Beliefnet
ATHENS, Greece, March 15 (AP) - The leader of Greece's Orthodox Church blamed Jews Thursday for a bitter dispute over government plans to stop recording religion on state identity cards.

``Do you know who is behind the issue of identity cards? The Jews. And for the first time we have evidence for this,'' Archbishop Christodoulos told the Athens daily To Vima, in an interview.

Jewish groups on Greece reacted cautiously to Christodoulos' remarks.

"Like all other religious minorities, the Jews of Greece are opposed recording religion on ID cards," said Moses Constantini, head of Greece's Central Board of Jewish Communities. "[But] we have not contributed to any climate of pressure."

Greece's Moslem, Jewish and Catholic minorities have long supported reforms that would prevent state officials recording citizens' religion, arguing that the practice could lead to discrimination. However, Christodoulos made no mention of the positions held by the other minorities.

A report issued by the European Commission on Racism and Intolerance also called on Greece to remove the religion entry ``in order to limit covert discrimination against members of non-Orthodox religions, who may in some cases be considered less Greek.''

Christodoulos is heading an all-out campaign against the government to stop the new ID cards from being issued. The church has organized street rallies and a national protest petition.

The archbishop said Premier Costas Simitis had been persuaded to change Greece's identity cards after an official visit to the United States in 1996 and a meeting with Jewish leaders there.

As proof, he cited a report on the website of the World Jewish Congress, which he said had recently been removed.

The clash between church and state has put strong pressure on the government in this country, where 97 percent of its 10.5 million native-born inhabitants are baptized Orthodox Christian.

The issue is also tied into the Greek government's effort to modernize the state and achieve full European Union membership. Church leaders are suspicious of the efforts are fearful it will lead to a diminishing of church power and designation as the official national religion.Church leaders say they have gathered about 2.5 million signatures in their petition drive for a referendum on the issue. The campaign ends on March 25, Greek independence day.

There are only about 5,000 Greek Jews remaining from a population of more than 80,000 before World War II. Many Greek Jews died in Nazi concentration camps or were killed by German occupiers.

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