Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog were apologetic on Tuesday following incidents of Orthodox Jewish opposition to the presence of Christians in Jerusalem during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles.
But members of Bibi’s coalition say he went too far in trying to appease the Christian world.
Sukkot is one of three biblical pilgrimage festivals, and so the number of religious Jews in Jerusalem swells during this time of year. And many of them aren’t happy about sharing their holy city with those they see as “missionaries.”
At the Pais Arena in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening, several dozen Orthodox Jewish protesters gathered outside the International Christian Embassy’s annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration.
They held signs reading,”Your intentions are exposed! Stop pretending now!”
This stream of Orthodox Jews believe that Christian Zionism is a Trojan Horse, a new, more friendly tactic to “convert” Jews to Christianity after centuries of Church persecution failed to do the job.
Christian Embassy spokesman David Parsons issued a statement reading:
“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. We truly appreciate being able to share in the joy of this unique biblical festival with our Jewish friends and will not be deterred from loving and standing with Israel.”
Earlier in the day, several Orthodox Jews on their way to Sukkot prayers in Jerusalem’s Old City spat on the ground as they passed a group of Christian pilgrims carrying a large wooden cross.
The incident was caught on video and enthusiastically circulated online by Israel’s detractors as “evidence” that Jews hate Christians.
The isolated act drew sharp condemnation from Israeli leaders.
Following the spitting incident in Jerusalem, Netanyahu issued the following statement:
“Israel is fully committed to safeguarding the sacred right of freedom of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths. I strongly condemn any attempt to inflict harm on worshippers, and we will take urgent steps against such actions.
“Offensive behavior toward worshippers is a desecration and is unacceptable. We will show zero tolerance toward any harm to worshippers.”
President Herzog echoed that sentiment in a video address to the Christian Embassy gathering:
“We will insist on protecting all of the religious communities that make up the beautiful human mosaic of our country and safeguard every site, religious leader, and human being from any vile expressions of hatred or intolerance.
“This commitment goes to the very heart of who we are as a Jewish and democratic state. And it is not something we will ever compromise on.”
Some were surprised when the government further responded by arresting five Orthodox Jews suspected of being involved in the spitting incident.
Police officials said the suspects will be charged with assault, though previous attempts to convict for spitting have been dismissed because the act does not meet the criteria of violent assault.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, meanwhile, insisted the entire unfortunate episode was being blown out of proportion.
Spitting at Christian pilgrims “is deserving of every condemnation. It should be stopped. [But] it is not a criminal case. We need to act on it through instructions and education. Not everything justifies an arrest,” Ben-Gvir told Army Radio on Wednesday morning.
He suggested that the harsh reaction was yet another effort to slander the religious right in Israel by making them out to be bigoted criminals.
Prominent right-wing Member of Knesset Simcha Rothman noted that there were over a dozen instances of Jewish prayer services being disrupted and Orthodox worshippers harassed on Yom Kippur, and not one arrest was made.
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