Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said that the shameful arson attack against the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha on the shores of the Sea of Galilee was not only an attack against Christians, but against all of Israel.
“The shocking arson of the church is an attack on all of us,” said Netanyahu in an official statement. “Israel’s freedom of religion is a cornerstone of our values and it is anchored in the law. We will mete out justice to those responsible for this atrocious act. We have no room for hatred and intolerance in our society.”
The attack causes serious damage to the church. Police determined the fire was set intentionally after finding Hebrew graffiti vowing to destroy idol worshippers and discovering that the blaze had started from several different locations around the facility.
Sixteen Jewish youth were briefly arrested and brought in for questioning, but were later released due to a lack of evidence.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and many more government officials were adamant that those responsible would be brought to justice. Most agreed that not only had the attack on Israeli Christians been unacceptable, but had stained the Jewish state.
“Whoever lights fire to a church is not only an idiot who lacks respect for religion — he is also a terrorist who is severely damaging the State of Israel. Law enforcement authorities should act with abundant severity toward whoever is found guilty,” wrote former Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu party chief Avigdor Lieberman.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called the arson a “cowardly and vile act that I vigorously condemn. We will not allow anyone to shake the coexistence between religions and ethnic groups in Israel.”
Interior Minister Silvan Shalom called the head of the church, Father Matthias Karl, to let him know that “a hate crime like this is unbelievable and unacceptable. I apologize personally and on behalf of the state for this extremist attack.”
Religious leaders, too, were outraged. Chief Rabbi David Lau explained that “the actions taken this morning, apparently by ignorant and violent cowards, are completely at odds with the values of Judaism and humanity.”
Israel’s Army Radio spoke to a number of average Israelis who expressed similar sentiments. One of those callers was IDF Lt. (ret.) Shadi Khalloul, himself an Israel Christian, who concurred that “if in this case Jewish zealots are fingered, then, first of all, they clearly don’t represent all the Jews.”