Orthodox Jews filmed spitting at Christians in Jerusalem’s Old City

A group of Orthodox Jews was filmed on Monday as they spat and shouted at Christian pilgrims carrying the Four Species through Jerusalem’s Old City.

The incident sparked public outcry, as it was not the first of its kind and took place on Sukkot – which Christians observe as the Feast of Tabernacles – drawing  thousands of Christian pilgrims annually to Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu harshly condemned any attack on religious believers on Tuesday: “We will show zero tolerance against those who harm worshipers,” he said, stressing, “we will take urgent steps against such actions.

“Offensive behavior toward worshipers is a desecration and is unacceptable. Israel is fully committed to safeguarding the sacred right of freedom of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths,” he added.Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau condemned the incident, stressing that “such unacceptable behaviors should not be associated with Jewish religious law in any way.”

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen issued an equally stern statement: “I condemn the ugly act of spitting on Christians and harming any person due to their religion or beliefs. This phenomenon does not represent the values of Judaism.

“Freedom of religion and tolerance are fundamental values in Israel,” he continued. “Hundreds of thousands of Christian tourists visit the Holy Land yearly to explore the sacred places important to them and us. I call upon all Israeli citizens to respect the traditions and beliefs of all those who enter the gates of Jerusalem, the holy city.”

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Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau condemned the incident, stressing that “such unacceptable behaviors should not be associated with Jewish religious law in any way.”

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen issued an equally stern statement: “I condemn the ugly act of spitting on Christians and harming any person due to their religion or beliefs. This phenomenon does not represent the values of Judaism.

“Freedom of religion and tolerance are fundamental values in Israel,” he continued. “Hundreds of thousands of Christian tourists visit the Holy Land yearly to explore the sacred places important to them and us. I call upon all Israeli citizens to respect the traditions and beliefs of all those who enter the gates of Jerusalem, the holy city.”

Other ministers and leaders, such as Minister of Diaspora Affairs Amichai Chikli and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion also spoke out.

“We must embrace people of all religions who visit Jerusalem,” Chikli stressed. “It is written in Isaiah, ‘for mine house should be called a house of prayer for all people.’”

The condemnations reached across the board into liberal community, including Labor Party head Merav Michaeli, who said that “we must condemn [such acts], and we will continue to respect all the nations.”

At least one far-right extremist, however, defended those who attacked the Christian visitors. Elisha Yered, who is the former spokesperson for MK Limor Son Har-Melech, wrote on Twitter that “the custom of spitting near churches or monasteries is an ancient Jewish tradition.” 

Israel must protect ‘all religious communities’

Yered is a police suspect for his alleged connection to the fatal shooting of Qusai Jamal Ma’atan, 19, during a violent altercation between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank in August.

He explained in his post on Tuesday that such attacks are a result of Christianity’s long persecution of Jews. 

“Perhaps under the influence of Western culture we have forgotten what Christianity is, but I think the millions of Jews who experienced the Crusades, the [Spanish] Inquisition, blood libel, and mass pogroms will never forget,” he wrote.

Monday’s attack occurred only one day after President Isaac Herzog reiterated Israel’s commitment to freedom of religion and worship in a video he produced for some 4,000 Christian visitors to the country in honor of the Feast of Tabernacles.

In the video, he tells Christians that “the State of Israel will always preserve freedom of religion and worship and sees you as welcome guests and brothers and sisters of ours.”

Herzog spoke against the backdrop of a series of anti-Christian attacks earlier this year, including one event near the Western Wall where ultra-Orthodox men shouted and spat on Evangelical Christians as they prayed for peace in Jerusalem. Although the incidents were isolated and were dealt with right away by the police, when coupled with vandalism and violence against other sects in the Old City and up North, there was concern that protests could erupt around the Feast of Tabernacles.

Last month, International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) President Juergen Buehler, whose organization plans the week-long Feast of Tabernacles celebration, said on a webinar that he feared anti-Christian sentiment was growing and that “I am concerned it could have an impact on the Feast [of Tabernacles].”

The incident on Monday fed into Buehler’s concern. 

On Tuesday afternoon, as the ICEJ hosted Israel Night at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena, around 20 protestors stood outside chanting “Christians out” and “Jews, do not enter this event.”

The event included several ministers, such as Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, a former chair of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. 

Moreover, a spokesperson for ICEJ told the Post that some right-wing leaders tried to get officials to denounce the feast, but to no avail.

Herzog told Christian followers that Israel will “insist on protecting all religious communities” and that this commitment “goes to the very heart of who we are as a Jewish and democratic state, and it is not something we will ever compromise on.”

He also praised the Christians for coming to Jerusalem and sharing their “fraternal love of the Jewish people.”

On Wednesday at 3 p.m., thousands of Christians are expected to take to the streets for the Jerusalem March. Visitors from more than 100 nations will dress in national costumes, carry signs quoting the Bible, and express their support for Jerusalem and Israel. Often, the marchers hand out national flags and candy.This is the 44th Feast of Tabernacles. Before COVID-19, close to 6,000 Christians would come to Israel for the occasion. During the pandemic, more than 7,000 took part online. As tourism has returned to Israel, the number of visitors is once again growing.ICEJ Vice President David Parsons said that among this year’s 4,000 visitors is a high-level delegation from Fiji, including the deputy prime minister, who flew into Israel on a chartered plane and will hold meetings around its upcoming move of the country’s embassy to Jerusalem.In addition, there are Christian visitors from Egypt and other countries in the Middle East.

He said, “Our Jewish tradition views this season during the harvest festival as a time of universality, when all people reach for divine abundance and blessing,” adding that in the Book of Zechariah, the “ingathering of the nations in Jerusalem” to celebrate Sukkot is described.

“Here, now, you are living out this vision,” the president said. “Today, we speak the same language of faith, language of blessing, language of peace, and language of love.”

Netanyahu also sent a video address to the Christians, inviting more “Christian friends [to] come to Jerusalem to celebrate with us the Feast of Tabernacles.”

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.





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