Israeli Leaders Sharply Criticize Orthodox Spitting Incidents, Protests Against Christians
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JERUSALEM, Israel – Israeli leaders and members of the public are sharply criticizing Orthodox Jewish extremists who were captured on video earlier this week spitting at Christian pilgrims in the Old City as they commemorated Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles.
Another group of Orthodox protesters gathered outside an International Christian Embassy (ICEJ) event Tuesday night where Israeli notables had been invited to speak.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement Tuesday indicating "zero tolerance toward any harm to worshipers." He said, "Israel is fully committed to safeguarding the sacred right of freedom of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths, and added that "we will take urgent steps against such actions."
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen also reacted strongly, saying, "I condemn the ugly act of spitting on Christians and harming any person due to their religion or beliefs."
In a video address to the ICEJ Feast attendees, President Isaac Herzog assured them 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."
A small contingent of demonstrators gathered outside Jerusalem's Pais Arena on Tuesday, where the ICEJ was holding its traditional Israeli Night, inviting Israelis, including government and mililtary speakers, to join the Christian visitors. The protesters shouted for Christians to stay out of Israel and warned, "Jews, do not enter this event."
On Wednesday, police announced they had arrested five people – four adults and one youth – for the spitting incident in the Old City.
The Jerusalem Post cited one defender of the protesters, Elisha Yered, who is a former spokesperson for a Knesset member. He posted on X the suggestion that centuries-long Christian persecution of Jews led to the custom of spitting. "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 Inquisition, blood libel and mass pogroms will never forget," Yered said.
In advance of Wednesday's Israeli march through Jerusalem to be joined by Christians from an estimated 80 nations. the ICEJ issued a statement welcoming the strong support from Israeli leaders and "their disapproval of recent acts meant to humiliate or harm Christians."
It said, in part, "We must be the first to admit there is a much longer, painful history of Christian hostility towards the Jewish people. But thankfully, there has been a sea change in Christian attitudes concerning the nation and people of Israel in our day. The vast majority of Israelis we encounter know this and have warmly welcomed us in Jerusalem for Sukkot once again."
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