Increase in attacks against Christians in Israel by ultra-Orthodox Jews

Increase in attacks against Christians in Israel by ultra-Orthodox Jews

Insults, desecration of Christian places, spitting in the direction of Christians, the violence of ultra-Orthodox Jews towards the latter has become a real social phenomenon in a few months and is no longer a matter of miscellaneous facts. A symposium entitled “Why do some Jews spit on Gentiles?” was held last week, where Jewish Israelis denounced these attacks.

“If you are a Christian living in the Middle East, there is only one place where you will be safe. There is only one place where the Christian community is thriving, flourishing, growing. This place is the State of Israel.”

These were the words of Prime Minister Benjamin to Christian Zionists in Rio de Janeiro in December 2018, recalls the Times of Israel in its edition of April 2, 2023.

There is a clash of images between speeches and the reality of the street, underlines the Israeli daily which recalls that the official account of Israel on Twitter showed the head of the digital diplomacy office within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, David Saranga , taking "a magical Christmas walk" in Jerusalem's Old City shortly before the holidays last year, as acts of hostility escalated against Christians in the country who clashed with the apathy of the authorities.

An accumulation of attacks

The month before the Saranga walk in November, two Israeli soldiers were arrested for spitting on the Archbishop of the Armenian Church and two other pilgrims during a procession. A few days after Christmas, in early January, police arrested two Jewish teenagers who had damaged graves in the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion. At the end of April, a Jew attacked priests with an iron bar at the tomb of the Virgin Mary in Gethsemane.

The spitting is not recent and dates back several decades, but it is multiplying as Brother Nikodemus already testified to this, a blessed monk, in La Croix in 2014 concerning the attacks near the Cenacle, where the last supper of Christ and his disciples took place:

“Spitting and insults on our way are daily.”

Alongside this testimony from Brother Nikodemus, La Croix mentions the desecration of tombs in a cemetery adjoining the monastery in October 2013, as well as the inscription in May of the same year of the words “Jesus is a monkey” and the degradation of several vehicles in May of the same year.

Many attacks are publicized, but many others pass under the radar, such as that against a handicapped priest who was spat on by two young Jews. This is due to the fact that "the police try to portray each assault as an isolated event, [...] to portray the attackers as psychically unstable", according to Amir Dan, spokesman for the Franciscan Major Superior in the Holy Land.

Nevertheless, the assaults were the subject of enough headlines for the social problem to be considered as such in the media, especially after the riot of May 28. That day, Orthodox Jews attacked hundreds of American evangelical tourists came to pray near the Wailing Wall, accusing them of wanting to convert the Jews, even though that was not the purpose of their stay.

If the question of supposed proselytism in this case is to be distinguished from that of the simple historical Christian presence in Israel, the various demonstrations and violence against persons and property come under the same idea, that of the foreignness of the Christianity and a vision of Christians as enemies through time.

At the end of March, hundreds of children from Catholic schools in Jerusalem took part in the traditional parade along the Via Dolorosa, as they do every year during the 40 days of Lent. This time around, they all wore red headscarves with the image of a statue of Christ smashed in February by an American Jewish tourist in the Church of the Flagellation, the second station of the Stations of the Cross.

The students were accompanied by the two most influential Catholic religious in the region, Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa and the Major Superior of the Holy Land, Francesco Patton. Speaking, the latter denounced not only this desecration, but the violence in general:

“We are horrified and hurt by the numerous incidents of violence and hatred that have recently targeted the Catholic community in Israel. We expect and urge the Israeli government and police to act decisively to tackle this serious phenomenon.”

For his part, Father Matthew, secretary to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III, told The Times of Israel of his lack of hope:

“Nothing will change, until someone gets killed.”

A symposium held by Israeli Jews to denounce anti-Christian violence

On June 16, a colloquium entitled “Why do some Jews spit on Gentiles?” was held in Jerusalem. [non-Jews, Ed]. In front of an audience of many Christian religious in ecclesiastical dress, dIsraeli Jewish scholars have tried to alert public opinion to the increase in violence.

During this meeting, Yonatan Moss, professor of comparative religions at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem first observed an increase in the number of Jews spitting on Christians, before asserting that it was of an inversion of the relationship between the two communities in the Middle Ages, but that nothing in Jewish law justifies such behavior:

“But now, before our eyes, the table is turning and the victims are becoming the executioners. The multiplication of these acts is accompanied by the passivity of the authorities: we want to act to help change the daily life of Christians in Jerusalem.”

Moreover, the authorities in Jerusalem showed no sympathy with regard to the symposium which, initially planned in the Museum of the Tower of David, had to be moved to the seminary of the Armenian patriarchate, a little further, in due to political pressure on the initiative of Arieh King, one of the seven vice-mayors of the municipality, already at the head of the demonstration on May 28.

During the symposium, images of Jews of all ages, of both sexes, alone or with their families, were projected spitting in the direction of Christian clerics. Attacks condemned even by senior Jewish leaders such as the Sephardic rabbi Shlomo Amar who, although he did not take part in the conference, spoke on the subject after the protests against evangelical tourists:

“We were sorry to hear from non-Jewish clerics that a number of young Jews and some who claim to fear God are persecuting them with curses, blasphemies and more as they walk the streets of the city. There is no doubt that irresponsible people, who do not respect the Torah and its ways at all, have acted in this way. We announce that such behavior is strictly prohibited.”

The conference organizers have set up a telephone line and a website, the Religious Freedom Data Center to list cases of aggression in order to report them. A lawyer recalled that justice condemns these behaviors if they are proven and that an investigation leads to an indictment.

Jean Sarpedon

Image credit: Shutterstock / Nina Mikryukova

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