A video of Orthodox Jews spitting at Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land of Jerusalem has sparked outrage and widespread condemnation.
The video, now widely shared on social media, shows a group of Christian worshippers carrying a wooden cross retracing the route Jesus Christ took before his crucifixion, as multiple Orthodox Jews, including children, spit at them.
I am disgusted.
Radical Jews spit at Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem's Lion Gate. I condemn this hateful behavior.
This video has been trending in Palestinian media to show how Israelis treat Christians, and I have to say that these are not the values of most Jews living in… pic.twitter.com/MQXq231li6
— Hananya Naftali (@HananyaNaftali) October 3, 2023
The event happened as tens of thousands of Jews were taking part in events marking Sukkot, a weeklong Jewish holiday that comes five days after Yom Kippur.
After the incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned any attack on people of faith, pledging to “show zero tolerance” against anyone who harms worshippers.
“Offensive behavior toward worshipers is a desecration and is unacceptable,” he stated. “Israel is fully committed to safeguarding the sacred right of freedom of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths.”
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen issued an equally strong statement, saying, “I condemn the ugly act of spitting on Christians and harming any person due to their religion or beliefs. This phenomenon does not represent the values of Judaism.”
He added, “Freedom of religion and tolerance are fundamental values in Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Christian tourists visit the Holy Land yearly to explore the sacred places important to them and us. I call upon all Israeli citizens to respect the traditions and beliefs of all those who enter the gates of Jerusalem, the holy city.”
Though the video is not the sole instance of Orthodox Jews spitting on Christians, church officials have confirmed that they have recently become more widespread.
As Haaretz reported, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, says that “recently it has become more common. It’s related to ultra-Orthodox and religious-Zionist groups and movements. The presence of these groups in [Jerusalem’s] Old City is greater than in the past. There’s no doubt that there are rabbis who approve or even encourage it.”
Pizzaballa added, “What’s happening with Christians isn’t an isolated thing. We see an increase in violence within both Israeli and Palestinian societies. What we’re seeing with Christians is part of a wider phenomenon. Moderate voices aren’t being heard and extreme voices are getting stronger. We are in contact with the authorities and the police on this matter.”
There are roughly 15,000 Christians in Jerusalem today, most of whom are Palestinian, as The Guardian reported earlier in the year. Yusef Daher, from the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre, told the outlet that 2023 was shaping up to be the worst year for Christians in Jerusalem in a decade, citing physical assaults of clergy and multiple cases of vandalism. He said church leaders blame Israeli extremists, saying they feared escalation.
Following the latest spitting attacks, The Guardian cites worry over rising intolerance, which seems to violate Israel’s stated commitment to freedom of worship.
“What happened with rightwing religious nationalism is that Jewish identity has been growing around anti-Christianity,” said Yisca Harani, a Christianity expert and founder of an Israeli hotline for anti-Christian assaults. “Even if the government doesn’t encourage it, they hint that there will be no sanctions.”
Elisha Yered, an ultranationalist settler leader and former adviser to a lawmaker in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, defended the spitters, arguing that spitting at Christian clergy and at churches was an “ancient Jewish custom,” The Guardian reported.
“Perhaps under the influence of western culture we have somewhat forgotten what Christianity is,” he wrote on social media platform X. “I think millions of Jews who suffered in exile from the Crusades … will never forget.”
The outlet reported a 100 percent increase in attacks against Christians this year, involving not just spitting but throwing stones and vandalizing signs.