Israel leaders finally react to escalation of anti-Christian attacks by Jewish settlers

Middle East Monitor  /  October 4, 2023

Israeli leaders have reacted to universal condemnation of the surge in anti-Christian hate crime carried out by Jewish settlers in Jerusalem and the Occupied West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with members of his far-right cabinet, who are accused of fuelling anti-Christian hostility, finally condemned the settlers after a video of Jews spitting at Christians in Jerusalem went viral.

“Israel is totally committed to safeguard the sacred right of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths,” Netanyahu said in a statement, written in English on the social media site X. “I strongly condemn any attempt to intimidate worshippers, and I am committed to taking immediate and decisive action against it.”

In a second tweet, Netanyahu emphasized that “Derogatory conduct towards worshipers is sacrilege and is simply unacceptable. Any form of hostility towards individuals engaged in worship will not be tolerated.”

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, David Lau, also responded saying: “I strongly condemn harming any person or religious leader,” adding that these “abhorrent” behaviours “must, of course, not be associated in any way with the Jewish halakha (Jewish law).” Several other Israeli ministers have also condemned the spitting incident.

Critics, however, are unconvinced about the sincerity of the condemnation from Israeli leaders, arguing that they are responsible for fuelling ant-Christian hostility. “What happened with rightwing

religious nationalism is that Jewish identity has been growing around anti-Christianity,” Yisca Harani, a Christianity expert and founder of an Israeli hotline for anti-Christian assaults, is reported saying in The Guardian. “Even if the government doesn’t encourage it, they hint that there will be no sanctions.”

The incident, which was caught on video, is said to be just the tip of the iceberg and the only reason why Israeli condemned the incident is because it went viral. Attacks on Christians have surged. According to Jewish News, a report by the Religious Freedom Data Centre, which documents anti-Christian attacks, says that 30 assaults have been reported to the hotline between 16 June and mid- August, alone.

In January, two religious Jews were caught on video vandalizing 28 tombstones at the Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery. In March, the Greek Orthodox Church condemned a “heinous terrorist attack” against an Archbishop who was physically attacked at the church at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem.

Israeli leaders have also tried to portray the rise in anti-Christian hate crime down to a small minority of Jewish extremists, a view that is completely at odds with history. With some 11 per cent of the total population during the British Mandate, Palestinian Christians were the second largest community, behind Palestinian Muslims who made up 78 per cent.

The vast majority of Christians were expelled during Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947/48 and in the subsequent waves of expulsion that followed.  There are roughly 15,000 Christians in Jerusalem today, the majority of them Palestinians who consider themselves living under occupation.