Attacks on Christians in Israel Test Our Professed Love
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, and the list of these attacks is getting rather long.
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. Recently, Israeli TV reporter Yossi Eli with Channel 13 put on a traditional brown cloak of the Franciscan friars and was spit on five times in just five minutes while walking through the Old City streets.
And it is not just traditional Christians and historic church sites under assault, but Evangelicals and Messianic Jews were confronted by angry, violent protesters at two recent events in Jerusalem—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 of Christians and Messianics that Jewish protesters were screaming in their faces and pushing, knocking down, and even hitting and kicking some attendees. The leaders of the Jewish protesters included Jerusalem city councilman Arieh King and militant Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein.
Although there have been numerous past instances of Jews spitting at Christian clerics in the Old City and staging menacing protests outside Messianic congregations, there is something of a “Man Bites Dog” element to these recent incidents because it is so 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 not only physical attacks but also rapes, forced marriages, and property thefts. Arab Christians have tended to remain silent about these abuses lest they suffer Islamic reprisals. Yet when they are harassed or attacked by Jews, the local Arab Christians are very vocal about it, so there does seem to be an imbalance in their responses.
Nonetheless, there has been a dramatic upswing in Jewish harassment of Christians of all backgrounds and denominations, leading to the urgent questions: Who is behind this? And why?
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
fringe of the National Religious camp.
There are many ultra-Orthodox Jews residing in the Jewish Quarter and Mea Shearim neighborhoods 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. Added to that are the many turf battles between Jews, Christians, and Muslims for coveted plots throughout the cramped Old City.
Within Israel’s wider ultra-Orthodox community, several active anti-missionary groups exist, 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.
Most 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
Several 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. “I view this phenomenon extremely seriously. It is unacceptable in any way. 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 neighbor as yourself.’”
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen made similar comments during a visit to the Vatican in July.
The deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, also has spoken out publicly against the harassment of Christians, and worked to get prominent Israeli rabbis to do the same.
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 We Respond?
The question now is how Christians should respond to this increased phenomenon of Jews harassing and attacking Christians.
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 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 toward 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.
The ICEJ’s David Parsons was recently interviewed by CBN about the increasing harassment of Christians by Jews in Israel. Watch this special report.
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