Jewish-Israeli Christianophobia Emboldened by the Most Racist and Fundamentalist Israeli Government Ever
The current Israeli government, the state’s most far-right, fundamentalist and openly racist ever, has emboldened Israeli Jewish fundamentalists’ racist attacks on Palestinians, whether Muslim or Christian, and on Palestinian homes, fields, work places, and places of worship. Islamophobia in Jewish-Israeli society, which is rampant and is further fanned by anti-Palestinian Jewish and Christian Zionist groups in the U.S. and Europe, demands urgent attention but is still relatively better covered in comparison with Israeli anti-Christian racism. This compilation of news items focuses on the latter, Jewish-Israeli anti-Christian racism, sampling some of the older and the newer attacks on Christian churches, priests, cemeteries across historic Palestine (the 1967 occupied territory and the pre-1967 areas).
“Death to the Christians” has always been part of ultra-Orthodox Jewish-Israeli groups' rallying calls in their Christianophobic attacks on Palestinian Christians and their holy places but censorship and threats of fraudulent smears of antisemitism have kept these racist attacks under the international mainstream radar for the most part. Now this is changing.
This is a recent photo from April 2023:
Graffiti on the walls of the Armenian monastery in Jerusalem's Old City that reads “Death to Christians” (Photo courtesy)
But this photo of a typical Jewish-Israeli Christianophobic attack is from 2013:
A Border Police guard stands next to anti-Christian graffiti reading in Hebrew, “Jesus is a monkey” on the Church of the Dormition, in Jerusalem on May 31, 2013. (Flash90)
These racist attacks, many carried out in occupied Jerusalem’s Old City, cannot be simply considered one dimension of general Israeli anti-Palestinian racism, as they do not discriminate between Palestinian and other Christians. Attacks on churches have also not discriminated between churches under Palestinian control and those under the auspices of European governments. The only Christians largely exempted from these racist attacks are evangelical Christian Zionists who, as explained below, are deeply antisemitic yet strongly allied with Israel’s far-right leadership.
The UN Security Council coined the term “Christianophobia” to describe anti-Christian racism and hate in a statement issued in February 2023.
This compilation -- which lets the evidence speak for itself, without commentary -- aims at shedding a bright light on anti-Christian racism as an important dimension of Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid against Palestinians that has largely escaped scrutiny or even coverage in the mainstream media, even in the predominantly Christian Western world.
It does not, however, dive into the intricate history of this phenomenon, which includes centuries of Christian European anti-Jewish racism, hate and violence that culminated in the genocide of millions of Jewish Europeans in the Holocaust. The main premise of the report is that no history can justify racializing any community or validate racial attacks and bigotry by anyone against it.
Jewish-Israeli anti-Christian racism, deeply rooted in Israeli society, has been emboldened by the current far-right government, the most racist and fundamentalist in Israel’s history. Days ago, German Catholic abbot Nikodemus Schnabel, while accompanied by a German government minister during a tour of the Western Wall in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem, was told by an Israeli security guard to cover his cross because it is “inappropriate” and this “is a Jewish place, and you need to respect the place.”
In parallel, successive far-right Israeli governments led by Netanyahu have systematically built strong alliances with some of the world’s most egregious antisemitic leaders, groups, and politically powerful constituencies, most notably evangelical Christian Zionists. “The basis of the Israeli-evangelical relationship — and so, too, evangelical support for using Israelis to dispossess Palestinians — is a belief that God gave Palestine to the Jews, and so Jews should be in Palestine. So far, so simple. But the “yikes” moment of the Israeli-evangelical love-in is that the Jews being in Palestine is seen as precondition for an Armageddon to rain down on earth, exterminating Jews and other non-converts to evangelism while bringing the return of Christ in the apocalyptic Second Coming found in Revelation, the final book of the Bible.”
Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz analyzed this phenomenon of official Israeli partnership over the years with antisemitic groups worldwide, even governments that are engaged in some degree of Holocaust denial, saying, “for the first time in its history, Israel is putting the sensibility and interests of Jewish communities on the back burner. Israel and its government have even shown a willingness to desacralize the memory of the Shoah and make deals with open or hidden anti-Semites.”
Joshua Shanes, professor of Jewish studies at the College of Charleston, traces such Zionist alliances with antisemites all the way back to the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl. He writes, “This precedent is being pushed to scandalous new extremes by Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters, who are increasingly allying with anti-Semites and promoting anti-Semitism, even as they cynically claim to be its chief victim. To pull this off, they are redefining ‘anti-Semitism’ to mean opposition to Netanyahu’s policies and ‘Jews’ to mean his supporters. This strategy not only abuses history, it endangers the Jewish people by legitimizing real anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic regimes.”
The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor wrote in 2018, “Netanyahu has courted new friends. These include Orban and Salvini, two European leaders who represent a hardening nationalist axis on the continent and have vowed political warfare against its liberal establishment. At home, Orban has been criticized for hailing Nazi collaborators and embracing anti-Semitic dog whistles in his campaigning; Salvini is coy about Italy’s fascist past and in his tweets recently nodded to the late dictator Benito Mussolini — who presided over the decimation of Italy’s Jewish population. Both grandstand over the threat of immigration, particularly the entry of Muslims, whom they openly view as a cultural menace.”
The Israeli far-right government’s emboldening of two parallel racisms, anti-Jewish racism by Christian fundamentalist and neo-fascist tendencies, and anti-Christian racism by Israeli Jewish fundamentalist tendencies that are now represented in senior positions in government, is an ominous threat to Christians in Palestine, to Jewish communities in the West, and to millions of others worldwide.
An in-depth analysis of the current Israeli government can be read here.
In this compilation, we focus only on the ongoing but recently escalating Jewish-Israeli anti-Christian racist attacks, an under-reported form of racism that must be condemned and countered like all other forms, by promoting accountability, freedom, justice and equality for all.
Here are 17 examples of this ugly anti-Christian racist phenomenon:
(1) A Conference at the Open University of Israel was titled: "Why Do (Some) Jews Spit on Gentiles?" (Jun 2023)
Dr IRIS SHAGRIR (The open University of Israel): “What interests us most is the fact that there is a contrast with the spitting phenomenon in Europe from many years ago when Jews were a small minority. It was a kind of defense, a kind of demonstration of courage against the act of humiliation they were they were suffering. What we are interested in today is the reversal that has happened here in Israel, and it happens here every day, because the Jews, who are the majority of the population, are the ones who actually perpetrate this action.”
The Israeli far-right government decided to boycott the conference.
It's a highly unusual decision. Israel's Foreign Ministry is the main government agency tasked with strengthening relations with the Christian world and Israel's ties with the different churches.
The current Israeli government — the most right-wing in the country's history — includes far-right and ultranationalist ministers who have expressed Jewish supremacist views. Some of the supporters of these far-right parties are also known for their anti-Christian activities.
(2) Israeli Police Violently Beat Several Holy Fire Worshippers Trying to Defy Capacity Limits (Apr 2023)
Many trying to get to the church – built on the site where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected – were thrilled to mark the pre-Easter rite in the city where it all started. But for the third consecutive year, Israel’s strict limits on event capacity resulted in tense confrontations between worshipers and police, sometimes erupting in violent arrests of participants. …
Footage showed Israeli police dragging and beating several worshippers, thrusting a Coptic Priest against the stone wall and tackling one woman to the ground. At least one older man was whisked, bleeding, into an ambulance.
(3) Holy Land Christians say attacks rising in far-right Israel (Apr 2023)
JERUSALEM (AP) — The head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land has warned in an interview that the rise of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government has made life worse for Christians in the birthplace of Christianity.
The influential Vatican-appointed Latin Patriarch, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, told The Associated Press that the region’s 2,000-year-old Christian community has come under increasing attack, with the most right-wing government in Israel’s history emboldening extremists who have harassed clergy and vandalized religious property at a quickening pace.
(4) Jewish radicals attack Jerusalem’s Church of Gethsemane during Sunday’s worship (Mar 2023)
Other recent incidents include the Christmas week takeover of Greek Orthodox land by settlers backed by Israeli police and the New Year’s Day desecration of more than 30 graves at the Protestant Cemetery on Mt Zion. Toward Freedom reported that in January, an Armenian Christian restaurant in the Old City’s Christian Quarter was attacked by a group of about 30 persons “wearing clothes indicating Jewish identity” and that in February, a Jewish tourist toppled a wooden statue of Jesus in a church in the Old City. Vatican News reported that last week “a Catholic school run by the Franciscan Sisters of Nazareth was targeted by gunshots fired by two unknown men.”
Ramzi Khoury, Chairman of Palestine’s Higher Presidential Committee on Church Affairs, also condemned the attack, saying, “The extremist and fascist Israeli government is the sponsor of all the crimes committed by settlers against the Palestinian people and against Islamic and Christian sanctities.” Khoury also pointed out that this and other recent attacks coincide with the imminent arrival of the holy month of Ramadan and the Christian observance of Holy Week and Easter.
(5) The Orthodox Christian Patriarchate calls on the international community to protect Jerusalem's holy sites
The Patriarchate also emphasises that terrorist attacks, by radical Israeli groups, targeting churches, cemeteries, and Christian properties, in addition to physical and verbal abuse against Christian clergy, have become almost a daily occurrence that evidently increases in intensity during Christian holidays. This dismal situation hasn’t drawn any appropriate reaction, locally or internationally, despite appeals, requests, and protests made by the Churches of the Holy Land. It is painfully clear now that the authentic Christian presence in the Holy Land is in great danger.
The Patriarchate affirms that attacks on Christian holy sites, properties, heritage, and identity constitute a violation of international law, which explicitly calls for the protection of religious sites in Jerusalem and emphasises the need to respect this basic human right to worship freely.
(6) Jewish fundamentalists vandalize a Palestinian Christian cemetery in occupied East Jerusalem--Video (Jan 2023):
— Wafa News Agency - English (@WAFANewsEnglish) January 4, 2023
(7) Anti-Christian Hate Crimes in Jerusalem Soaring This Year (Apr 2023)
A desecrated statue of Jesus was vandalized by a Jewish extremist in the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem, February 2023. Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
Church sources say the police do not treat the situation seriously enough and refuse to identify the growing list of violent incidents as a trend. According to the sources, only a small percentage of incidents are reported to the police, and the extent of the phenomenon is unknown. A document of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center, which coordinates among the city’s various Christian denominations, quotes an Armenian priest as saying that he has been spat on more than 90 times in the year to date. Most of the reported incidents took place in the Old City of Jerusalem.
(8) Church criticises Israel’s ‘heavy-handed restrictions’ on Easter (Apr 2023)
“They’ve locked down the Christian and Armenian quarters on the actual day [of the ceremony – Saturday] and pretty much let no one else into the city except for those issued tickets by the police for the Holy Fire,” said Donald Binder, chaplain to the Anglican archbishop of Jerusalem.
“[Christianity] is the biggest religion in the world and yet Christians are being kept out of their quarter of the holy city on the holiest day of the year for them,” he told Al Jazeera.
Last month, in a joint Easter message, churches in Jerusalem denounced the fact that “over the past year, some of our churches, funeral processions and places of public gathering have become targets of attack,” with some ceremonies “closed off to thousands of worshipers”.
(9) Evangelical Christians Urge Netanyahu to Scuttle ultra-Orthodox Bill Banning Christian Proselytizing (Mar 2023)
The UTJ bill further outlaws sharing New Testament theology via online videos, online articles, social media, written literature and other forms of media. It further stipulates one year imprisonment for explaining faith in Jesus to an adult and two years imprisonment if discussing it with a minor.
[This bill was eventually scuttled under unprecedented pressure from Israeli allies in the powerful Christian Zionist communities in the US, showing the only exception to the rule.]
(10) Christians in the Holy Land say they’re under attack as Israeli-Palestinian violence soars (Apr 2023)
Israel police keep Christian worshippers away from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem last week. Josh Lederman / NBC News
Munari, 49, went downstairs and found that a 10-foot statue of Jesus had been wrested off its pedestal and thrown to the ground, its face partially destroyed. …
“He was kind of crying. Like, ‘We have to destroy all the statues and the idols in Jerusalem,’” Munari told NBC News last week as he gazed at the smashed face of Jesus, now awaiting repair at the church, which was built in 1929 on a site that dates to the 12th century. …
Although [church officials and Christian leaders in Israel] blame a minority of Jewish extremists for the attacks, they say Israel’s far-right government has fostered a culture of impunity for attacks on non-Jews, emboldening the nation’s most extreme elements.
(11) Israel failing to stop attacks on Christians, Jerusalem churches say (Apr 2023)
Yet Christians say this support is no match for a growing culture of impunity among extremists encouraged by alleged government inaction and a lack of prosecutions.
“If there is no justice, there is no safety. If there is no safety, there is no freedom of worship,” says George, a Christian resident of the Old City. “If there is no freedom of worship, what is our future as a community?”
(12) ‘Death to Christians’: Violence steps up under new Israeli gov’t (Apr 2023)
A couple of days later, Armenians leaving a memorial service in the Armenian Quarter say they were attacked by Israeli settlers carrying sticks. An Armenian was pepper-sprayed as [Jewish-Israeli] settlers scaled the walls of the Armenian convent, trying to take down its flag, which had a cross on it. When Armenians chased them away, the settlers began shouting: “Terrorist attack,” prompting nearby border police to draw their guns on the Armenians, beating and detaining one of them.
Hostility by fundamentalist Jews towards Jerusalem’s Christian community is not new, and it is not just Armenian Christians who suffer from it. Priests of all denominations describe being spat at for years. Since 2005, Christian celebrations around Holy Week, particularly Holy Fire Saturday, have brought military barricades and harsh treatment from soldiers and settlers alike, with the number of worshippers allowed inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre drastically limited, from as many as 11,000 historically during the Holy Fire ceremony to now 1,800 since last year, with authorities citing safety concerns.
“Their mind is obsessed with the ‘Messianic syndrome’. They want to take over the whole land,” said Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem. “When you see young people, 15 or 16 years old, and they do all sorts of things and they’re not afraid, someone is behind it.”
(13) Israeli Givati Brigades soldiers accused of spitting at Armenian archbishop in Jerusalem procession (Nov 2022)
Chancellor of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem Koryun Baghdasaryan told Haaretz that although the church has encountered such behavior in the past from religious Jews in Jerusalem, “this is the first time that [Jewish-Israeli] soldiers have spat at us, on the cross and priests who were there.”
“They stood there and expressed their hatred for the cross and for Christianity,” he said.
(14) Jerusalem Churches Protest 'Systematic Attempt to Drive Christians Out of the Holy Land' (Dec 2021)
The joint statement was signed by the heads of all the large churches in the city, including the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Custody of the Holy Land representing the Vatican, and the head of the Anglican Church.
“Throughout the Holy Land, Christians have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups,” says their statement. “Since 2012 there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives."
(15) Vatican official says Israel fostering intolerance of Christianity (Sep 2012)
But the most important issue they say Israel has failed to address is the practice of some ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools that teach children it is a doctrinal obligation to abuse anyone in Holy Orders they encounter in public.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews, including children as young as eight, spit at members of the clergy on a daily basis, Fr Pizzaballa said.
(16) Ultra-Orthodox Spitting Attacks on Old City Clergymen Becoming Daily (Nov 2011)
Ultra-Orthodox young men curse and spit at Christian clergymen in the streets of Jerusalem's Old City as a matter of routine. In most cases the clergymen ignore the attacks, but sometimes they strike back.
The Greek Patriarchy's clergymen have been cursed and spat on by ultra-Orthodox men in the street for many years. "They walk past me and spit," says Father Gabriel Bador, 78, a senior priest in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. "Mostly I ignore it, but it's difficult.
(17) Christians in Jerusalem Want Jews to Stop Spitting on Them (Oct 2004)
The clergyman preferred not to lodge a complaint with the police and told an acquaintance that he was used to being spat at by Jews. Many Jerusalem clergy have been subjected to abuse of this kind. For the most part, they ignore it but sometimes they cannot.
On Sunday, a fracas developed when a yeshiva student spat at the cross being carried by the Armenian Archbishop during a procession near the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. The archbishop's 17th-century cross was broken during the brawl and he slapped the yeshiva student.