Tuesday 20 June 2023

This Serious Phenomenon

Michael Gove and Keir Starmer, take heed to Mazal Mualem:

There have been multiple verbal and physical attacks by Jews since the beginning of the year against Christians and Christian sites in Jerusalem in what has become a worrying phenomenon. Hate crimes in Jerusalem are nothing new, but they have generally been treated as a fringe occurrence. That perception has changed in the last few months.

Why did two young Jews spit at a disabled priest upon leaving the Greek Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem’s Old City? Why did they threaten another priest who was trying to help their victim with pepper spray? What caused a young Jew to enter the Tomb of the Virgin Mary on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives with an iron bar and to threaten worshippers with it?

Tag Meir, an anti-racism organization, documented the two events that took place just days apart in March. The group’s chair Gadi Gvaryahu is convinced that these attacks can be attributed to the current rightwing-religious coalition.

Gvaryahu, who documents hate crimes against Christians and Muslims and tracks the authorities’ responses to them, told Al-Monitor he believes that this influence can explain why this year and especially over the last few weeks there has been a disturbing rise in the number of violent attacks and incidents of vandalism targeting Christian clergy, pilgrims and institutions. Victims have been jostled and spat at, religious symbols and icons were defaced and inflammatory graffiti appeared near Christian institutions. Most of these attacks have taken place in Jerusalem’s Old City, near churches and monasteries.

Tag Meir was founded to combat racism perpetrated by Jews against members of other faith groups, explained Gvaryahu. It's very concerned about the uptick in violence. Over the last few months, the list of incidents appearing on his desk has grown long.

Gvaryahu told Al-Monitor that most Knesset members from the Jewish Power party, headed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, advocate for the segregation of Jewish and Arab mothers in maternity wards. They believe that Jews are forbidden from renting or selling apartments to Arabs and that there is no such thing as Jewish terrorists.

He identifies Jewish Power as a party that believes in “Jewish superiority,” an idea that endorses hate crimes and so-called “price tag” attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and against Christians in Israel, especially Jerusalem.

“The far right considers Christians to be ‘idolaters,’ while surprisingly, Muslims pose less of a problem, at least religiously. This explains the dramatic rise in hate crimes against Christians in Jerusalem and Israel in general since January 2023. The current coalition also explains a similarly dramatic rise in the number of attacks against Palestinians in Judea and Samaria at the same time,” says Gvaryahu.

Laura Wharton is a representative of Meretz in Jerusalem’s city council. She told Al-Monitor that she recently joined Gvarahu on a visit to several churches recently targeted and heard eyewitness testimony. She reported on her findings to the commander of the Jerusalem police and spoke about the issue with Jerusalem’s mayor.

Rabbi Shlomo Ammar, chief rabbi of Jerusalem, is also concerned about the attacks on Christians. He recently took the unusual step of releasing a scathing letter against Jews who attack Christians.

The letter, written in English, reads, “We were sorry to hear from non-Jewish clerics that a number of young Jews and some who pretend to be G-d-fearing, persecute them with curses, blasphemies and more, as they walk the streets of the city. No doubt, irresponsible people who are not at all observant of the Torah and its ways did this. We announce that such behavior is strictly forbidden.”

More rabbis sense an urgent need to stop this phenomenon, which threatens to damage to Israel’s image and have a negative impact on tourism, especially in the age of social media. Videos of Jews spitting at priests and vandalizing Christian religious symbols have been spreading quickly all around the world.

“Jerusalem’s economy cannot survive without tourists,” warns Yossi Patel, the incoming director general of the Ministry of Tourism. In a letter to Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon, he wrote, “This insanity has been normalized in our country. We need to confront this and ensure that the perpetrators face the law. It will hurt us. They are spitting in the faces of Jerusalemites who make their living from tourism. How would we respond if people spat at us because we are Jews? They are spitting in the face of Israel, and in its image and status around the world.”

On May 28 demonstrators including Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Aryeh King recently protested against Christians visiting the Western Wall. They carried a banner reading, “Missionaries, Go Home!” According to some reports, the mood at the site was tense and seemed on the edge of violence.

King told Al-Monitor that it is important to distinguish between attacks on random Christian pilgrims and demonstrations against missionaries.

“The second phenomenon is of people who take action against missionaries,” he said. “I am one such person, and I am proud of that. We were demonstrating against that. We are talking about Christians who buddy up to members of the Knesset and other Jews, saying, ‘We love Israel.’ Their whole purpose is to cause Jews — and especially Jews in Israel — to leave their religion. I took part in the protest. There was no violence. We didn’t spit at or otherwise hurt anyone. I take part in activities against missionaries on a daily basis. I see it as my mission.”

Father Francisco Patton, the Vatican’s Custodian of Christian Sacred Sites in the Holy Land, expressed his concern in an interview with Al-Monitor. “I am very concerned as I watch the rise in acts of violence and hatred against Christians. Not a week goes by without Christians being heckled and spat at, graffiti, vandalism and other forms of harassment,” he said. “Responsibility for reining in this phenomenon lies with the Israeli authorities, including law enforcement. They know what to do, but they do not want to put an end to this serious phenomenon.”


  1. Not a word from the National Conservatives.

    1. Like the neoconservatives before them, they cannot countenance Christianity in the Middle East, and especially not in Palestine.