from religious minorities (11 Muslims, four Druze, and two Christians). There were no Druze, Muslim, or Christian members of the cabinet.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religious and national identities were often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

Christian clergy and pilgrims continued to report instances of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem harassing or spitting on them. In one incident in June, a Catholic friar reported being assaulted in public by three men wearing kippot (yarmulkes) who spit at and verbally attacked him. When the attackers began physically assaulting the friar, bystanders intervened and forced the attackers to leave. According to the priest, police did not respond to telephone calls for assistance during the attack but recorded a complaint filed by the victim.

On November 16, an employee of the emergency medical service Magen David Adom was filmed spitting on Christian icons placed in a hallway of a building after he collected a sample for a coronavirus test. Magen David Adom dismissed the Jewish worker, who said he did it because the symbols were “idol worship.”

Yuri Logvanenko, a chef formerly employed by the Rehovot branch of the Yochanof supermarket chain, filed suit against the store after the chain demoted and then fired him after his Jewish status was questioned by a kashrut supervisor. Four days after Logvanenko started work at the branch, the store’s kashrut supervisor approached him and demanded in front of other employees that he prove his Jewish identity. His attorneys said that Logvanenko, who had worked at another Yochanof location for seven months prior to transferring to Rehovot, was “abused and harmed in his workplace” because he was born in the Soviet Union. Logvanenko stated that he felt he was the victim of “racism.”

According to press reports, on August 5, former Knesset member Moshe Feiglin posted a comment on Facebook calling the massive August 4 explosion in the port of Beirut “a gift from God,” in time for the celebration of the Jewish feast of Tu B’av. In a subsequent radio interview, Feiglin said “We are all allowed to rejoice in that it exploded in the port of Beirut and not Tel Aviv.” Observers noted that Feiglin’s comments were not representative of public and government sentiment. Many social media users described Feiglin’s comments as “hateful” and disturbing; the government worked through diplomatic channels to offer medical and humanitarian assistance to the government of Lebanon. Feiglin later removed the Facebook post. On December 30, President Reuven Rivlin reiterated that the “State of Israel will always be committed to freedom of religion.”

During the funeral of Iyad Halak, a Palestinian student who was fatally shot on May 30 by police officers, hundreds of mourners reportedly chanted “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of [the Prophet] Mohammed will return,” a taunt referring to the seventh century Muslim massacre and expulsion of the Jews of Khaybar. Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City fatally shot Halak, who had autism, on June 30 after he allegedly failed to follow police orders to halt. Police stated they believed Halak was carrying a “suspicious object.” Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed regret for the incident and called for a quick investigation. On October 21, DIPO issued a statement that the prosecution intended to indict, pending a hearing, a police officer suspected of the shooting on charges of reckless homicide. According to the Ministry of Justice, investigators carefully examined the circumstances of the incident and determined that Halak had not posed any danger to police and civilians who were at the scene, that the police officer discharged his weapon not in accordance with police procedures, and that the police officer had not taken proportionate alternative measures that were at his disposal.

On June 10, Women of the Wall and the IRAC filed a petition against Rabbi David Yosef of the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem, demanding a disciplinary hearing following repeated statements in which he allegedly incited against and disdained Women of the Wall. The case was pending at year’s end.

According to missionary organizations, societal attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion to other religions continued to be negative. Some Jews continued to oppose missionary activity directed at Jews, saying it amounted to religious harassment, and reacted with hostility toward Jewish converts to Christianity, such as Messianic Jews.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that, following a 2019 complaint regarding an attack on two Jehovah’s Witnesses members during a door-to-door activity in Bat Yam, police summoned one of the members and told her that the individual who had attacked her later submitted a complaint against her for making threats and trespassing in her efforts to convert him to Christianity. According to the government, the investigation into the incident was ongoing at year’s end.

Members of the Lehava antiassimilation organization, described by press as a radical right-wing Jewish group opposing romantic relationships between Jews and non-Jews, continued to criticize or assault Arab men who were in relationships with Jewish women and to harass “mixed” couples. In a September video released online, Lehava indicated that over the previous Jewish year it had “explained to 278 Arabs, in a language they understand, the prohibition on dating Jewish women.” A trial against Lehava director Ben-Tzion Gopstein for offenses of incitement to terrorism, violence, and racism opened on June 8 and was ongoing at year’s end. Lehava and Yad L’Achim continued to stop instances of cohabitation between Jewish women and Arab men by sometimes “launching military-like rescues from ‘hostile’ Arab villages,” according to Yad L’Achim’s website.

There continued to be reports of ultra-Orthodox Jews in public areas of their neighborhoods harassing individuals who did not conform to Jewish Orthodox traditions, such as by driving on Shabbat or wearing clothing that they perceived as immodest. The harassment included verbal abuse, spitting, and throwing stones.

Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community and other citizens, including concerns related to service in the IDF, housing, public transportation, participation in the workforce, and adherence to COVID-19 regulations. Press and NGOs said that the COVID-19 outbreak intensified tensions between ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis, as viral videos showing large gatherings at ultra-Orthodox weddings and funerals reinforced a stereotype that the ultra-Orthodox as a whole disregarded state authority and the public good. Many ultra-Orthodox stated they disagreed with COVID-19 restrictions that limited religious gatherings but permitted months of large demonstrations against Prime Minister Netanyahu.

On March 14, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a major figure in the ultra-Orthodox community, ordered his followers to continue studies in their yeshivas and to continue large weddings and funerals, despite Ministry of Health orders to the contrary. In late March, Kanievsky reversed his earlier decision and called for his followers to pray alone. As a result of widespread failure to obey government directives, the ultra-Orthodox community accounted for a disproportionately high percentage of the country’s COVID-19 cases, according to the press. On April 2, the government declared Bnei Brak, one of the country’s poorest and most densely populated cities with a large ultra-Orthodox population, to be a “restricted zone.” The government subsequently ordered the IDF into the city to provide relief services and security. One government expert estimated that up to 38 percent of the city’s 200,000 ultra-Orthodox inhabitants were infected with the COVID-19 virus. The government later closed off other cities and neighborhoods because of the pandemic, many of them ultra-Orthodox.

Ultra-Orthodox communities across the country celebrated the holidays of Lag B’Omer, Sukkot, and Simhat Torah in mass gatherings, despite government restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. On October 6, Haaretz reported that the Jerusalem police allowed several ultra-Orthodox communities in the city to hold mass events as long as there would not be “public documentation” of them. In October, Haaretz published an analysis that said, “On the coronavirus map, Israel is currently divided into two countries: the ultra-Orthodox population and all the rest.” Anat Hoffman, executive director of the IRAC and one of the founders of Women of the Wall, told the UK publication the New Statesman that COVID-19 “magnifies” the already fraught relationship between the ultra-Orthodox minority and the secular majority and that the country is witnessing a “backlash” against the central role of the ultra-Orthodox minority in national politics. In the article, Hoffman said “The feeling among the seculars…is that the [country’s] lockdown is on secular activities.”

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Ziv Medical Center refused to hand over the remains of Druze religious leader Sheikh Abu Zain Aldin Hassan Halabi after he died of the virus there on October 30. Members of the Druze community, however, took his body from the hospital for a funeral and burial on the Golan Heights. According to press, “thousands” attended the event, which was coordinated with police and the Ministry of Health in the city of Majdal Shams, which was under lockdown due to high rates of COVID-19 infection. “Price tag” attacks by Jewish individuals and groups continued to take place during the year against individuals – particularly Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians of the occupied West Bank and their property – with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. On February 11, tires of 170 cars were vandalized and graffiti was sprayed on a mosque and on walls in Gush Halav, also known as Jish, that said, “Jews wake up” and “Stop intermarrying.”

“Price tag” attacks by Jewish individuals and groups continued to take place during the year against individuals – particularly Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians of the occupied West Bank and their property – with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. On February 11, tires of 170 cars were vandalized and graffiti was sprayed on a mosque and on walls in Gush Halav, also known as Jish, that said, “Jews wake up” and “Stop intermarrying.”

Authorities opened an investigation following a suspected arson and price tag attack against a mosque in the Beit Safafa neighborhood of Jerusalem on January 24. Press reported that the suspect left Hebrew graffiti on an outside wall of the building that appeared to be a reference to Kumi Uri, a settler outpost in which the IDF had demolished buildings earlier in the month.

The NGO Tag Meir continued to organize visits to areas where “price tag” attacks occurred and to sponsor activities promoting tolerance in response to the attacks.

Although the Chief Rabbinate and rabbis of many ultra-Orthodox denominations continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site due to the ongoing halakhic debate about whether it is permissible or forbidden for Jews to enter the Temple Mount, some Orthodox rabbis continued to say entering the site was permissible. Many among the self-identified “national religious” Zionist community stated they found meaning in visiting the site. Groups such as the Temple Institute and Yaraeh continued to call for increased Jewish access and prayer there as well as the construction of a third Jewish temple on the site. In some cases, Israeli police prevented individuals from praying and removed them; in other cases, reported by the Waqf, on social media, and by NGOs, police appeared not to notice the activity. According to local media, some Jewish groups escorted by Israeli police performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration. Some Jewish visitors publicly noted that the National Police were more permissive to them in permitting silent prayer. According to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, visits by activists associated with the Temple Mount movement decreased to 18,500 from 30,000 in 2019, largely due to COVID-19 restrictions.

NGOs reported that some LGBTI minors who revealed their sexual orientation in religious communities faced expulsion from their homes and stigmatization by rabbis. NGOs noted reports of mental illness among the LGBTI minor community, leading some to attempt suicide. Other NGOs noted that an increasing number of rabbis, educators, and community leaders in Orthodox Jewish communities were adopting a more inclusive approach to LGBTI minors.

On February 4, then-Minister of Education Rafi Peretz announced he would grant an Israel Prize for Torah literature to Rabbi Yaacov Ariel, the former rabbi of Ramat Gan, who made public statements against LGBTI persons, including a 2014 call not to rent apartments to lesbian couples. On April 26, the Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by the Israel LGBT Taskforce, an NGO (also known as the Aguda), against the granting of the prize to Ariel, stating the case did not justify the court’s intervention. Ariel refused to retract his statements.

Several religious NGOs, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, sought to break the rabbinate’s monopoly over issues that included kashrut certificates for burial, marriage, and divorce.

According to the NGO Panim, 2,486 weddings took place outside of the rabbinate’s authority in 2019, compared with 2,610 in 2018. These included unofficial orthodox, conservative, reform, and secular ceremonies.

According to Bar Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, thousands of Jewish women were “trapped” in various stages of informal or formal get (divorce) refusals, especially in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities. The Rackman Center stated that in some instances a woman’s husband made granting a get contingent on his wife conceding to extortionate demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody. One in three Jewish women who divorced faced such demands, according to the Center for Women’s Justice.

NGOs, including Mavoi Satum and Itim, promoted the use of prenuptial agreements to prevent cases of aginut (in which a woman whose husband is unwilling or unable to grant her a get). Such agreements provide financial incentives paid by a refusing spouse until the termination of the marriage.

A variety of NGOs continued to try to build understanding and create dialogue among religious groups and between religious and secular Jewish communities, including Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, the Abraham Fund Initiative, Givat Haviva, the Hagar and Hand-in-Hand integrated Jewish-Arab bilingual schools, Hiddush, Israeli Religious Action Center, Mosaica, Tag Meir, and Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA). For example, IEA held 384 interfaith encounters throughout the year. The number of children studying at integrated Yad BeYad Jewish-Arab schools in the school year beginning in September was 1,800, up from 1,700 in the previous year.

Despite the labor law, some foreign domestic workers stated that some employers did not allow their domestic workers to take off their weekly day of worship.

In its annual Israel Religion and State Index poll of 800 adult Jews published in September, Hiddush found that 65 percent of respondents identified as either secular (47 percent) or “traditional-not-religious” (18 percent), with positions regarding public policy on religion and state close to the positions of secular Israelis. Of those surveyed, 83 percent supported freedom of religion and conscience, and 63 percent supported the separation of religion and state. Sixty-five percent supported equal status for the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform traditions. A large majority did not see the need for religious conversion approved by the Chief Rabbinate as a condition for the state to recognize the Judaism of new immigrants, with only 34 percent considering conversion via the Chief Rabbinate necessary, compared with 38 percent in the previous year. Thirty-six percent stated immigrants should be recognized as Jewish if they identify as such, and 30 percent stated immigrants should be recognized as Jewish if they undergo either an Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform conversion. Sixty-four percent of respondents said they opposed the participation of ultra-Orthodox parties in the government in a way that gives the ultra-Orthodox the ability to dictate government policy and legislation on matters of religion and state. Of those surveyed, 22 percent accepted the position of the ultra-Orthodox parties that yeshiva students should be exempted from military or civic service.

According to the Hiddush poll, 65 percent of the country’s adult Jewish population supported recognition by the state of freedom of choice in marriage, doing away with the rabbinate’s monopoly, and equally recognizing civil and non-Orthodox religious marriages. According to the same survey, 51 percent of the public stated that had they been allowed a choice, they would not have married in an Orthodox ceremony, compared with 35 percent who expressed the same sentiment in 2009, 39 percent in 2013, and 47 percent in 2016.

In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes towards democratic principles such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 77 percent of Israeli respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” ranking it among the highest of their priorities for democratic principles among the nine tested.

In June, the Pew Research Center released a poll completed in 2019 that stated that 48 percent of Israelis surveyed agreed with the statement that belief in God is needed to be moral while an equal number, 48 percent, disagreed. The median for the 34 countries polled showed 51 percent agreeing that a belief in God was needed to be moral, with 45 percent disagreeing.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings with Israeli government officials, embassy officials stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for all religious groups. The Ambassador spoke at the Christian Media Summit‎ hosted by the government in October to promote religious freedom in the region, and the Charge d’Affaires hosted a virtual interfaith reception for representatives of the country’s diverse religious groups. In January, the Vice President represented the United States at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, at Yad Vashem, which press called the largest-ever event focused on combating anti-Semitism.

Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The embassy awarded grants to the Jerusalem Intercultural Center for an interreligious community economic development program in the Old City. Additionally, the embassy presented a grant to the Interfaith Encounter Association to bring together three interfaith groups in Jerusalem’s Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods to meet with U.S. experts, coordinators, and fellow interfaith groups. The embassy also issued public statements condemning attacks on places of worship, including an attempted arson attack on the Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane.

On April 20 and 23, the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with government and civil society representatives to discuss increasing COVID-19-themed manifestations of anti-Semitic tropes against Israel and Jews, especially online. The Special Envoy and his counterparts agreed that increasing education, monitoring, legislation, and law enforcement could help combat this trend.

Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated a shared society for Arab and Jewish populations. Embassy officials advocated for the right of persons from all faiths to practice their religion peacefully, while also respecting the beliefs and customs of their neighbors.

Throughout the year, embassy officials used social media platforms to express U.S. support for tolerance and the importance of openness to members of other religious groups.

Embassy-hosted events included a virtual interfaith iftar and a virtual interfaith Thanksgiving roundtable discussion. The embassy also promoted the reduction of tensions between religious communities and an increase in interreligious communication and partnerships by bringing together representatives of many faith communities to advance shared goals and exchange knowledge and experience. Embassy programs supported mixed Jewish-Arab educational and community initiatives to reduce societal tensions and violence through sports, the arts, environmental projects, and entrepreneurship. Initiatives included a project by the Citizens Accord Forum that brought together Bedouins and Jews of Ethiopian descent to address violence and build strong relationships between their communities. Another project continued to support joint training sessions for Muslim and Jewish teachers to promote interreligious tolerance in classrooms.

The embassy worked to mitigate interreligious and intercommunal tensions between the country’s non-Jewish and Jewish citizens through the greater integration of the Arab minority into the broader national economy, especially the high-tech sector.

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West Bank and Gaza

Malta

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious worship and prohibits religious discrimination. The constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and mandates Catholic religious teaching in state schools, from which students may opt out. The government again failed to license any crematoria for use by the Hindu community or others, act on a Russian Orthodox application, pending since 2017, to build a church, or implement past proposals to offer voluntary Islamic religious education in state schools. In September, Catholic bishops in the country issued a public statement stating that two equality bills introduced in parliament in 2019 with the stated aim of preventing discrimination would instead threaten personal freedoms, including conscientious objection to promoting or participating in activities that went against one’s principles and values, and the rights of Catholic schools to appoint educators who reflected Catholic values.

As in previous years, Greek Catholics made a church available for use by a Russian Orthodox congregation, and Roman Catholic parishes made their premises available to various Orthodox groups.

The U.S. embassy advocated religious freedom through in-person engagement, opinion pieces in the media, and outreach on social media. Together with government officials, the U.S. Charge’ d’Affaires participated in the annual Hanukkah celebration in December and emphasized the importance of celebrating religious freedom during difficult times.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 457,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). According to a 2018 survey conducted by the newspaper Malta Today, 94 percent of respondents identified as Catholic and 3.9 percent as atheist; 1.3 percent reported belonging to non-Catholic Christian denominations. Another survey conducted by Malta Today in 2016 reported 2.6 percent of respondents were Muslim, 1.8 percent said they only believed in God, 1.7 percent belonged to other religious groups, and 4.5 percent were atheist or agnostic. The Islamic Call Society estimates 6 to 7 percent of the population is Muslim, of whom most are Sunni, with a smaller Shia and Ahmadi presence. Additional religious communities with small numbers of members include Coptic Christians; Baptists; evangelical Protestants; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Seventh-day Adventists; Buddhists; Baha’is; members of the Greek, Russian, Ethiopian, Romanian, and Serbian Orthodox Churches; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification; and traditional African religions. According to Jewish community leaders, the Jewish population comprises an estimated 200 persons. A significant number of minority religious community members are migrants, refugees, foreign workers, or naturalized citizens.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates full freedom of conscience and religious worship, subject to restrictions in the interest of public safety, order, morality, health, or protection of the rights and freedoms of others. It prohibits discriminatory treatment based on creed. The constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion.

The law allows criticism of religious groups, but the criminal code prohibits incitement of religious hatred, with violators subject to imprisonment of six to 18 months. It also prohibits the disturbance of “any function, ceremony, or religious service of any religion tolerated by law” carried out by a minister of religion, both in places of worship and in areas accessible to the public. The penalty for violators is up to six months in prison or more if the disturbance results in “serious danger.” If the disturbance involves any act amounting to a threat or violence against a person, punishment is imprisonment for a period of six months to two years.

The criminal code prohibits individuals from wearing “masks or disguises” in public, unless explicitly allowed by law; there is no specific reference to – or exception for – coverings worn for religious reasons. Violations are subject to a reprimand, a fine of 23 to 1,165 euros ($28-$1,400), or a jail sentence of up to two months.

Cremation is legal and the law makes provisions for licensing, conditions for cremation, and the creation of a national cremation register listing the entities licensed to perform cremations.

The government does not require religious groups to be registered. A religious group has the option to register as a voluntary organization with the Office of the Commissioner for Voluntary Organizations. To qualify for registration, the organization must be nonprofit, autonomous, and voluntary; provide a resolution letter signed by all its committee or board members requesting registration; provide its authenticated annual accounts and annual report; and pay a 40 euro ($49) registration fee. The law does not provide registered groups with tax deductions or exemptions, but it allows them to engage in “public collections” without obtaining any further authorization. It also makes them eligible to receive grants, sponsorships, and financial aid from the government and the Voluntary Organizations Fund, an entity financed through the government and the European Union. The Minister of Education appoints the governing council of the fund, which includes members from voluntary organizations and a government representative.

Religious groups not registered as voluntary organizations with the Office of the Commissioner for Voluntary Organizations do not receive funding from the government or the Voluntary Organizations Fund and must obtain approval from the commissioner of police to carry out public collections. Approval is not required for collections from members or congregants. In all other respects, groups that do not register as voluntary organizations have the same legal rights as registered groups.

All registered and unregistered religious groups may own property, including buildings. Groups using property for a particular purpose, including religious worship, must obtain a permit for that purpose from the Planning Authority. All religious groups may organize and run private religious schools, and their clergy may perform legally recognized marriages and other religious functions.

The constitution states the Catholic Church has “the duty and the right to teach which principles are right and which are wrong.” The constitution and law make Catholic education compulsory in public schools; the state, rather than the Catholic Church, provides the course teachers, who may be non-Catholic. Students, with parental consent if the student is younger than age 16, may opt out of these classes and instead take an ethics course, if one is available. If a school does not offer an ethics course, students may still opt out of the religion class.

Students may enroll in private religious schools. The law does not regulate religious education in private schools. The law does not allow homeschooling for religious or other reasons except for physical or mental infirmity.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The Planning Authority again failed to make a decision on an application, pending since 2017, by the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Paul the Apostle to build a new church in Kappara.

As in previous years, the government did not enforce the legal ban on face coverings or disguises, including those worn for religious purposes.

According to the Ministry for Education and Employment, the number of public schools offering ethics as an alternative to religion classes and the number of students in both public and other schools remained similar to those of 2019. All students in training to become primary school teachers continued to receive training in the teaching of ethics.

NGOs and Catholic and other Christian groups criticized two draft bills prohibiting discrimination and promoting equality, under consideration in parliament since 2019. On September 15, Catholic bishops in the country issued a public statement on the Archdiocese of Malta website objecting to certain clauses in the bills. Specifically, the prelates wrote that Church schools should be free to appoint educators who reflected Catholic values and that the bills should include the right for individuals to conscientious objection to promoting or participating in activities “that go against their conscience, and the principles and values that they embrace.” LGBTQI groups raised concerns that such an exception to the bill would enable faith-based institutions to discriminate against LGBTQI persons and others. The letter was signed by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, president of the Maltese bishops’ conference, Bishop Anton Theuma of Gozo, and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Galea-Curmi. Parliament was still reviewing the bills at year’s end.

The government again did not introduce voluntary Islamic religious education as an after-school program in state primary or secondary schools despite statements in previous years that it was considering doing so. The Ministry for Education and Employment stated that it was collaborating with the Muslim community on the design of such a program. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools cancelled most after-school programs.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Greek Catholic Church Our Lady of Damascus in Valletta again made itself available for the congregation of the Russian Orthodox Parish of St. Paul the Apostle to use as the latter awaited the Planning Authority’s decision on its application to build a new church. Roman Catholic parishes also made their premises available to the Ethiopian, Romanian, Serbian, and Russian Orthodox Churches.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In December, the U.S. Charge d’Affaires participated in the annual Hanukkah celebration in Valletta together with the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs and delivered brief remarks at the event about the importance of celebrating religious freedom and tolerance during difficult times. The Charge also advocated religious freedom on the embassy’s digital media platforms and wrote op-eds that were published in newspapers with the highest circulation in the country, including The Times of Malta and The Sunday Times of Malta. For example, in commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, the Charge wrote an editorial that appeared in The Malta Independent, highlighting the importance the U.S. Department of State gave to protecting freedom of religion and belief. In April, the Charge posted to Facebook greetings to everyone celebrating Easter, Passover, and Ramadan, and called for communities to support each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, the Charge posted to Facebook greetings to everyone celebrating Easter, Passover, and Ramadan, and said religious leaders and communities in the country played an important role in supporting each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morocco

Executive Summary

The constitution states the King holds the title “Commander of the Faithful” and that he is the protector of Islam and the guarantor of the freedom to practice religious affairs in the country. It prohibits political parties founded on religion, as well as political parties, parliamentarians, and constitutional amendments that denigrate or infringe on Islam. The law penalizes the use of enticements to convert a Muslim to another religion and prohibits criticism of Islam. The government claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the area it controls by the same constitution, laws, and structures as elsewhere in the country, including laws that deal with religious freedom. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization seeking the territory’s independence, disputes this claim to sovereignty over the territory. In May, authorities arrested movie actor Rafik Boubker for making “blasphemous remarks against Islam and attacking the sacredness of worship” in a social media posting. After the government ordered the closure of mosques in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some Salafists objected to the closures as an assault on faith. After Salafist leader Abou Naim criticized the government’s decision in a March 16 Facebook post, authorities arrested him the next day and indicted him for incitement and compromising public order. On April 3, the Rabat Court of Appeal sentenced Naim to one year in prison and a fine of 2,000 dirhams ($220). In February, the Justice and Charity Organization (JCO), a Sunni Islamist social movement that rejects the King’s spiritual authority, protested in Rabat and Tangier a decision made in 2019 to close unlicensed mosques in Casablanca, Kenitra, and Inezgane, which were operating in the homes of JCO members. On February 20, Agadir University expelled three students affiliated with JCO on charges of “insulting public officials and defamation of things intended for public benefit.” Although the law allows registration of religious groups as associations, some minority religious groups reported the government rejected their registration requests. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) continued to guide and monitor the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by broadcast media, actions it said were intended to combat violent extremism. The government restricted the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. In January, the King inaugurated Bayt Dakira, a Jewish cultural museum in Essaouira.

On April 1, police in Casablanca arrested a man for hate speech for social media posts accusing a Jewish citizen and a foreign national of being directly responsible for the infection of a large number of persons with COVID-19. Representatives of minority religious groups said fear of societal harassment, including ostracism by converts’ families, social ridicule, employment discrimination, and potential violence against them by “extremists,” were the main reasons leading them to practice their faiths discreetly. Foreign clergy discouraged some Christian citizens from attending services for fear of societal harassment. A member of the local Christian community stated that Christian services were held in secret house churches to avoid such harassment. According to the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) annual report for 2018-19, there was continued societal harassment of Shia and Shiism in the press and in Friday sermons. Christian and Jewish representatives stated that they had seen a positive change in regard to societal tolerance, which they attributed to the 2019 visit of Pope Francis and statements at that time by the King. Representatives of Christian minority groups in the Western Sahara said fear of societal harassment, including ostracism by converts’ families and social ridicule, was the main reason leading them to practice their faith discreetly.

The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy and consulate general officials met with government officials, including from the Ministry of Interior and the MEIA, to promote religious freedom and tolerance, including the rights of minority communities. In regular meetings and discussions with members of religious minority and majority communities throughout the country, embassy and consulate general representatives highlighted the importance of protection of religious minorities and interfaith dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 35.6 million (midyear 2020 estimate). More than 99 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, and less than 0.1 percent of the population is Shia Muslim. Groups together constituting less than 1 percent of the population include Christians, Jews, and Baha’is.

According to Jewish community leaders, there are an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 Jews, approximately 2,500 of whom reside in Casablanca. Some Christian community leaders estimate there are between 2,000 and 6,000 Christian citizens distributed throughout the country; however, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights estimates there are 25,000 Christian citizens.

Foreign-resident Christian leaders estimate the foreign-resident Christian population numbers at least 30,000 Roman Catholics and 10,000 Protestants, many of whom are recent migrants from sub-Saharan Africa or lifelong residents of the country whose families have resided and worked in the country for generations but do not hold citizenship. There are small foreign-resident Anglican communities in Casablanca and Tangier. There are an estimated 3,000 foreign residents who identify as Russian and Greek Orthodox, including a small foreign-resident Russian Orthodox community in Rabat and a small foreign-resident Greek Orthodox community in Casablanca. Most foreign-resident Christians live in the Casablanca, Tangier, and Rabat urban areas, but small numbers of foreign Christians are present throughout the country, including many who are migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

Shia Muslim leaders estimate there are several thousand Shia citizens, with the largest proportion in the north. In addition, there are an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 foreign-resident Shia from Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, and Iraq. Leaders of the Ahmadi Muslim community estimate their numbers at 750. Leaders of the Baha’i community estimate there are 350 to 400 members throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

According to the constitution, the country is a Muslim state and Islam is the religion of the state. The constitution guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly, and says the state guarantees every individual the freedom to practice his or her religious affairs. The constitution states the King holds the title “Commander of the Faithful” and that he is the protector of Islam and the guarantor of the freedom to practice religious affairs in the country. The constitution prohibits the enactment of laws or constitutional amendments infringing upon its provisions relating to Islam and also recognizes the Jewish community as an integral component of society. According to the constitution, political parties may not be founded on religion and may not denigrate or infringe on Islam. A political party may not legally challenge Islam as the state religion. Religions other than Islam and Judaism are not recognized by the constitution or laws.

The government claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the area it controls by the same constitution, laws, and structures as elsewhere in the country, including laws that deal with religious freedom. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization seeking the territory’s independence, disputes this claim to sovereignty over the territory.

The constitution and the law governing media prohibit any individual, including members of parliament normally immune from arrest, from criticizing Islam on public platforms, such as print or online media or in public speeches. Such expressions are punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and a fine of up to 200,000 dirhams ($22,400).

The law penalizes anyone who “employs enticements to undermine the faith” or converts a Muslim to another faith by exploiting their weakness or need for assistance or through the use of educational, health, or other institutions. It provides punishments of six months to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($22 to $56) for violations. The same penalties apply to anyone who intentionally interferes with religious rites or celebrations where this causes disturbances or affects the dignity of such religious acts. The law also provides the right to a court trial for anyone accused of such an offense. Voluntary conversion is not a crime under the law. The law permits the government to expel summarily any noncitizen resident it determines to be “a threat to public order,” and the government has used this clause to expel foreigners suspected of proselytizing.

By law, impeding or preventing one or more persons from worshipping or from attending worship services of any religion is punishable by six months to three years imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($22 to $56). The penal code states any person known to be Muslim who breaks the fast in public during the month of Ramadan without an exception granted by religious authorities is liable to punishment of six months in prison and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($22 to $56). Owners have discretion to keep their restaurants open during Ramadan.

The High Authority for Audiovisual Communications established by the constitution requires all eight public television stations to dedicate 5 percent of their airtime to Islamic religious content and to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer five times daily.

Sunni Muslims and Jews are the only religious groups recognized in the constitution as native to the country. A separate set of laws and special courts govern personal status matters for Jews, including functions such as marriage, inheritance, and other personal status matters. Rabbinical authorities, who are also court officials, administer Jewish family courts. Muslim judges trained in the country’s Maliki-Ashari Sunni interpretation of sharia administer the courts for personal status matters for all other religious groups. According to the law, a Muslim man may marry a Christian or Jewish woman; a Muslim woman may not marry a man of another religion unless he converts to Islam. Non-Muslims must formally convert to Islam and be permanent residents before they can become guardians of abandoned or orphaned children. Guardianship entails the caretaking of a child, which may last until the child reaches 18, but it does not allow changing the child’s name or inheritance rights, and it requires maintaining the child’s birth religion, according to orphanage directors.

Legal provisions outlined in the general tax code provide tax benefits, land and building grants, subsidies, and customs exemptions for imports necessary for the religious activities of recognized religious groups (Sunni Muslims and Jews) and religious groups registered as associations (some “foreign” Christian churches). The law does not require religious groups to register to worship privately, but a nonrecognized religious group must register as an association to conduct business on behalf of the group (e.g., open and hold bank accounts, rent property, acquire land and building grants, and have access to customs exemptions for imports necessary for the religious activities) or to hold public gatherings. Associations must register with local Ministry of Interior officials in the jurisdiction of the association’s headquarters. An individual representative of a religious group that is neither recognized nor registered as an association may be held liable for any of the group’s public gatherings, transactions, bank accounts, property rentals, or petitions to the government. The registration application must contain the name and purpose of the association; the name, nationality, age, profession, and residential address of each founder; and the address of the association’s headquarters. The constitution guarantees civil society associations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the right to organize themselves and conduct their activities freely within the scope of the constitution. The law on associations prohibits organizations that pursue activities the government regards as “illegal, contrary to good morals, or aimed at undermining the Islamic religion, the integrity of the national territory, or the monarchical regime, or which call for discrimination.”

Many foreign-resident Christian churches (churches run by and attended by foreign residents only) are registered as associations. The Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican Churches maintain different forms of official status. The Russian Orthodox and Anglican Churches are registered as branches of international associations through the embassies of Russia and the United Kingdom, respectively. Protestant churches and the Catholic Church, whose existence as foreign-resident churches predates the country’s independence in 1956, as well as the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, maintain a special status recognized by the government, which allows them to preserve houses of worship and assign foreign clergy.

By law, all publicly funded educational institutions must teach Sunni Islam in accordance with the teachings and traditions of the Maliki-Ashari school of Islamic jurisprudence. Foreign-run and privately funded schools have the choice of including or omitting religious instruction within the school’s curriculum. Private Jewish schools may teach Judaism.

According to the constitution, only the High Council of Ulema, a group headed and appointed by the King with representatives from all regions of the country, is authorized to issue fatwas, which become legally binding only through the King’s endorsement in a royal decree and subsequent confirmation by parliament. Such fatwas are considered binding only on Maliki-Ashari Sunni Muslims. If the King or parliament declines to ratify a decision of the council, the decision remains nonbinding and unenforced.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In May, authorities arrested movie actor Rafik Boubker for making “blasphemous remarks against Islam and attacking the sacredness of worship.” According to the Agence France Presse news agency, in a video posted to social media, Boubker appeared to insult imams, to call for making religious ablutions with “whiskey and vodka,” and to praise the benefits of alcohol for “connecting with God.” Boubker, who was released on bail pending a court hearing, faced a possible sentence of between six months and two years in prison and a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 dirhams ($2,200 to $22,400). On July 14, the Ain Sebaa Court of First Instance in Casablanca postponed his trial. At year’s end, the date of the trial remained unknown.

On March 16, the King ordered the High Council of Ulema to issue a fatwa mandating the immediate closure of mosques to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the government, the mosques were opened four months later under strict compliance with COVID-19 measures.

Some Salafists who oppose the government objected to the closures as an assault on faith. One Salafist leader, Abou Naim, called on the government to close “casinos, bars, and debauchery…instead of talking about mosques.” He also said, “The country that closes its mosques renounces its religion. Do not despise the mosque, otherwise God will punish you.” Police arrested Abou Naim on March 17, the day after he posted a video on Facebook containing his criticism. After the government indicted him for inciting hatred and violence and compromising public order, the Rabat Court of Appeal sentenced him on April 3 to one year in prison and a 2000-dirham ($220) fine.

Authorities continued to deny Christian citizen groups freedom of worship in churches, the right to Christian or civil marriage and funeral services, and the right to establish churches (or, unlike foreign churches, to establish an association). The government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered to be advocating against Islam as the state religion.

In February, the JCO protested in Rabat and Tangier a decision made in February 2019 to close unlicensed mosques in Casablanca, Kenitra, and Inezgane, which were operating in the homes of JCO members. According to press reports, on February 20, Agadir University expelled three students affiliated with JCO for “insulting public officials and defamation of things intended for public benefit.”

The JCO remained banned but largely tolerated, although the government continued to monitor its activities. It remained the largest social movement in the country despite being unregistered. The JCO continued to release press statements, hold conferences, manage internet sites, and participate in political demonstrations. According to media, there were instances in which the government prevented the organization from meeting and restricted public distribution of JCO publications. On June 25, the JCO announced it did not consider itself a religious minority, but rather an Islamic advocacy organization deprived of basic rights.

During the year, there were no reports of authorities prohibiting nonregistered religious groups from practicing their religion in private.

Community leaders from various Christian groups said authorities continued to make telephone or house calls to demonstrate that they continued to monitor Christian activities. According to various sources, authorities said the purpose of such monitoring was to protect minority religious communities. Authorities also informed all religious communities they would be monitoring their compliance with COVID-19 restrictions, as they did with the general population.

A number of religious groups reported occasionally informing authorities of planned large gatherings, for which authorities sometimes provided security.

According to religious leaders and legal scholars, the government’s refusal to allow Shia Muslim groups to register as associations continued to prevent these groups from gathering legally for public religious observations. There were no known Shia mosques. According to Shia community members, they were able to pray in Sunni mosques, but they risked criticism from other worshippers for their religious practices. Shia representatives reported they did not attempt to register during the year because they feared security forces would harass them, as had been the case in previous years.

AMDH applied for registration in 2019 but remained unregistered. At year’s end, a foreign religious association was still waiting for its organization’s registration to be renewed, limiting its ability to hold meetings and raise funds.

The U.S. NGO Open Doors stated in its annual World Watch List report for 2020 that the penal code, which criminalizes “shaking the faith” of a Muslim, put many Christians who talked to others about their faith at risk of criminal prosecution and arrest. The NGO also stated that while the penal code provision “only punish[ed] proselytization, converts to Christianity [could] be punished in other ways, such as loss of inheritance rights and custody of their children.”

Christian leaders said there were no reports of authorities pressuring converts to renounce their faith by informing friends, relatives, and employers of the individual’s conversion.

The government continued to allow the operation of registered foreign-resident Christian churches. Christian citizen leaders reported that Christian citizens generally did not attend those services out of fear of incurring governmental harassment, including the opening of a file with security authorities. Some foreign-born clergy and Christian citizen leaders stated that some citizens who were well known to be Christian encountered no harassment from government security officers when they attended the services of registered foreign-resident Christian churches. Foreign residents and visitors attended religious services at those churches without restriction.

The 2017 ban on the import, production, and sale of the burqa remained in effect. The Ministry of Interior cited security concerns as justification for the ban. The ban did not prevent individuals from wearing burqas or making them at home for individual use. Authorities continued to prohibit anchors on national television and police and army personnel in uniform from wearing a hijab or burqa.

MEIA’s Mohamed VI Institute remained the principal government institution responsible for shaping the country’s religious life and promoting its interpretation of Sunni Islam. It employed 2,100 morchidines (male Muslim spiritual guides) and 901 morchidates (female Muslim spiritual guides) in mosques or religious institutions throughout the country. The morchidates taught religious subjects and provided counsel on a variety of matters, including women’s legal rights and family planning. The institute continued to provide government-required one-year training to imams, training an average of 150 morchidines and 100 morchidates a year. It also continued to train foreign imams, predominantly from sub-Saharan Africa. The training sessions fulfilled the requirement for religious leaders to acquire a certificate issued by the High Council of Ulema to operate in the country. The High Council of Ulema also continued to host continuing training sessions and capacity-building exercises for religious leaders. On July 1, the Mohamed VI Institute announced that training would continue during the COVID-19 pandemic and released a number of future morchidine (150) and morchidate (100) openings for 2021.

The government required religious leaders who worked in the country to abide by the guidelines outlined in the MEIA-issued Guide of the Imam, Khatib, and the Preacher. The MEIA continued to guide and monitor the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by broadcast media, actions it said were intended to combat violent extremism.

On February 15, MEIA suspended the imam of an Oujda mosque because he criticized “the deal of the century,” a reference to potential normalization of ties between Arab states and Israel, during the Friday sermon. In response, an expert close to the Movement for Unity and Reform, the social Islamist movement closely linked to Party of Justice and Development, criticized the MEIA for limiting the imam’s freedom of speech and defended the suspended imam and his views.

The MEIA continued to monitor Quranic schools to prevent what the ministry considered inflammatory or extremist rhetoric and to ensure teaching followed approved doctrine.

The government required mosques to close to the public shortly after daily prayer times to prevent use of the premises for what it termed “unauthorized activity,” including gatherings intended to promote extremism. Construction of new mosques, including those constructed using private funds, required authorization from the MEIA.

The government continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials as well as some Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.

The government’s policy remained to ban the sale of all books, videotapes, and DVDs it considered religiously extremist.

The government permitted the display and sale of Bibles in French, English, and Spanish. A limited number of Arabic translations of the Bible were available for sale in a few bookshops for use in higher education courses.

Some Amazigh (Berber)-rights activists reported intolerance and suppression of traditional Amazigh customs in rural Amazigh villages by government-appointed morchidates.

The government continued drafting and implementing an educational charter mandating traditional education be based on “values” and the “respect for religious and legal studies.” The Ministry of Education continued a review of the religion curriculum used in primary and secondary education to make reforms based on “universal values of liberty, empathy, solidarity, and honesty.” Since the review began in 2016, 29 textbooks have been rewritten, and modifications to textbooks continued during the year.

On November 19, King Mohammed VI approved a decision to teach Jewish history and culture as part of the Arabic-language curriculum in public primary schools. A joint statement from the American Sephardi Federation and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations called the decision an “enduring commitment to recognizing a pluralist past” and stated, “at the core of this effort is enhancing understanding and fostering the connection between Muslims and Jews.” MEIA in July announced plans to encourage public universities to include teachings about Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The University of al-Quaraouyine in Fez offered courses on the history of Judaism, Hebrew culture and language, and the Old Testament. Coursework also included the history of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity.

Jewish and Christian citizens continued to state that elementary and high school curricula did not include mention of the historical legacy and current presence of their groups in the country. The government continued to fund the study of Jewish culture and heritage at state-run universities.

The government continued to disseminate information about Islam and Judaism over dedicated state-funded television and radio channels. Television channel Assadissa (Six) programming was strictly religious, consisting primarily of Quran and hadith (authoritative sayings and deeds ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad) readings and exegeses, highlighting the government’s interpretation of Islam.

According to observers, the government tolerated social and charitable activities consistent with Sunni Islam. For example, the Unity and Reform Movement, the country’s largest registered Islamic social organization, continued its close relationship with the Party of Justice and Development, the largest party in the governing coalition, and continued to operate without restriction, according to media reports.

From April to September, the Baha’is of Morocco community invited followers of its Facebook page from different faiths to pray for relief from COVID-19 and organized several online conferences.

The monarchy continued to support the restoration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, efforts it stated were necessary to preserve the country’s religious and cultural heritage and to serve as a symbol of tolerance. According to the government and Jewish leaders, MEIA did not interfere in operations of or practices in synagogues after COVID-19 outbreaks in March that followed Purim celebrations and a wedding in Agadir.

The Prison Administration authorized religious observances and services, provided by religious leaders, for all prisoners, including religious minorities.

On March 30, the government launched an investigation into a list of members of the Jewish community that were said to have COVID-19. The list was posted on social media and contained names, contact information, and other sensitive personal information. Some sources from the Jewish community also said the list was used to refuse treatment at some private medical clinics.

On January 22, the King received Catholic Archbishop of Rabat Cristobal Lopez Romero to offer congratulations on his elevation to Cardinal. The King stated that the audience represented the values of coexistence, compassion, and understanding.

On January 16, the King visited Bayt Dakira, a museum and synagogue in a historic 19th century home that preserves the heritage of the country’s Jewish community in Essaouira and in the country more broadly. The King also held a banquet in honor of members of the Jewish community present.

According to press and NGO reports, Ahmed Abbadi, the head of the government-sponsored Rabita Mohammedia of Religious Scholars, an institute that promotes tolerance, participated in a January 23 visit by a delegation of senior Islamic scholars to Auschwitz. During the visit, he stated his condemnation of the Nazis’ “barbarity” and “crimes against humanity.”

Ministry of Interior and MEIA authorization continued to be a requirement for the renovation or construction of churches. On June 21, St. John’s Anglican Church in Casablanca, which is home to an expatriate Anglican community, hosted the grand opening of its community center, built with approval from government authorities. The church building was undergoing government-approved renovation at year’s end, with an expected grand opening in 2021.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Representatives of minority religious groups said fear of societal harassment, including ostracism by converts’ families, social ridicule, employment discrimination, and potential violence against them by “extremists,” were the main reasons leading them to practice their faiths discreetly. Foreign clergy discouraged some Christian citizens from attending services for fear of societal harassment. A member of the local Christian community stated that Christian services were held in secret house churches to avoid such harassment.

Christian and Jewish representatives stated that they had seen a positive change in regard to societal tolerance, which they attributed to the 2019 visit by Pope Francis and statements at that time by the King.

On April 1, police in Casablanca arrested a man for hate speech for social media posts accusing a Jewish citizen and a foreign national of being directly responsible for infecting a large number of persons with COVID-19.

According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, a U.S. NGO, a man living in Tangier posted a video to YouTube on April 28 in which he stated that Jews were not the “offspring of apes and pigs” but rather the brothers of apes and pigs, because they resembled them in “conduct and traits.”

According to Mimouna, an NGO founded by young Muslims to promote and preserve the country’s Jewish heritage, a primary school textbook in Arabic introduced during the year featured the January 2020 royal visit to Bayt Dakira, a museum and synagogue that celebrates Jewish heritage in Essaouira. The text accompanying the pictures of the visit celebrated Jewish culture and heritage as well.

According to the 2018-19 AMDH annual report, there was continued societal harassment of Shia and Shia beliefs and practices in the press and through Friday sermons. Shia reported they observed Ashura in private to avoid societal harassment. Shia Muslims said that many avoided disclosing their religious affiliation in areas where their numbers were smaller.

There were reports from media, activists, community leaders, and Christian converts that Christian citizens faced social pressure to convert to Islam or renounce their Christian faith from non-Christian family and friends. Young Christians who still lived with their Muslim families reportedly did not reveal their faith because they believed they might be expelled from their homes unless they renounced Christianity.

Representatives of Christian minority groups in the Western Sahara said fear of societal harassment, including ostracism by converts’ families and social ridicule, were the main reasons leading them to practice their faith discreetly.

Jewish citizens continued to state that they lived and attended services at synagogues in safety. They said they were able to visit religious sites regularly and to hold annual commemorations.

Baha’i leaders said they did not experience harassment during the year. Members of the Baha’i Faith said they were open about their faith with family, friends, and neighbors.

Muslim citizens continued to study at private Christian and Jewish schools, reportedly because these schools maintained a reputation for offering a good education. According to school administrators, Muslim students continued to constitute a significant portion of the students at Jewish schools in Casablanca.

According to the Arab Youth Survey, an annual poll conducted by a consulting firm based in the United Arab Emirates, 62 percent of the country’s youth reported that religion, not family, politics, language, or nationality, was the most important factor in their personal identity.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy and consulate general officials met with government officials, including from the Ministry of Interior and the MEIA, to promote religious freedom and tolerance, including the rights of minority communities.

In regular meetings and discussions with members of religious minority and majority communities throughout the country, embassy and consulate general representatives highlighted the importance of protection of religious minorities and interfaith dialogue. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, U.S. officials were unable to meet with members of religious groups in Western Sahara.

In October, the U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs and the Ambassador visited the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca and held meetings with the president of the Jewish Moroccan Cultural Heritage Foundation.

In early October, the CEO of the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation and the Ambassador attended Yom Kippur services in Casablanca.

Poland

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion. It states religion is a personal choice, and all churches and religious organizations have equal rights. A concordat with the Holy See defines relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Statutes and agreements determine relations between the government and 14 other religious groups. The law prohibits public speech offensive to religious sentiment. In July, the government moved to invalidate the registration of the Reformed Catholic Church for recognizing same-sex marriage after registering the group earlier in the year. Municipal authorities in the town of Jaslo proceeded with construction of a road running through what the Rabbinical Commission for Cemeteries identified as a Jewish cemetery and, after uncovering several graves, exhumed the bodies and reburied them in another cemetery over the opposition of the commission. The government decided 22 religious communal-property restitution cases out of 2,938 outstanding cases, compared with 151 cases decided in 2019. During the national presidential campaign, President Andrzej Duda and governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, as well as opposition politicians, expressed opposition to restitution for Jewish heirless property claims arising from the Holocaust era. Government-controlled media used anti-Semitic rhetoric during the presidential campaign in the spring and summer. Some opposition parliamentarians made anti-Semitic comments during the year. Senior government officials participated in Holocaust remembrance events.

The government investigated 370 religiously motivated incidents in 2019 (the most recent data available), compared with 429 in the previous year. There were 182 anti-Semitic, 112 anti-Muslim, and 76 anti-Catholic incidents. Civil society groups said the figures were not comprehensive. Although statistics for 2020 were unavailable, there were reports of assault against Roman Catholic priests and vandalism against Roman Catholic and Jewish sites during the year. On October 25, abortion rights demonstrators disrupted masses and vandalized Catholic churches throughout the country following a ruling by the Constitutional Court that banned abortions in certain circumstances. Authorities recorded 22 cases of disruption of Mass and 79 of vandalism associated with the ruling. Online anti-Semitic speech continued, particularly during the presidential campaign.

The U.S. Ambassador, other embassy and consulate general staff, and visiting U.S. officials discussed with government officials antidiscrimination, the status of private property restitution, and countering anti-Semitism. In January, the Secretary of the Treasury led a U.S. government delegation to the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the U.S. Secretary of State announced a contribution of $2 million to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. In May, October, and December, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met virtually with representatives of the Jewish community, academics, and civil society activists to discuss anti-Semitism, Holocaust remembrance and education, and other issues of importance to the Jewish community. The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general staff also met with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to discuss property restitution, Holocaust remembrance and education, proposed legislation restricting religious slaughter, and the communities’ concerns over intolerance, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslim sentiment. The embassy and the consulate general in Krakow engaged with Jewish and Muslim leaders on countering anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and sponsored exchanges, roundtables, cultural events, and education grants promoting interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 38.3 million (midyear 2020 estimate). The 2020 Polish government statistical yearbook, which publishes the membership figures for religious groups that voluntarily submit the information for publication, reports almost 85 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic. The next largest religious groups are the Polish Orthodox Church, with approximately half a million members (religious groups report that the number of Orthodox worshippers doubled since 2014 as a result of an influx of migrant Ukrainian workers), and Jehovah’s Witnesses, with approximately 116,000 members. Other religious groups include Lutherans, Pentecostals, the Old Catholic Mariavite Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Church of Christ, Methodists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Buddhists. Some Jewish groups estimate there are 20,000 Jews, while other estimates, including by Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, put the number as high as 40,000. Muslim groups estimate there are 25,000 Muslims, mostly Sunni. Approximately 10 percent of Muslims are ethnic Tatars, a group present in the country for several hundred years.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It states freedom of religion includes the freedom to profess or to accept a religion by personal choice as well as to manifest that religion, either individually or collectively, publicly or privately, by worshipping, praying, participating in ceremonies, performing rites, or teaching. It states freedom to express religion may be limited only by law when necessary to defend state security, public order, health, morals, or the rights of others. The constitution states, “Churches and other religious organizations shall have equal rights.” It stipulates the relationship between the state and churches and other religious organizations shall be based on the principle of respect for autonomy and mutual independence. The constitution specifies that relations with the Roman Catholic Church shall be determined by an international concordat concluded with the Holy See and by statute, and relations with other churches and religious organizations by statutes adopted pursuant to agreements between representatives of these groups and the Council of Ministers.

According to the constitution, freedom of religion also includes the right to own places of worship and to provide religious services. The constitution stipulates parents have the right to ensure their children receive a moral and religious upbringing and teaching in accordance with their convictions and their own religious and philosophical beliefs. It states religious organizations may teach their faith in schools if doing so does not infringe on the religious freedom of others. The constitution acknowledges the right of national and ethnic minorities to establish institutions designed to protect religious identity. The constitution prohibits parties and other organizations with programs based on Nazism or communism.

The criminal code outlaws public speech that offends religious sentiment. The law prescribes a fine, typically 5,000 zloty ($1,300), or up to two years in prison for violations. The same penalties apply for malicious disruption of religious services.

By law, anyone who publicly assigns the “Polish state or nation” responsibility or joint responsibility for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich during World War II (WWII) may be sued by the Institute of National Remembrance and relevant nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), fined, and/or forced to retract the offending statement and pay compensation to the state or a charity.

Specific legislation governs the relationship of 15 religious groups with the state, outlining the structure of that relationship and procedures for communal property restitution. The 15 religious groups are the Roman Catholic Church, Polish Orthodox Church, Evangelical-Augsburg (Lutheran) Church, Evangelical Reformed Church, Methodist Church, Baptist Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Polish National Catholic Church, Pentecostal Church, the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, Mariavite Church, Old Catholic Mariavite Church, Old Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim Religious Union, and Karaim Religious Union. Marriages performed by officials from 11 of these groups do not require further registration at a civil registry office; however, the Mariavite Church, Muslim Religious Union, Karaim Religious Union, and Old Eastern Orthodox Church do not have that right. An additional 168 registered religious groups and five aggregate religious organizations (the Polish Ecumenical Council, Polish Buddhist Union, Biblical Society, Evangelical Alliance, and Council of Protestant Churches) do not have a statutorily defined relationship with the state.

The law states that relations between the state and all churches and other religious unions are based on respect of freedom of conscience and religion. This includes separation of churches and other religious unions from the state; freedom to perform religious functions; equality of all churches and religious unions, no matter how their legal situation is regulated; and legal protections for churches and other religious groups within the scope defined by the law.

In accordance with the law, the government and the Roman Catholic Church participate in the Joint Government-Episcopate Committee, cochaired by the Minister of Interior and Administration and a bishop, currently the Archbishop of Gdansk, which meets regularly to discuss Catholic Church-state relations. The government also participates in a joint government-Polish Ecumenical Council committee, cochaired by a Ministry of Interior and Administration (MIA) undersecretary and the head of the Polish Ecumenical Council (an association composed of seven denominations and two religious associations, all of them non-Roman Catholic Christian), which meets to discuss issues related to minority Christian churches operating in the country. In addition, there are separate joint committees consisting of government representatives and representatives of the Evangelical Alliance, the Lutheran Church, and the Orthodox Church.

Religious groups not the subject of specific legislation may register with the MIA, but registration is not obligatory. To register, the law requires a group to submit a notarized application with the personal information of at least 100 citizen members; details about the group’s activities in the country; background on the group’s doctrine and practices; a charter and physical address; identifying information about its leaders; a description of the role of the clergy, if applicable; and information on funding sources and methods of new member recruitment. If the ministry rejects the registration application, religious groups may appeal to an administrative court. By law, the permissible grounds for refusal of an application are failure to meet formal requirements or inclusion in the application of provisions that may violate public safety and order, health, public morality, parental authority or freedom, and rights of other persons.

Unregistered groups may worship, proselytize, publish, or import religious literature freely, and bring in foreign missionaries, but they have no legal recognition and are unable to undertake certain functions such as owning property or holding bank accounts in their name. The 188 registered and statutorily recognized religious groups and organizations receive other privileges not available to unregistered groups, such as selective tax benefits – they are exempt from import tariffs, property taxes, and income tax on their educational, scientific, cultural, and legal activities, and their official representatives are also exempt from income and property taxes – and the right to acquire property and teach religion in schools.

Four commissions oversee communal religious-property restitution claims submitted by their respective statutory filing deadlines: one each for the Jewish community, Lutheran Church, and Orthodox Church, and one for all other denominations. The commissions function in accordance with legislation providing for the restitution to religious communities of property they owned that was nationalized during or after WWII. A separate commission overseeing claims by the Roman Catholic Church completed its work in 2011. The MIA and the respective religious community each appoint representatives to the commissions.

The law states decisions by the commission ruling on communal property claims may not be appealed, but the Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2013 that parties could appeal commission decisions in administrative courts. Religious representatives on the joint commissions stated that (contrary to prior information) parties have appealed final decisions by the commissions. The law does not address communal properties the government sold or turned over to new private owners after WWII.

There is no comprehensive national law governing private property restitution. Members of religious groups, like other private claimants, may pursue restitution through the courts.

The law authorizes Warsaw city authorities to resolve expeditiously longstanding restitution cases affecting properties in Warsaw being used for public purposes. Warsaw city officials must post a notification of specific public properties for a six-month period during which original owners of the property must submit their claims. At the end of the six-month period, Warsaw city authorities may make a final determination on the disposition of the property, either declaring the property shall remain public and not be subject to any future claims, or returning the property or monetary compensation to the original owner. As of October, amendments to the law established new grounds outside claimants’ control on which Warsaw city authorities must refuse the return of properties.

In accordance with the law, all public and private schools teach voluntary religion classes. Schools at all grade levels must provide instruction in any of the registered faiths if there are at least seven students requesting it. Each registered religious group determines the content of classes on its faith and provides the teachers, who receive salaries from the state. Students may also request to take an optional ethics class instead of a religion class; the ethics class is optional even if students decline to take a religion class.

Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom, and the law prohibits discrimination or persecution based on religion or belief.

The constitution recognizes the right to conscientious objection to military service on religious grounds but states such objectors may be required to perform alternative service as specified by law.

The human rights ombudsman is responsible for safeguarding human and civil freedoms and rights, including the freedom of religion and conscience, specified in the constitution and other legal acts. The ombudsman is independent from the government and appointed by parliament.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In January, the MIA approved the registration of the Christian Church of the Full Gospel – Camp of God and the Reformed Catholic Church in Poland. On July 14, Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro filed a motion with the MIA to invalidate the registration of the Reformed Catholic Church, arguing the Church failed to meet several requirements. On September 15, the MIA ruled the Church’s registration invalid. The MIA said registering the Church, the only registered group that recognizes same-sex marriages, violated the constitution, which defines marriage as “a union of a woman and a man.” The Church and the ombudsman stated the MIA’s decision was inconsistent with the constitutional provision providing for the autonomy and independence of religious organizations in relations with the state. According to the ombudsman, the prosecutor general’s intervention following the registration of a religious group was unprecedented. On October 5, the Reformed Catholic Church filed a motion with the MIA requesting it reverse its September 15 ruling. On December 4, the MIA upheld its previous decision. At year’s end, the Church remained registered and retained options for appeal to an administrative court.

According to MIA statistics, the religious community property commissions resolved 22 communal property claims during the year, out of approximately 2,938 pending claims by religious groups, compared with 151 claims resolved the previous year. At year’s end, the commissions had partially or entirely resolved a total of 2,863 of the 5,504 total claims by the Jewish community deemed valid by the commission (the commission had previously dismissed 40 as invalid), 981 of 1,182 claims by the Lutheran community, 375 of 472 claims by the Orthodox Church, and 90 of 170 claims by all other denominations.

Critics continued to point out the laws on religious communal property restitution do not address the issue of disputed communal properties now privately owned, leaving several controversial and complicated cases unresolved. These included cases in which buildings and residences were built on land that included Jewish cemeteries destroyed during or after WWII. The Jewish community continued to report the pace of Jewish communal property restitution was slow, involved considerable legal expense, and often ended without any recovery of property or other compensation for claimants. For example, a case for restitution of the old Jewish cemetery in the city of Kalisz remained unresolved after 20 years. Religious representatives of other commissions also reported considerable delays in resolving cases, which they attributed to the actions of government officials sitting on the commissions.

During the year, Warsaw city authorities continued implementing a 2015 law with the stated purpose of ending abusive practices in the trading of former property owners’ claims. Legal experts expressed concern that the law limited the ability of claimants to reclaim property unjustly taken from their lawful owners during the WWII and communist eras, including from Jews and members of other religious minorities. In November, Warsaw city authorities stated that since the 2015 law entered into force, the city had resolved approximately 352 dormant claims filed before 1950, which included the rejection of 135 restitution claims against public properties. These included schools, preschools, a park, a police command unit site, a hospital, and city-owned apartment houses. There was no information available on the identity of those claiming prior ownership or how many of them belonged to religious minority groups.

A special government commission continued to investigate accusations of irregularities in the restitution of private property in Warsaw. In 2019, the Justice Ministry published a report on the commission’s operation between 2017 and 2019. According to the report, the commission overturned restitution decisions for 56 properties and ordered the recovery of improper compensation in the amount of almost 100 million zloty ($26.93 million). There was no information available on how many of these cases involved claims by members of religious minorities. Several NGOs and lawyers representing claimants, including lawyers representing Holocaust survivors or their heirs, stated the commission had a negative effect on private property restitution cases, as administrative and court decisions had slowed in response to the commission’s decisions.

On April 15, during a parliamentary debate on citizen-initiated legislation to protect property from heirless property claims (the “Stop 447” bill), opposition Confederation Member of Parliament (MP) and former presidential candidate Krzysztof Bosak described the bill as “the first step towards the protection of Polish property from unjustified Jewish property claims.” He also criticized the government’s response to the U.S. Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act. PiS opposed the proposed legislation, arguing it was unnecessary because the Ministry of Treasury automatically assumes ownership of heirless property. Parliament sent the draft legislation to committee, where it remained at year’s end. PiS MPs said they voted to send the legislation to committee to “respect” the voice of citizens who submitted their signatures for the legislation.

Restitution became a topic of the presidential election campaign. On July 8, President Andrzej Duda stated the government would not pay damages for heirless property and said he would not accept any law that would privilege any ethnic group over others. He continued, “If someone wants compensation, please turn to those who caused World War II.” On July 9, PiS Chairman Kaczynski said opposition Civic Platform presidential candidate Rafal Trzaskowski’s comments years earlier that discussion on the issue of compensation for Jewish property was required indicated he did not have a “Polish soul, Polish heart, [or] Polish mind.” Kaczynski stated that PiS and President Duda were a guarantee that the country would not pay such compensation. Trzaskowski said on July 6 he would not sign a bill to provide heirless property restitution.

In June, reports in the government-controlled public media during the presidential campaign drew accusations of anti-Semitism from the domestic and international Jewish community and others. On June 15, state-run television TVP ran a story in which journalists stated the main challenger to the incumbent president would use public funds to “compensate Jews” with respect to private property restitution, should he be elected. The story also said the candidate’s approach to restitution “was not based on Poland’s interests,” and that it included images of Israel, a well-known American Jewish businessman, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and money falling out of a bag.

On June 16, American Jewish Committee Central Europe Acting Director Sebastian Rejak sent a letter to the Media Ethics Council, a journalist-led media watchdog, stating that public television coverage could “incite hatred and contempt towards Jews in the world and Polish Jews.” On June 17, the Media Ethics Council responded, echoing Rejak’s concerns and identifying other pre-election TVP broadcasts that it found problematic. The organization said the broadcasts were in breach of the Media Ethics Charter and stated, “Inciting anti-Semitism, racism, and hatred towards minorities is not in the interests of the country.”

On June 18, Chief Rabbi Schudrich and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland released a joint statement that said, “Public media should educate and integrate, not divide,” and, “We must all speak against the use of anti-Semitism or hatred of any other group for political purposes.” On June 29, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a first-round presidential election assessment that said public television had become “a campaign tool for the incumbent,” with reporting that had “clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”

On July 31, opposition Confederation Party MP Grzegorz Braun said when commenting on the release of the U.S. JUST Act Report that the U.S. Department of State “serves as a bodyguard to Jewish blackmailers,” and he called the report “an attempt to force the Polish state…to create a precedent for [the benefit] of the Jews.” Braun said it was time for the lower house of parliament to adopt previously submitted citizen-initiated legislation banning heirless property restitution. Braun stated his country’s government was misinforming the public by downplaying the “serious threat” of such attempts.

On February 19, the Rabbinical Commission for Cemeteries, led by Chief Rabbi Schudrich, called for the immediate blocking of the construction of a road outside the town of Jaslo, stating the road went through a Jewish cemetery. Local authorities disputed that the area was part of the cemetery, but while preparing the ground for construction, workers had uncovered several graves. Despite the chief rabbi’s request, Jaslo authorities directed the exhumation of the bodies on June 12. On the same day, the chief official of Jaslo County, Adam Pawlus, held a town meeting and informed those present that the exhumations took place over the objections of the commission because, “We act in accordance with Polish law, because we live on Polish soil, and we do not interfere with matters which are dealt with in Israel.” Upon authorization from the chief official of Podkarpackie Province Ewa Leniart, and against the objections of the commission, the remains were reburied on October 27 in a nearby cemetery for WWII victims.

On February 27, opposition Confederation Party MP Janusz Korwin-Mikke said, “As a result of the pogroms [against Jewish people], the strongest and the most gifted [Jews] survived…The Jews are a power because they had pogroms.” He added, “There are even theories that rabbis deliberately provoke pogroms precisely so that Jews survive, and then there is natural selection.”

On January 22, independent Member of the European Parliament Sylwia Spurek shared on social media an image likening the meat industry to the Holocaust. The image contained cows at a slaughterhouse wearing striped uniforms and yellow stars.

On January 28, the Warsaw local prosecutor’s office indicted an artist who in July 2019 initiated an online sale of rainbow-colored pendants of the Virgin Mary in the shape of a vagina. The artist was charged with offending religious sentiment by publicly desecrating an object of religious worship, for which she could face up to two years in prison. At year’s end, a trial had not been scheduled, and the artist was not in detention.

In April, the Walbrzych regional prosecutor’s office filed charges against a man who posted anti-Semitic comments on the internet in 2018. According to the prosecutor’s office, the man incited hatred on national grounds, offended Jewish people, and publicly praised the Holocaust by arguing that the killing of Jews during WWII was a positive development. If convicted, the man faced up to three years in prison. At year’s end, there was no further information on the status of the case.

On July 1, the Plock local prosecutor’s office issued a statement announcing the indictment of three persons for offending religious sentiment in 2019 by creating and posting on various sites in the city of Plock posters of the icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa with her halo painted in the colors of the rainbow flag. Some posters were allegedly placed on trash cans and portable toilets. In 2019, police had detained and subsequently released one of the three persons covered by the indictment. If convicted, the accused could face up to two years in prison. Their trial was scheduled for early 2021.

On December 3, the Czestochowa district prosecutor’s office announced it had indicted a man for offending religious sentiment by using an icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa with her halo painted in the colors of the rainbow flag during the Equality March in Czestochowa in 2019. Once tried, and if convicted, the accused could face up to two years in prison.

In August, following a two-year investigation that reportedly began after authorities blocked an international concert scheduled to take place on Hitler’s birthday in 2018, prosecutors filed charges of promoting fascism against 13 persons, including two leaders of neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor and a former employee of the Gdansk regional branch of TVP.

On July 30, the Warsaw district prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the placement of rainbow flags on several Warsaw monuments, including an historic statue of Jesus outside of a church, as a desecration of monuments and offense to religious sentiment. In December, prosecutors discontinued the investigation because they could not identify the perpetrators.

In September, media reported the government awarded a grant to create a “Digital Library of National Thought” – an online collection of books and other works published before WWII by Polish nationalist politicians. Some of the publications, for example a book by Stanislaw Piasecki, editor in chief of a right-wing weekly magazine, contained anti-Semitic content, including some that the library recommended for reading on its social media page.

In September, the lower house of parliament approved legislation endorsed by PiS Chairman Kaczynski that would include a ban on the religious slaughter of animals for export, while continuing to allow it for domestic production of halal and kosher meat. Chief Rabbi Schudrich and Mufti of the Muslim Religious Union Tomasz Miskiewicz met with parliamentary leaders to express concerns about the legislation. The upper house of parliament voted to weaken the ban, and on November 1, Minister of Agriculture Grzegorz Puda announced the legislation would be withdrawn and replaced. Legislators did not introduce new legislation by year’s end.

Crucifixes continued to be displayed in both the upper and lower houses of parliament, as well as in many other public buildings, including public school classrooms.

In January, President Duda and other political and religious leaders joined Holocaust survivors to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In his remarks, Duda said, “Distorting the history of WWII, denying the crimes of genocide and the Holocaust, as well as an instrumental use of Auschwitz to attain any given goal, is tantamount to desecration of the memory of the victims whose ashes are scattered here. The truth about the Holocaust must not die.” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki participated in separate commemorations in Berlin, where he also spoke out against Holocaust denial and distortion.

On January 14, President Duda hosted a New Year’s meeting for representatives of various churches, religious unions, and national and ethnic minorities. He stated that all participating communities in the event had their place in the country, and he cited their cooperation and openness to dialogue, “brotherhood,” and a “good coexistence.”

On March 24, the National Day of Poles Rescuing Jews – a national holiday introduced in 2018 to honor Polish citizens who risked their lives to save Jews during the Nazi occupation – President Duda called Poles who saved Jews “heroes of the Republic” and cited their example of “respect and solidarity towards all people and nations co-creating the Republic of Poland.”

On April 19, Prime Minister Morawiecki laid a wreath in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monument to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

On June 8, Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski and the mayor of Krakow signed a letter of intent to establish a new museum – the Krakow-Plaszow Concentration Camp Memorial Site – to commemorate all victims of the former Nazi concentration camp located in Krakow. The museum was scheduled to open on January 1, 2021. Under the agreement, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and Krakow city authorities each agreed to provide the museum with one million zloty ($269,000) in subsidies per year, and to spend 25 million zloty ($6.73 million) each to modernize the commemoration site and purchase equipment for the museum.

On June 15, President Duda commemorated the 80th anniversary of the first transport of Poles to Auschwitz. The President laid flowers at the site where the first trainload of prisoners arrived at the camp. In his address he called for remembrance, stating, “We never forget, lest anything like this ever happen again.”

A musical on divergent Polish-Jewish narratives of the Holocaust titled “Letter from Warsaw” continued its run in Warsaw, with financial support from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The musical tells the story of a family of American Jews that rediscovers its Polish-Jewish roots when informed they are the remaining heirs of unclaimed property in Warsaw.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The national prosecutor’s office reported that during 2019, the most recent period for which data was available, prosecutors investigated 370 religiously motivated incidents, compared with 429 in 2018. The report cited investigations into 182 anti-Semitic, 112 anti-Muslim, and 76 anti-Roman Catholic incidents. Data from 2018 did not break down incidents by religious groups targeted, but in 2017 there were investigations into 112 anti-Semitic, 328 anti-Muslim, and 66 anti-Roman Catholic incidents. The NGO Never Again Association and religious groups stated government tracking of religiously motivated incidents was not comprehensive or systematic.

Although 2020 statistics were not available, there were several physical attacks against Roman Catholic priests and incidents involving the disruption of religious services in Roman Catholic churches around the country. There were also cases of desecration of Roman Catholic, Jewish, and other religious sites, such as churches, temples, and cemeteries.

On October 30, a man who participated in an abortion rights demonstration physically and verbally attacked a man at a gasoline station in the town of Mysliborz. The attacker hit the victim in the face and abdomen. Reportedly, when the attacker found out the victim was a priest, he pursued him and hit him again in the face and head. Prosecutors charged him with insult, physical assault, and engaging in violence on the grounds of religious affiliation. At year’s end, the man was not in detention, and his trial had not been scheduled.

On January 8, the Wroclaw District Court began the trial of a man who stabbed a priest in front of a church in Wroclaw in 2019. Authorities held the man in detention at least until December. The case was pending before the court at year’s end.

On July 31, the Warsaw prosecutor’s office indicted a man on charges of public incitement to murder a priest, hatred on the grounds of religious differences, and insulting followers of the Catholic Church. While participating in a Mr. Gay Poland event in Poznan in 2019, the man had simulated cutting the throat of an effigy of Krakow Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski, who had previously criticized “LGBT ideology.” At year’s end, the man’s trial had not been scheduled.

On July 17, prosecutors indicted a man, who stated he was a bishop representing the United Ecumenical Catholic Church, on charges of offending religious sentiment. If convicted, he could face up to two years in prison. The man dressed as a priest and held what many observers described as a mock Roman Catholic Mass during Warsaw’s Equality Parade in 2019. At year’s end, his trial had not been scheduled.

On October 25, participants of abortion rights demonstrations disrupted Sunday services around the country and painted graffiti on church exteriors, following an October 22 ruling by the Constitutional Court that banned abortions for abnormalities of the embryo or fetus. The MIA said police recorded 22 cases of disrupting masses and 79 cases of exterior vandalism of Catholic churches related to the court ruling. Police detained 76 persons in relation to the incidents. Additional cases of vandalism against Catholic churches around the country took place in late October and early November.

On November 27, the Krakow Regional Court initiated a criminal trial against an IKEA human resources manager for dismissing one of the company’s employees in 2019 after the employee posted quotes from the Bible on the company’s intranet website stating that homosexuality was scandalous and an abomination and gay men would be punished with death. Prosecutors said the manager violated the provision in the criminal code that penalizes anyone who restricts others from exercising their rights because of their religious affiliation. Several dozen NGOs protested the prosecution, stating the human resources manager had acted against workplace discrimination. On November 10, a labor branch of the Krakow Regional Court began trying a labor dispute case brought against IKEA by the dismissed employee.

In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes towards democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 76 percent of Polish respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” but ranked it eighth in priority out of nine democratic principles tested.

According to a poll of public opinions on the Roman Catholic Church conducted by the Warsaw-based Center for Public Opinion Research (CBOS) in December, 41 percent of residents had a favorable opinion of the Church, a drop of eight percentage points since September, while 47 percent had a negative view, an increase of six points from three months earlier. The result was the first time since 1993 that negative views of the Church exceeded positive views in a CBOS poll. Experts on the Catholic Church and the media provided two reasons for the decline in support: the October 22 ruling on abortion (which some attributed to the Church’s influence over the governing party) and perceptions the Church had insufficiently responded to a series of recent sex abuse scandals. The poll found a strong correlation with views of the Church and political affiliation; 82 percent of PiS supporters viewed the Church favorably, while only 13 percent of supporters of the opposition Civic Coalition did so. In another poll of views on the Catholic Church carried out by the pollster IBRiS in November for the newspaper Rzeczpospolita, 35 percent of respondents expressed a positive view of the Church. Among those aged 18-29, nine percent viewed the Church positively, 47 percent viewed it negatively, and 44 percent had neutral views.

The Institute for Catholic Church Statistics reported that in 2019, the most recent year for which data was available, 37 percent of residents attended Sunday Mass regularly, compared to a post-communist high of 50 percent in 1990.

In February, the Wroclaw prosecutor’s office sent three indictments to the Wroclaw District Court against former Roman Catholic priest Jacek Miedlar, charging him with incitement to hatred and Holocaust denial for statements he made in 2017 and 2018 and for publicly offending in 2018 the late Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first noncommunist prime minister of the country since 1946. At year’s end, Miedlar’s trial had not been scheduled. Authorities arrested Miedlar in December 2019 and charged him with incitement of hatred against Jews before releasing him the same day.

In January, a man placed wooden crosses on tombstones and hung clothes on graves in the Jewish cemetery in Sopot. The town’s mayor, Jacek Karnowski, visited the cemetery and criticized the vandalism.

In mid-March, unknown perpetrators painted a swastika and a neo-Nazi symbol on a plaque commemorating the local Jewish community and Jewish residents of Szczecin who were killed during WWII in the Belzec extermination camp. Police said they declined to open an investigation because the symbols were cleaned from the plaque before their arrival.

On April 14, a man threw stones at and broke the windows of a synagogue in Wroclaw. The man also shouted neo-Nazi slogans and made neo-fascist gestures. Police detained a suspect on April 17 and charged him with promoting a totalitarian regime and public insult on national, religious, and racial grounds. There was no further information on the case at year’s end.

On June 10, unknown perpetrators defaced a recently renovated wall around the Jewish cemetery in the city of Tarnow with an anti-Semitic inscription. Police were still investigating at year’s end.

On November 11, a coalition of groups, including the National Radical Camp and All-Polish Youth, both of which human rights groups have described as extremist and nationalist, again led an annual Independence Day march. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of the use of anti-Semitic or white supremacist slogans during the event.

On June 23, Independence Units, a group widely described as far-right, organized a demonstration in front of the presidential palace in advance of President Duda’s June 24 meeting with President Trump in Washington. Participants in the event urged President Duda to protest the U.S. JUST Act and any restitution claims from Jewish organizations during his meeting with President Trump. Approximately 30 people demonstrated under the slogan, “Mr. President – we will not pay! Pass it on to President Trump!” Other banners included messages such as, “No to claims!” and “We won’t be robbed of $300 billion.” Two Confederation Party MPs participated – Grzegorz Braun and Dobromir Sosnierz.

On December 17, the Szczecin branch of the national prosecutor’s office indicted two men on charges of planning a terrorist attack against Muslims and an Islamic religious site. A third man was indicted for illegal possession of explosives. The indictments followed a November 2019 Internal Security Agency operation that uncovered materials for the production of explosives, weapons, and ammunition in an apartment in Warsaw. According to the spokesperson for the Special Services Coordinator, the men were planning an attack against an unspecified Islamic religious site in the country and to use poisonous substances in an attack against specific individuals. According to the spokesperson, the indicted men expressed extreme right-wing views, and their motive was to stop “Islamization” of the country. At year’s end, the trial had not been scheduled.

In a January interview with the German daily Die Welt, Chief Rabbi Schudrich stated Poland was a safer place for Jews to live in than some other European countries. Schudrich said anti-Semitism existed in the country, but that it was not expressed in physical attacks (against individuals).

On January 26, the Catholic Church celebrated the 20th Annual Day of Islam with the stated purpose of promoting peace among religious groups. The Church hosted an event titled “Christians and Muslims in the Service of Universal Brotherhood” in Warsaw, which included discussions, readings from the Bible and Quran, and prayers.

On October 13, as part of the 6th Congress of Christian Culture, the Lublin Roman Catholic diocese, in cooperation with local authorities and the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, organized a debate on “Jewish and Christian inspirations for dialogue.” The event took place in a Catholic church in Lublin, with the participation of then-Director of the Jewish Historical Institute Pawel Spiewak and Archbishop of Lodz Grzegorz Rys.

The Polish Council of Christians and Jews organized a joint online Catholic and Jewish prayer meeting to encourage tolerance and understanding on the October 18 Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Human Library projects, funded by European Economic Area grants and coordinated by NGOs Diversja Association and Lambda Warsaw, continued in several cities and towns around the country, including Cieszyn, Katowice, Lodz, Warsaw, Zamosc, and Zory. The projects involved a diverse group of volunteers, including representatives of Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious groups, who told their stories to individuals who could “borrow” them like books. The stated intent of the project was to foster greater tolerance in general, including religious tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, officers from the embassy and consulate general in Krakow, and visiting U.S. Department of State representatives met with government officials from the foreign affairs and justice ministries and parliament to discuss private property restitution, anti-Semitism, and antidiscrimination.

On January 27, the U.S. Secretary of State announced a contribution of $2 million to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. The foundation received the contribution on October 1 and will use it to preserve former concentration camps in the Auschwitz-Birkenau area.

Also on January 27, the Secretary of the Treasury led the U.S. government delegation to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Ambassador, the Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, and the Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism were part of the delegation. The Treasury Secretary said in his remarks, “The United States and all other countries must work together to fight for all religious freedoms, justice for the Jewish people, and combating anti-Semitism wherever it appears. We must be committed to honoring the history of the Holocaust so these atrocities never occur ever again to any people anywhere in the world.”

The Ambassador and embassy and consulate general staff met with members and leaders of the local Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities to discuss issues of concern, including private and communal property restitution, proposed legislation restricting religious slaughter, and the communities’ concerns regarding intolerance, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslim sentiment.

In January, the USAID Deputy Administrator attended a roundtable on protecting religious and ethnic minorities hosted by the American Jewish Committee.

In January, the USAID Deputy Administrator, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, and the Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met in Krakow with Chief Rabbi Schudrich and representatives of the local Jewish community to discuss anti-Semitism, relations between Jews and non-Jews in the country, and other issues of importance to the Jewish community.

On October 22, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and embassy officials participated virtually in the annual meeting of the International Committee of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. The Special Envoy commended the foundation’s renewed efforts to preserve the former concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and to expand virtual education programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, October, and December, the Special Envoy held virtual meetings with representatives of the Jewish community, academics, civil society activists, and others to discuss the level of anti-Semitism in the country, Holocaust remembrance and education, and the general condition of the Jewish community in the country.

On November 16 and 17, the U.S. Department of State and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs partnered to host from Warsaw a virtual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau provided opening remarks for the event, which included a dialogue between representatives of civil society and religious groups.

In April, the Ambassador participated in the March of the Living Virtual Plaque Project, which substituted for the annual in-person commemorative walk between the former concentration camp sites around Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Ambassador’s online message honored Holocaust victims.

To commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that began on April 19, 1943, the Ambassador used the embassy’s social media accounts to express solidarity with the annual “Daffodils” social and educational program conducted online by the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The program aims to educate the public about the uprising by handing out thousands of paper daffodils on Warsaw streets in remembrance of the Jews who fought and died in the uprising.

Throughout the year, the Ambassador and embassy used social media to call for respect and tolerance for all religions, underscore religious freedom as a fundamental pillar and value of a strong democracy, condemn violence based on religious beliefs, and highlight U.S. government support for combating anti-Semitism and protecting places related to the Holocaust.

In June and July, staff from the consulate general in Krakow participated in the Krakow Jewish Community Center’s Virtual Ride for the Living by pledging to bike, run, or walk 60 miles (the distance between the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Krakow), in tribute to Holocaust memory and to celebrate the rebirth of Jewish life in Krakow.

The embassy continued to sponsor exchange programs, award grants, participate in conferences, and financially support educational and cultural events to promote religious freedom and tolerance. Highlights included continued embassy support for the “Letter from Warsaw” musical on divergent Polish-Jewish narratives of the Holocaust, Krakow’s Jewish Culture Festival, and support for a new music program promoting Poland’s Jewish heritage. The embassy highlighted its support of these initiatives on social media.

On September 7, an embassy officer addressed 40 Polish educators competitively selected to attend the eight-week online course, “Teaching about the Holocaust and Human Rights through Art,” organized by the New York-based Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights, in collaboration with the POLIN Museum in Warsaw and the Yad Vashem Institute in Israel. In his remarks, the embassy officer highlighted the importance of education in combating racism and discrimination based on faith or ethnicity.

The embassy once again cosponsored the annual educational conference for Polish teachers organized by the POLIN Museum, which took place online in November. The embassy financially supported the participation of two U.S. speakers at the conference on “Emotions and History: How to Talk about Difficult Topics at School,” with a focus on methods of teaching the history of WWII and the Holocaust. In virtual remarks, the Ambassador commended the teachers for their dedication and said, “Education is the foundation of understanding and acceptance – and it is the best antidote against stereotypes, racism, and bigotry against Jews and all minorities around the world.”

The embassy also provided support to individuals and organizations that sought to deepen public understanding of the country’s Jewish heritage, including financial support of a documentary project chronicling non-Jewish rescuers of Jewish memory in the country and financial support for a virtual reality-delivered cultural program to promote the 100th anniversary of the Dybbuk, a Yiddish-language play which touches on the role, culture, and history of Jews in the country.

The consulate general in Krakow provided grant funding for educational and cultural projects connected to the promotion of religious freedom or combating anti-Semitism. In June and July, the consulate supported the 30th iteration of Krakow’s Jewish Culture Festival, which comprised over 60 online events, presenting contemporary Jewish culture.

In August, the consulate general in Krakow funded an intensive one-week online course led by the Auschwitz Jewish Center. The course targeted a select group of high school teachers and NGO activists and focused on teaching about anti-Semitism and implementing antidiscrimination training in the classroom.

In January, the consulate general in Krakow partnered with a U.S. artist to support “Cities of Peace Auschwitz,” a peacebuilding initiative involving local artists and scholars in the creation of a collaborative mural to honor the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Consul General delivered opening remarks at the mural’s unveiling on January 28.

Portugal

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. During the year, the government granted citizenship to 20,854 descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Inquisition and rejected 163 applicants. In March, parliament approved a bill declaring March 31 a day of commemoration for victims of the Inquisition. On February 17, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa met with representatives of the Interfaith Working Group (GTIR), composed of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist representatives, to hear their views against the legalization of euthanasia. On February 20, parliament enacted five bills to decriminalize assisted suicide, widely seen as a preliminary step to legalize euthanasia. On July 15, following pressure from local and international Jewish groups, parliamentarians from the Socialist (PS) and Social Democrat (PSD) political parties withdrew two amendments they had introduced in parliament that would have made it more difficult for descendants of Jews expelled during the Inquisition to obtain citizenship.

In January, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a news magazine published a cartoon depicting the Israeli Prime Minister as a neo-Nazi pushing a coffin covered with a Palestinian flag into an oven below the words displayed at the entrance gate to the Auschwitz extermination camp. In April, the Jewish Community and Catholic Diocese of Porto introduced a film about the history of Jewish-Catholic relations in the city in the Middle Ages, part of a collaboration to combat anti-Semitism that the two organizations announced at the end of 2019.

U.S. embassy officials continued to regularly contact government officials from the High Commission for Migrations (ACM) and representatives of the independent Religious Freedom Commission (CLR) to discuss the importance of mutual respect and understanding among religious communities and the integration of immigrants, many of whom belonged to minority religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.3 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the most recent census (from 2011), 81 percent of the population older than age 15 is Roman Catholic. Other religious groups, each constituting less than 1 percent of the population, include Orthodox Christians; various Protestant and other Christian denominations, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Lutheran Church of Portugal, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Church of God of the Seventh Day, New Apostolic Church, and the Portuguese Evangelical Methodist Church, and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Taoists, Zoroastrians, and Baha’is. In the census, 6.8 percent of the population said it does not belong to any religious group, and 8.2 percent did not answer the question. According to the census, nonevangelical Protestants number more than 75,000. The Muslim community estimates there are approximately 60,000 Muslims, of whom 50,000 are Sunni, and 10,000 Shia, including Ismaili Shia. There are more than 56,000 members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, most of whom are immigrants from Eastern Europe, primarily from Ukraine, and the Church of Jesus Christ estimates it has 45,000 members. There are more than 163,000 members of other Christian groups, including other evangelical Christians, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, other Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jewish community leadership estimates the resident Jewish population is approximately 2,000, half in the greater Lisbon area.

A survey published by the Pew Research Center in 2018 shows that 77 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, 4 percent as Protestant, and 4 percent as “other,” while 15 percent are religiously unaffiliated, a group including individuals who identify as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.”

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship, which may not be violated even if the government declares a state of emergency. It states no one shall be privileged, prejudiced, persecuted, or deprived of rights or exempted from civic obligations or duties because of religious beliefs or practices. The constitution states authorities may not question individuals about their religious convictions or observance, except to gather statistical information that does not identify individuals, and individuals may not be prejudiced by refusal to reply. Churches and religious communities are independent from the state and have the freedom to determine their own organization and perform their own activities and worship. The constitution affords each religious community the freedom to teach its religion and use its own media to disseminate public information about its activities. It bars political parties from using names directly associated with, or symbols that may be confused with, those of religious groups. The constitution and law recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service, including on religious grounds; they require conscientious objectors to perform equivalent alternative civilian service.

The CLR is an independent, consultative body to parliament and the government, established by law. Its members include two representatives of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference (Roman Catholic); three religious representatives appointed by the Ministry of Justice from the Evangelical Alliance, Islamic Community of Lisbon, and Jewish Community of Lisbon; and five laypersons, three of whom are affiliated with the Ismaili Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist communities. The Council of Ministers appoints its president. The CLR reviews and takes a position on all matters relating to the application of the law on religious freedom, including proposed amendments. The CLR alerts the relevant authorities, including the President, parliament, and others in the government, of cases involving religious freedom and discrimination, such as restrictions or prohibitions on the right to assembly or the holding of religious services; destruction or desecration of religious property; assaults on members and clergy of religious groups; incitement of religious discord; hate speech; and violations of the rights of foreign missionaries.

The CLR may file formal complaints at the national level with the ombudsman, an official position created by the constitution and supplemental legislation to defend the rights and freedoms of individual citizens, and at the international level with the European Court of Human Rights. The ombudsman has no legal enforcement authority but is obligated to address complaints and provide an alternative remedy for dispute resolution.

Religious groups may be organized in a variety of forms that have national, regional, or local character. A denomination may choose to organize as one national church or religious community or as several regional or local churches or religious communities. An international church or religious community may establish a representative organization of its adherents separate from the branch of the church or religious community existing in the country. A registered church or religious community may create subsidiary or affiliated organizations, such as associations, foundations, or federations.

All religious groups with an organized presence in the country may apply for registration with the registrar of religious corporate bodies in the Ministry of Justice. The requirements include providing the organization’s official name, which must be distinguishable from all other religious corporate bodies in the country; the organizing documents of the church or religious community associated with the group applying for registration; the address of the organization’s registered main office in the country; a statement of the group’s religious purposes; documentation of the organization’s assets; information on the organization’s formation, composition, rules, and activities; provisions for dissolution of the organization; and the appointment method and powers of the organization’s representatives. Subsidiary or affiliated organizations included in the parent group’s application are also registered; if not included, they must register separately. The ministry may reject a registration application if it fails to meet legal requirements, includes false documentation, or violates the constitutional right of religious freedom. If the ministry rejects an application, religious groups may appeal to the CLR within 30 days of receiving the ministry’s decision.

Religious groups may register as religious corporations and receive tax-exempt status. Registered groups receive the right to minister in prisons, hospitals, and military facilities; provide religious teaching in public schools; participate in broadcasting time on public television and radio; and receive national recognition of religious holidays. The government certifies religious ministers, who receive all the benefits of the social security system. According to the law, chaplaincies for military services, prisons, and hospitals are state-funded positions open to all registered religious groups. A taxpayer may allocate 5 percent of income tax payments to any registered religious group.

Religious groups may also register as unincorporated associations or private corporations, which allows them to receive the same benefits granted to religious corporations. The process for registering as unincorporated associations or private corporations involves the same procedures as for religious corporations. There are no practical differences between associations and private corporations; the different categories distinguish the groups’ internal administration. Unregistered religious groups are not subject to penalties and may practice their religion but do not receive the benefits associated with registration.

By law, religious groups registered in the country for at least 30 years or internationally recognized for 60 years may obtain a higher registration status of “religion settled in the country.” To show they are established, religious groups must demonstrate an “organized social presence” for the required length of time. These groups receive government subsidies based on the number of their members; may conclude “mutual interest” agreements with the state on issues such as education, culture, or other forms of cooperation; and may celebrate marriages that are recognized by the state legal system. The government has mutual interest agreements with Jewish and Islamic religious bodies and a concordat with the Holy See that serves the same function for the Catholic Church.

Public secondary schools offer an optional survey course on world religions taught by lay teachers. Optional religious instruction is available at government expense if at least 10 students attend the class. Religious groups are responsible for designing the curriculum of the religious classes and providing and training the teachers. Private schools are required to offer the same curriculum as public schools but may provide instruction in any religion at their expense. All schools, public and private, are required to accommodate the religious practices of students, including rescheduling tests if necessary.

The law prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of religion and requires reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious practices. According to the labor code, employees are allowed to take leave on their Sabbath and religious holidays, even if these are not nationally observed.

The ACM, an independent government body operating under the guidelines of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, has a statutory obligation to advocate religious tolerance, including the “promotion of dialogue, innovation, and intercultural and interreligious education” and “combating all forms of discrimination based on color, nationality, ethnic origin or religion.”

The law provides for the naturalization of Jewish descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government reported that during the year, it approved the naturalization of 20,854 Sephardic descendants of Jews expelled from the country during the Inquisition and rejected 163 applications, out of a total of 34,876 new applications submitted. From the beginning of the program in 2015, the government reported receiving 87,081 applications, of which it approved 32,154 and rejected 205; 54,722 applications remained pending. Countries with the greatest numbers of applicants were Israel, Brazil, Turkey, Argentina, and the United States.

Most prisons, state and private hospitals, and military services designated Catholic priests to provide chaplaincy services, but not clergy of other religious groups.

During the year, the ACM held various online events, including a religious freedom conference on June 22. On December 17, in a virtual ceremony, the ACM launched its 2021 interreligious calendar, which provides information on the major religions in the country and marks the religious holidays of each. The ACM also published a pamphlet on religious tolerance for use in schools and continued to hold monthly online meetings with religious groups to consult on issues. According to the ACM, groups often sought financial assistance from the ACM for conferences and other events.

On February 17, as part of a debate on euthanasia, President Rebelo de Sousa met with GTIR representatives, all of whom opposed the legalization of euthanasia. The GTIR is made up of representatives of the Catholic Church, Portuguese Evangelical Alliance, Islamic Community of Lisbon, Church of Jesus Christ, Israeli Community of Lisbon, Portuguese Buddhist Union, Portuguese Hindu Community, and Portuguese Union of Seventh-day Adventists. Father Fernando Sampaio, national coordinator of hospital chaplaincies, told journalists the goal of the meeting was to express the concerns of religious confessions regarding euthanasia to the President and to transmit a message stressing “the importance of human life, of its inviolability.” He said “the foundation of legislative frameworks is life, the living, not death.” Jorge Humberto, representative of the Evangelical Alliance, said the concerns of the religious representatives were “legitimate” in the defense of “human dignity,” and that the law should instead expand palliative care.

On February 20, parliament approved in plenary session five draft bills decriminalizing assisted suicide. The vote, which was widely described as a preliminary step towards legalizing euthanasia, sent the bills to parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee for further consideration. A final vote on whether to make the bills law was expected in January 2021.

On February 21, the Portuguese Episcopal Conference issued a statement in response to parliament’s vote, expressing “enormous sadness” and stating that it supported all initiatives to defend life and oppose euthanasia. The Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon and President of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, Bishop Manuel Clemente, stated that life should be “properly contemplated throughout the existential arc” and, addressing politicians, added, “This is a common front, it is a human front, essential.”

On October 23, parliament voted down a petition containing more than 95,000 signatures that promoted a referendum on euthanasia. Prior to that vote, the Association of Portuguese Catholic Doctors had expressed support for a referendum as an alternative to enactment of a law on euthanasia by parliament and to “close the serious gap [on a topic] that until now has had little or no public debate on such an important topic.” After parliament rejected the referendum, the association reiterated, in a statement sent to the country’s Roman Catholic news agency, Agencia Ecclesia, “its absolute opposition to any and all forms of euthanasia” and asked the President to veto the law if enacted by parliament.

On March 3, parliament enacted a bill establishing March 31 as an annual Day of Remembrance for Jewish victims of the Inquisition in the country. The law received broad support from across the political spectrum. March 31 was chosen because the Inquisition was officially disbanded in the country on that date in 1821. Reconectar, a nongovernment organization that seeks to reconnect descendants of Portuguese and Spanish Jewish communities with the Jewish world, welcomed parliament’s action.

On April 20, Prime Minister Antonio Costa met with Cardinal Clemente to discuss the conditions for lifting the restrictions imposed by the government to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister’s Office also announced Costa would be meeting with other religious groups, including the Jewish and Muslim communities, for the same purpose but did not indicate if or when those meetings took place.

On June 22, the ACM marked Religious Freedom and Interreligious Dialogue Day with an online conference, “Religious Freedom and Interreligious Dialogue: New Challenges in Times of (More) Uncertainties,” organized with the GTIR and the CLR. Speakers included State Secretary for Integration and Migration Claudia Pereira, High Commissioner for Migration Sonia Pereira, Religious Freedom Commission Vice President Fernando Soares Loja, and Professor Jorge Bacelar Gouveia of the Faculty of Law at Nova University. Among the participants were representatives of the Catholic Church, Portuguese Evangelical Alliance, Presbyterian Evangelical Church of Portugal, Church of Jesus Christ, Portuguese Union of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Church of Seventh Day, Portuguese Buddhist Union, Baha’i Community, Hindu Community, Lusitania Church – Anglican Communion, and Buddha’s Light Association. Following a recorded message by President Rebelo de Sousa, representatives of religious denominations addressed the conference theme of “Current Challenges to the Freedoms of Conscience, Worship, and Religion.” Professor Gouveia proposed two challenges to religious groups: that each endeavor to sign an agreement with the state to safeguard their rights and interests (similar to the Catholic Church’s concordat and the Ismaili Imamat protocol); and that they propose a revision of the Religious Freedom Law, which had not been revised since its implementation in 2001. State Secretary Pereira said the government was open to all collaboration and committed to addressing any proposal made by the religious groups.

On July 15, parliamentarians from the PS and PSD withdrew two amendments they had introduced in parliament in May to the law allowing descendants of Jews expelled during the Inquisition to obtain citizenship. The original amendment proposed by the ruling PS would have required a two-year period of residence in the country before eligibility for citizenship. Following widespread public opposition from, among others, the Jewish Communities of Lisbon and Porto, B’nai B’rith International (which wrote to President Rebelo de Sousa on the issue), the Portuguese and Israeli Bar Associations, other political parties, and some Socialists and Social Democrats, the PS changed the amendment to require applicants to prove a “contemporary relationship” with Portugal. The amendment introduced by the PSD would have required descendants either to reside in the country for two years, have working relations with it, or hold real estate in the country for at least three years before applying for citizenship. Opponents of the amendments stated they would run counter to the law’s original intent of reconnecting expelled Jews with their historic national roots. The Jewish Community of Lisbon stated that a basic knowledge of the Portuguese language should be sufficient for descendants to apply. After failing to reach agreement on the language of the two amendments, PS and PSD members withdrew them without a parliamentary vote.

The state-run television channel RTP continued to broadcast a half-hour religious program five days a week and a separate weekly half-hour program, with segments for both written by registered religious groups.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In February, according to The Jerusalem Post, the Israeli Ambassador criticized the publication of an anti-Semitic cartoon by Vasco Gargalo that appeared in the weekly newsmagazine Sabado on January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The cartoon, titled “The Crematorium,” showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wearing a Nazi-like armband with a Star of David instead of a swastika, pushing a coffin covered with a Palestinian Authority flag into an oven. Above the oven were the words posted at the entrance to the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets You Free).

In April, President of the Jewish Community of Porto Dias Ben Zion and Catholic Bishop of Porto Manuel Linda presented The Light of Judah, a film about the history of Catholic-Jewish relations in the city in the Middle Ages, by Portuguese director Luis Ismael. The film, with Hebrew subtitles, was part of a joint project between the Jewish Community of Porto and the Diocese of Porto announced in December 2019 to fight anti-Semitism. At the time of the announcement, Bishop Linda said, “This project is a break with the past of misunderstandings and the certainty of a future made hand in hand.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials continued to speak regularly with ACM officials to discuss the importance of mutual respect and understanding among religious communities and the integration of immigrants, many of whom belonged to minority religious groups.

The embassy continued regular discussions throughout the year with the CLR leadership on various issues, including the legalization of euthanasia under discussion in parliament.

The Ambassador and other embassy representatives continued to discuss issues of religious tolerance and encourage interfaith collaboration and dialogue with representatives of religious groups, including the Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Orthodox, and Jewish communities.

Spain

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. It states that while no religion shall have a “state character,” the government shall form cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious faiths. The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that grants the Catholic Church additional benefits not available to three other groups with which the government has agreements: Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. Groups without agreements may register with the government and receive some benefits. In January, the government moved responsibility for religious issues from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of the Presidency, Relations with Parliament, and Democratic Memory (Ministry of the Presidency). Several religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed satisfaction with the move, stating the reorganization gave religious issues increased prominence. In July, Amnesty International called on the government to decriminalize “offending religious sentiments,” which it said unduly restricted freedom of expression. Some religious groups and NGOs voiced concerns about government restrictions on places of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several minority religious groups objected to unequal legal treatment, compared with the Catholic Church, on issues including tax allocations, access to cemeteries, public financing, and pensions for clergy. There were instances of members of parliament or local government officials using derogatory language against religious minorities. The governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation continued outreach to various religious groups and organized events promoting religious freedom. The Ministry of the Interior’s Office on Hate Crimes offered assistance to victims of religiously motivated hate crimes and provided training to law enforcement.

The NGO Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC) reported 181 religiously motivated incidents – including two assaults – in the first nine months of the year, six more than in the same period in 2019. Of the 181 cases, 75 percent were against Christians. The Ministry of the Interior documented 66 hate crimes with religious motivations in 2019, compared with 69 in 2018. The General Prosecutor’s 2019 annual report reported seven judicial processes opened during 2019 for hate crimes involving religion and two court rulings for crimes against religious sentiments. Some Christians, Muslims, and Jews reported increased hostility against them on social media and increased instances of vandalism.

U.S. embassy and consulate officials maintained communication with the Ministry of the Presidency’s Office of Religious Affairs, as well as with regional governments’ offices for religious affairs; topics discussed included access to permits for places of worship, religious education, cemeteries and burial, pensions, religiously motivated hate crimes, and hate speech. Embassy and consulate officials met with a wide range of religious groups and civil society members and discussed discrimination and the free exercise of their religious rights. The embassy and consulate posted social media messages commemorating various religious holidays and observances and highlighting the importance of religious freedom and the inclusion and respect for religious minority communities. In January, embassy officials cosponsored a series of events commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Month.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 50 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to a survey conducted in September by the governmental Center for Sociological Research, 59.2 percent of respondents identified themselves as Catholics and 2.7 percent as followers of other religious groups. In addition, 10.6 percent described themselves as “nonbelievers,” 11.8 percent as agnostics, and 13.6 percent as atheists; the remaining 2 percent did not answer the question.

The (Catholic) Episcopal Conference of Spain previously estimated there are 32.6 million Catholics; it has not published any recent estimates. The Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE) estimates there are 1.95 million Muslims. The Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities (FEREDE) estimates there are 1.5 million Protestants, the majority of whom are immigrants. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) estimates there are between 40,000 and 45,000 Jews; the Episcopal Orthodox Assembly of Spain and Portugal, an umbrella organization for the various Orthodox churches, stated in 2014 there were 1.5 million Orthodox Christians; the Jehovah’s Witnesses report between 120,000 and 150,000 members; the Buddhist Union of Spain-Federation of Buddhist Entities (UBE-FEBE) estimates there are 100,000 Buddhists; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) cites nearly 60,000 members. Other religious groups include Christian Scientists, other Christian groups, Baha’is (12,000 members), Scientologists (11,000 members), and Hindus. The autonomous communities of Catalonia, Andalusia, and Madrid and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa contain the highest percentage of non-Christians, nearly 50 percent (mostly Muslims) in the latter two cities.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for freedom of religion and worship for individuals and communities. The constitution states no one may be compelled to testify about his or her religion or beliefs. It also states, “No religion shall have a state character,” but “public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and consequently maintain appropriate cooperative relations with the Catholic Church and other denominations.” The Catholic Church is the only religious group explicitly mentioned in the constitution. Under the penal code, it is a crime to prevent or disrupt religious services or to offend or scorn religious beliefs, ceremonies, or practitioners. The constitution allows limits on expression if “necessary to maintain public order.”

The law imposes a sentence between eight to 12 months against an individual who, in order to offend the feelings of members of a religious group, publicly disparages the dogmas, beliefs, rights, or ceremonies of that religious group or who publicly insults members of the religious group. The law imposes the same penalties against an individual who publicly disparages those who do not profess any religion or belief. The law also imposes a six-month to one-year prison sentence or a fine against anyone who perpetrates “profane acts” that “offend the feelings” of legally protected religious confessions in a place of worship or at religious ceremonies.

The penal code definition of hate crimes includes acts of “humiliation or disrespect” against victims because of their religion, with penalties of one to four years in prison. Anti-Semitism is specifically defined in the penal code as a hate crime. By law, authorities may investigate and prosecute criminal offenses committed by neo-Nazi groups as “terrorist crimes.” Genocide denial is a crime if it incites violent attitudes, such as aggressive, threatening behavior or language. The law also provides for a declaration of personal recognition for those who experienced violence or persecution for political, ideological, or religious beliefs during the Spanish Civil War or the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

The government does not require religious groups to register, but registering confers on religious groups certain legal benefits. Groups registered in the Registry of Religious Entities maintained by the Ministry of the Presidency may buy, rent, and sell property and may act as a legal entity in civil proceedings. Registration entails completing forms available on the ministry’s website and providing notarized documentation of the foundational and operational statutes of the religious group, its legal representatives, territorial scope, religious purposes, and address. All persons or groups have the right to practice their religion whether or not registered as a religious entity.

Registration with the Ministry of the Presidency, as well as notorio arraigo (“deeply rooted” or permanent) status, allows groups to establish bilateral cooperation agreements with the state. The government maintains a bilateral agreement with the Holy See, executed in part by the Episcopal Conference. The Episcopal Conference of Spain interacts with the government on behalf of the entire Catholic community. Per a 1979 agreement with the Holy See, individual Catholic dioceses and parishes are not required to register with the government. The Catholic Church is the only religious entity to which persons may voluntarily allocate 0.7 percent of their taxes. The government also has cooperation agreements with CIE, FCJE, and FEREDE. These agreements with the country’s four predominant religions – Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, and Judaism – are legally binding and provide the religious groups with certain tax exemptions and the ability to buy and sell property, open a house of worship, and conduct other legal business. The agreements also grant civil validity to weddings clergy perform and permit the placement of teachers in schools and chaplains in hospitals, the military, and prisons. Groups with cooperation agreements are also eligible for independently administered government grants. The agreements cover legal, educational, cultural, and economic affairs; religious observance by members of the armed forces; and the military service of clergy and members of religious orders.

Registered groups that wish to sign cooperation agreements with the state must acquire notorio arraigo status through the Ministry of the Presidency. To achieve this status, groups must have an unspecified “relevant” number of followers, a presence in the country for at least 30 years, and a “level of diffusion” the ministry considers demonstrates a “social presence” but is not further defined. Groups must also submit documentation demonstrating the group is religious in nature to the ministry’s Office of Religious Affairs, which maintains the Register of Religious Entities. Jehovah’s Witnesses, UBE-FEBE, the Church of Jesus Christ, and the Episcopal Orthodox Assembly of Spain and Portugal are registered religions with notorio arraigo status. New religious communities may register directly with the Ministry of the Presidency, or religious associations may register on their behalf.

If the Ministry of the Presidency considers an applicant for registration not to be a religious group, the latter may be included in the Register of Associations maintained by the Ministry of the Interior. Inclusion in the register grants legal status but offers no other benefits. Registration itself simply lists the association and its history in the government’s database. Registration as an association is a precursor to requesting that the government deem the association to be of public benefit, which affords the same tax benefits as charities, including exemption from income tax and taxes on contributions. For such a classification, the association must be registered for two years and maintain a net positive fiscal balance.

The Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation is a public sector foundation attached to the Ministry of the Presidency that promotes religious freedom and diversity. It provides funding to non-Catholic religious denominations that have a cooperation agreement with the government in support of activities that promote cultural, educational, and social integration. It provides nonfinancial assistance to other religious groups registered with the government to increase public awareness. The foundation also promotes dialogue and rapprochement among religious groups and the integration of religion in society. It works closely with the Ministry of the Presidency’s Office of Religious Affairs.

The government funds religious services within the prison system for Catholic and Muslim groups. Examples of religious services include Sunday Catholic Mass, Catholic confession, and Friday Islamic prayer. The cooperation agreements of FCJE and FEREDE with the government do not include this provision; these groups provide religious services in prisons but at their own expense. Other religious groups registered as religious entities with the Ministry of the Presidency may provide services at their own expense during visiting hours upon the request of prisoners.

The government guarantees religious workers of groups with cooperation agreements with the state access to centers for asylum seekers and refugees so that these groups may provide direct assistance, at their expense, to their followers in the centers. Religious workers from groups without a cooperation agreement with the government may enter the internment centers upon request to the Ministry of the Presidency.

Military rules and cooperation agreements with the government allow religious military funerals and chaplain services for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, should the family of the deceased request it. Other religious groups may conduct religious funerals upon request.

The government recognizes marriages performed by all religious communities with notorio arraigo status. Members of religious groups without this status must be married in a civil ceremony.

The regions of Madrid and Catalonia maintain agreements with several religious groups that have accords with the national government. These regional agreements permit activities such as providing religious assistance in hospitals and prisons under regional jurisdiction. The central government funds these services for prisons and the military, and the regional governments fund hospital services. According to the central government, these subnational agreements may not contradict the principles of the federal agreements, which take precedence.

Religious groups must apply to local governments for a license to open a place of worship, as with other establishments intended for public use. Requirements for licenses vary from municipality to municipality. Documentation required is usually the same as for other business establishments seeking to open a venue for public use and includes information such as architectural plans and maximum capacity. Religious groups must also inform the Ministry of the Presidency after opening new places of worship.

Local governments are obligated to consider requests for use of public land to open a place of worship. If a municipality decides to deny such a request after weighing factors such as availability and value added to the community, the city council must explain its decision to the requesting party.

As outlined in the cooperation agreements with religious groups, the government provides funding for salaries for teachers of Catholic and, when at least 10 students request it, Protestant and Islamic religious education classes in public schools. The Jewish community is also eligible for government funding for Jewish instructors but has declined it. The courses are not mandatory. Those students who elect not to take religious education courses are required to take an alternative course covering general social, cultural, and religious themes. The development of curricula and the financing of teachers for religious education is the responsibility of the regional governments, with the exception of Andalusia, Aragon, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, and the two autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, which leave the curricula and financing of education to the national government in accordance with their respective regional statutes.

Autonomous regions generally have the authority to develop the requirements for religious education instructors and certify their credentials, although some choose to defer to the national government. For example, prospective instructors must provide personal data, proof that the educational authority of the region where they are applying to work has never dismissed them, a degree as required by the region, and any other requirement as stipulated by the religious association to which they correspond. The religious associations are required to provide a list of approved instructors to the government. Ministry of Education-approved CIE guidelines stress “moderate Islam” in worship practices, with emphasis on pluralism, understanding, religious tolerance, conflict resolution, and coexistence. CIE also requires instructors to have a certificate of training in Islamic education. Private religiously based schools, whether or not they receive public funds, must comply with governmental education regulations. Private religiously based schools that do not receive public funds must additionally obtain authorization to function from regional educational authorities.

Catholic and Jewish clergy may include time spent on missions abroad in calculations for social security and may claim retirement pension credit for a maximum of 38.5 years of service. Protestant clergy are eligible to receive social security benefits, including health insurance and a government-provided retirement pension with a maximum credit of 15 years of service, but pension eligibility requirements for these clergy are stricter than for Catholic clergy. Muslim, Orthodox, and Jehovah’s Witnesses clergy are also eligible for social security benefits under the terms of separate social security agreements each of these groups negotiated with the state.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On July 16, Amnesty International called on the government to reform the part of the penal code that criminalizes offending “religious sentiments,” which it stated unduly restricted freedom of expression. There were several cases brought to court for crimes against religious sentiments during the year.

In June, the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers was joined by eight other plaintiffs (the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Spain, the European Center for Law and Justice, the Polish government, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Slovakia, and five other Christian organizations) in filing a brief to the European Court of Human Rights stating the government had infringed Christians’ religious freedom for failing to protect against hate speech and for providing public funding to an art exhibit that offended religious sentiments. The case was related to the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers’ lawsuit for offenses against religious sentiments against artist Abel Azcona, whose 2015 photography exhibition featured the word “pederasty” formed by consecrated communion wafers. The European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the complaint in October 2019 after a regional court in Pamplona had declined to hear the case and the national Constitutional Court declared it inadmissible.

In October, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a complaint filed by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers against Minister of the Interior Fernando Grande-Marlaska that accused security forces under the Minister’s purview of entering churches and interrupting religious celebrations in various incidents throughout the country during the period of confinement enacted during the March 14-June 20 COVID-19-related state of alarm, although the churches were following COVID-19-mandated capacity and health requirements outlined by the government. In April, the OLRC sent a letter to Grande-Marlaska expressing concerns regarding the suspensions or interruptions of religious celebrations during Lent and Holy Week in various instances throughout the country. The OLRC said the actions threatened religious freedom and requested an explanation from the government.

Representatives from FEREDE expressed concern regarding capacity and other restrictions on churches and said the government had failed to provide sufficient explanation for measures taken. For example, the government restricted singing in churches, which FEREDE representatives described as an important part of worship for Protestants.

On March 4, the grandchildren of former dictator Francisco Franco presented a complaint against the government in the European Court of Human Rights related to the government’s October 2019 exhumation of Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen Basilica and reburial in a cemetery north of Madrid, despite the insistence of Franco’s family that the remains be interred in a cathedral, not in a cemetery. Franco’s heirs stated the exhumation and the Supreme Court ruling that allowed it infringed on the right to “family and private life,” the prohibition against discrimination, and the right to a fair trial. The OLRC previously said it did not consider removing Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen as an attack on religious freedom. At year’s end, the European Court of Human Rights had not determined whether it would hear the case.

On January 12, the central government announced in an official state bulletin as part of the formation of the new government under President Pedro Sanchez that it was transferring responsibility for religious freedom issues and registration of religious groups from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of the Presidency under Vice President Carmen Calvo. The reorganization moved the Office of Religious Affairs and the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation to the Ministry of the Presidency. Representatives from both organizations said the move reflected the cross-cutting nature of their work and said that registered religious groups were pleased with the move. Several of the religious groups and organizations promoting religious freedom expressed varying degrees of positive views of the move to the Ministry of the Presidency, noting that it gave religious issues increased prominence.

In her new role overseeing religious issues, Vice President Calvo agreed to meet with all religious groups with notorio arraigo status in the country. On June 24, Calvo met with the president of the Episcopal Conference of Spain, Cardinal and Archbishop of Barcelona Juan Jose Omella. On July 22, Calvo met with representatives from CIE, FCJE, and FEREDE, the three religious minority groups with cooperation agreements with the government. On July 23, Calvo met with representatives from UBE-FEBE, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ, three of the religious groups with notorio arraigo status but without cooperation agreements. On December 15, Calvo met with leadership from the Greek, Romanian, and Russian Orthodox Churches, the remaining group with notorio arraigo status. According to the Office of Religious Affairs, this was the first time groups with notorio arraigo status, but without cooperation agreements, had met with a government official at this level. The Community of the Baha’i in Spain, which has been working to meet the requirements for notorio arraigo status since 2010, did not participate. The Office of Religious Affairs also said the Vice President had started technical discussions with the Catholic Church to resolve certain unreported outstanding issues and planned to launch similar discussions with each religious group with notorio arraigo status.

Several religious groups, including Protestants and Jews, expressed appreciation that King Felipe VI hosted a secular July 16 memorial service for the 30,000 Spaniards that lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic until that point. In the past, groups said, these types of events were often religious, specifically Catholic, in nature.

Non-Catholic religious groups described what they said was unequal legal treatment by the government, which several groups said they raised with Vice President Calvo. FEREDE representatives said that despite a 2017 Supreme Court ruling making government pension-eligibility requirements for Protestant clergy the same as those for Catholic priests, no Protestant clergy had yet begun receiving a government pension because the ruling was not retroactive. The government did not issue a royal decree, per FEREDE’s request, to allow retired Protestant clergy to collect pensions based on their time in service prior to 1999 and to allow survivor benefits for spouses and children of clergy.

The Catholic Church remained the only religious entity to which persons could voluntarily allocate 0.7 percent of their taxes. Other religious groups were not listed on the tax form as potential recipients of funds. Several religious groups, including Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, and the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to express their desire to have their groups included on the tax form, and several groups described the system as legally discriminatory. They said they would rather receive voluntary contributions from taxpayers without preconditions rather than rely on funding from the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation, which has specific conditions for use of its funds. One in three Spaniards elected to allocate some of their taxes to the Catholic Church in 2019, yielding 286 million euros ($350.92 million), a 6.19 percent increase in donations compared with 2018, according to press.

FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE relied on government funds provided through the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation to cover their administrative and infrastructure costs. The Ministry of the Presidency continued to allocate funding to different groups according to the number of registered entities and the approximate number of adherents. In addition to infrastructure and administrative funding, the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation funds also covered small publicity projects and research projects. Several religious groups reported financial challenges due to COVID-19. Many of their members were unable to make the same levels of charitable donations as in previous years. FEREDE requested government unemployment benefits for its pastors but said it did not receive a response. FEREDE representatives said the lack of financial support for its pastors highlighted the unequal treatment of Protestant and Catholic clergy, with the former’s salaries paid by Protestant churches and the latter’s paid by the government.

FEREDE described additional measures that it said constituted unequal treatment, including public financing supporting visits by Catholic clergy to provide religious services in hospitals, military installations, and prisons, but Protestant clergy having to pay for their own visits. CIE also expressed concern that imams could not receive state financing to attend to the faithful in hospitals.

Several religious groups cited continuing obstacles to providing religious education and the integration of teachers of religion in schools. FEREDE reported it was still awaiting official approval to establish a certified master’s degree program in evangelical religious education two years after reaching an agreement with the government.

Islamic studies courses began in the Balearic Islands and Catalonia for the first time in 10 and eight schools, respectively, for the 2020-21 academic year. In September, CIE met with the regional Ministry of Education of Rioja, which pledged to increase the number of schools that teach Islamic studies. In February, CIE partnered with the Ceuta Ministry of Culture and the Cervantes Institute to launch Spanish language classes for imams in the North African enclave to enable the imams to conduct bilingual sermons for Spanish-speaking Muslims. In November 2019, the CIE expressed concern that there were no Islamic studies classes in schools in six regions – Asturias, Cantabria, Catalonia, Galicia, Murcia, and Navarre. CIE said this was sometimes due to decisions by local authorities or a lack of demand.

There were no Jewish religious education classes in public schools because schools lacked the 10 interested students required to request them, according to FCJE. FCJE officials said they did not consider the lack of Jewish education classes to be problematic because of the availability of private religious instruction for the Jewish community. FCJE reported schools were usually unaware of Jewish holidays as provided in the accord between FCJE and the state. In 2018, the Church of Jesus Christ proposed the right of religious education in public schools be extended to all religious groups with notorio arraigo status, not just to groups with agreements with the state. At year’s end, the government had not agreed to the request. Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said they chose not to seek their own religious instruction in schools, since they believed that religious training was the responsibility of the individual.

Holocaust education in secondary school curricula continued in accordance with a Ministry of Education mandate contained in two royal decrees. The subject was included in a fourth-year compulsory geography and history class and a first-year contemporary world history class. A 2017 agreement between the FCJE and the Ministry of Education to train teachers on the Holocaust, Judaism, and anti-Semitism remained in force, and the Sefarad-Israel Center took responsibility for its implementation.

In September, a school in Vallecas told several families their children must attend a Catholic religious studies class instead of the alternative social and civic values course the families selected. The school said the schedule modifications were required in order to maintain students in socially distant groups necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The families complained to the school administration that the decision violated their right to not to enroll their children in a religious studies class, as allowed by law.

On October 21, Santiago Abascal, a member of Congress and leader of the opposition party Vox, stated in Congress during his censure motion against the government that Islam was a “danger” to European civilizations, saying, “Jihadism continues to decapitate people to the cry of ‘Allah is great.” Abascal also said Catalonia was “closer to the horror” faced by other European countries because of Islam and predicted that “if the renegades succeed in breaking Spain,” they would “create a Catalan Islamic republic.”

The Valencia regional government anti-COVID-19 campaign originally compared the fight against the virus to King James I’s conquest of Valencia against Muslim forces in 1238. Various political parties condemned the comparison, and the regional government removed the language on October 9. Valencian President Ximo Puig apologized for what he called “inappropriate” messaging.

Purported audio recordings of Juan Sergio Redondo, member of Congress and Vox leader in Ceuta, that were released in July included disparaging language and derogatory names for Muslims. Redondo also allegedly called the city’s president an expletive for promoting “the role of multiculturalism” in hosting public events for Hindus. Vox released a statement denying Redondo had “ever made a public statement against Hindus” and saying he had “always shown profound respect and consideration for the Hindu community.”

On July 21, Silvia Orriols, Ripoll city councilor and former president of the National Front for Catalonia party, was charged with a hate crime for comments she made in a January plenary session opposing the opening of a new mosque and accusing the Annour Association, which manages the mosque, of “consenting to religious fanaticism” and “discriminatory segregation by sex.”

In May, the Calafell city council agreed unanimously to file a court case for hate crimes and crimes against religious sentiments against city councilor Javier Alvarez. Alvarez, who was suspended from the Ciudadanos party in April, posted expletives on his social media account about “those who pray to Allah.” The Ciudadanos spokesperson in Calafell contacted imams of local mosques to apologize and publicly condemned Alvarez’s words.

Popular Party Senator Rafael Hernando on April 27 posted on his social media account a video purporting to show Muslims staging a protest in the streets in contravention of the government-decreed confinement due to the state of alarm. In his post he wrote, “So if you are Catholic you cannot go to church and Holy Week is prohibited…but if you are Muslim you go out to streets for a demonstration staying closely together, without masks or gloves.” The video was determined to be from 2018. Hernando removed the post after several media outlets reported the senator had spread an unfounded rumor against Muslims.

In February, the group Movement for Dignity and Citizenship requested that the provincial court in Ceuta keep open a hate crimes case against several members of the Vox party for leaked messages from a group social media chat described as “xenophobic, Islamophobic, and racist.” The purported group chat – in which member of Congress Juan Sergio Redondo, local assembly spokesperson Carlos Verdejo, and city council members Francisco Ruiz and Ana Belen Cifuentes took part – included references to the “Islamicization of Ceuta” and the “Palestinianization of the territory,” and referred to Muslims as “Moors.” The accused individuals stated the chat had been manipulated.

The Ministry of Justice continued processing applications under the law that provided descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country 500 years ago the right of return as full Spanish citizens as long as the applications were submitted before the law’s expiration in September 2019. Since 2015, the government received 132,226 petitions, with 72,000 new cases in the final month of applications. The Ministry of Justice processed cases from more than 60 countries, with Venezuelans representing the largest block of applicants.

In August, the Military Chamber of the Supreme Court overturned a Central Military Court decision that sanctioned and revoked the salary of a Muslim noncommissioned officer who accused his commanders of discrimination and not promoting him. The officer stated that he experienced hostile and cynical treatment and that official briefs were submitted maintaining he was unfit for promotion because he is Muslim.

King Felipe VI in January represented Spain at a memorial event in Jerusalem commemorating the victims of the Holocaust on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The King, who holds the honorary title of King of Jerusalem, stated “There is no room for indifference in the presence of racism, xenophobia, hate speech, and anti-Semitism.” President of the Senate Pilar Llop hosted the official International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on January 27, which was attended by Vice President Calvo, Minister of Education Isabel Celaa, deputies and senators, members of the diplomatic corps, members of the Jewish community, and others. Then-FCJE President Isaac Querub and Holocaust survivor Ita Bartuv delivered remarks. On May 5, Vice President Calvo presided over a ceremony honoring the Spaniards deported and killed in Mauthausen and other Nazi concentration camps, and the Council of Ministers approved an institutional declaration of their “ethical and democratic legacy.”

Following a July 20 meeting with the FCJE, Vice President Calvo announced on July 22 that the government reaffirmed the country’s 2016 vote to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism agreed under the previous government. In a separate action, the parliament of the Balearic Islands voted in June to adopt the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism. In September, Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya warned against anti-Semitism and totalitarianism when she participated in a Rosh Hashanah celebration at the Sefarad Center in Madrid. Gonzalez Laya closed the ceremony by emphasizing that the decision to endorse the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism “was not taken lightly, but as a result of the commitment to fight anti-Semitism with all the forces and against totalitarianism, which are two phenomena that threaten us.”

The FCJE estimated there were very few survivors of the Holocaust residing in the country and said for this reason, the government only considered property restitution on a case-by-case basis. The FCJE reported no restitution cases during the year. On August 18, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation in Spain was the rightful owner of the painting Rue Saint-Honore by Camille Pizarro. The family of Lilly Cassirer, a Jewish woman who fled Germany in 1939, had filed a court case in the United States, stating the painting was seized by Nazi officials in 1939 and incorporated into the Thyssen Museum’s collection in 1993 following a 1976 private purchase by the museum’s benefactor. A judge in April 2019 ruled that the Thyssen Museum was the lawful owner of the painting because under Spanish law, buyers retain works purchased if they do not possess “actual knowledge” that the works had been stolen. The family appealed that ruling.

Courts continued to rule against municipal and provincial government resolutions supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Such resolutions usually entailed a nonbinding declaration calling on the central government to “support any initiative promoted by the international BDS campaign” and to “suspend relations with Israel until that country stops its criminal and repressive policies against the Palestinian population.” Some pro-BDS-movement legislation also contained language in support of a “space free of Israeli apartheid.” On February 20, the Madrid assembly approved an institutional declaration condemning “any display of discrimination, incitement to hatred or violence, and other forms of racism and xenophobia against Jews.” Catalonia’s regional parliament passed a similar measure in January, and it approved a resolution specifically condemning BDS on October 15. On September 3, a judge in Santander annulled the proclamations of the municipalities of Torrelavega and Cabezon de la Sal as “spaces free of Israeli apartheid,” approved in those municipalities in 2017 and 2016, respectively. The judge ruled that the declarations were not generic and included programmatic agreements and that they “exceeded a mere declaration of principles and the specific local problems of the neighbors, which means assuming international powers that the City Council lacks.”

The Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation conducted several outreach campaigns, including hosting virtual events, aimed at promoting a better understanding of different religions and respect for religious freedom. It continued working with religious groups in three working groups on the opening and operation of places of worship, the impact of religious education, and the effects of discrimination and limits to religious freedom in the workplace. During the year, it provided FEREDE with 462,800 euros ($568,000), CIE with 330,000 euros ($405,000), and FCJE with 169,405 euros ($208,000). The Ministry of the Presidency’s Office of Religious Affairs maintained an online portal for information to aid new immigrants or citizens moving into a community to find his or her locally registered religious community and place of worship. The Ministry of the Interior’s Office on Hate Crimes provided assistance to victims of religiously motivated hate crimes and training for law enforcement.

Several regional and municipal government offices conducted outreach to promote religious diversity. For example, the Catalan regional government’s Department of Religious Affairs provided guidance and financial support to religious communities and disseminated information promoting religious diversity. The Barcelona city council’s Office for Religious Affairs and Office for Non-Discrimination supported various religious groups by facilitating and promoting religious celebrations, providing grants for their projects, and organizing roundtables to discuss the status of religious freedom in the city. The municipal government also led workshops and training events on the fight against anti-Muslim sentiment for municipal employees, as well as for teachers, law enforcement agents, and human rights organizations.

The government is a member of the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the OLRC, there were 181 incidents it described as violating religious freedom in the first nine months of the year, six more than in the same period in 2019. OLRC statistics, which include media reporting, showed that the number of incidents had increased every year since 2014. Of the incidents, 136 targeted Christians, six were against Muslims, three against Jews, and 36 classified as against all faiths. There were two incidents of violence (both assaults on Catholics), 26 attacks on places of worship, 70 cases of harassment, and 83 cases of “public marginalization of religion.” According to the OLRC’s 2019 annual report published in June, Andalusia was the region with the most attacks on religious freedom in 2019, followed by Madrid and then Catalonia.

According to the Ministry of the Interior’s 2019 annual report on hate crimes, the most recent available, there were 66 hate crimes based on religious beliefs or practices and, separately, five motivated by anti-Semitism, in 2019, compared with 69 and eight such crimes, respectively, in 2018. Only crimes involving anti-Semitism are disaggregated, as they are treated as specific offenses in the penal code. Most of the religiously motivated crimes occurred in Catalonia (17 hate crimes based on religious beliefs, three specifically for anti-Semitism), followed by Madrid (8, 1), Basque Country (8, 0), and Andalusia (7, 0). The ministry’s report did not cite specific examples or provide a breakdown of religiously motivated incidents by type of crime. According to a ministry official, the figures in the annual report only included officially filed complaints and not incidents gathered from press reports.

The General Prosecutor’s 2019 annual report reported seven judicial processes opened during 2019 for hate crimes involving religion, compared with 16 such cases in 2018. The annual report noted two court rulings for crimes against religious sentiments.

In June, the Barcelona Hate Crimes Prosecutor’s Office asked for five years’ imprisonment for three neo-Nazis for assaulting a Sikh vendor in Barcelona in 2017. The perpetrators were charged with violent robbery and intimidation, with an added charge of discriminatory motives. This was the first case prosecutors brought to court of a hate crime against a Sikh.

In July, Catalan regional police arrested a man who unsuccessfully tried to burn an Islamic prayer room in Manlleu, and another man for attacking the alleged arsonist with a knife in revenge.

In May, police arrested a man in Esplugues de Llobregat for inciting hatred, violence, and discrimination after he suggested on a radio program with a large Muslim audience in Spain and Morocco that a Moroccan teacher and women’s rights activist would be beheaded if she lived in a different country because of her political beliefs and for disrespecting the Prophet Muhammad. The Barcelona Hate Crimes Prosecutor’s Office opened a case and police initiated deportation proceedings against the man, who was living in Spain in irregular status.

On October 14, the trial began of a woman accused of offending religious sentiments. The prosecutor sought a fine of 3,000 euros ($3,700) for the woman’s participation in a public procession on International Women’s Day in March 2013 in which she and unnamed others marched through the streets of Malaga with a large plastic vagina fashioned to look like the Virgin Mary, which the prosecutor stated was intended to mock the symbols and dogmas of the Catholic faith and its adherents. The Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers originally filed the complaint and sought a prison sentence of one year and a fine imposed over 24 months. A November verdict gave the woman a 2,700-euro fine ($3,300). She stated that she would appeal the ruling.

On September 9, representatives from Netflix Spain appeared in a court in Colmenar Viejo to testify in a lawsuit filed against it by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers for offending religious sentiments related to its December 2019 release in the country of the Brazilian satire film The First Temptation of Christ. The Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers said the film depicted Jesus Christ as “inept and homosexual” and called for its removal from Netflix’s streaming platform. The court had not delivered its judgment by year’s end.

On February 21, a judge in Madrid acquitted actor Willy Toledo of crimes against religious sentiments and obstruction of justice, a decision ratified by the Provincial Court of Madrid on November 21. The Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers had brought a case against Toledo for posts he had made on his social media account in 2017 that it considered offensive to God and the Virgin Mary. In her judgment, the judge noted the comments were “in bad taste,” but ruled that the manner in which they were published on Toledo’s personal social media account did not constitute a crime.

In January, the University of Lleida announced it would review its nondiscrimination policies after a fourth-year nursing student was expelled from one of its centers for refusing to remove her hijab. The university readmitted the student to another of its centers.

A representative of the Movement Against Intolerance, a non-religiously affiliated NGO that compiles instances of religiously motivated hate crimes, said there was an increase in religiously motivated hate speech against Jews, Christians, and Muslims on social media sites. The FCJE’s Observatory of Anti-Semitism and the Movement Against Intolerance noted an increase in anti-Semitic speech on social media, including blaming Jews for creating the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, a regional court in Ceuta sentenced a man convicted of inciting hatred against Israel and Jewish communities on social networks to a year’s imprisonment (suspended due to lack of prior convictions), a fine, and a three-year prohibition from working in education or sports.

In February, during separate carnival celebrations, participants dressed as Nazis and Holocaust victims participated in town parades. In Badajoz, a 160-member group paraded dressed in suits that were split down the middle (half Nazi soldier and half concentration camp prisoner), choreographed to march and dance together to pop music. Props included a tank, metal fences, and a banner that displayed a swastika and Star of David together and signaled the gateway to the Auschwitz camp. In Campo de Criptana, a 130-member group dressed as Jewish prisoners, Nazi officers, and women in red coats resembling costumes from the movie Schindler’s List danced to disco music with props that included a gas chamber float embellished with two crematorium chimneys. The Israeli embassy condemned the Campo de Criptana parade, stating it made a mockery of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis. The Campo de Criptana City Council issued a statement condemning the parade. Both groups of participants stated their intention was to pay tribute to Holocaust victims.

In July, the Moroccan Association of Immigrant Rights (AMDI) of Puertollano filed two complaints with the local prosecutor for alleged hate crimes against three individuals who published social media posts that AMDI said “incited hatred against the Muslim community.” AMDI said the posts were prompted by its request that the city council permit a section of the cemetery be used by the Muslim community, as deaths were increasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. AMDI cited posts that suggested there was burial room for Muslims “in a gutter.”

An FCJE representative said the group was particularly concerned about the rise of BDS support campaigns in university student organizations. The FCJE representative said student organizations sometimes promoted exhibitions that focused more on attacking Israel and Jews than on supporting the Palestinian cause. In May, the Valencia regional government cancelled plans to have the group “BDS Valencia Country” host a teacher training course on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia after FCJE and others complained the group promoted hatred and discrimination against Jews. In September, the FCJE and the Simon Wiesenthal Center called for the cancellation of an online course offered by the Public University of Navarre entitled “Apartheid in Palestine and the Criminalization of Solidarity.” The center denounced inclusion of the leader of the international BDS movement in the course and said it had the potential to incite attacks against Jewish institutions in Spain.

There were several incidents of religiously motivated vandalism, many of which were referred to the courts. In December, the FCJE, the Jewish Community of Madrid, and the Movement against Intolerance denounced and vowed to take legal action against the defacement of a Jewish cemetery in Madrid with graffiti saying, “Good Jew, Dead Jew.” In September, the Cartagena Association for Historic Memory denounced the defacement with swastikas, stars of David, and “Jews out” graffiti of a municipal monument dedicated to exiled Spanish Republicans from Cartagena who were deported to Nazi concentration camps. In July, police in Malaga arrested a man for vandalizing a Catholic chapel and injuring a woman nearby. Also in July, the Alcazar de San Juan city council condemned graffiti that included the words “fascists,” “Christians,” and “pandemic” that appeared on three different Catholic religious buildings. In June, the Association of Christian Lawyers filed a complaint against the individuals who removed the head and feet of a statue of Jesus Christ in La Roda. In March, a judge in Segovia agreed to open an investigation against a leftist group for vandalizing a church with graffiti that said, “For historic memory, against Francoism.” In January, a building at Alfonso X the Wise University in Villanueva de la Canada was defaced with graffiti that said, “I command, kill Jews” and a swastika. A wall at a nearby park was defaced with swastikas and graffiti that said, “Free Palestine” and “Kill a Jew.”

In September, the UNESCO Association for Interreligious Dialogue (AUDIR), a Catalan NGO, organized its fifth “Night of Religions” in Barcelona, in which 36 places of worship representing 15 different religious groups opened their doors and invited local residents. More than 1,200 persons took part in the activities, which were conducted both in person and online. AUDIR continued to implement the “Building Bridges” project, in which 30 youths from different faiths attended courses on interfaith dialogue, among other topics. As part of the program, the participants visited places of worship and schools in their neighborhoods and gave talks on religious diversity to students and community members.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy and consulate representatives met with government officials to discuss anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, anticlericalism, and concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities. Issues discussed included access to permits for places of worship, religious education, cemeteries and burial, pensions, religiously motivated hate crimes, and hate speech. Embassy officers also raised these issues with religious leaders who participated in the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation.

Embassy and consulate officials met with leaders of Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhist, and other religious groups and civil society members. Embassy and consulate officials discussed the concerns of community members regarding discrimination and the free exercise of their religious rights.

In January, the embassy participated in a series of events commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Month. Among them was the embassy’s partnership with the Sefarad-Israel Center on a film series on the Holocaust. Embassy officers addressed the audience before the screenings of Mr. Klein and The Diary of Anne Frank, highlighting the need for the next generation to learn about the Holocaust to prevent any similar atrocities in the future.

In April, the Ambassador posted a series of messages on social media celebrating the beginning of Ramadan and highlighting the importance of religious freedom, as well as the inclusion of and respect for religious minority communities. The Ambassador’s messages underscored U.S. commitment to tolerance and coexistence around the world. In lieu of hosting the annual iftar celebration, the Ambassador also sent personal letters to leaders of religious groups, government offices, diplomatic missions, and NGOs commemorating Ramadan and promoting religious diversity and tolerance. The Consul General in Barcelona also promoted religious freedom and diversity on social media throughout the year.

Sweden

Executive Summary

The constitution protects “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others” and prohibits discrimination based on religion. In March, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) declined to hear the case of two midwives who said the regional hospitals, and by extension the state, had infringed on their religious beliefs and freedom of choice by denying them employment due to their opposition to abortion, which is legal in the country. In September, the Malmo Administrative Court overturned the Bromolla Municipality’s ban on prayer during working hours. In November, the Malmo Administrative Court overturned the ban on hijabs, burqas, niqabs, and other face- and hair-covering garments for students and employees in preschools and elementary schools introduced by Skurup and Staffanstorp Municipalities. In January, a government inquiry proposed a ban on the establishment of new independent religious schools, beginning in 2023, and increased oversight on existing schools having a religious orientation. The Migration Agency’s annual report, released in February, reported large regional variations in the assessment of asylum cases of Christian converts from the Middle East and elsewhere. Some politicians from the Sweden Democrats, the country’s third largest political party, made denigrating comments about Jews and Muslims. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and other politicians condemned anti-Semitism and religious intolerance. The Prime Minister announced his country’s endorsement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, including its list of examples of anti-Semitism. The government continued funding programs aimed at combating racism and anti-Semitism and reducing hate crimes, including those motivated by religion. On September 20, the government allocated 10 million kronor ($1.22 million) to start preparations connected to the establishment of the country’s first Holocaust museum.

Deputy Secretary General of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance Jacob Rudenstrand said cases of threats and violence due to the public display of religious symbols had increased during the year. In July, media reported unidentified individuals assaulted an 11-year-old boy, mocking him for his Christian beliefs and taking the cross he was wearing. In February, media reported three men assaulted a Jewish woman, taking her Star of David pendant and mocking her for being Jewish. In January, the Equality Ombudsman (DO) concluded the first of three inquiries into a Jewish doctor’s allegations of anti-Semitism at New Karolinska Hospital (NKS) and found NKS had not complied with its duty under the Discrimination Act to investigate alleged harassment. In November, the DO concluded the second inquiry and found that the doctor’s union had been in breach of the Discrimination Act when it advised the doctor on remedies to pursue. In a related incident in December, the Health and Social Care Inspectorate rejected a 2019 claim by NKS that the same doctor posed a risk to patient safety and rebuked NKS for identifying the doctor’s religion in its complaint. According to media, on August 28, supporters of the Danish right-wing political party Hard Line burned one Quran and kicked another Quran in Malmo. The individuals involved filmed and posted their actions online, leading to violent protests against the defilement of the Qurans. On the day his supporters defiled the Qurans, authorities issued a two-year entry ban on Hard Line’s leader, but in October, they rescinded the ban after confirming he held Swedish citizenship. In September, individuals burned two Qurans, one each in Stockholm and Malmo, and posted videos of the burnings on social media. Christian and Jewish leaders condemned the actions and expressed solidarity with the Muslim population. In October, the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities and the country’s chapter of the European Jewish Congress protested the Arab Book Fair in Malmo for making a book promoting anti-Semitism available online. Media reported that in September, the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) held a series of anti-Semitic demonstrations on Yom Kippur that the World Jewish Congress said were done in coordination with NRM in Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. NRM members stood outside a synagogue in Norrkoping holding anti-Semitic banners and spread anti-Semitic messages in several cities. In response, Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said the government condemned “all acts of anti-Semitism and any other expression of racism,” and he joined the IHRA’s condemnation of NRM’s actions. In October, the Defense Research Agency published a study that found approximately 35 percent of online posts about Jews contained anti-Semitic stereotypes, and an additional 10 percent did not explicitly include a stereotype but still expressed hostility towards Jews. During the year, courts convicted several leading NRM members for hate speech and for death threats on social media directed against Jews. In February, producers of the television reality show Big Brother removed two contestants for making anti-Semitic remarks.

The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet with the Ministries of Justice, Culture, and Foreign Affairs, the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities (SST), parliament, police, and local government officials on religious freedom issues, supporting government efforts to improve security for religious groups, and highlighting threats to members of some religious minorities, including Muslim immigrants. The Ambassador hosted an event for four Swedish Holocaust survivors in February with leading members of the Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim communities, and civil society representatives. Embassy officials underscored the importance of religious tolerance with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Malmo, Gothenburg, and Stockholm. The Charge spoke to a leader of the Jewish community to express concern following the NRM’s anti-Semitic activities on Yom Kippur.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.2 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), approximately 56 percent of citizens are members. According to government statistics and estimates by religious groups, other Christian groups – including the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostal Movement, Missionary (or Missions) Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) – together total less than 6 percent of the population. The Finnish Orthodox Church and Georgian Orthodox Church are also present in the country. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center estimate (the most recent available), 8.1 percent of the population is Muslim. According to the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, Jews number approximately 20,000, concentrated mainly in larger cities including Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo.

Smaller religious communities include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Mandaeans, and members of the Church of Scientology, Word of Faith, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others.” The law mandates there be no limitation of rights or freedoms on the grounds of religious opinion.

The constitution instructs public institutions to combat discrimination based on religious affiliation. According to law, complaints about discrimination for religious reasons in the private sector, in the government, or by a government agency or authority must be filed with the DO. The ombudsman investigates each case and issues a decision that is not legally binding. The decision includes recommendations to prevent future discrimination. The ombudsman takes some cases to court each year, in part to create legal precedent. The DO may represent the individual making a complaint in the event of legal proceedings if he or she requests it.

The constitution states, “The opportunities of religious minorities to preserve and develop a cultural and social life of their own shall be promoted.” No one is obliged to belong to a religious community or “divulge religious beliefs in relations with public institutions.”

Hate speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt for persons based on several factors, including religious belief. Penalties for hate speech range from fines to a sentence of up to four years in prison, depending on the severity of the incident.

Law enforcement authorities maintain statistics on hate crimes, including religiously motivated hate crimes, issuing them every two years. Law enforcement authorities may add a hate crime classification to an initial crime report or to existing charges during an investigation. Prosecutors determine whether to bring hate crime charges as part of the prosecution, and the defense has an opportunity to rebut the classification. In cases where the criminal act involves a hate crime, the penalties increase.

There is no requirement in the law for religious groups to register or otherwise seek recognition. Only those faith communities registering with the SST, however, are eligible to receive government funding and tax exemptions similar to those of nonprofit organizations. To register with the SST, a religious group must submit an application to the Ministry of Culture demonstrating the group fulfills certain requirements, including that it has operated in the country for at least five years, has a clear and stable structure, is able to function independently, serves at least 3,000 persons, and has several locations in the country.

According to the law, animal slaughter must be preceded by stunning and/or the administration of anesthetics to minimize the animal’s suffering.

The law stipulates that male circumcision may be performed only by a licensed doctor or, for boys under the age of two months, by a person certified by the National Board of Health and Welfare. The board certifies circumcisers, including mohels (individuals who conduct ritual Jewish circumcisions), to perform the operations on boys younger than two months but also requires the presence of a medical doctor who must administer anesthesia to the infant.

The government facilitates fundraising by religious groups by offering them the option of collecting contributions through the Tax Agency in exchange for a one-time fee of 75,000 Swedish kronor ($9,200) and an annual fee of 21 kronor ($3) per member per year. The Church of Sweden is exempted from the annual fee because it, unlike the other religious groups participating in the program, does not receive financial support from the SST. Only religious groups registered with the SST may participate in the program. Religious groups choose what percentage of members’ annual taxable income to collect, with a median collection rate of 1 percent. The Tax Agency subtracts a percentage of the member’s gross income and distributes it to the religious organization. The member’s contribution is not deductible from income tax. Seventeen religious organizations participate in the plan: the Church of Sweden, Swedish Alliance Mission, Roman Catholic Church, Baptist Union of Sweden, Evangelic Free Church in Sweden, The Salvation Army, United Methodist Church of Sweden, Pentecostal Movement, Syrian-Orthodox Church, Bosniak Islamic Association, Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese, Hungarian Protestant Church, Uniting Church in Sweden, Union of Islamic Cultural Centers, United Islamic Associations of Sweden, Swedish Muslim Federation, and Islamic Shi’ite Association of Sweden.

The government provides publicly funded grants to registered religious groups through the SST. The grants are proportional to the size of a group’s membership. Registered religious groups may also apply for separate grants for specific purposes, such as security expenses.

The military offers food options that are compliant with religious dietary restrictions. Each military district has a chaplain. According to the law, chaplains may be of any religious affiliation, but all chaplains seconded to the armed forces belong to the Church of Sweden. Regardless of religious denomination, chaplains are required to perform religious duties for other faiths or refer service members to spiritual leaders of other faiths if requested. The law specifically exempts Jehovah’s Witnesses from national military service. Other conscientious objectors may apply for unarmed military service but are in practice not inducted into the military. Armed forces guidelines allow religious headwear. Individuals serving in the military may observe their particular religious holidays in exchange for not taking leave on public holidays.

Religious education is compulsory in public and private schools. Teachers use a curriculum designed by the National Agency for Education that encompasses lessons about the major world religions without preference for any particular religious group. Parents may send their children to independent religious schools, which the government supports through a voucher system and which must adhere to government guidelines on core academic curricula, including religious education. Such schools may host voluntary religious activities outside the classroom, but these activities may not interfere with adherence to government guidelines on core academic curricula.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On March 12, the ECHR declined to hear the case of two midwives who said regional hospitals, and by extension the state, infringed on their rights to freedom of religion and conscience by rejecting them for employment as midwives due to their conscientious objection to abortion. Abortion is legal in the country. The ECHR found that authorities acted lawfully and declined to consider the case, stating, “While the Convention on Human Rights gives the right to freedom of conscience, it is not a human right to get a job in the health care sector.” There was no procedure for appealing the decision. On March 13, 77 Christian leaders wrote an opinion piece criticizing the ECHR’s decision.

In September, the administrative court in Malmo, the country’s third-largest city, overturned the Bromolla Municipality’s ban on prayer during working hours. The court stated the ban contravened rights of religious freedom granted by the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The ban, which applied to all municipal employees, was passed by the local council in 2019 and was criticized by Christian and Muslim representatives.

The Sweden Democrats continued to advocate local and national bans on the Islamic call to prayer. On March 1, Tomas Tobe, a European Parliament Member for the Moderate Party, stated in an opinion piece that the Islamic call to prayer should be banned in residential areas because individuals have the right not to be exposed to a religious message. Tobe wrote the ringing of church bells should be continued due to the country’s historical ties to Christianity. In a response published in the Aftonbladet newspaper on March 5, the Liberal Party’s Youth Association wrote, “A secular state must have a neutral attitude to the role of religion in society. The state should not dictate which religion is more right than another.”

On November 17, the Malmo Administrative Court found Skurup and Staffanstorp Municipalities’ ban on hijabs, burqas, niqabs, and other head- and face-covering garments for students and employees in preschool and elementary school was contrary to the constitutional provision on religious freedom and to the European Convention on Human Rights. The court thereby revoked the ban. Chief Councilor Peter Kristiansson stated, “A restriction of religious freedom requires legal support, something that is lacking in these cases.” He added that neither the Education Act nor any other law accorded a municipality the right to decide on such restrictions. The administrative court determined that parliament had rejected proposals to ban headscarves; therefore, there was no legal support for deciding on such bans at the municipal level. On November 13, the DO concluded its investigation of the ban and found it breached the Discrimination Act on religious grounds. On December 8, Skurup and Staffanstorp Municipalities appealed the verdict to the Gothenburg Court of Appeals. The appeal was pending at year’s end. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders continued to state that the ban constituted an infringement on religious freedom.

All six healthcare regions continued to offer circumcision, although the National Board of Health and Welfare had no statistics on how many children were circumcised during the year.

Some Muslim groups and the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities continued to state they considered the law requiring stunning of and/or administration of anesthetics to animals prior to slaughter in conflict with their religious practices. The Muslim community remained divided over whether the requirement conformed to halal procedures. The Jewish community reported the law effectively prevented the domestic production of kosher meat. Most halal meat and all kosher meat continued to be imported. On December 17, the European Union Court of Justice ruled EU member states may impose a requirement that animals be stunned prior to slaughter and that such a requirement does not infringe on the rights of religious groups.

On January 8, a government inquiry committee presented its findings on how a ban on the creation of new independent schools with a religious orientation could be introduced. In June 2019, Minister of Education Anna Ekstrom said, “In recent years, we have seen examples of schools that in the name of religion, separate girls and boys, hardly teach about sexuality and coexistence, and equate evolution with religious creation myths. This is totally unacceptable.” The committee proposed a ban on establishing such schools, starting in 2023. The committee recommended that no approvals be granted to private entities that wished to operate a faith-based preschool class, compulsory school, compulsory special school, upper secondary school, upper secondary special school, or after-school center. The independent National Agency for Education estimated 9,400 students, approximately 1 percent of all elementary and preschool students, were enrolled in the 72 registered schools having a religious orientation. Judicial experts commented on the inquiry committee’s recommendations, stating to media that according to the European Convention on Human Rights, it could be discriminatory to restrict families’ right to choose schools based on religious beliefs, and that the ban could interfere with the law of freedom of trade. Ekstrom said implementing the committee’s proposal would be “tricky” but would work, if handled correctly. The committee recommended existing schools with a religious orientation be allowed to remain, but it recommended there be greater oversight by the School Inspectorate and the municipalities. Existing schools would be required to report religious orientation and ensure that student participation in education with religious elements was voluntary.

During the year, seven of eight political parties represented in parliament, except for the Christian Democrats, supported banning the establishment of new religious independent schools. Representatives of several religious groups, including the Church of Sweden, the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, the Christian Council of Sweden, and Sweden’s Young Catholics, opposed the proposed ban. The groups stated that schools with a religious orientation helped ground the students in their minority culture and that a ban could be contrary to legislation regarding minority rights. The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, the Swedish Teachers’ Association, and the municipalities of Stockholm, Malmo, Uppsala, and Gavle supported the proposed ban.

The Migration Agency’s annual report, released in February, indicated large regional variations in the assessment of asylum cases of Christian converts from the Middle East and elsewhere, with approval rates ranging between 18 and 33 percent. The report also stated that on average, 25 percent of converts received a residence permit. In 2019, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, in partnership with five Christian organizations, issued a report criticizing the Migration Agency for rejecting asylum applications from Christians – primarily those who converted to Christianity while in the country – who said they risked religious persecution in their home countries. The authors of the 2019 report concluded the Migration Agency had a poor understanding of religious conversion and its decisions on converts were arbitrary. Following the critique, the government requested the agency report how it handled converts’ cases and how it met legal standards in matters where religion was stated as a factor in consideration for asylum.

In September, Deputy Secretary General of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance Rudenstrand again said Christian refugees, including but not limited to converts, faced persecution, particularly from Muslim refugees who were new to the country. Christian refugees said they were not safe in the country and the government should take measures to protect them.

There were reports that representatives of the Sweden Democrats – the country’s third largest political party – made denigrating comments about Jews and Muslims.

On September 9, Expo, a nonpartisan NGO, reported in its magazine that Mari Herrey, a local Sweden Democrat politician in Molndal and lay judge on the Gothenburg District Court, posted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and white supremacy symbols on Twitter. Herrey remained on the local Molndal council, and, following an investigation by the Gothenburg District Court, was allowed to remain as a lay judge (a politically appointed, nonprofessional individual serving at the local level who helps presiding judges, similar to a juror in the U.S. legal system). The court’s chief judge, Johan Kvart, stated to media that Herrey’s posts were “disgraceful” but that she had acted out of naivety and ignorance, without ill intention.

On September 15, media reported that Dennis Askling, leader of the Sweden Democrats in Haninge, expressed Nazi sympathies and white supremacy theories in an online message to a fellow party member in 2017. Media reported that, among other things, he wrote Nazi phrases such as “Hell Seger” (Swedish for “Sieg Heil”) and derogatory comments about synagogues and people of African descent. Askling also worked for the party’s secretariat in parliament and was the Sweden Democrat’s juror on the panel of political party representatives that gives out the Stockholm Region’s annual award honoring antiracism and anti-xenophobic service. Askling stepped down from both the secretariat and panel positions shortly after the media reports were published. The Sweden Democrats’ press officer stated the opinions expressed were “reprehensible” and did not comport with the party’s politics and values.

In a January 22 opinion piece published in the Israeli media outlet Yedioth Ahronoth, Prime Minister Lofven called on the world to fight for the memory of the Holocaust and said he was concerned about anti-Semitism in “many parts of society in many countries, including in my home country.” Prime Minister Lofven endorsed the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, including its list of examples of anti-Semitism. The World Jewish Congress and the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities welcomed the endorsement.

On January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Prime Minister Lofven, Crown Princess Victoria, and Speaker of Parliament Andreas Norlen attended a memorial ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camps. At the event, World Jewish Congress President Robert S. Lauder welcomed Prime Minister Lofven’s public pledge to combat anti-Semitism and his endorsement of the IHRA definition, with its list of illustrative examples of anti-Semitism.

The Media Council, a government agency whose primary task is to promote the empowerment of minors as conscious media users and to protect them from harmful media influences, continued its “No Hate Speech Movement,” which included efforts to stop the propagation of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The council offered classroom and online material for students and suggestions on how to address these issues with children.

The high-level Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism was postponed until October 13-14, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government allocated five million kronor ($612,000) annually for 2018-20 to the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism and the Living History Forum (LHF) (a public agency “commissioned to work with issues related to tolerance, democracy, and human rights, using the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity as its starting point”) to increase opportunities for student and teacher study visits to Holocaust memorial sites and signaled its intention to allocate six million kronor ($734,000) for 2021-22.

As part of its continuing National Plan to Combat Racism, Similar Forms of Hostility, and Hate Crimes, the government provided 15 million kronor ($1.84 million) to religious organizations and civil society to improve their security, compared with 22 million kronor ($2.69 million) in 2019. A wide range of civil society organizations, including religiously oriented NGOs, remained eligible for funding from the Legal, Financial, and Administrative Services Agency to improve their security by, for example, purchasing security cameras and hiring security guards.

The government provided 10 million kronor ($1.22 million) during the year to fund educational efforts to combat racism and support tolerance, including religious tolerance, in schools, and increased support to civil society. It allocated an additional 10 million kronor ($1.22 million) to the Police Authority to prevent and investigate hate crimes, including those related to religion. Part of the funding was earmarked for the Police National Operations Department, which assisted the country’s regional authorities with investigations of hate crimes.

The SST continued to collaborate with other government agencies and civil society to promote dialogue between the government and faith communities as well as to contribute to the public’s knowledge about religion. During the year, the SST continued to cooperate with several municipalities and regions to set up interreligious dialogues with a focus on democracy promotion, countering violent extremism, and educating municipal employees on issues of religion and religious freedom. As part of the government’s implementation of the National Plan to Combat Racism, Similar Forms of Hostility, and Hate Crimes, SST cooperated with Muslim congregations to increase knowledge of safety measures for mosques.

The SST continued to partner with government entities such as law enforcement authorities, the Civil Contingencies Agency, Defense Research Agency, Public Health Agency, National Agency for Education, Government Offices (comprising the Prime Minister’s Office, government ministries, and the Office for Administrative Affairs), Crime Prevention Agency, Migration Agency, and others in supporting ongoing government inquiries, coordinating COVID-19 responses, and facilitating meetings with different faith communities, including groups not registered with the SST. The SST cooperated with 15 religious leaders to make informational videos about COVID-19 for distribution on social media. The SST continued offering courses in family law and movements within Islam and started an interfaith mentorship course for female leaders. The agency continued to fund, publish, and promote publications aimed at educating the public about religious minorities, such as the report, A multi-religious Sweden in Change, published in September.

The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society provided grants to civil society organizations working to combat religious intolerance. Grants included 320,000 kronor ($39,200) to the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism to educate members of political youth associations about anti-Semitism.

The government continued to fund the LHF. The government allocated 49.3 million kronor ($6.03 million) to the LHF (compared with 46.5 million kronor [$5.69 million] in 2019), which provided lesson plans, books, and other resources for teachers. Topics included anti-Semitism, Holocaust remembrance, ethnic and religious conflicts in the Balkans, and critical reading of history. On September 22, the LHF opened the public exhibition “Sweden and the Holocaust” at its showroom in Stockholm. At the opening, Minister for Education Ekstrom said, “By learning about our history we can strengthen and defend our open and democratic Swedish society today and in the future.”

On March 27, Prime Minister Lofven and Minister for Culture and Democracy Amanda Lind discussed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with leaders from the Pentecostal Movement, Stockholm Catholic Diocese, Syrian Orthodox Church, Church of Sweden, Christian Council of Sweden, Swedish Buddhist Community, United Islamic Associations of Sweden, and the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities. On September 10, the government announced an additional 50 million kronor ($6.12 million) to faith communities for 2020 and 2021. The government said the additional funds were intended to mitigate the financial impact on faith communities, including declining revenues and increasing expenditures for funerals, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds were distributed to the state-subsidized faith communities and the Church of Sweden.

On February 27, the government allocated 10 million kronor ($1.22 million) for a national initiative to strengthen Holocaust education. Of this amount, six million kronor ($734,000) went to the LHF to implement an educational program that included the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. The National Historical Museums received 2.3 million kronor ($281,000) to translate the English-language educational exhibition “Dimensions in Testimony” into Swedish and to add testimony from Swedish Holocaust survivors. The government provided 1.2 million kronor ($147,000) to the University of Gothenburg to produce a research overview of the role of education within the school system in countering anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.

On September 20, the government allocated 10 million kronor ($1.22 million) to the LHF to start preparations for the establishment of the country’s first Holocaust museum, including collecting documents and recording the stories of Swedish Holocaust survivors. In making the announcement, the Ministry of Culture said in a statement, “The Holocaust is a crime against humanity that is unparalleled in our history. Its memory and lessons must continue to be preserved and communicated about. Never again must something similar to this happen.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In 2018 (the most recent year for which statistics were available), 7,090 hate crimes were reported, according to a report released in October 2019 by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. Of those, 8 percent were anti-Muslim. Anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and other antireligious hate crimes accounted for 4 percent each. Authorities said most victims of hate crimes did not report them to police.

In July, media reported that unidentified individuals assaulted an 11-year-old boy, mocking him for his Christian beliefs and taking the cross he was wearing. At year’s end, police were investigating the incident as a robbery with a hate crime motive. In February, media reported three men assaulted a Jewish woman, taking her Star of David pendant and mocking her for being Jewish. According to media, at year’s end, police were investigating the incident as a robbery with a hate crime motive. In September, Deputy Secretary General of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance Rudenstrand said cases of threats and violence against individuals wearing religious symbols, such as crosses or Star of David pendants, had increased during the year.

During the year, a Jewish neurosurgeon at NKS reported continuing reprisals stemming from his 2017 report that the hospital’s chief of neurosurgery subjected him and two other Jewish colleagues to anti-Semitic harassment and discrimination. In January, the DO concluded the first of three inquiries into the doctor’s allegations. The DO found NKS had not complied with its duty under the Discrimination Act to investigate alleged harassment. In November, the DO concluded the second inquiry and found the doctor’s union, the Swedish Medical Association, had violated the Discrimination Act. The union had advised the doctor to file a criminal case because it assessed a union complaint would be unsuccessful and risked harming the relationship between the union and the employer. The DO found that the union would not have advised a member in this way if the grounds for the complaint had been disability or gender and therefore had discriminated against the doctor on the basis of ethnicity. The third inquiry was underway at year’s end. In a related incident, in December, the Health and Social Care Inspectorate rejected a 2019 formal complaint by NKS that the doctor posed a risk to patient safety and rebuked NKS for identifying the doctor’s religion in its complaint.

According to media, in Malmo on August 28, supporters of the Danish right-wing party Hard Line (Stram Kurs) at an illegal demonstration burned a Quran and later in the day at another illegal demonstration kicked a second Quran. The group filmed and uploaded the incident to the internet. Subsequently, a group of Malmo teenagers and young men protested the actions of Hard Line supporters by burning tires and throwing rocks at police, resulting in minor injuries. Media reported several of the rioters chanted anti-Semitic slogans, including “Kill the Jews.” Police arrested 10-20 persons on suspicion of inciting a violent riot and three of Hard Line’s supporters on suspicion of inciting religious hatred. Police in Malmo had denied Hard Line party leader Rasmus Paludan’s request to hold the anti-Muslim demonstration at which supporters burned the Quran, and on August 28, authorities banned him from entering the country for two years. In October, however, the Migration Agency confirmed Paludan was a Swedish citizen and therefore was not subject to the ban because the Swedish constitution states that no citizen may be denied entry. The Council of Swedish Jewish Communities wrote in a statement, “We view with disgust the burning of the Quran and other holy scriptures.” The Malmo Muslim Network, an organization promoting the interests of Muslims in the city, sent a letter to Ann Katina, a leader of the Jewish community of Malmo, thanking the community for its support and saying, “[We] condemn the anti-Semitic words of hatred that some chanted during the riot.”

On August 27, the Islamic Association in Malmo organized an interfaith assembly with leaders from the Christian and Jewish communities and local politicians to counter the anticipated Quran burning, which Hard Line had announced on social media it would carry out despite not having a demonstration permit. Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen of Malmo compared the Quran burning to the Nazi book bonfires in 1930s Germany.

On November 16, the prosecutor closed the preliminary investigation of hate crimes with regard to the Quran burning in Malmo, concluding the burning itself could not be judged as incitement against an ethnic group. The investigation into possible hate crimes with regard to the demonstration held later in the day, when a Quran was kicked and there were statements that could be perceived as threats or expressions of disrespect, including suspected incitement against ethnic group, was also closed. The prosecutor said in that instance it was not possible to identify any specific perpetrator. In December, the Malmo District Court sentenced seven persons, six of whom were 16 and 17 years old, for inciting violent rioting in connection with the protest following the Quran burning incident.

The Hard Line party also claimed responsibility for two Quran burnings in Stockholm and Malmo in early September that were registered by police as hate crimes. On September 9, Stockholm Mayor Anna Konig Jerlmyr and her governing alliance party leaders published a statement condemning the planned Quran burnings in Stockholm. On September 12, the Swedish Christian Council called the acts “barbaric,” and the Jewish Community in Stockholm expressed support and solidarity with the Muslim population. Media reported on efforts by local politicians and Muslim community leaders to prevent the burnings from sparking violent responses in their communities. Tensta Mosque operations manager Abdulla Ali Abdi told mosque members to channel their anger into “chang[ing] politics instead of rioting.” Fifteen Muslim congregations submitted a petition to regional politicians on September 12, stating a desire to amend the constitution to prohibit the burning of sacred texts and mocking religions. As of year’s end, no action had been taken on the petition.

According to media, on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a bag marked with a Star of David and containing soap and anti-Semitic literature was found outside the Norrkoping City Museum, where an exhibit entitled “Nazism and Norrkoping Now and Then” was on display. No suspects were detained.

Media reported that in October, the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities and the country’s chapter of the European Jewish Congress protested the Arab Book Fair in Malmo for making available online a book called The Synagogue of Satan: The Secret History of Jewish World Domination. Following the complaint, the fair organizers removed the book, which was published by a Syrian publisher, from the website. The fair organizers released a statement that selling the book “violates our principles of rejecting antisemitism and respecting all religions and beliefs. It was a mistake that should not have happened.” Media reported the Malmo city government suspended its partnership with the Arab Book Fair and was considering seeking reimbursement for the 150,000 kronor ($18,400) it had contributed to it. In a statement, Malmo’s Cultural Director Pernilla Conde Hellman condemned the selling of the book, saying, “It goes against everything we stand for and we therefore choose to immediately terminate the cooperation.” The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities issued a statement welcoming the swift action taken by Malmo City government and the fair organizers’ condemnation of the sale.

In December 2019, the Church of Sweden released a document entitled “The Church of Sweden’s View on Male Circumcision” that stated, “Male circumcision in Judaism, Islam, and certain Christian traditions is a significant identity-creating act from a religious, ethnic, and cultural perspective. It falls under the right to religious freedom and the parents’ right to, on the basis of wanting the best interests of their child, incorporate the child into their own religious tradition and community. In the Church of Sweden’s view, circumcision of boys does not in itself contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Media reported that on February 4, Rabbi HaCohen in a post on Facebook said the Church’s position paper was “an extremely important statement” and it was “very good to see that they [the Church] understand how beyond religious freedom, not allowing this would be subtracting from a child’s identity both in Judaism and Islam.”

According to an article published in Israeli newspaper Haartez on March 23, an 18-year-old man who joined the NRM when he was 15 decided to leave the neo-Nazi group and help a woman who directed a local Jewish cultural center in the town of Umea to combat anti-Semitism.

In September, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published an overview of anti-Semitic incidents in the European Union between 2009 and 2019 that showed a rise of reported anti-Semitic cases in the country. On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the most comfortable, the 1,000 respondents replied with a median 6.8 when asked if they would be comfortable having a Jewish neighbor, and 5.8 when asked if they would be comfortable with having a close family member marry a Jew. Both Muslim and Jewish groups in the country stated there had been an increase of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments online during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Swedish Defense Research Agency received 500,000 kronor ($61,200) to produce a report on anti-Semitism in social media and other digital environments. The report, published on October 6, studied 2.5 million social media posts on Jewishness or Jews and found approximately 25 percent contained anti-Semitic stereotypes, and an additional 10 percent did not explicitly include a stereotype but nevertheless expressed hostility towards Jewish people. The study found that most prevalent were references to “Jewish power” and the role of Jews as a secret driving force behind many major political events. A large proportion of the stereotypes portrayed Jews as threatening and dangerous, therefore justifying violence against Jews. The study was based on English-language data obtained from Twitter, Reddit, Gab, and 4chan during a six-month period in 2019.

In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes toward democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 53 percent of Swedish respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” ranking it among the lowest of their priorities for democratic principles of the nine tested.

In September, the University of Gavle’s annual report and poll on the population’s attitudes toward ethnic diversity showed a deteriorating positive view of religious diversity over the last 15 years. According to the findings, 65 percent of the 1,035 respondents believed Muslim women to be more oppressed than other Swedish women. In addition, 73 percent of respondents said schools with an Islamic affiliation made integration of Muslims more difficult, an increase from 71 percent in 2018. A majority of the of the respondents expressed support for a ban on the use of burqas or niqabs, with 76 percent of respondents supporting a ban on these coverings in schools, and 73 percent supporting such a ban in workplaces.

In February, the Christian Council of Sweden presented a report, Young Believers in Society. The report was based on a survey of almost 400 respondents in Christian youth organizations. Nearly half of the respondents stated they had felt discriminated against or offended because of their religious beliefs. Twenty-two percent of respondents said teachers or youth-center leaders had insulted them because of their Christian faith. Minister of Education Ekstrom commented on the report, stating, “No student in Sweden should be questioned or challenged because of their Christian faith or religious beliefs.”

In November, five mosques in Malmo, Eskilstuna, Stockholm, and Gothenburg received envelopes containing threats and a white powder, which police determined was nontoxic. Local police initiated investigations and the Swedish Security Police was informed. Media reported that the Eskilstuna Grand Mosque had also previously received several threats via letters, text messages, and telephone calls. According to the mosque, messages stated mosque members should leave the country, did not “fit in,” and were murderers and terrorists.

In August, unidentified individuals vandalized the Christian church in Vastra Skravlinge in Malmo over the course of seven consecutive days. The Sweden Democrats in Malmo consequently asked the Church of Sweden to conduct a local survey on anti-Christian attitudes. The priest of the vandalized church, Mikael Goth, expressed hesitation about the survey, stating “it would risk further increasing the already existing polarization between different groups.”

During the year, courts convicted several leading members of the neo-Nazi group NRM of hate speech and death threats on social media directed at Jews. In the largest hate speech trial in the country’s history, measured by the number of charges, the Solna District Court sentenced NRM member Anders Jonsson to 10 months in prison and fined him 10,000 kronor ($1,200) for making 122 social media posts between January and April that were deemed hate speech. The posts included pictures of Nazi leaders, Nazi slogans, and incitements to violence against Jews. In a separate case in January, the Solna District Court convicted Jonsson of hate speech on social media and for sending hundreds of text messages with Nazi content to two journalists and a lawyer. On May 25, the Stockholm District Court convicted three NRM members for hate speech expressed during an annual conference of political leaders in Visby in 2017, when the three individuals chanted Nazi and white supremacy slogans.

Media reported that the NRM conducted a series of anti-Semitic actions on Yom Kippur (September 27-28) in coordination with NRM groups in Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. Approximately 10 NRM members demonstrated outside the synagogue in Norrkoping. According to media, one poster at the demonstration described in graphic detail an unfounded theory as to why Jewish male circumcision takes place and stated the Talmud sanctioned rabbis having sex with children. The NRM also distributed flyers with anti-Semitic messages and plastered posters with anti-Semitic messages in several cities. The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities expressed disgust over the actions and called for the government to ban the organization. On October 1, in an opinion piece in Dagens Nyheter, the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism requested increased action and awareness from police and judicial agencies regarding anti-Semitic crimes. On October 5, Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law Annika Ben David wrote on Twitter, “When antisemitism and incitement to hatred or violence occur, all of society is affected. This is unacceptable.” She joined the IHRA in condemning the demonstrations. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on October 5, Justice Minister Morgan Johansson stated, “The Swedish government condemns all acts of anti-Semitism and any other expression of racism. Such acts are threats not only to individuals but to us all and to our open and democratic societies.” In 2019, the government appointed a nonpartisan 25-member committee to consider the introduction of specific criminal liability for participation in a racist organization and a ban on racist organizations, such as the NRM. The committee’s activities were ongoing at year’s end.

On February 13, producers of the television reality show Big Brother removed two contestants after one of them, complaining of his boss, said, “She was a Jew, so I get it.” The other contestant responded, “I hate Jews.” The incident received wide media coverage in the country and internationally. A third contestant had previously expressed support for neo-Nazi ideas on social media, although he said he no longer held those views. Producers did not remove him from the show. According to media, Jewish community leaders said, “When a person on such a popular show among youth as Big Brother said something like this, it legitimized anti-Semitism.”

In November, the Jewish Community in Malmo and the Jewish Cultural Association 1945 held a virtual event in remembrance of Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass,” when in 1938 Nazi Germany destroyed Jewish synagogues, schools, and businesses). Imam Salahuddin Barakat of the Islamakademin participated and stated, “We as a Muslim congregation in Malmo are determined and dedicated to bear this pain with you and fight anti-Semitism no matter where it takes place.” The organization Holocaust Survivors in Sweden organized a virtual lecture with Holocaust survivor Livia Frankel in remembrance of Kristallnacht. The lecture was also broadcast at the town square of Umea, accompanied by a light show.

As part of the Jewish-Muslim Amanah project in Malmo, Imam Salahuddin Barakat and Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen continued to speak to students during the year about religious tolerance and conducted interfaith workshops to discuss religious texts and spiritual queries. The Malmo municipality and the SST provided partial funding for the project.

In January, Archbishop of the Church of Sweden Antje Jackelen organized an interfaith conference in Malmo on migration and integration of refugees and asylum seekers with 72 participants from 15 European countries. The conference inaugurated a European interfaith network called A World of Neighbors. On October 22, the Malmo NGO Diversity Index awarded the network a Diversity Index Award in the category “Faith and Religion” for its interfaith and intercultural efforts to increase knowledge on integration of refugees and migration.

Interfaith groups continued to operate in the country, including the National Interfaith Council of Sweden, established as a meeting place for national religious leaders in Uppsala in 2010 with a mandate to address issues related to religion and religious freedom. Member groups included the Christian Council of Sweden, Muslim Council of Sweden, Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, and Swedish Buddhist Cooperation Council. Representatives from the Alevite, Baha’i, Church of Jesus Christ, Hindu, Mandaean, and Sikh communities also participated in the group. The Interreligious Council of Stockholm, established in 2017, included the Baha’i Congregation, Bosnian Islamic Congregation, Church of Sweden, Evangelical Congregation, Finnish-Orthodox Church, Georgian-Orthodox Church, Hindu Mandir, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Islamic Ahmadiyya Congregation, Islamic Shia Congregation, Jewish Community in Stockholm, Pentecostal Movement, Roman Catholic Church, Sikh Gurdwara Sangat Sahib, Stockholm Mosque, Swedish Buddhist Cooperation Council, and Uniting Church of Sweden. The interreligious council’s efforts included promoting respect for religious diversity and addressing violence associated with religion. Together for Sweden, an interfaith group working with youth, included the Church of Sweden, Sofia Congregation (Christian), Jewish Community in Stockholm, Islamic Association, Ibn Rushd (Muslim), and Young Dharabdmis och Ashavans (Zoroastrian).

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy representatives continued to engage regularly with the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the SST, parliament, police, and local government officials on issues related to religious freedom, including improving security for religious groups, and to highlight threats to members of some religious minorities, including Muslim immigrants.

The Ambassador hosted an event honoring four Swedish Holocaust survivors in February to which he invited leading members of the country’s Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim communities and civil society representatives. The Ambassador delivered remarks on the unwavering U.S. commitment to Holocaust remembrance, countering anti-Semitism, and promoting religious freedom. The 40 guests heard from the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, who had formed the group called Zikaron (Remembrance) to tell their grandparents’ stories to their fellow citizens, especially schoolchildren.

In an August meeting with the Karolinska Institute chancellor, the Ambassador raised claims of anti-Semitic harassment of a Jewish doctor at the NKS. Embassy officials met with the individual who said he was subjected to anti-Semitism at the NKS.

Embassy officials spoke to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Malmo, Gothenburg, and Stockholm throughout the year about their security concerns and about threats to religious freedom more broadly.

The Charge d’Affaires spoke to a leader of the Jewish community to express concern following the NRM’s anti-Semitic activities on Yom Kippur.

The embassy highlighted on social media an October visit by the Ambassador and other embassy representatives to Malmo, during which the Ambassador met with Muslim and Jewish faith leaders to discuss religious freedom and the value of societal inclusion. On October 20, the Ambassador wrote on Twitter, “Honored to visit the stunning Synagogue in Malmo and underscore to the Jewish Community the strong U.S. support for their work to build a stronger community. There is no place for antisemitism in society!” The Ambassador described the meeting with, and work of, the members of the Jewish and Muslim interfaith project Amanah as inspiring.

West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: West Bank And Gaza

Israel

Executive Summary

West Bank and Gaza Strip residents are subject to the jurisdiction of separate authorities, with different implications on the fabric of life. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to Jordanian and Mandatory statutes in effect before 1967, military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander in the West Bank in accordance with its authorities under international law, and in the relevant areas, Palestinian Authority (PA) law. Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to military ordinances enacted by the military commander and Israeli law and Israeli legislation. The PA exercises varying degrees of authority in the small portions of the West Bank where it has some measure of control. Although PA laws theoretically apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA does not have authority there, and Hamas continues to exercise de facto control over security and other matters. The PA Basic Law, which serves as an interim constitution, establishes Islam as the official religion and states the principles of sharia shall be the main source of legislation, but provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality. It also proscribes discrimination based on religion, calls for respect of “all other divine religions,” and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law. On December 4, Israeli security forces arrested Muayad al-Alfi in Nablus in suspicion of aiding in the 2009 killing of Rabbi Meir Chai near the settlement of Shavei Shomron. On May 18, an Israeli court found Israeli Jewish settler Amiram Ben Uliel guilty of murder, attempted murder, arson, and “conspiracy to commit a crime motivated by racism” in the 2015 deaths of three members of the Dawabsheh family. On February 17, Israeli police arrested a Palestinian man who attempted to stab a Border Police officer at a security checkpoint for the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The Israeli government continued to allow controlled access to religious sites in Jerusalem, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount (the site containing the foundation of the first and second Jewish temples and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque). Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. In January, worshippers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and mosques in Gaza and the occupied West Bank engaged in a protest campaign called “The Great Fajr [Dawn] Campaign,” after the dawn prayers. Islamic organizations, including Hamas, called on worshippers to gather for Friday fajr prayers starting in January at the site and the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the West Bank to defend them against Israeli “violations.” On July 2, the Jerusalem Police informed the Waqf that they had petitioned the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court requesting the closure of the Gate of Mercy, a building within the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, explaining that the move was necessary because of evidence that the building had been used in 2003 by an organization affiliated with Hamas. According to press reports, the Samaria Regional Council (which provides municipal services for Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank), in coordination with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), including the Ministry of Defense’s coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT), organized monthly visits to the site of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. Palestinians at times violently protested when Jewish groups visited, throwing rocks and bottles at IDF personnel providing security, who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. On November 20, Israeli security forces detained a Palestinian resident of the occupied West Bank suspected of planting an explosive device at Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem. In April, the Israeli government approved a 2019 decision by former Israeli Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett to bypass the Hebron Municipality and expropriate land at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of Patriarchs. Press reports stated that the land expropriated for the project was owned by the PA’s Ministry of Awqaf (Islamic Endowments) and Religious Affairs. In May, Hifthi Abu Sneineh, the mosque’s imam, condemned the decision and said it was a “blatant and serious” violation of the Hebron protocol of the Oslo Accords. Some official PA media channels, as well as social media accounts affiliated with the ruling Fatah political movement, featured content praising or condoning acts of violence, at times referring to assailants as “martyrs.” Senior Fatah and PA official Jibril Rajoub made several public remarks during the year extolling martyrs and prisoners in Israeli prisons convicted of terrorism. Anti-Semitic content also appeared in Fatah and PA-controlled media. In an August 15 interview on Palestine TV, Mahmoud al-Habash, religious advisor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, when asked about some Arab governments’ recognition of Israel, said, “It is normalizing relations with those who murdered your father and brothers. It is normalizing relations with the enemies of the Prophet Mohammed, who want to [build] a temple at the destination of Mohammed’s Night Journey [referring to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount].” The PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinians killed while engaged in violence, including killings of Israeli Jews, and also continued to provide separate stipends to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism involving Jewish targets. In September, the Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO) IMPACT-se said that its annual review of Palestinian education found that extreme nationalism and Islamist ideologies remained widespread throughout the curriculum, including science and mathematics textbooks. Norway reduced funding to the Palestinian Ministry of Education due to incitement to violence and anti-Semitism in Palestinian textbooks. Following the announcement of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab countries, Muslims and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem sometimes harassed Muslim visitors from the Gulf who visited the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in coordination with the Israeli government or vilified the visitors on social media. The PA-appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (who has no authority over the site) issued a fatwa denying access to the site to Muslims from countries that established diplomatic relations with Israel, but the Jordanian government Islamic Religious Endowment (Waqf), which administers the site, rejected it, stating that Muslim visitors from those countries were brought by Israeli officials without coordination with the Waqf.

Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization with de facto control of Gaza, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other extremist groups disseminated anti-Semitic materials and advocated violence through traditional and social media channels as well as during rallies and other events. Hamas also continued to enforce restrictions on Gaza’s population based on its interpretation of Islam and sharia.

According to local press and social media, some settlers in the West Bank continued to justify “price tag” attacks on Palestinian property, such as the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, vandalism of cars and buildings, arson, and slashing of tires as necessary for the defense of Judaism. (“Price tag” attacks refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against individuals, particularly Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government contrary to the attackers’ interests.) According to media reports, on July 27, arsonists set fire to the Bir wal-Ihsan Mosque in al-Bireh City in a suspected price tag attack. The arsonists spray-painted graffiti on the walls of the mosque; Reuters said that the graffiti was a reference to “a biblical, historical, and political claim that includes the West Bank.” On February 22, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued a statement that, according to press reports, “condemned” the February 21 gathering of thousands of Israeli settlers on land owned by the Patriarchate in Tayasir in the northern Jordan River Valley. Various Israeli and Palestinian groups continued to protest against interfaith social and romantic relationships and other forms of cooperation.

Senior U.S. officials worked for increased normalization between Israel and predominantly Muslim countries, which would improve access for Muslim worshippers to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Senior U.S. officials publicly raised concerns about anti-Semitism by PA officials and more broadly in Palestinian society throughout the year. Senior White House officials and other U.S. officials repeatedly pointed out that Palestinian leaders did not consistently condemn individual terrorist attacks nor speak out publicly against members of their institutions, including Fatah, who advocated violence. U.S. embassy officials met with Palestinian religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance and a broad range of issues affecting Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities. They met with political, religious, and civil society leaders to promote interreligious tolerance and cooperation. U.S. representatives met with representatives of religious groups to monitor their concerns about access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship and also met with local Christian leaders to discuss their concerns about ongoing Christian emigration from Jerusalem and the West Bank.

This section of the report covers the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war. In 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total Palestinian population at 2.9 million in the West Bank and 1.9 million in the Gaza Strip (midyear 2020 estimates). According to the U.S. government and other sources, Palestinian residents of these territories are predominantly Sunni Muslims, with small Shia and Ahmadi Muslim communities. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reports an estimated 441,600 Jewish Israelis reside in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. According to various estimates, 50,000 Christian Palestinians reside in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and according to media reports and religious communities, there are at most 1,000 Christians residing in Gaza. According to local Christian leaders, Palestinian Christian emigration has continued at rapid rates. A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox; the remainder includes Roman Catholics, Melkite Greek Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Coptic Orthodox, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, other Protestant denominations, including evangelical Christians, and small numbers of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Christians are concentrated primarily in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nablus; smaller communities exist elsewhere. Approximately 360 Samaritans (practitioners of Samaritanism, which is related to but distinct from Judaism) reside in the West Bank, primarily in the Nablus area.

The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics estimates 563,200 Jews, 345,800 Muslims, and 12,850 Christians live in Jerusalem, accounting for approximately 99 percent of the city’s total population of 936,400, as of 2019.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

West Bank and Gaza Strip residents are subject to the jurisdiction of different authorities. Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Jordanian and Mandatory statutes in effect before 1967, military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander in the West Bank in accordance with its authorities under international law, and in the relevant areas, PA law. Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander and Israeli law and legislation. West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements. The PA has formal responsibility for security in Area A, but Israeli security forces frequently conduct security operations there. The PA and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B in the West Bank. Israel retains full security control of Area C (which constitutes approximately 60 percent of the West Bank) and has designated most Area C land as either closed military zones or settlement zoning areas.

Palestinians living in the portion of the occupied West Bank designated as Area C in the Oslo II Accord are subject to military ordinances enacted by the military commander. Palestinians who live in Area B fall under PA civil and criminal law, while Israel retains the overriding responsibility for security. Although per the Oslo II Accord, only PA civil and security law applies to Palestinians living in Area A of the West Bank, Israel applies military ordinances enacted by its military commander whenever the Israeli military enters Area A as part of its overriding responsibility for security. The city of Hebron in the West Bank – an important city for Jews, Muslims, and Christians as the site of the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs – is divided into two separate areas: area H1 under PA control and area H2, where approximately 800 Israeli settlers live and where internal security, public order, and civil authorities relating to Israelis and their property are under Israeli military control.

The Oslo Accords stipulate that protection of 12 listed Jewish holy sites and visitors in Area A is the responsibility of Palestinian police and created a joint security coordination mechanism to ensure “free, unimpeded and secure access to the relevant Jewish holy site” and “the peaceful use of such site, to prevent any potential instances of disorder and to respond to any incident.” Both sides agreed to “respect and protect the listed below religious rights of Jews, Christians, Muslims and Samaritans” including “protection of the Holy Sites; free access to the Holy Sites; and freedom of worship and practice.”

Israeli government regulations recognize 16 sites as holy places for Jews, while various other budgetary and governmental authorities recognize an additional 160 places as holy for Jews.

The Israeli Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled since 1993 that Jews have the right to pray on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, but police may restrict this right in the name of public order and safety. The court reiterated in 2019 that its precedent on this issue is nonintervention in government decisions, “except in highly unusual cases when the decision constitutes a major distortion of justice or is extremely unreasonable.” The court upheld this position again in a decision on May 19.

The Israeli “Nakba Law” prohibits institutions that receive Israeli government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”

In 2007, Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in the Gaza Strip and has since maintained a de facto government in the territory, although the area nominally falls under PA jurisdiction.

An interim Basic Law applies in the areas under PA jurisdiction. The Basic Law states Islam is the official religion but calls for respect of “all other divine religions.” It provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality. It criminalizes the publishing of writings, pictures, drawings, or symbols of anything that insults the religious feelings or beliefs of other persons. The Basic Law also proscribes discrimination based on religion and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law. The law states the principles of sharia shall be the main sources of legislation. It contains language adopted from the pre-1967 criminal code of Jordanian rule that criminalizes “defaming religion,” with a maximum penalty of life in prison. Since 2007, the elected Palestinian Legislative Council, controlled by Hamas, has not convened. The Palestinian Constitutional Court dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council in December 2018 and called for new elections. The President of the PA promulgates executive decrees that have legal authority.

There is no specified process by which religious organizations gain official recognition; each religious group must negotiate its own bilateral relationship with the PA. The PA observes 19th century status quo arrangements reached with Ottoman authorities, which recognize the presence and rights of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Melkite Greek Catholic, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Armenian Catholic Churches. The PA also observes subsequent agreements that recognize the rights of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Council of Local Evangelical Churches (a coalition of evangelical Protestant churches present in the West Bank and Gaza). The PA recognizes the legal authority of these religious groups to adjudicate personal status matters, such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Recognized religious groups may establish ecclesiastical courts to issue legally binding rulings on personal status and some property matters for members of their religious communities. The PA Ministry of Religious Affairs is administratively responsible for these family law issues.

Islamic or Christian religious courts handle legal matters relating to personal status, including inheritance, marriage, dowry, divorce, and child support. For Muslims, sharia determines personal status law, while various ecclesiastical courts rule on personal status matters for Christians. By law, members of one religious group may submit a personal status dispute to a different religious group for adjudication if the disputants agree it is appropriate to do so.

The PA maintains some unwritten understandings with churches that are not officially recognized, based on the basic principles of the status quo agreements, including with the Assemblies of God, Nazarene Church, and some evangelical Christian churches, which may operate freely. Some of these groups may perform some official functions, such as issuing marriage licenses. Churches not recognized by the PA generally must obtain special one-time permission from the PA to perform marriages or adjudicate personal status matters if these groups want the actions to be recognized by and registered with the PA. These churches may not proselytize.

By law, the PA provides financial support to Islamic institutions and places of worship. A PA religious committee also provides some financial support for Christian cultural activities.

The Israeli government provides separate public schools for Jewish and Arab children with instruction conducted in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively. For Jewish children, there are separate public schools available for religious and secular families. Individual families may choose a public school system for their children regardless of ethnicity or religious observance. Minor children have the right to choose a public secular school instead of a religious school regardless of parental preference. By law, Israel provides the equivalent of public school funding to two systems of “recognized but not official” (a form of semiprivate) ultra-Orthodox religious schools affiliated with ultra-Orthodox political parties, the United Torah Judaism-affiliated Independent Education System and the Shas-affiliated Fountain of Torah Education System. Churches, however, receive only partial government funding to operate “recognized but not official” schools. Palestinian residents in Jerusalem may send their children to one of these church schools or a private school operated by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf; both include religious instruction. Some Israeli-funded public schools in Jerusalem use the PA curriculum.

Religious education is part of the curriculum for students in grades one through six in public schools the PA operates as well as some Palestinian schools in Jerusalem that use the PA curriculum. There are separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians. Students may choose which class to take but may not opt out of religion courses. Recognized churches operate private schools in the West Bank, which include religious instruction. Private Islamic schools also operate in the West Bank.

Palestinian law provides that in the defunct Palestinian Legislative Council, six seats be allocated to Christian candidates, who also have the right to contest other seats. There are no seats reserved for members of any other religious group. A 2017 presidential decree requires that Christians head nine municipal councils in the West Bank (including Ramallah, Bethlehem, Birzeit, and Beit Jala) and establishes a Christian quota for the same, plus one additional municipal council.

PA land laws prohibit Palestinians from selling Palestinian-owned lands to “any man or judicial body corporation of Israeli citizenship, living in Israel or acting on its behalf.” While Israeli law does not authorize the Israel Land Authority, which administers the 93 percent of Israeli land in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners, in practice, foreigners have been allowed to lease if they could show they qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return.

Although the PA removed the religious affiliation category from Palestinian identity cards issued in 2014, older identity cards continue to circulate, listing the holder as either Muslim or Christian.

The Israeli Law of Citizenship and Entry, renewed annually, prohibits residence status for non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, unless the Ministry of Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.

The Jordanian Waqf administers Islamic courts in Jerusalem for Muslim residents, with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Jordan having appellate authority.

There is no Israeli legal requirement regarding personal observance or nonobservance of the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) from sunset on Fridays until sunset on Saturdays and on Jewish holidays. The law, however, declares in the context of labor rights that Shabbat and Jewish holidays are national days of rest, while permitting non-Jewish workers alternate days of rest. The law criminalizes (up to one month imprisonment) employers who open their businesses and employ Jews on Shabbat, except those who are self-employed. There are exceptions for essential infrastructure and the hospitality, culture, and recreation industries. The law instructs the Israeli Minister of Labor and Welfare to take into account “Israel’s tradition,” among other factors, when considering whether to approve permits to work on Shabbat. The law prohibits discrimination against workers who refuse to work on their day of rest, based on their religion and regardless of whether they are religiously observant.

Israeli law states public transportation operated and funded by the national government may not operate on Shabbat, with exceptions for vehicles bringing passengers to hospitals, remote localities, and non-Jewish localities and for vehicles essential to public security or maintaining public transportation services.

Government Practices

Because religion and ethnicity or nationality are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

According to the Jerusalem Post, on December 4, Israeli security forces arrested Muayad al-Alfi in Nablus on suspicion of aiding in the 2009 killing of Rabbi Meir Chai near the settlement of Shavei Shomron.

On May 31, the Times of Israel reported that Israeli military prosecutors had charged Salah Hammad, a Palestinian security officer, with the killing of Ben-Joseph Livnat, an Israeli, and the injuring of three others in 2011 when he and two other officers opened fire on the Israelis’ car after the men had visited Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus without permission. Israeli military courts previously found other members of the Palestinian patrol guilty and sentenced them to prison terms.

On May 18, a court in Lod found Israeli Jewish settler Amiram Ben Uliel guilty of murder, attempted murder, arson, and “conspiracy to commit a crime motivated by racism” in the 2015 deaths of a Palestinian couple, Saad and Riham Dawabshe, and their 18-month-old son Ali in an arson attack. The prosecution said Ben-Uliel had spray-painted the words “revenge” and “long live the Messiah” at the site before committing the attack. A 19-year-old man arrested as a juvenile with Ben Uliel pleaded guilty in 2018 to his role as an accessory and entered prison in December to begin serving the remaining 10 months of a three-and-a-half-year sentence, with credit for previous time served under house arrest. On September 14, the court sentenced Ben Uliel to three life sentences plus 20 years. Ben Uliel’s attorney said he planned an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court. According to press reports, a crowd-sourced funding campaign endorsed by a number of rabbis began raising money for his defense team to challenge the convictions.

On February 17, Israeli police arrested a Palestinian man who attempted to stab a Border Police officer at a security checkpoint for the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Israeli police and the IDF reported investigating other instances of religiously motivated attacks and subsequent arrests. In general, however, NGOs, religious institutions, and media continued to state that arrests in religiously motivated crimes against Palestinians rarely led to indictments and convictions. Palestinians stated that they faced procedural difficulties in filing complaints with Israeli police, who are located at stations within settlements or at military-run liaison offices outside those settlements. Data from the NGO Tag Meir, which tracks hate crimes, and media reports indicated in recent years Israeli authorities had indicted few suspects in attacks on religious sites.

The Israeli government stated that authorities maintained a zero-tolerance policy against what it described as “Israeli extremists’ attacks” on Palestinians and made efforts to enhance law enforcement in the West Bank, including through task forces, increased funding, and hiring additional staff members. The Israeli government said that there were “numerous investigations” of ideologically motivated criminal incidents in 2020.

In a fact sheet that it released in January, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din stated, “After 15 years of monitoring Israeli law enforcement authorities in their handling of complaints filed by Palestinian victims of ideological crimes committed by Israelis, the picture that emerges demonstrates that the State of Israel is failing in its duty to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories from those who would harm them and, in fact, leaves them defenseless as they face assault and harassment.” According to Yesh Din statistics, Israeli police failed in the investigation of 82 percent of the files opened between 2005 and 2019 and 91 percent of all investigation files were closed without an indictment.

Attacks by Israeli citizens, some of whom asserted their right to settle in what they stated is the historic Jewish homeland of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank, continued, as well as Palestinian attacks on settlers. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported 772 attacks by Israeli settlers and other Israeli civilians against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the year, with 168 Palestinians injured. This compared with 819 attacks and 140 Palestinians injured, respectively, in 2019. UNOCHA updated its metrics to incorporate more information from civil society about violence against Israelis. During the year, “in the context of the occupation and conflict,” UNOCHA estimated that there were 24 Palestinian fatalities and 2,694 Palestinians injured and three Israeli fatalities and 40 Israelis injured in West Bank violence, including in East Jerusalem. The Israeli government said that UNOCHA did not provide information about actions by Hamas in its public statistics and did not fully cover attacks targeting Israelis.

The Israeli government said that the Israeli intelligence community foiled “423 major terrorist attacks” against Israeli civilians (primarily targeting the majority Jewish Israeli civilians), of which 417 were planned by Palestinians from the West Bank and six by Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Of these, 70 percent were organized by Hamas, while “independent terrorists” organized the remaining attacks. The nongovernmental Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center said 40 significant terrorist attacks occurred in the West Bank, an increase from 34 in 2019 after five consecutive years of decline. Meir Amit assessed that the West Bank remained relatively quiet due to efforts of Israeli security forces and limited motivation by the general Palestinian population in the West Bank to carry out terrorist attacks. Meir Amit also reported that the Israel Security Agency prevented 430 “significant terrorist attacks” in the West Bank and Jerusalem, down from 654 in 2019.

On October 20, the trial of an Israeli Jewish minor, accused in the 2018 killing of a Palestinian woman, Aysha al-Rabi, a resident of Bidya village, began at the Central District Court in Lod. Prosecutors accused the minor, then 17, of throwing a two-kilogram (4.4 pound) stone through al-Rabi’s windshield “with the intent of using it to harm Arab passengers out of an ideological motive of racism and hostility toward Arabs.” In 2019, authorities arrested and later released four other suspects who, like the defendant, were yeshiva students from the settlement of Rehelim. According to press reporting, the prosecution linked the defendant’s DNA to the stone that caused al-Rabi’s death and also linked him to Kahanism, which Haaretz described as a “far-right anti-Arab ideology inspired by Rabbi Meir Kahane.” In January, authorities acknowledged that the stone throwing that killed al-Rabi, a mother of eight, was a terror attack but declined to recognize her as a victim of terrorism. Press reports said that authorities said the decision was reached because al-Rabi was not an Israeli citizen and the killing occurred outside Israel’s recognized borders. At year’s end, the trial was continuing, and the accused remained under supervised house arrest.

The government of Israel continued to discourage Israeli citizens in unofficial capacities from traveling to the parts of the West Bank under the civil and security control of the PA (Area A), with large road signs warning Israelis against entering these areas and stating it was dangerous for Israelis and against Israeli law to do so. Significant numbers of Arab Israelis, and some Jewish and other Israelis, chose to privately visit Area A without repercussions, according to media and individuals who visited. Media reported that, while these restrictions in general prevented Jewish Israelis from visiting numerous Jewish religious sites, the IDF provided special security escorts for Jews to visit religious sites in Area A under Palestinian control, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a site of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and the Shalom al Israel Synagogue in Jericho. Some Jewish religious leaders said the Israeli government policy limiting travel to parts of the West Bank prevented Jewish Israelis from freely visiting several religious sites in the West Bank including Joseph’s Tomb, because they were denied the opportunity to visit the site on unscheduled occasions or in larger numbers than permitted through IDF coordination. IDF officials said requirements to coordinate Jewish visits to Joseph’s Tomb were necessary to ensure Jewish Israelis’ safety. The Israeli government said that Jewish worshippers could only visit Areas A and B of the West Bank with the protection of the IDF and that the PA was not fulfilling its commitments to ensure freedom of religion for Jewish worshippers in these areas under the Oslo Accords. Palestinian and Israeli security forces coordinated some visits by Jewish groups to PA-controlled areas within the West Bank, which generally took place at night to limit the chance of confrontations with Palestinians who opposed the visit. The PA suspended security coordination with Israel in May and resumed coordination in late November. Israeli authorities stopped informing Palestinian authorities of these visits during the PA’s suspension of coordination and continued to provide security escorts to Jewish sites in PA-controlled territory, with some clashes occurring between Israeli security forces and Palestinians.

Palestinians at times violently protested when Jewish groups visited holy sites in areas under Palestinian control, where freedom of access was guaranteed by the PA in the Oslo Accords in the West Bank, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus (located in Area A). According to press, the Samaria Regional Council (which provides municipal services for Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank), in coordination with the IDF, organized monthly visits to the site. On February 25, Israeli authorities neutralized an explosive device planted near Joseph’s Tomb prior to the arrival of 2,000 Jewish worshippers. Palestinian protestors also clashed with IDF personnel providing security for the visit, throwing rocks at the IDF soldiers, who fired rubber bullets and used tear gas in response. Although routine visits paused after February 25 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, approximately 150 Jewish worshippers prayed at the tomb on June 3. According to the Times of Israel, due to the suspension of security cooperation between the Government of Israel and the PA, Palestinian security personnel withdrew from the site prior to the Israeli group’s arrival but returned after the pilgrims departed, when, according to press reports, they prevented an attempted arson attack on the site by Palestinian protestors. The Israeli government said Palestinian Civil Police protected the site throughout the year, except during visits organized by the IDF, and prevented more than one attack on the site by Palestinians.

Approximately 2,500 pilgrims visited the site on June 22 on the anniversary of Joseph’s death. Haaretz stated that this visit to the shrine was “essentially a political event” because worshippers said they would be praying for the success of plans announced by the government to annex parts of the West Bank. Media reported that Palestinians threw stones at IDF military escorts during the visit and that the IDF used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Press reports stated that an unspecified number of protestors were injured in the incident.

On December 3, as the IDF secured a route for buses carrying Jewish worshippers, Palestinians gathered, throwing stones and setting fire to tires. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in response. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, located in Gaza City, stated that two Palestinians were injured in the encounter. On December 30, the Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that, after protestors attempted to block Jewish worshippers from entering the shrine, the IDF used rubber bullets and tear gas, resulting in nine Palestinians requiring medical attention. The Israeli government said the IDF facilitated six visits to the site during the year, with “terrorists” attacking the worshippers and IDF with stones and Molotov cocktails each time.

On November 20, Israeli security forces detained a Palestinian resident of the West Bank suspected of planting an explosive device at Rachel’s Tomb, a Bethlehem shrine of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims under Israeli jurisdiction in Area C. Israeli security forces shot and injured an individual in August suspected of attempting to throw a firebomb at the site. The shrine remained separated from the West Bank by a barrier built during the 2000-2005 Second Intifada, and Palestinians were able to access it only if permitted by Israeli authorities. Residents and citizens of Israel continued to have relatively unimpeded access. Israeli police closed the site to all visitors on Saturdays for the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat).

The Israeli government continued to allow controlled access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, with only Muslims permitted to engage in religious worship there. The Israeli government stated it understood the post-1967 status quo pertaining to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount to allow non-Muslim visitors but prohibit non-Islamic worship on the compound, while Israel respected Jordan’s “special role” at the site, as reflected in the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty. Muslim representatives stated that they generally had a different understanding of the status quo and that the Waqf should have full autonomy in administering the site (reflecting wide Palestinian and Muslim rejection of Israeli authority or sovereignty at the site) and that only Muslim worshippers were entitled to unrestricted access to the site.

In January, worshippers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and mosques in Gaza and the occupied West Bank engaged in a protest campaign called “The Great Fajr [Dawn] Campaign,” after the dawn prayers. Hamas and other Islamic organizations had called on worshippers to gather for Friday Fajr prayers starting in January at the site and at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the West Bank to defend them against “violations” by Israeli Jews. Media reported on January 17 that police dispersed protestors at the site after Friday dawn prayers. Press reports said that Palestinian demonstrators chanted slogans recalling the Muslim massacre of Jews at the Battle of Khaybar, near Medina, in the seventh century. Police broke up the impromptu demonstration without incident. Clashes between police and demonstrators occurred at other times near the site in January and February. Press reported that at least 10 Palestinian Muslims were injured by rubber bullets fired by police on January 31 and that police turned away “hundreds” of worshippers from the site on February 7.

The Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem administered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, while the Jordanian Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Holy Places supported maintenance and salary of the Waqf staff in Jerusalem. The issue of the use of the Gate of Mercy (Bab al-Rahma), a building within the Haram al-Sharif/Temple that was reopened by the Waqf in 2019 after it had been closed since 2003, remained unresolved. The Israeli government stated it regarded the reopening as a violation of the status quo.

On July 12, an Israeli court asked the Waqf to provide its views within 60 days regarding the closure of the Bab al-Rahma site after the Israeli police requested the court on July 2 to extend the current court-ordered closure and stated the building, if open, would be used by Hamas, according to media. Police also asked the Waqf to close the building permanently. In response, the Waqf said it did not recognize the authority of Israeli courts over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Throughout the year, Muslim worshippers could generally enter the site, although Israeli police regularly conducted security searches there.

Israeli media reported that Israeli security forces arrested six Muslim worshippers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on January 7 for “shouting nationalist rhetoric.” Video of the incident showed police kicking one of those arrested. Police and the Waqf reached agreement to close the site from March 22 to May 31 to both Muslim and non-Muslim visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Waqf said it sought to close the site on one other occasion but kept it open because Israeli authorities did not agree to simultaneously close it to non-Muslim visitors. The Israeli government stated that the public regulations in place at that time did not mandate closure of the site. Israeli government authorities closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, other houses of worship, and holy sites for Passover, Eid al-Fitr, and Easter holidays, as well as for the Ramadan and Lenten seasons, due to the pandemic. Christian leaders stated that they were frustrated when Israel restricted indoor gatherings, including religious services, to 10 persons, saying that the cap was based on the number of men required for a minyan (a Jewish prayer quorum) and did not allow for greater numbers by taking into account the size of religious buildings and ability to socially distance safely. Israeli authorities made exceptions to health restrictions for Easter and Christmas services, allowing greater but still limited public attendance.

Israeli government restrictions on gatherings for prayer varied from March through December due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During a nationwide lockdown in the spring, no gatherings were allowed, including for prayer; at other times, prayer gatherings of 10 to 20 persons were allowed, including in roped-off groups at the Western Wall. Guidelines at other periods were more lenient.

Israeli authorities briefly closed the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on January 29 after two Palestinians were arrested for attempting to carry out a stabbing attack against police.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the only restrictions imposed by Israel during the year were due to COVID-19.

On September 6, an association of Muslim leaders in Jerusalem issued a statement accusing police and authorities of violating the sanctity of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount by erecting ladders and installing loudspeakers at the entrance to the Lions Gate. The Waqf posted photos showing police and other staff mounting the roof and installing the equipment. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the speakers were installed outside the compound and were for the safety of individuals visiting the site.

Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site, including Jewish activists believed to have violated the status quo understanding prohibiting non-Islamic prayer, Muslims believed to have verbally harassed or acted violently against non-Muslim visitors to the site or incited others to violence, and public figures whose presence authorities feared would inflame tensions. Banned individuals included Waqf guards and administrative and maintenance staff and imams delivering sermons at the site. The Wadi Hilweh Center reported that Israeli authorities banned 46 Waqf staff during the year. The government stated that police banned individuals from accessing the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount only in cases of violation of public order or a disturbance to the freedom of worship. The government said that these bans were authorized according to procedures by police officials and courts and targeted both Jews and Muslims who “called for violence and disrupted the peace” at the site. According to the government, 225 individuals, including Jews and Muslims, were banned from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for different time periods. The Wadi Hilweh Information Center reported that Israeli authorities banned 315 individuals from the site during the year.

While the government stated it was rare for any individual to be barred entry to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities banned Palestinians resident in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, and Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel from the site. Palestinian civil society organizations said that starting in November, police checked the identification of individuals entering the Old City to visit the site for Friday prayers and would bar from entry persons with West Bank identification cards and return them to the West Bank.

Media reported that Israeli authorities barred a number of prominent Muslims from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for periods of time, including for six months, including Radwan Amr, director of the manuscripts department at al-Aqsa Mosque, and Sheikh Issam Amireh, a senior leader of the Hizb al-Tahrir political party, after he called the beheading of a teacher by a Muslim terrorist in France a “great honor for all Muslims” during a sermon at the site. On January 18, the Israeli police barred Ekrima Sabri, the imam of the al-Aqsa Mosque, head of the private Islamic Higher Committee in Jerusalem and the former Palestinian Grand Mufti, from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for a period of four months, after accusing him of incitement in a January 17 sermon. On May 29, authorities detained him again and later informed him that he would not be allowed to visit the site for an additional four months. On October 28, police raided the office of the deputy director of the Waqf, Najeh Bkirat, in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and told him to report to the intelligence services in seven days, when he was told that he would be banned from entering the site for six months. According to media, he was banned for “incitement” against the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries and visitors from those countries to the site, as well as possible linkages to Hamas. Later, on November 26, authorities presented him with an order that he would not be allowed in the site for three months. Bkirat told the International Middle East Media Center in November that since 2003, police had banned him from the site 21 times for a period of more than seven years, adding, “In 2019, I was admitted into the mosque only for one week.”

Human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities at times restricted some Muslims based on gender and age from entering the site. Israeli authorities have not issued permits for Gazans to visit the site during Islamic holidays since 2017, when it issued several hundred permits for Gazans during Ramadan, according to UN reports. Muslims who are Israeli citizens, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, or foreigners already present in Israel do not need permits to visit the site.

The Waqf also said that Israeli authorities interfered in the administration of the site by the Waqf, including maintenance and restoration work there. Israeli officials and activists stated the Waqf sometimes attempted to conduct repairs without coordinating with Israeli authorities. For example, pictures on the Waqf’s Facebook page showed their personnel digging at the site on March 31, while the site was closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the police banning of individual Waqf staff members, the Waqf said that it had a reduced capacity to administer the site because Israeli authorities refused to grant permits to new staff hired to work at the site, leaving the Waqf seriously understaffed.

The IDF continued occasionally to limit access to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, another site of significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the tomb of Abraham. Palestinian leaders continued in statements to local media to oppose the IDF’s control of access, citing Oslo-era agreements that gave Israel and the PA shared responsibilities for the site, although Israel retained full security responsibility for it while the Oslo Accords and 1997 Hebron Accords gave “civil powers and responsibilities” including “planning authority” for the site to the Hebron municipality. Some Muslim leaders publicly rejected a Jewish connection to the site.

The IDF again restricted Muslim access to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs during the 10 days corresponding to Jewish holidays and Jewish access during the 10 days corresponding to Islamic holidays. The IDF restricted Muslims to one entry point, which was manned by soldiers with metal detectors, while granting Jews access via several entry points. Citing security concerns, the IDF periodically closed roads approaching the site and since 2001 has permanently closed Shuhada Street, the former main Hebron market and one of the main streets leading to the holy site, to Palestinian-owned vehicles. The government said the closure was done to prevent confrontations. Both Muslims and Jews were able to pray at the site simultaneously in separate spaces, a physical separation that was instituted by the IDF in November 1994 following an attack earlier in the year by an Israeli that killed 29 Palestinians. Israeli authorities continued to implement frequent bans on the Islamic call to prayer from the Ibrahimi Mosque, stating the government acted upon requests by Jewish religious leaders in Hebron in response to requests of Jewish worshippers at the site. The news website al-Monitor reported that Israeli authorities banned calls to prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque 56 times during the month of April; Passover was celebrated from April 8 to 16.

On March 31, the PA Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs issued a statement condemning the IDF for preventing mosque attendants and guards from entering the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron due to COVID-19 restrictions and limiting access to only one person to perform the call for prayer. On May 26, according to media reports, the IDF dispersed hundreds of Muslim worshippers who had arrived at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron to perform prayers. Media reported the IDF allowed only 50 persons to pray inside the mosque and another 100 worshippers to pray in its courtyard, per Israeli restrictions to control the COVID-19 outbreak. The Palestinian Authority had reopened mosques to the general public as of May 26.

On July 31, Hebron mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh said the IDF banned the entry to the Ibrahimi Mosque of thousands of Muslim worshippers trying to perform Eid al-Adha prayers and allowed only 35 individuals to attend the Eid prayers and sermon. The Israeli government said it managed access to the site in accordance with the status quo and based on the principle of religious freedom and in coordination with the Hebron municipality and PA Waqf managing the site. According to the Israeli government, Israeli authorities and the Waqf coordinated access during the Eid to allow 850 Muslim worshippers to enter the site in small groups, in accordance with the COVID-19 restrictions in place during the Eid, which limited access for both Muslim and Jewish worshippers. According to the Israeli government, authorities made the same arrangements during the celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, when only Muslims were allowed access to the site, and for Yom Kippur, when only Jews were allowed access. Israeli authorities closed the site to Palestinian worshippers for Jewish holidays, including Rosh Hashana (September 18-20) and Yom Kippur (September 27-28), and then on September 30 closed the building due to COVID-19. Jewish worshippers living within one kilometer (0.6 miles) were still able to pray in the complex’s outside courtyard. On September 30, the imam of the Ibrahimi Mosque, Hifthi Abu Sneineh, said that the IDF had prevented staff and Muslim worshippers from accessing the mosque and attending prayers under what he said was the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic. Abu Sneineh said that the IDF evacuated staff and worshippers from the mosque after the noon prayer on Tuesday and closed all entrances to the site. He also stated the IDF banned the director of the Waqf, Jamal Abu Aram, along with a number of staff, from accessing it on Tuesday. Abu Sneineh said the IDF blocked Muslim worshippers from performing prayers but allowed Jewish worshippers to access the mosque to commemorate Yom Kippur. The PA Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs issued a statement stating that this measure was a “blatant and serious” violation, an attack on the sanctity of the mosque, a provocation to the feelings of Muslims, a serious threat, and an attempt to control the rest of the mosque. The Israeli government said that the two sides at the site had an agreement to allow exclusive access to the Jewish and Muslim communities on specific holy days throughout the year specific to the two faiths.

In April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit approved a 2019 decision by former Israeli Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett, shortly before Bennett left office, to bypass the Hebron municipality and expropriate land at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron. COGAT issued an expropriation order on May 13. The Israeli government stated it intended to renovate the site and establish elevators to make it accessible to persons with disabilities in order to “promote the rights of people with disabilities and allow access to religious sites for every population.” The Israeli government said it proceeded with the plan after multiple attempts to gain PA, Hebron municipality, and Waqf support for increased access to the site for persons with disabilities. According to the Jerusalem Post, “Hebron’s Jewish community and right-wing politicians and activists have long lobbied to make the site wheelchair accessible.” The paper stated that the only way that Jewish sanctuaries within the site could be reached is by climbing a long staircase.

Press reports stated that the land expropriated for the project was owned by the PA’s Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs. In May, Hifthi Abu Sneineh condemned the decision and said it was a blatant violation of the Hebron Protocol of the Oslo Accords and that “The Israeli authorities did not notify the Waqf in charge of managing the mosque of the details of the project. The settlement project will facilitate the Judaization of Ibrahimi Mosque.” Separately, he told the Middle East Eye website, “This is their [Israelis’] goal: to make life harder for the Palestinians, and make life easier for the settlers. To restrict Palestinian worship, promote Jewish visitation, and forever change the history and Islamic character of this place.” On June 18, Palestinians from Hebron and the Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh filed objections with COGAT regarding the project. Emek Shaveh stated, “The plan is more political than humanitarian and marks a breach of the status quo, creating additional friction between Jews and Muslims in a place which is already suffering from extreme tension.” An Israeli court dismissed the case in August. On December 27, the Knesset Finance Committee voted to transfer 1.5 million shekels ($467,000) to the elevator project. Member of the Knesset Moshe Gafni, the committee chair, said, “It is enormously important to allow public sites to be accessible to the disabled, even more so for a sacred sited like the Tomb of the Patriarchs.” On May 14, members of the Fatah chapter in the Hebron district organized a protest in front of the site to protest the decision and said the Ibrahimi Mosque is a purely Islamic site, with all its parts and courtyards, and has no Jewish heritage.

On November 19, the Judea and Samaria planning committee rejected petitions by Emek Shaveh and Palestinian residents of Hebron against the plan. Emek Shaveh said it objected to the plan because it did not include a documentation and conservation study as is standard for construction at historical monuments and that the staff officer for archaeology at the Civil Administration was not involved in overseeing the plan. The NGO stated that the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarch was arguably the most important historical and holy site in the West Bank. Emek Shaveh also argued that the elevator, which was planned to be built near the Jewish end of the complex, would not aid Muslim worshippers who wished to access their prayer halls because of the stringent security checks that they would be forced to endure. A case in an Israeli court was pending at the end of the year.

On December 4, Israeli police arrested an Orthodox Jewish man for trying to set fire to the Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The suspect poured flammable liquid inside the Catholic church and set it on fire before a church guard detained him and police took him into custody. On December 31, an Israeli judge found the assailant mentally incompetent and remanded him to a psychiatric institution for up to 20 years.

Israeli authorities and settlers, who are often armed, prohibited access by Palestinians to several mosques in the occupied West Bank located within Israeli settlements. Israeli authorities declared all legal settlements as restricted Israeli military zones. Palestinians were unable to visit them without Israeli government approval.

In an October 7 report, the Israeli NGO Machsom (“Checkpoint”) Watch stated that the Israeli government has used three strategies to “erase” Muslim religious sites in the West Bank: enclosing sites within closed military zones, including sites in nature reserves; divesting shrines of their Islamic religious identity by opening them to the general public; and declining to recognize the site as having any religious significance in Islam. The NGO said that Israeli authorities give more weight to sites associated with Biblical prophets than to sites that are significant only to Muslims. Machsom Watch said that Israeli authorities deny Palestinians any access to 13 sites in the West Bank that are of traditional heritage, worship, and Muslim prayer or that are important to multiple faiths. The NGO said some of these sites are dilapidated and frequently the object of vandalism by Israeli settlers.

The Israeli government said it coordinated access to the Prophet Samuel’s mosque during the year for 1,500 Palestinian residents of the Nebi Samuel and al-Khalaila villages. The site has both a mosque and synagogue and, with the villages, is located in the West Bank, but inside the Israeli barrier.

Israeli police continued to be responsible for security at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, with police officers stationed both inside the site and at entrances. Police conducted routine patrols on the outdoor plaza and inside buildings on the site and regulated pedestrian traffic exiting and entering the site. Israeli police continued to maintain exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance, through which non-Muslims may enter the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site, and allowed visitors through the gate during set hours. Police sometimes restricted this access, citing security concerns.

Some Jewish groups performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount despite the ban on non-Islamic prayer. The Israeli government reiterated that non-Islamic prayer was not allowed on the grounds of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, who reiterated this view at a campaign event in March. NGOs, media, and Jewish Temple Mount advocacy groups continued to report that in practice, police generally allowed discreet non-Muslim prayer on the site. Police continued to screen non-Muslims for religious articles. Police allowed Jewish male visitors who were visibly wearing a kippah (head covering) and tzitzit (fringes), and those who wished to enter the site barefoot (in accordance with interpretations of halacha – the body of Jewish religious law), to enter with police escort.

The Waqf continued to restrict non-Muslims who visited the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount from entering the Dome of the Rock and other buildings dedicated for Islamic worship, including the al-Aqsa Mosque, unless they were participating in a Waqf-sponsored visit. It also lodged objections with Israeli police concerning non-Muslim visitors wearing religious symbols or religious clothing. Israeli police sometimes acted upon these objections.

Waqf officials repeated previous years’ complaints over their lack of control of access to the site. The Waqf objected to non-Muslims praying or performing religious acts on the site and to individuals whom they perceived to be dressed immodestly or who caused disturbances, but they lacked authority to remove such persons from the site. Waqf officials stated Israeli police did not coordinate with the Waqf on decisions regarding entry and barring of Muslim and non-Muslim visitors to the site. Waqf employees remained stationed inside each gate and on the plaza, but Waqf officials exercised only a limited oversight role. The government extended visiting hours in the afternoon by 30 minutes to prevent large groups forming at the entrance for non-Muslims in accordance with COVID-19 health restrictions. Following the announcement of the normalization agreements establishing relations between Israel and several Arab countries, Muslim visitors from the Gulf were at times harassed in person and vilified on social media by Palestinian Muslims for visiting the site as part of visits to Israel. The PA Mufti of Jerusalem issued a fatwa denying access to the site to Muslims from countries that established diplomatic relations with Israel, but the Jordanian Waqf rejected the fatwa. The Waqf stated that Muslim visitors from those countries were brought by Israeli officials without coordination with the Waqf. The government welcomed these visits as a positive outcome of normalization and as demonstrating freedom of religion.

On May 4, the NGO Returning to the Mount filed a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the state allow Jewish visitors to enter the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, arguing that the arrangement at that time – under which only Muslim Waqf staff were allowed to enter the site due to the COVID-19 pandemic – discriminated against Jews who wished to visit. The court rejected the petition on May 19, stating it did not find grounds to interfere with the state’s discretion. On June 23, the Supreme Court ordered the government to respond by November 21 to a petition by the NGO Moked Israeli Center for the Advancement of Democracy and Protection of Human Rights, which objected to a sign near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount discouraging non-Muslim visitors from entering the site. The case was ongoing at year’s end. The Waqf and others criticized non-Muslim visitors who entered the site escorted by the police as “settlers” and said they “stormed” the site.

Many Jewish religious leaders, including the government-appointed Rabbi of the Western Wall, continued to say Jewish law prohibited Jews from entering the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for reasons of ritual purity. Some Jewish religious leaders, Knesset members, and activists called for reversing the policy of banning non-Islamic prayer at the site to provide equal religious freedom for all visitors.

The government continued to allow Knesset members and ministers to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. Members of the Knesset were required to inform the Knesset guard at least 24 hours prior to the visit to allow for coordination with the police.

At the main Western Wall plaza, the place of worship nearest the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Judaism’s holiest site, the government continued to enforce a regulation prohibiting the performance of “a religious ceremony that is not in accordance with the customs of the place, which harms the feelings of the public towards the place.” Authorities interpreted this prohibition to include mixed-gender Jewish prayer services, to the objection of the Jewish Conservative and Reform movements. The organization Women of the Wall argued that its monthly presence at the wall for more than 30 years had established the group as part of the “customs of the place.”

Authorities continued to prohibit visitors from bringing private Torah scrolls to the main Western Wall plaza and women from accessing the public Torah scrolls or giving priestly blessings at the site. Authorities, however, permitted women to pray with tefillin and prayer shawls pursuant to a 2013 Jerusalem District Court ruling stating it was illegal to arrest or fine them for such actions.

Pending COVID-19 limitations, authorities allowed Women of the Wall to hold its monthly service in the women’s area of the main Western Wall plaza, but in a barricaded area or as a pod at the rear of the main plaza along with other separated prayer pods. However, during the period when the Western Wall was open for prayer by only 10 persons due to COVID-19 regulations, Women of the Wall reported that Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz rejected their April 19 request for a group of 10 women from Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall, despite having approved similar requests for ultra-Orthodox visitors from outside of Jerusalem.

Representatives of Women of the Wall complained of a lack of effort by police or ushers from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation (WWHF), which administers the Western Wall main plaza, to intervene when ultra-Orthodox women and men disrupted their monthly prayer service with screaming, whistling, and pushing. In response, the government stated that large numbers of Israeli police, ushers, and security personnel maintained order on occasions when Women of the Wall prayed there. Women of the Wall filed a petition to the Supreme Court in March 2017 to require ushers and police to prevent disruption to their services. The case was ongoing as of the end of the year.

Authorities continued to allow use of a temporary platform south of the Mughrabi ramp and adjacent to the Western Wall, but not visible from the main Western Wall plaza, for non-Orthodox “egalitarian” (mixed gender) Jewish prayers. Authorities designated the platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, including for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs. The Supreme Court criticized the government on November 4 for its lack of progress since 2018 on upgrading the area to a permanent egalitarian prayer space. The government blamed the delay on multiple rounds of national elections, COVID-19, and an obstacle posed by a Jerusalem municipality planning committee, but it also stated that it was not under a legal obligation to implement the construction plan. The court ordered the government to make progress by April 4, 2021. This case is a combination of lawsuits against the government, some dating back to 2013, that would allow prayer for all religious streams of Judaism at the Western Wall. In 2017, the government “froze” a 2016 agreement with non-Orthodox Jewish groups that would have offered them symbolic recognition in addition to upgrading the egalitarian prayer space. In 2018, a special government committee approved expansion of the temporary platform. The non-Orthodox Jewish movements stated that upgrading the prayer space alone would not fulfill their 2016 agreement with the government. The court case was ongoing at year’s end. In addition, observers have stated that scaffolding has prevented visitors from touching the sacred wall in the egalitarian prayer space since a rock fell there in 2018. Over the same period, the WWHF managed large construction projects in the main plaza, making routine inspections for loose rocks at the main plaza without blocking access to the wall.

The government continued to promote the establishment of a cable car route from the First Station cultural complex in Jerusalem to the Dung Gate of the Old City that would pass over a Karaite cemetery. In September, the Jerusalem municipality published a tender for the construction of the cable car, and on September 9, a Jerusalem local planning committee approved the expropriation of more than 10,000 square meters (108,000 square feet) of private lands, mostly in Silwan, for construction of the project. According to the Karaite community, the cable car would desecrate the cemetery, thus preventing its further use. While the original plan included a physical roof over the cemetery, which would contradict Karaite customs, the approved plan does not include a roof. Nonetheless, the project’s infrastructure still posed a problem for the Karaite community, according to community representatives. The government stated the cable car was meant to solve accessibility problems to holy sites such as the Western Wall, but some NGOs said the project was meant to specifically promote Jewish touristic sites in East Jerusalem and to reinforce Israel’s claims of sovereignty over the area. The plan was pending final government approval at year’s end. A petition against the cable car was also pending at year’s end.

The barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals as well as the conduct of journalistic, humanitarian, and NGO activities. The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons.

On July 20, the IDF seized a 1,500-year-old Byzantine-era baptismal font from Taqqou’a town, southeast of Bethlehem. The eight-ton font had been moved in 2000 from an ancient church in the archeological site of Khirbet Taqqou’a and had again been moved in 2002. Taqqou’a municipality retrieved the font and placed it in the vicinity of the mayor’s house, pending the construction of a local museum, according to media reports. According to press reports, the whereabouts of the font remained unknown after it was moved in July. The Israeli government said the Israeli Civil Administration (CA), which is part of COGAT, took the item as part of the CA’s efforts to “restore archeological items” and to “stop the theft of antiques” in the West Bank.

The PA continued to provide imams with themes they were required to use in weekly Friday sermons in West Bank mosques and to prohibit them from broadcasting Quranic recitations from minarets prior to the call to prayer.

Unrecognized religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses faced a continued PA ban on proselytization but stated they were able to conduct most other functions unhindered. Palestinian authorities generally recognized on a case-by-case basis personal status documents issued by unrecognized churches. The PA, however, continued to refuse to recognize personal status legal documents (e.g., marriage certificates) issued by some of these unrecognized churches, which the groups said made it difficult for them to register newborn children under their fathers’ names or as children of married couples. Many unrecognized churches advised members with dual citizenship to marry or divorce abroad to register the action officially in that location. Some converts to unrecognized Christian faiths had recognized churches with which they were previously affiliated perform their marriages and divorces. Members of some faith communities and faith-based organizations stated they viewed their need to do so as conflicting with their religious beliefs.

Religious organizations providing education, health care, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians in and around East Jerusalem continued to state that the barrier begun by Israel during the Second Intifada impeded their work, particularly south of Jerusalem in West Bank Christian communities around Bethlehem. Clergy members stated the barrier and additional checkpoints restricted their movements between Jerusalem and West Bank churches and monasteries as well as the movement of congregants between their homes and places of worship. Christian leaders continued to state the barrier hindered Bethlehem-area Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. They also said it made visits to Christian sites in Bethlehem difficult for Palestinian Christians who lived on the west side of the barrier. Foreign pilgrims and religious aid workers also reported difficulty or delays accessing Christian religious sites in the West Bank because of the barrier. The Israeli government previously stated it constructed the barrier as an act of self-defense and that it was highly effective in preventing terrorist attacks in Israel.

Christian expatriate workers in Israeli settlements complained that lack of public transportation on Saturdays prevented them from participating in religious activities and worship in Jerusalem.

According to a November 9 Times of Israel report, Jerusalem mayor Moshe Lion and his administration proposed a plan to designate seats on Jerusalem community councils as either ultra-Orthodox or not. Jerusalem is the country’s only municipality to use community councils, which were established to provide greater communication between the city’s diverse population groups and the municipal government. Each council has 15 members, nine elected and the other six appointed. Lion said the proposal was designed to reduce conflicts on the councils and to ensure that the views of minority communities were represented on each council. Members of both the ultra-Orthodox and non-ultra-Orthodox communities expressed concerns about the proposal, with one describing it as “undemocratic.” While there are eight community councils serving Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, none of them has elected members.

The Government of Israel’s Ministry of Religious Services (MRS) listed 28 dedicated cemeteries in Israel and West Bank settlements for civil burial and burial of persons the government defined as “lacking religion.” Only three of the cemeteries, however, were available for use to the broader general public in Israel and Israeli West Bank settlements regardless of residence, one of which has been full for several years. The other cemeteries, located in Israeli agricultural localities, were permitted to bury only “residents of the area.” This, according to the NGO Hiddush, left the majority of the Israel’s population deprived of the ability to exercise its right to be buried in accordance with secular or non-Orthodox religious views, as mandated by Israeli law. The two MRS-administered cemeteries in West Bank settlements were available only for the burial of Israeli citizens. On December 12, the Supreme Court, as a part of a petition by Hiddush, issued an order instructing the state to explain why it would not allow civil burial in agricultural localities for individuals who were not local Israeli residents and who do not have another alternative. The case was pending as of the end of the year.

According to the website of Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center, the Israeli government maintained an agreement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that no member of the Church “will engage in proselytizing of any kind” within Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, as a condition of its lease of land for its campus on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

After workers sent by the Jerusalem municipality demolished a wall and stairs in the Islamic al-Yusufiye Cemetery to make way for a park, local Palestinians gathered in protest and the work stopped. On December 24, the Jerusalem District Court issued a temporary restraining order against the municipality, forcing the city to suspend its work. The cemetery, which is hundreds of years old, is affiliated with the Islamic Waqf and adjacent to the Old City.

Hizb al-Tahrir, a global pan-Islamic Salafi movement founded in Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem in 1953, among other groups criticized the PA for at times reopening parts of the economy while maintaining COVID-19 restrictions on religious sites. On September 7, the heads of Christian churches in Bethlehem issued a statement in which they commended President Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, including Intisar Abu Amara, the chief of staff at the President’s office, for what they said as their effective role in support of the Palestinian Christian community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Media reported PA government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said at an April 13 press conference that Israelis “are not only exporting [the virus]. They are agents of this virus…These are not accusations. These are facts.”

In an August 27 interview with Israel’s Kan TV, Yasser Arafat’s widow, Suha al-Tawil, said the PA, particularly Intisar Abu Amara, discriminated against PA Christian staff. The accusation was made following a PA decision to recall her brother, Ghabi al-Tawil, the PA ambassador to Cyprus. PA officials said al-Tawil was dismissed from his position after he refused to receive Fatah activists at the PA embassy who were organizing a protest against the Emirati-Israeli normalization agreement. Following the interview, heads of Christian churches in Bethlehem released a joint statement warning against attempts to harm Christian-Muslim relations.

Palestinian leaders, media, and social media regularly used the word “martyr” to refer to individuals killed during confrontations with Israeli security forces, whether those individuals were involved in confrontations or were innocent bystanders. Some official PA media channels, social media sites affiliated with the Fatah political movement, and terrorist organizations glorified terrorist attacks on Jewish Israelis, referring to the assailants as “martyrs.” On May 12, IDF sergeant Amit Ben Ygal was killed by a rock thrown by a Palestinian during a security operation in the West Bank. According to a report by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Palestinians Ramp Up Incitement to Murder Jews, Fatah then began a widespread social media campaign that referred to Ben Ygal’s death by including the phrase, “If you don’t have a gun, kill an IDF soldier with a rock.” Several local Fatah chapters posted memorials, including photographs, of suicide bombers. On several occasions on PA television, senior PA and Fatah official Jibril Rajoub extolled “martyrs” and prisoners serving sentences in Israeli prisons for conducting terrorist attacks. On June 17, on the 90th anniversary of the execution by British mandate officials of three persons convicted of involvement in the 1929 massacre of the Hebron Jewish community, a PA television presenter praised their actions and “martyrdom.”

The PA and the PLO continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinians killed during terrorist acts or to those who were killed as bystanders in Israeli-Palestinian confrontations, as well as stipends to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those awaiting charges and those convicted of acts of terrorism. Such payments and separate stipends were initiated by the PLO in 1965 and have continued under the PA since the signing of the Oslo Accords with Israel in 1993 and 1995. On April 16, Fatah Central Committee member Mahmoud Aloul, speaking about Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, said on official PA Palestine TV, “The first amount of money Fatah was able to collect was allocated to prisoners’ and martyrs’ families. The Americans and Israelis tried to stop us from supporting Palestinian martyrs’ and prisoners’ families, but our decision was clear and it was given by President Abbas when he said that even if we had a few pennies, then we would offer them to the families of martyrs and prisoners.”

The Israeli Deduction Law provides that Israel must deduct a portion of the revenues it collects for the PA that is equal to the expenditures by the PA in the previous year for payments to families of persons killed, injured, or imprisoned for attacks on Israel. On October 26, Qadri Abu Bakr, the director of the PLO Commission for Prisoner Affairs, addressing the Deduction Law, said, “If we agree to deduct this money, it means that we agree that they are truly a group of terrorists – murderers, as Israel calls them. We would be defining their struggle as a crime and defining as a crime our people’s struggles for more than 50 years…” In accordance with the Israeli Deduction Law, Israel withheld a monthly sum equal to what the PA paid to these individuals and families (approximately 41.8 million shekels – $13 million) from its monthly transfers of tax revenues to the PA from January-March. Israel then suspended the deductions pending approval of the new amounts by the Israeli Security Cabinet, which did not occur until December due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The PA stated that these payments were social payments for families who lost their primary breadwinner. The Israeli government stated that the payments incentivized, encouraged, and rewarded terrorism, with higher monthly payments for lengthier prison sentences tied to more severe crimes.

The PA Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs continued to pay for construction of new mosques, maintenance of approximately 1,800 existing mosques, and salaries of most Palestinian imams in the West Bank. The ministry also continued to provide limited financial support to some Christian clergy and Christian charitable organizations.

The PA’s Palestinian Broadcasting Company’s code of conduct states it does not allow programming that encourages “violence against any person or institution on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, or sex.” Some official PA media channels as well as social media accounts affiliated with the ruling political movement Fatah, however, featured content praising or condoning acts of violence against Jews. Fatah announced September 26 that Facebook had restricted its ability to promote stories on its site. The Israeli NGO Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) stated this was due to concerns PMW had raised about Fatah’s promotion of terror and incitement to violence against Jewish Israelis. Following the announcement of diplomatic normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, on September 15, Fatah Central Committee-member Jibril Rajoub on official PA television referred to Prime Minister Netanyahu as “a distorted copy of Mussolini,” and said the situation was similar to “everything that had happened in the 1930s and 1940s in Europe.” Referring to statements made by Arab governments regarding their recognition of Israel, Rajoub stated, “I think that even their ‎speeches were written for them…in ‎Tel Aviv, of course….”

Both Palestinians and Israelis evoked ethnoreligious language to deny the historical self-identity of the other community in the region or to emphasize an exclusive claim to the land. On September 18, on official PA television, PA Grand ‎Mufti Muhammed Hussein said, “If an inch of the Muslims’ lands is stolen, jihad becomes a personal religious commandment for everyone.” Anti-Semitic material continued to appear in official PA media. A Christian columnist for the official PA daily, Muwaffaq Matar, wrote, “Christian Palestinians understood the danger of Judaization to their existence and to their holy sites…They also know that the Zionist plot is not limited only to Judaizing the holy sites of the Muslim Palestinians…Therefore, they view the sale of Palestinian lands to the Israeli racist colonialist occupiers and settlers as a betrayal of Jesus. They think that whoever does this…is not eligible to represent the church or any Christian citizen in Palestine.”

Press reports stated that on November 18, after a Jewish settler placed a hanukkiah (Hanukkah candelabra) on the roof of the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Mahmoud al-Habash, the PA President’s religious affairs advisor, told the official WAFA news agency, “The occupation state…is exploiting every opportunity, and particularly the so-called ‘Jewish holidays,’ in order to commit crimes and plans that desecrate our Islamic holy sites in Hebron.” According to press, he also said that the Ibrahimi Mosque is a pure Islamic heritage site to which those who are not Muslim have no rights. The newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida reported that the PA’s Supreme Fatwa Council had called the action “a blatant violation, a true provocation of Muslims’ sensibilities, and an additional aggressive attempt to erase Islamic history in service of the goal to Judaize the Ibrahimi Mosque and create a fake Jewish character for it.”

In a July 18 appearance on Palestine TV, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, in response to a question about an incorrect report that Apple Maps and Google Maps had removed the name “Palestine” from their apps, said, “It is clear that these two companies have obvious orientations. It is obvious who owns them, and the Israeli-Jewish influence on them is also obvious.”

The Middle East Monitor website, in a report that it attributed to the Palestinian news agency WAFA, said that the Palestinian Authority had condemned the “continuous and increasing aggression” of Israeli Jewish settlers on Palestinians and their properties in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to the report, the PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the settlers’ attacks as “part of a campaign supported and run by the occupation state and its institutions, aiming to Judaize Area C.”

In an August 15 interview on Palestine TV, Mahmoud al-Habash, commenting on the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab states, said, “Normalization [of relations] is treason, full stop. It is treason. It is normalizing relations with those who murdered your father and brothers. It is normalizing relations with the enemies of the Prophet Mohammed, who want to [build] a temple at the destination of Mohammed’s Night Journey [referring to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount].”

Anti-Semitic, militaristic, and other adversarial content continued to be directed against Israel in Palestinian textbooks, while references to Judaism were absent in the context of discussions of other religions, according to Palestinian Media Watch and IMPACT-se. Norway announced June 4 that it intended to withhold half of its funding designated for the PA’s education system until textbooks no longer promoted “hate and violence.” Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide said that Norway had raised these concerns with senior PA leaders.

In September, IMPACT-se released a report on the new Palestinian school curriculum (West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – UNRWA) for the 2020-21 academic term. The NGO reviewed each revision of the school curriculum released over the previous five school years. IMPACT-se’s report on the 2019-20 textbooks found no substantive changes from the previous revision of the curriculum. According to IMPACT-se, a Palestinian cabinet announcement on May 18 approved a plan to make changes to the PA curriculum for the then upcoming 2020-21 school year, and the PA presented the plan at a meeting with donor nations in Ramallah on May 21. However, the NGO said its analysis of the new curriculum “found it [the curriculum] to have moved further from meeting UNESCO standards, and the newly published textbooks were found to be more radical than those previously published. According to the report, there “is a systematic insertion of violence, martyrdom and jihad across all grades and subjects. Extreme nationalism and Islamist ideologies are widespread throughout the curriculum, including science and math textbooks.” Marcus Sheff, the CEO of IMPACT-se, told the Jerusalem Post in a September 22 report, “It is disastrous that 1.3 million Palestinian children are condemned to yet another year of sitting in PA and UNRWA schoolrooms to be fed hate and incitement on a daily basis.” In addition to providing teachers with training in human rights and tolerance in education to equip them to discuss controversial materials in PA textbooks, UNRWA publicly asserted there is no place for anti-Semitism in its programs.

According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, on May 14, the European Parliament passed three resolutions that condemned the PA for using school textbooks that promote hate and violence. The resolutions were passed as amendments by the Committee on Budgetary Control in a budgetary report. One resolution called on the European Commission to make sure that “no Union funds are used to finance textbooks and educational material which incite religious radicalization, intolerance, ethnic violence and martyrdom among children.” The resolution said the European representatives were “concerned that problematic material in Palestinian school textbooks has still not been removed and is concerned about the continued failure to act effectively against hate speech and violence in school textbooks.” According to the resolutions, money allocated for textbooks should “be used for drafting and teaching curricula which reflects UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, coexistence, and nonviolence.”

In 2019, the European Union commissioned the German NGO Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research to conduct a review of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 PA curricula to assess the extent of inciteful content. The findings are due in early 2021.

The Jerusalem-based Center for Near East Policy Research (CNEPR) reported in February that PA teacher guides published by the PA Ministry of Education between 2016 and 2018 delegitimized the State of Israel, demonized Israel and Jews, and lacked any attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict peacefully. In 2019, CNEPR described excerpts from the guides referring to Jews as “aggressive, barbarous, full of hate, and bent on extermination,” and “enemies of Islam since its early days.”

In November, Israeli media reported that the government had agreed to pay 400,000 shekels ($124,000) in compensation to the Old Yosef Chai Yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar to cover the cost of the building’s use by security forces since it was seized in 2014. The yeshiva, which the Times of Israel said was a “hotbed of violence against local Palestinians and Israeli security forces,” released a statement saying that total damage to the building was more than 800,000 shekels ($249,000) and that the government’s payment was “the beginning of rectification.” In the statement, the yeshiva added that it hoped to return to its original location at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.

Under the Israeli Antiquities Law, excavations within a sacred site require the approval of a ministerial committee, which includes the Ministers of Culture, Justice, and Religious Affairs. The government stated that Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) researchers “have greatly intensified their research on ‘non-Jewish’ periods in the history of the land of Israel, [including] the Prehistoric, Early Bronze, Byzantine, Muslim, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.” Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Muslim leaders continued to protest archaeological excavations and construction work done at the City of David National Park in the Silwan neighborhood outside the Old City and in the Old City near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, including an elevator being installed at the rear of the Western Wall plaza. Some NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in Jerusalem continued to state the IAA emphasized archaeological finds that bolstered Jewish claims while minimizing historically significant archaeological finds of other religions. Archeologists from the NGO Emek Shaveh continued to dispute the government’s representation of the “Pilgrim’s Road,” a tunnel dug by the IAA and inaugurated in Silwan in 2019, as being historically part of the pilgrimage route to the Jewish Second Temple; Emek Shaveh said the excavation method did not establish with certainty the date and purpose of the road. NGOs such as the City of David Foundation and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies continued to support the government’s position.

Some NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in the West Bank continued to state that the IAA exploited archaeological finds to bolster Jewish claims while overlooking other historically significant archaeological finds involving other religions or the needs of Palestinian residents at these sites. Emek Shaveh reported on September 9 that Israel’s Civil Administration issued expropriation orders for the antiquity sites Deir Sam’an and Deir Kala’, located in Area C of the West Bank, northwest of Ramallah. According to Emek Shaveh, both sites are on privately-owned Palestinian property and next to Israeli settlements. The expropriation orders stated that the sites were being expropriated for the purpose of preservation and safeguarding archaeology and were the first expropriation orders by Israeli authorities for archaeological sites in the West Bank since 1986. Emek Shaveh said that Israeli authorities were “using archaeological sites as a pretext for barring Palestinians from sites in Area C.”

The NGO Regavim’s Preserving the Eternal Project criticized the PA for damaging historical sites or attempting to erase Jewish heritage in areas under the PA’s control as well as in Area C and for failing to fulfill its obligations under the Oslo Accords to “protect and safeguard all archaeological sites,” including ensuring freedom of access to them. Regavim stated in September that constant vandalism and looting at historical sites in the West Bank “will be exacerbated if jurisdiction is transferred to the Palestinian Authority, which is intent on obliterating the physical record of Jewish connection to the Land of Israel…The physical remains of biblical history will be decimated under Palestinian custodianship.” Regavim identified sites the PA failed to protect or allow free access to, including the ancient synagogue at Samu’a; Tel Aromah in Area B; Mount Ebal (Tel al-Burnat) in Area C; Fatzalis, straddling Areas B and C; Sebastia or Ancient Samaria; and Archilaus. According to media, Israeli forces shot and killed a 15-year-old protestor during clashes with Palestinian protestors in response to a tour of Tel Aromah organized by Regavim and the Samaria Regional Council in March.

The Israeli government retained its previous regulations regarding visa issuance for foreigners to work in the West Bank, regulations Christian institutions said impeded their work by preventing many foreign clergy and other religious workers from entering and working. The government continued to limit Arab Christian clergy serving in the West Bank to single-entry visas, which local parish leaders said complicated needed travel to other areas under their pastoral authority outside the West Bank or Jerusalem, such as Jordan. Clergy, nuns, and other religious workers from Arab countries said they continued to face long delays in receiving visas and reported periodic denials of their visa applications. The government stated visa delays or denials were due to security processing and visitors from states without diplomatic relations with Israel. The Israeli government said during the year it did not receive any applications from clergy from states that did not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel and that religious workers from all countries working in the West Bank received visas that allow multiple entries. Officials from multiple churches expressed concerns that non-Arab visa applicants and visa-renewal applicants also faced long delays. While Christian clergy generally were able to obtain visas, Christian leaders said Israel’s visa and permit policy adversely affected schoolteachers and volunteers affiliated with faith-based charities working in the West Bank. In recent years, Israeli authorities issued permits for some Christians to exit Gaza to attend religious services in Jerusalem or the West Bank and for Muslims from the West Bank to enter Jerusalem for Ramadan. Due to COVID-19, Israeli authorities did not issue permits to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to travel for Ramadan or Christmas during the year. The Israeli government said it did issue some permits for Gazan Christians to visit Israel and use Ben Gurion airport to travel abroad during Easter.

The Israeli NGO Gisha noted that while Israeli authorities did not issue permits to Gazans due to COVID-19, thereby essentially restricting them from being able to go to Israel or the West Bank except for urgent humanitarian cases, it permitted foreigners for much of the year to enter Israel for religious study and to attend weddings, funerals, and bat or bar mitzvahs. Furthermore, Israelis were able to move freely inside Israel as well as to and from settlements in the West Bank, including for religious worship and gatherings. Gisha said that even in previous years, religious travel from Gaza was extremely limited; no Muslims were issued permits for religious travel in 2019, according to Gisha and UN reports. In 2015, Israel issued 11,214 permits for Muslim worshippers to travel for Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, or Friday prayers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, which dropped to just 600 in 2017 and 2018, according to Gisha.

According to church officials, Israel continued to prohibit some Arab Christian clergy, including bishops and other senior clergy seeking to visit congregations or ministries under their pastoral authority, from entering Gaza. The Israeli government said it approved 64 of 83 requests during the year to visit Gaza for religious reasons from religious organizations and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, including for individuals from 19 nationalities, including Egypt and Jordan.

According to the NGO HaMoked, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits under the citizenship and entry law with no legal guarantee they could continue living with their families. There were also cases of Palestinian spouses of Palestinian residents living in East Jerusalem without legal status. Some Palestinian residents moved to Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the barrier to live with their nonresident spouse and children while maintaining Jerusalem residency. According to Christian religious leaders, this situation remained an especially acute problem for Christians because of their small population and consequent tendency to marry Christians from the West Bank or elsewhere (Christians who hold neither citizenship nor residency). A Christian religious leader expressed concern that this was a significant element in the continuing decline of the Christian population, including in Jerusalem, which negatively impacted the long-term viability of their communities.

According to NGOs, community members, and media commentators, factors contributing to Christian emigration included political instability; the inability to obtain residency permits for spouses due to the 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry; limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to building restrictions; difficulties Christian clergy experienced in obtaining Israeli visas and residency permits; loss of confidence in the peace process; and economic hardships created by the establishment of the barrier and the imposition of travel restrictions. The government stated such difficulties stemmed from the “complex political and security reality” and not from any restrictions on the Christian community.

While the law does not authorize the Israel Land Authority (ILA), which administers the 93 percent of the country in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners, in practice, foreigners were allowed to lease if they could show they would qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return. This public land includes approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. The application of ILA restrictions historically limited the ability of Muslim and Christian residents of Jerusalem who were not citizens to purchase property built on state land, including in parts of Jerusalem. In recent years, however, an increasing number of Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem have acquired property built on ILA-owned land. Arab citizens are allowed to participate in bids for JNF land, but sources stated that the ILA will grant the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab citizen of Israel wins a bid. Despite a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that the ILA Executive Council must have representation of an Arab, Druze, or Circassian member to prevent discrimination against non-Jews, there were no members from these groups on the council at year’s end.

On June 24, the Jerusalem District Court denied a request by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to block the transfer of three properties in Jerusalem’s Old City to Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish prosettlement organization, which signed a 99-year lease for the properties in 2004. The court’s decision followed similar ruling by the Supreme Court in 2019 and a lower court in 2017. The Patriarchate had argued that its official who signed the lease was not authorized to do so. The Church filed the district court lawsuit after the Supreme Court decision, stating it had new evidence of corruption and fraud involving the sale. Following the decision, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate released a statement saying it received the ruling with “surprise” and that “We believe the court erred in its decision and intend to launch an appeal at the Supreme Court.”

On July 7, 13 heads of churches and Christian communities in Jerusalem issued a joint statement that the court’s ruling on the three properties threatened the Christian presence in the city. The heads of the churches said that they stood united in their “commitment to safeguarding the historical status quo of the Holy Sites and rights of the churches which are universally recognized.” According to the statement, the case represented a “systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the holy city, to obstruct the Christian pilgrim route, and to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem.” The heads of the churches called on the Israeli government “to act in order to safeguard the integrity of the Christian heritage and patrimony in the Old City, as well as the holy sites and the rights of the residents of the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem.”

At year’s end, Christians held minister-level positions in three PA ministries (Finance, Health, and Tourism) and the cabinet-level office of Deputy Prime Minister for Public Information.

The PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly condemned killings and terrorist attacks in France “under the slogan of religion” following the beheading of a teacher who had displayed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a class on free speech. The ministry rejected the killing of any human being regardless of his religion, nationality, or race, and stated, “Religion is innocent from such crimes that completely contradict the Islamic tolerant teachings.” The ministry also rejected insulting religious figures, symbols, and teachings and called for the prohibition of such insults through changes to national laws.

On January 10, a Catholic church, St. John the Baptist Chapel, near Qasr al-Yahud, located on the banks of the Jordan River, opened for prayer for the first time since the 1967 Six-Day War. The Israeli and Jordanian Armies laid approximately 6,500 landmines around the church during the 1967 and 1973 wars, resulting in its closure. Between 2018 and April, a British NGO, the HALO Trust, and Israeli authorities worked to clear the area of more than 1,150 landmines. A Catholic Church official specifically thanked Israeli President Reuven Rivlin for his support of the restoration efforts.

Actions of Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other militant and terrorist groups continued to be active in Gaza. Hamas remained in de facto political control of Gaza.

On October 13, a group of approximately 15 gunmen associated with the PIJ terrorist organization kidnapped and beat three worshippers from a mosque east of Khan Younis in Gaza during dawn prayers. According to media and NGO reports, the assailants targeted the victims because of a PIJ factional dispute. The kidnappers released all three victims, two of whom suffered broken bones, later that morning. Hamas stated it launched an investigation into the incident.

Hamas leaders and other militant groups continued to call for the elimination of the State of Israel, and some called for the killing of “Zionist Jews” and advocated violence through traditional and social media channels as well as during rallies and other events.

Hamas also continued to enforce restrictions on Gaza’s population based on its interpretation of Islam and sharia, including a judicial system separate from the PA courts. Hamas courts occasionally prohibited women from departing Gaza due to ongoing divorce or family court proceedings, despite having Israeli authorization to travel. Media outlets reported the Hamas-affiliated Islamic University of Gaza required hijabs for all females. Gazan civil society leaders said Hamas in recent years had moderated its restrictions on dress and gender segregation in public.

Palestinians in Gaza reported interference by Hamas in public schools at the primary, secondary, and university levels. Hamas reportedly interfered in teaching methodologies or curriculum deemed to violate Islamic identity, the religion of Islam, or “traditions” as defined by Hamas. Hamas also interfered if there were reports of classes or activities that mixed genders. UNRWA, however, reported no Hamas interference in the running of its Gaza schools.

Christian groups reported Hamas generally tolerated the small Christian presence in Gaza and did not force Christians to abide by Islamic law. According to media accounts, Hamas continued neither to investigate nor prosecute Gaza-based cases of religious discrimination, including reported anti-Christian bias in private sector hiring and in police investigations of anti-Christian harassment. Media reports quoted Gazan Christians as saying that Hamas generally did not impede private and communal religious activities for the Christian minority in Gaza. Hamas continued to not celebrate Christmas as a public holiday in Gaza, unlike in the West Bank.

On May 12, Hamas member of the defunct Palestinian Legislative Council Marwan Abu Ras said in an address uploaded to YouTube by the Palestine Islamic Scholars, “The criminal Zionist enemies of Allah occupy the al-Aqsa Mosque. They defile it day and night, kill Muslims, and violate the sanctity of Muslim women and holy places. Hating them is an obligation, according to the sharia.”

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahhar, in an interview with Iran’s al-Alam TV discussing the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab states, said, “We cannot consider [normalization with Israel] to be ‘normal.’ It is a misleading term that is interchangeable with treason, or with stabbing the resistance in the back, or with betraying Allah and His Messenger. Particularly, and this is the central issue…This is primarily because it goes against what Allah revealed to the Prophet Muhammad…[The Quran says:] ‘Oh, believers do not…’ This is a total prohibition…‘Do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies…for they are allies of each other. Whosoever does so shall be counted as one of them.’ This means that normalization transfers anybody who normalizes with Israel from Islam to Judaism, from belief to heresy.”

In a July 3 interview on al-Aqsa TV, Nasser Maarouf of the Palestine Islamic Scholars Association said, “Millions of people were killed [in the two world wars], all because of these Jews, who ran wild, tyrannized the world, and spread corruption in it. Their corruption affects all walks of life. Look at the poverty all over the world. Look at the blood that is being spilled all over the world. Look at the honor of women being violated all over the world. If you check, you find that it is the Jews who are behind all that. They are the ones feeding all corruption on earth, and they are the ones financing it.”

In a rally in Gaza that was televised on July 9, Rajaa al-Halabi, head of the Hamas Women’s Movement, said, “These are the Jews. They are the ones who slayed the prophets, the ones who acted treacherously and violated [sanctities]…Indeed, my dear sisters, our conflict with the Zionist enemy is a matter of faith, not of borders. Needless to say, we will not make do with what we have here. We will not make do with partitioning the land and taking only a part of it. This land will be ours in its entirety, Allah willing, because our conflict with the Zionist enemy is an existential conflict, not a conflict about borders. This enemy, who came from all corners of the world, has no place here, but this is what Allah wanted for them… This is our fate, my beloved sisters – to be Allah’s hand on Earth, the hand that will finish off the Israelites, this Zionist enemy, Allah willing. Allah brought them here in droves, so that Palestine becomes their graveyard, Allah willing.”

Some Muslim students in Gaza continued to attend schools run by Christian institutions and NGOs.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity or nationality are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

There were incidents of deadly violence that perpetrators justified at least partly on religious grounds. Actions included killings, physical attacks and verbal harassment of worshippers and clergy, and vandalism of religious sites. There was also harassment by members of one religious group of another, social pressure to stay within one’s religious group, and anti-Semitic content in media.

According to local press and social media, some settlers in the West Bank continued to justify their attacks on Palestinian property, or price tag attacks, such as the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, vandalism of cars and buildings, arson, and slashing of tires as necessary for the defense of Judaism. According to the Times of Israel, on January 28, Israeli police opened an investigation into “an apparent hate crime” after a classroom in a school in the northern West Bank village of Einabus was set on fire. The attackers also left Hebrew graffiti on the school wall, apparently referencing the Israeli government’s then recent razing of the unauthorized outpost of Kumi Ori, which was established in contravention of Israeli law: “Only the enemy’s property should be destroyed. Regards from Kumi Ori.”

In late February, according to press reports, vandals damaged several cars in the village of Yasuf; Yesh Din reported that vandals, believed to be residents of nearby settlements, slashed the tires on 13 vehicles. Those responsible also sprayed graffiti on two buildings, a Star of David on one building, and writing on the other that said in Hebrew, “There will be war over Judea and Samaria.”

On June 11, the Times of Israel reported that a parked car in the village of Jamma’in had been set on fire during the night with Hebrew graffiti that said “the nation of Israel lives” sprayed on a neighboring building. The price tag attack came three days after 12 cars in the nearby village of Sawiya were vandalized and the same graffiti and a Star of David sprayed on a village wall. According to the press report, Yesh Din stated that during the three-month March to May period, 44 price tag attacks against Palestinian villages occurred, 21 involving violence against Palestinians and the remainder targeting property.

According to media reports, on July 27, arsonists set fire to the al-Bir wal-Ihsan Mosque in al-Bireh City in a suspected price tag attack. The arsonists spray-painted graffiti on the walls of the mosque that said, “Siege for Arabs and not Jews” and “The land of Israel is for the people of Israel.” Reuters said that the graffiti was a reference to “to a biblical, historical and political claim that includes the West Bank.” After the attack, then Israeli Minister of Economy Amir Peretz condemned the incident on Twitter, calling for “the criminals and hatemongers” responsible for the blaze in the city of al-Bireh to be brought to justice.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Israeli officials, including high-ranking politicians and senior officials from law enforcement bodies, have declared an unequivocal zero-tolerance policy towards the phenomenon of price tag offenses by prosettlement Israelis against Palestinians. The Nationalistic Motivated Crimes Unit of the Judea and Samaria Police District of the Israeli National Police is tasked with preventing and investigating ideologically based offenses in the West Bank and with supporting other police districts in the investigation of such crimes. The Israeli government maintained an interagency team overseeing law enforcement efforts in the West Bank related to incitement, “violent uprisings,” and “ideological crimes.”

The Israeli government said that several times during the year, graffiti was sprayed on Joshua’s Tomb in the Palestinian village of Kifl Hares in the West Bank.

On February 22, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued a statement that, according to press reports, “condemned” the February 21 gathering of thousands of Israeli settlers on land owned by the Patriarchate in Tayasir in the northern Jordan River Valley. The settlers gathered on the property without permission. The Patriarchate statement said that similar incidents had occurred in the past and that it “is very concerned not only from the settlers’ violations of its properties, but also from the lack of action by the Israeli authorities to put an end to such offenses.” According to media, the settlers gathered to signal support for annexation of the Jordan Valley.

According to members of more recently arrived faith communities in the West Bank, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, established Christian groups opposed the efforts of the recent arrivals to obtain official PA recognition because of the newcomers’ proselytizing.

Political and religious groups in the West Bank and Gaza continued to call on members to “defend” al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to state that burial of its members remained challenging since most cemeteries belong to churches. Jehovah’s Witnesses said the challenge was greatest in Bethlehem, where churches from the main traditions control most graveyards and refused access to them.

According to Palestinian sources, some Christian and Muslim families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip pressured their children, especially daughters, to marry within their respective religious groups. Couples who challenged this societal norm, particularly Palestinian Christians or Muslims who sought to marry Jews, encountered considerable societal and family opposition. Families sometimes reportedly disowned Muslim and Christian women who married outside their faith. Various Israeli and Palestinian groups continued to protest against interfaith social and romantic relationships and other forms of cooperation.

In a September 16 interview on a Lebanese television outlet, Nasser al-Laham, the editor in chief of the Ma’an News Agency, said that the Arab states “who normalize [their relations with Israel] believe – and I don’t know who planted this conviction in their brains – that the Israelis love them. They [Arabs] are clearly not well versed in the Bible, the Talmud, or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Al-Laham also stated, “Zionists do not love Arabs. The Zionists came to replace [the Arabs] and not to occupy them…They [Israelis] are after the billions of the Gulf.”

In late October, Hizb al-Tahrir and others organized largely peaceful protests in the West Bank to condemn perceived insults to Islam following the beheading of a teacher in France and another terrorist attack in response to the teacher displaying cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a class on free speech.

Christian clergy and pilgrims continued to report instances of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem harassing or spitting on them. In one incident in June, a Catholic friar reported being assaulted in public by three men wearing kippot (yarmulkes), including by being spit at and verbally attacked, and fearing imminent physical risk. When the attackers began physically assaulting the friar, bystanders intervened and forced the attackers to leave. According to the friar, police did not respond to telephone calls for assistance during the attack but recorded a complaint filed by the victim.

During the funeral of Iyad Halak, a special needs student who was fatally shot on May 30 by police officers, hundreds of mourners reportedly chanted “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of [the Prophet] Mohammed will return,” a taunt referring to the Muslim massacre and expulsion of the Jews of Khaybar in the seventh century. Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City fatally shot Halak, a Palestinian resident with autism, June 30 after he allegedly failed to follow police orders to stop. Police stated they believed Halak was carrying a “suspicious object.” Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed regret for the incident and called for a quick investigation. On October 21, the Department for the Investigation of Police Officers in the Ministry of Justice issued a statement that the prosecution intended to indict, pending a hearing, a police officer suspected of the shooting on charges of reckless homicide. According to the Ministry of Justice, investigators carefully examined the circumstances of the incident and determined that Halak had not posed any danger to police and civilians who were at the scene, that the police officer discharged his weapon not in accordance with police procedures, and that the officer had not taken proportionate alternative measures which were at his disposal.

On June 10, Women of the Wall and the Israel Religious Action Center filed a petition against Rabbi David Yosef of the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem demanding a disciplinary hearing following repeated statements in which he allegedly incited against and disparaged Women of the Wall. The case was pending at year’s end.

Authorities opened an investigation following a suspected arson and price tag attack against a mosque in the Beit Safafa neighborhood of Jerusalem on January 24. The press reported that the suspect left Hebrew graffiti on an outside wall of the building that appeared to be a reference to Kumi Uri, a settler outpost in which the IDF had demolished buildings earlier in the month.

The NGO Tag Meir continued to organize visits to areas where price tag attacks had occurred and to sponsor activities promoting tolerance in response to the attacks.

Although the Chief Rabbinate and rabbis of many ultra-Orthodox denominations continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site due to the ongoing halakhic debate about whether it is permissible or forbidden for Jews to enter the Temple Mount, some Orthodox rabbis continued to say entering the site was permissible. Many among the self-identified “national religious” Zionist community stated they found meaning in visiting the site. Groups such as the Temple Institute and Yaraeh continued to call for increased Jewish access and prayer there as well as for the construction of a third Jewish temple on the site. In some cases, Israeli police acted to prevent individuals from praying and removed them; in other cases reported by the Waqf, on social media, and by NGOs, police appeared not to notice the activity. According to local media, some Jewish groups escorted by Israeli police performed religious acts, such as prayers and prostration. Some Jewish visitors publicly noted that the National Police were more willing to permit them to engage in silent prayer. According to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, visits by activists associated with the Temple Mount movement decreased to 18,500 from 30,000 in 2019, largely due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Despite Israeli labor law, some foreign domestic workers in Jerusalem stated that some employers did not allow their domestic workers to take off their day of worship.

Bethlehem residents said political instability affected tourism, Bethlehem’s key economic sector. Christians also criticized the PA for failing to better protect their communities and way of life, which was under pressure from lack of economic opportunities and other drivers of emigration. Bethlehem has traditionally had the highest unemployment rate among West Bank cities, which sources stated was a factor compelling many young Christians to emigrate. Due to its heavy reliance on the tourism industry, COVID-19 had significant impacts on the local economy, which Christian leaders feared would lead to increased emigration. The local Chamber of Commerce estimated that unemployment rose from 26 percent just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to 50 percent at the end of the year, compared with 14.9 percent for the West Bank in the last quarter of the year. Community leaders estimated Bethlehem and surrounding communities were only 12 percent Christian in 2019, compared with more than 70 percent in 1950, and 23 percent in 1998.

On October 6, Haaretz reported that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were virtually no Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land and that the religious tourism sector was “silently collapsing” after a record-breaking year in 2019. The Vatican website AsiaNews reported that tourism revenues would be close to zero for Palestinian Christians. AsiaNews said that through August, the Christian community had lost approximately $320 million.

On June 19, the Catholic News Agency cited a poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research on behalf of the Philos Project, an NGO that advocates for Christians in the Near East, which found that Christians were leaving the West Bank because of economic distress and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nearly six in 10 Palestinian Christians (59 percent) cited economic hardship as the main reason they considered emigrating. The vast majority (84 percent) said they feared the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands by Israel; a similar share of Christians (83 percent) said they were concerned about both attacks by Jewish settlers and the denial of their civil rights by Israel. While Christian and Muslim Palestinians both said they might emigrate for economic reasons, the survey showed that Christians also felt unsafe or insecure, not just because of the threat of attacks by settlers, but from their Muslim neighbors. Nearly eight in 10 Christians (77 percent) said they were worried about radical Salafist groups “in Palestine.” A large minority (43 percent) stated they believed that most Muslims did not want them “in Palestine” and 44 percent believed that Christians were subject to discrimination when applying for jobs. The Philos Project stated that Palestinian Christians were twice as likely as Palestinian Muslims to emigrate. According to the NGO, Christians as a share of the Palestinian population fell from nearly 10 percent in 1922 to 6 percent in 1967, to just 1 percent of the population in 2020.

In a survey conducted by the Arab Center of Washington, D.C. and released in November, 80 percent of Palestinian respondents either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, “No religious authority is entitled to declare followers of other religions infidels.” The results were among the highest in the region, which had a 65 percent rate of agreement overall.

In a survey by a Dubai-based public relations firm in the first three months of the year that involved a team of international experts, 28 percent of Palestinians between the ages of 18 and 24 agreed that religion is “the most important” factor to their personal identity, compared with 40 percent overall for youths polled in the 17 Arab states included in the survey.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Senior White House and other U.S. officials publicly raised concerns about anti-Semitism by PA officials and more broadly in Palestinian society throughout the year. Senior White House officials and other U.S. officials repeatedly and publicly pointed out that Palestinian leaders did not consistently condemn individual terrorist attacks nor speak out publicly against members of their institutions, including Fatah, who advocated violence.

Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The embassy awarded grants to the Jerusalem Intercultural Center for an interreligious community economic development program in the Old City of Jerusalem. Additionally, the embassy presented a grant to the Interfaith Encounter Association to bring together three interfaith groups in Jerusalem’s Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods to meet with U.S. experts, coordinators, and fellow interfaith groups. The embassy also issued public statements condemning attacks on places of worship, including an attempted arson attack on the Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane.

On April 20 and 23, the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with Israeli government and civil society representatives to discuss increasing COVID-themed manifestations of anti-Semitic tropes against Israel and Jews, especially online. The Special Envoy and his counterparts agreed that increasing education, monitoring, legislation, and law enforcement could help combat this trend.

Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated a shared society for Arab and Jewish populations. Embassy officials advocated for the right of persons from all faiths to practice their religion peacefully, while also respecting the beliefs and customs of their neighbors.

Throughout the year, embassy officials used embassy social media platforms to express U.S. support for tolerance and the importance of openness to members of other religious groups.

U.S. government representatives met with representatives of a range of religious groups from Jerusalem, the West Bank, and when possible, the Gaza Strip. Engagement included meetings with Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, and Reform rabbis as well as representatives of various Jewish institutions; regular contacts with the Greek Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), and Armenian Orthodox patriarchates; and meetings with the Holy See’s Custodian of the Holy Land, leaders of the Anglican and Lutheran Churches, the Syrian Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and leaders of evangelical Christian groups as well as Muslim community leaders. U.S. government representatives also met with political and civil society leaders to promote tolerance and cooperation to combat religious prejudice. These meetings included discussions of the groups’ concerns about religious tolerance, access to religious sites, respect for clergy, attacks on religious sites and houses of worship, as well as concerns by local Christian leaders about ongoing Christian emigration from the West Bank and Gaza.

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