by David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman
The recent reports of Jews attacking Christians in Israel are real.
There indeed has been a surge in Jewish harassment and assaults on Christians and church properties in Israel since the start of the year.
For instance, a Jewish man toppled and damaged a statue of Jesus in the Church of the Flagellation on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City; the Tomb of the Virgin Mary was vandalized on the Mount of Olives; a monastery in the Armenian Quarter was defaced with offensive anti-Christian graffiti (“Death to Christians”, etc.); several gravestones were flattened and smashed in a Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion; an Orthodox Jewish man was arrested for throwing a rock through a window of the Upper Room on Mount Zion; and Israeli settlers reportedly set upon an American Christian tour group at an Armenian restaurant in the Christian Quarter, leaving behind what many described as a battlefield.
There also has been an increase in Orthodox Jews spitting at robed Christian clerics in the Old City. This was confirmed by an Israeli TV reporter Yossi Eli with Channel 13, who put on a traditional brown cloak of the Franciscan friars and was spat on five times in the five minutes while walking through the Old City streets.
Evangelicals and Messianic Jews were confronted by angry, violent protesters at a global prayer gathering on Pentecost Sunday at the Southern Steps to the Temple Mount and a Messianic worship concert in the Pavilion in western Jerusalem. Video footage confirms the eyewitness reports that Jewish protesters were screaming in the faces of the attendees, even pushing, knocking down, hitting, and kicking some attendees.
Although there have been numerous past instances of Jews spitting at Christian clerics in the Old City and staging menacing protests outside Messianic congregations, it is rare to see so many Jewish attacks in rapid succession in so many places in such an open, brazen manner.
Historically, Christians here in the Holy Land and wider Middle East have suffered much more persecution from Muslims, including physical attacks, rapes, forced marriages, and property thefts. However, local Arab Christians have tended to remain silent about these abuses lest they suffer Islamic reprisals. Yet when they are harassed or attacked by Jews, they are very vocal about it which seems to be an imbalance in their responses.
Nonetheless, there has been a dramatic upswing in Jewish harassment of Christians of all backgrounds and denominations.
Who and Why?
There appear to be two main culprits behind these attacks, the first being a small segment of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, and the second a radical fringe of the National Religious camp.
There are many ultra-Orthodox Jews residing in the Jewish Quarter and Mea Shearim neighbourhoods in Jerusalem and some hold a disdain for Christians, particularly the distinctly garbed Christian clerics and nuns they run into every day while traversing the narrow streets of the Old City.
There also are several very active anti-missionary groups, such as Yad l’Achim and its competitor Or l’Achim, who ardently oppose assimilation, especially Jews marrying Arabs, as well as any proselytizing of Jews. Many of the protesters at the recent Evangelical prayer event and Messianic worship concert came from these anti-missionary groups.
Meanwhile, within the National Religious stream, there is a militant fringe bent on maintaining a strong Jewish majority in the Land, even to the point of wanting to push out Arabs and Christians. Many are followers of the Lehava group, a remnant of the banned Kahanist movement now led by Bentzi Gopstein which is stridently anti-Arab, anti-gay and anti-Christian. They have a long record of assaults, stabbings, and burning churches and symbols of co-existence.
Itamar Ben Gvir, the current Minister of Internal Security who oversees the national police force, grew up in this fringe movement and later as a lawyer defended several Lehava followers accused of murder, assault, arson, incitement and other crimes.
The majority of Israel’s current 64-seat governing coalition is from the Religious Right – either ultra-Orthodox or National Religious – and it does appear that some of their constituents feel emboldened to now carry out attacks on Christians thinking that Ben Gvir and perhaps others in the government will have their backs. This assessment is bolstered by the fact that the recent wave of attacks essentially started around the time the new government came to power in late December 2022.
Israeli Leaders Respond
A number of senior Israeli leaders have condemned the spate of Jewish attacks on Christians, led by President Isaac Herzog. He visited the Stella Maris monastery in Haifa last week alongside the national Police Commissioner and strongly denounced the attacks.
“In recent months we have seen very serious incidents against the Christian denominations in the Holy Land, our brothers and sisters, Christian citizens who feel attacked in the places of prayer, in the cemeteries, on the street,” said Herzog. “… This phenomenon needs to be uprooted, and I am very grateful to the Israel Police and the enforcement agencies for taking this issue seriously… We must respect the members of all religions. We have committed to this since the dawn of our existence. This is the most basic commandment of ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’”
The deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, also has spoken out publicly against the harassment of Christians.
In May, Israel’s Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar joined in by condemning these anti-Christian actions in a rare English-language statement: “Irresponsible people who are not at all observant of the Torah and its ways did this. We announce that such behaviour is strictly forbidden.”
Jerusalem city officials and police commanders also have met with bishops and patriarchs and other local Christian leaders to try to address their grievances.
How Should Christians Respond?
At the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, we have long espoused the need for Christians to be more aware of the long, tragic history of Christian antisemitism, and to be sensitive to Jewish concerns and fears.
We also must recognize that these attacks are largely coming from radical fringe agitators, while most Israelis welcome Christian support and Christian visitors.
We also are admonished by Jesus himself to “love your enemies,” to “turn the other cheek,” and to “rejoice” when we are persecuted for his sake. This is certainly a test of our professed love for Israel, but the Lord can empower us to indeed love them unconditionally.
The ICEJ did speak out recently about the dangers posed by the Lehava group in particular, due to their violent history and after seeing their hatred and anger up close for ourselves. We just do not want to see anyone get seriously hurt, or worse. But we also will continue to have grace towards the Jewish people as a whole.
Indeed, the Bible is clear that Christians should respect and befriend the Jews. Genesis 12:3 says we should “bless” the offspring of Abraham. Isaiah 40 urges us to “comfort” the people of Israel. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 11, adds that we must “show them mercy!” So, we have biblical commands to stand with Israel and be gracious to the Jews. Therefore, we should not condition our support for Israel on whether or not these attacks end. And we still trust Israeli leaders to confront this problem directly, knowing it only makes it harder for Israel to win friends abroad if the attacks persist. Ultimately, we view this as a moment to show the true face and character of Jesus to His own people by demonstrating mercy and grace to them. May we do so with sincere hearts and complete confidence that God will complete His redemptive work among His people.
Click here to watch this CBN report where ICEJ Vice President and Senior Spokesman David Parsons was recently interviewed about the increasing harassment of Christians by Jews in Israel.
Image credit: icej.org