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Israel's President, Police Commissioner Speak Out Against Small Group of Jews Harassing Christians

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JERUSALEM, Israel – Officials in Israel are taking seriously a recent upsurge in spitting and hitting attacks on clergy, and vandalism of Christian sites.

The most recent attacks led Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Israeli Police Commissioner, Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Shabtai, to meet leaders of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches of the Holy Land.

"In recent months," Herzog said, "We have seen very serious phenomena towards the Christian denominations in the Holy Land. Our brothers and sisters, Christian citizens, who feel attacked in their places of prayer, in their cemeteries, on the streets."

Christians in Jerusalem's Old City say they are often harassed, spit at, and even physically attacked by religious Jewish youths.

"I view this phenomenon as extreme and unacceptable in any shape or form," Herzog cautioned. "This phenomenon needs to be uprooted.

Earlier incidents include the desecration of a Protestant cemetery on Mt. Zion, an attack on international Christians during a day of prayer for Jerusalem, and harassment at a Messianic concert in Jerusalem.

Herzog's admonition directed toward the youths and their supporters was clear: "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.’” 

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Church leaders expressed their desire to work together with Israeli authorities.

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, H.B. Pierbattista Pizzaballa said, "We need to work together in order to encourage coexistence and solidarity between us and the love between us because we are brothers in the same State, we live in the same places, and we need to live together in quiet and peace."

H.B. Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, told Herzog, "I hope and pray with your influential language and personality, you will do something in order to maintain this mutual coexistence and mutual respect."

The Jerusalem District police commander met with Christian leaders in Jerusalem a day earlier, where many of the attacks – especially spitting – are taking place.

Recently, an Israel Channel 13 reporter, Yossi Eli, went undercover as a priest for a day. Dressed in a robe, he walked through the Old City with Franciscan Father Alberto. In the first 5 minutes, he was spat at 5 times by Orthodox Jewish Israelis.

Speaking in Haifa, Shabtai said the police are working to eradicate incidents and trends that affect the sense of security. 

"We are here to reassure you of that and to offer any assistance that may be required.," he pledged. "As part of the cooperation between all the parties, we are working to bridge the gaps in places of conflict, while simultaneously striving to provide the vital sense of security.”

David Parsons, vice president at the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, says the attacks are coming from a fringe element.

"Most Israelis welcome Christians here," Parsons explained. "They welcome Christian support. But there does seem to be a fringe, a small fringe, on the religious right, that for whatever motivations, are trying to harass and give trouble for Christians here."

Parsons noted Christians in this part of the world have been persecuted by the Muslim community for generations.

"I also think it's important to note that – especially the local Arab Christian population – they've been facing Muslim persecution and harassment for centuries, and they never say anything about it. But when they're attacked by Jews, they're very vocal about it, and there's a certain imbalance to that."

Parsons believes the current situation is a learning curve for Israel.

"Jewish people wouldn't tolerate these sorts of attacks against them in other countries," he said. "They're very vocal about it and they shouldn't tolerate it here when their own co-religionists carry out similar attacks against Christians."

Parsons told CBN News the Bible states how Christians should treat the Jewish people.

"Our scriptures are clear that Genesis 12:3 says we need to bless the Jewish people. Isaiah says, comfort them. Paul, in Romans 11, says, show them mercy – so we have biblical commands to stand with Israel, support them," he said. "We're not gonna condition that support on whether or not these attacks are stopping. But it does make it harder for us to build support and friendship for Israel out there."

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About The Author

Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel fulltime for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN – first as a graduate student in Journalism; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. As a correspondent for CBN News, Julie has covered Israel’s wars with Gaza, rocket attacks on Israeli communities, stories on the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and