JERUSALEM — Calling Israeli Christians who are trying to distance themselves from their Arab identity a "small marginal minority," the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem reaffirmed their identity as Palestinian Arabs.

The Catholic leaders' statement comes in response to a campaign by the  Galilee-based Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum whose members define themselves as Christian rather than Arab and an effort by a member of the Israeli Knesset to introduce legislation that would distinguish between Christians and Muslims serving on an equal opportunity committee that addresses workplace discrimination.

Forum members are working on a variety of fronts, including the recruitment of Christians, to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces despite being exempt by the government and the formation of a Christian political party.

"We, the heads of the Catholic Church in Israel, would like to clarify that it is not the right or the duty of the Israeli civil authorities to tell us who we are," the leaders said in the statement posted April 4 on the official website for Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land May 24-26.

"In fact, most of our faithful in Israel are Palestinian Arabs. They are obviously Christians too. They are also citizens of the State of Israel. We do not see any contradiction in this definition of identity: Christian Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of the State of Israel," the statement said.

"We address our words to all Christian Palestinians, whether in Israel or in Palestine and wherever they are in the world. They are, all, wherever they are, Palestinians and Christians and citizens," it said.

The few who support the campaign "whether they do so out of self-interest, fear, dreams of having full equality" cannot pretend to speak for Christian Palestinians in Israel, the leaders said.

"This campaign clearly has as its aim to divide Christians from their Muslim compatriots. However, it is equally dangerous because it will divide Christians among themselves even further," they added.

"If the Knesset indeed seeks the good of the citizens of Israel, it should invest every effort to legislate laws that remove discrimination, whether it be against Jews or Arabs, Christians, Muslims or Druze. In creating a society that unites all citizens in equality and strives for justice and peace, there will remain no reason to fear for anybody and Israelis and Palestinians, Christians, Muslims and Druze, can live together in mutual respect and dignity, working together to build a better future," the leaders said.