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Israeli NGO says ‘socio-political climate’ led to rise in attacks on Christians in Israel during 2023

Rossing Center calls for increased government action to prevent further incidents

Israeli border police stand guard near orthodox Jews in the Jerusalem Old City Christian quarters, following yesterday's incident when ultra-orthodox Jews spat at a Christian procession carrying a cross through Jerusalem's Old City. The same event occurred on Oct. 4, 2023 (Photo: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90).

According to an Israeli NGO, 2023 saw a “notable increase” in attacks on Christians or Christian properties, primarily by young, religious Zionist men. 

The Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue released a report stating that the year 2023 saw a rise particularly in property vandalism and physical attacks and harassment in Jerusalem, usually targeting visibly Christian clergy, such as Armenian Orthodox in the Old City and a Polish monastery near the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. 

“Based on compiled records of known attacks in previous years, 2023 also witnessed a notable increase in both severe property and physical assaults,” the report stated.

The Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue is a Jerusalem-based inter-religious, peace-building organization. The Center launched its Advocacy and Education Initiative to address the escalating harassment that Christian communities have faced in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. 

According to the center, attacks on Christians are not a government policy issue, but a sign of the “broader socio-political climate.” 

“The targeting of Christianity is not, on the whole, explicitly encouraged by the political leadership or the Israeli authorities. However, the rise in attacks correlates with a broader socio-political climate marked by a shift towards the far-right, growing nationalism, and an emphasis on Israel as a state for the Jewish population.” 

In particular, the Rossing Center report identified the rise of the coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as playing a significant role in creating the “socio-political climate.” 

“In December 2022, the most right-wing government in Israeli history was sworn in, a coalition composed by an almost homogeneous bloc of ultranationalist and ultra-religious leaders led by Benjamin Netanyahu,” the report noted. “The values guiding this extremist government comprise hardline stances vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role of Judaism in shaping the character of the state.” 

The NGO said in its report that “data shows that the majority of perpetrators are Jewish individuals, primarily young men identifying with the Religious Zionist camp and ultra-nationalist stances.” 

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the the Jewish Power party, which was heavily influenced by Rabbi Meir Kahane, and known for his racist ideology, has not addressed the incidents of anti-Christian violence despite being in charge of Israel Police forces.

After several Jewish pilgrims were arrested for spitting on Christians during Sukkot in early October 2023, Ben Gvir complained about the arrests, saying, “I still think spitting at Christians is not a criminal case. I think we need to act on it through instruction and education. Not everything justifies an arrest.” 

After media reports about the spitting incidents increased, several prominent rabbis spoke out against the practice. 

The harassment had previously drawn the ire of several Israeli political leaders, such as President Isaac Herzog, who called the incidents “a true disgrace.” 

However, other leaders, including Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Aryeh King have publicly issued warnings against Christian events, particularly those related to Israel’s Evangelical Messianic Jewish community. 

The Rossing Center gave several recommendations to combat the harassment and attacks, including the following: increased police presence in problem areas; police training to improve understanding and communication between officers and Christian leaders; establishing an official police liaison to Christian leadership; stronger condemnation from authorities and religious Jewish leadership; encouraging Christian communities to report harassment or attacks; and improved education about Christianity in public school curricula. 

Last year, the Israeli government convened a forum to address increased harassment in Jerusalem, acknowledging the problem. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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