". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Saturday People, Sunday People and Americans at Risk

November 30, 2023

On November 29 in New York, the traditional lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center Square was violently disrupted by hundreds of protestors, many in Islamic garb, chanting “From the River to the Sea…” — a call for the destruction of Israel. At least two signs bearing Nazi swastikas were in full view. 

“The Christmas tree brings a message of peace, not conflict,” one frustrated tourist said. “That’s why we’re gathered here today, not to protest but to welcome in the holiday season!”

Unfortunately, far more than the Christmas holidays will be at risk as anti-Semitic, anti-Christian hatred continues to catch fire in the United States. Jews and Christians are clearly in the crosshairs of radical Islamists, not only in the Middle East and across the world, but also here at home.

Tony Perkins recently hosted a “Washington Watch” conversation about the ongoing Gaza War with retired Israel Defense Forces Major and Middle East expert Amir Tsarfati. Perkins explained, “When I chaired the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, we were looking at this rise of anti-Semitism in Western Europe. And historically speaking, Israel is the ‘canary in the coal mine.’”

Tsarfati agreed wholeheartedly. He went on to say that if we remain silent about what is happening to Jewish people all over the world, Christians will soon face the same kind of abuses. “In fact,” he pointed out, “those terrorists always say, ‘The Saturday people are first. The Sunday people are next.’ They use those terms to identify Jews and Christians. They don’t even hide it!”

Tsarfati’s remarks mirror my own research, reflected in my book “Saturday People, Sunday People.” His words expose the ominous fulfillment of that deadly Islamist threat, which appears in graffiti across the world. In Arabic it says, “On Saturday we kill the Jews, on Sunday we kill the Christians.”

In several Middle East countries, Jewish populations no longer exist — either driven out or killed. And today, Christian populations are fleeing for their lives in those same nations.

In Syria

In 1947, the Syrian Jewish population numbered around 15,000. As of 2022, only four Jews remained in Syria.

As the Jews vanished, according to The Syrian Observer, “… the number of Christians in Syria has fallen in a decade from one and a half million (10 percent of the population) before 2011 to about 300,000 today (less than 2 percent of the population).” 

Open Doors World Watch List ranks Syria as the 12th worst persecutor of Christians in the world.

In Iraq

“Iraq’s Jewish Community Dwindles to Fewer than Five,” France24 reported in 2021.

While Iraqi Jews have all but disappeared, Iraq’s Christian community is also dwindling. Iraqi Christians date back to the church’s first centuries. As recently as early 2021, The Associated Press reported, “Iraq was estimated to have nearly 1.5 million Christians before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.”

Today, “church officials estimate only a few hundred thousand, or even less, remain within Iraq’s borders.” More recently, violent assaults on clergy and other Christians have become an everyday occurrence, including bombings and church massacres.

Open Doors lists Iraq as the 18th worst persecutor of Christians in the world.

In Yemen

“Yemen’s Jewish Population, Once Over 50,000, Drops to Below 10,” Israel’s Haaretz reported in 2021.

Unlike the Jews, Yemen’s Christians have experienced some toleration of their traditional churches. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church continue to exist, despite shrinking memberships. They are far less vulnerable to abuse than Christian converts from Islam.

In Yemen, it is illegal to leave Islam and embrace Christianity, which means that accurate numbers of Yemeni Christians are difficult, if not impossible, to find. A Google search result states that Yemeni believers, “live in fear of persecution or charges of apostasy and so rarely declare their religious identities publicly. Today, the number of Yemeni Christians is estimated to be between 2,000 - 4,000. Until recently, four churches remained in the Aden governorate from the British colonial period.”

Yemen’s Saturday People are gone; Meanwhile, Yemen is the third worst persecutor of Sunday People in the world.

In Libya

The Jewish Virtual Library reports that there are no remaining Jews in Libya.

Though Libya had been home to a Jewish community for thousands of years, and though the Jews had lived under Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Italian, British, and Arab rule, no trace of this once-thriving community exists anymore.” 

As for the safety and security of today’s Libyan Christians? In May 2023, six Libyans were sentenced to death for converting to Christianity. According to The Guardian, “The six Libyans have been charged for circulating views that aim to ‘alter fundamental constitutional principles, or the fundamental structures of the social order,’ or overthrow the state…”

Open Doors explains that if Muslim background Libyans become Christians, “they are likely to face intense pressure and abuse from their family and the wider community to make them renounce their faith, or even be killed. Christians who publicly express their faith and try to share the gospel with others are likely to face arrest or retribution from extremist groups.”

Libya is the fifth worst persecutor of Christians in the world.

In Lebanon

In 1948, there were 20,000 Jews living in Lebanon; as of 2020, only 29 Jews remained there.

Brady Knox recently reported in the Washington Examiner, “In the mid-20th century, Lebanon was one of the wealthiest and most prosperous countries in the Middle East. Its capital, Beirut, was once known as the Paris of the Middle East. It was the only state in the Middle East where Christianity was dominant, at one point making up over 60% of the population.

But today, Lebanon’s Christians are persecuted. Knox writes that “the country is in free fall. … The more powerful and influential Hezbollah becomes in Lebanon, the less safe Lebanese Christians are.”

And What about America?

Beyond the Middle East, Jews and Christians live dangerously in most Muslim majority countries, most notably in Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan.

However, Amir Tsarfati’s concerns are particularly focused on the United States. Raging campus protests against Jews, and violent New York opposition to Christian holiday celebrations couldn’t illustrate his fears more powerfully.

“Right now, America must wake up!” he told Perkins. “Your southern border is so open, and I can’t even imagine how many Hezbollah and Hamas cells are already in your country right now. They’re testing you. And look, they’ve waited and waited and deceived us and the whole world. And then boom, one day they will strike.”

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council and Fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom. She lived in Israel for over ten years, and is the author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner."