One of Israel’s best-known writers, Amos Oz, came out forcefully Friday against the recent wave of “price tag” hate crimes throughout the country, calling the perpetrators neo-Nazis.

At an event in honor of his 75th birthday, Oz railed against the nationalistically motivated crimes and urged Israelis to stop speaking about them in euphemisms.

“I cannot stand to hear the term ‘price tag,’ and even more I cannot bear to hear the prettified term ‘Hilltop Youth,’” he said, referring to groups of young, extremist settlers in the West Bank.

“‘Price tag’ and ‘Hilltop Youth’ are sweet, sugary nicknames, and the time has come to call this monster by its name.

“We wanted to be like all other nations, we longed for there to be a Hebrew thief and a Hebrew prostitute — and there are Hebrew neo-Nazi groups,” Oz said to the crowd’s audible discomfort in a video released by Channel 2 (link in Hebrew).

“There is nothing that the neo-Nazis in Europe do that these groups [in Israel] don’t do,” he added.

The serious public face of Amos Oz (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)

Amos Oz (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90/File)

“Perhaps the only difference is that our neo-Nazi groups enjoy the backing of numerous nationalist lawmakers — maybe even racist — and also rabbis who give them a foundation that is, in my opinion, pseudo-religious.”

Oz, who for several years has been mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature, was speaking on a day when vandals sprayed anti-Christian graffiti on a Jerusalem church and “Death to Arabs” was found written on a house in Jerusalem’s Old City, despite police stepping up security around religious sites ahead of a visit by Pope Francis later this month.

“Price tag… King David for the Jews… Jesus is garbage” was spray-painted in Hebrew on the wall of St George’s, a Romanian Orthodox church near an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.

The Roman Catholic church has demanded Israeli action after Hebrew graffiti reading “Death to Arabs and Christians and to everyone who hates Israel” was daubed on its Notre Dame complex, also in Jerusalem, on Monday.

Attacks on Arab and Christian property have spiked in recent weeks. Israeli ministers held an emergency meeting on Wednesday, pledging to enforce harsh measures against perpetrators.

Although police have made scores of arrests, there have been nearly no successful prosecutions for price tag attacks, and the government has come up under mounting pressure to authorize the Shin Bet internal security agency to step in.

Israeli media on Friday reported that police and Shin Bet feared Jewish right-wing extremists would try to attract media attention by attacking Christian sites ahead of the Pope’s visit to the region, scheduled to begin on May 24 in Jordan. Francis is due to spend two days in the Holy Land from May 25.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld highlighted a boosted security presence around sensitive Christian sites.

“We’ve already stepped up security in different sites, in different areas, and obviously will continue to do so,” he said.

Rosenfeld said police did not connect the increase in attacks on Christian sites with the upcoming papal visit.

AFP contributed to this report.