Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday denounced the vandals who spray-painted anti-Christian graffiti on the door of a monastery. The Catholic Church and a slew of Israeli officials joined him in condemning the desecration.

Police believe the vandalism at the Monastery of the Silent Monks in Latrun, which included the words “Jesus is a monkey,” was a response by extremists to the evacuation of West Bank outposts earlier in the week.

“Those responsible for this reprehensible act need to be punished severely. Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are among the most basic principles of the State of Israel,” the prime minister said. Netanyahu was speaking with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who was providing the premier with updates on the steps the police were taking to apprehend the perpetrators.

The graffiti also read “Mutual responsibility Ramat Migron, Maoz Esther,” the names of two outposts frequently uprooted by Israeli security forces. The vandals apparently also tried to burn the door.

Graffiti sprayed on the Monastery of the Silent Monks at Latrun, Tuesday (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

Graffiti sprayed on the Monastery of the Silent Monks at Latrun, Tuesday (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

Defense Minister Ehud Barak joined Netanyahu in condemning the attack, and called on the Shin Bet security service and state prosecutors to tackle “Jewish terrorism.”

“This must be fought with an iron fist. We must put an end to these grave phenomena that tarnish the reputation of the State of Israel,” Barak said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman termed the graffiti “unacceptable,” asserting that a small group of extremists could not be allowed to harm the State of Israel.

Shelly Yachimovich, the head of the Labor Party, said the graffiti represented “hooliganism and racism.” She added that the desecration of the monastery, which has been welcoming to visitors for decades, was a display of “extreme hatred for anyone and everyone, regardless of their political position.”

Yachimovich emphasized that the vandalism did not represent Israeli society, but rather an extreme minority whose object was to damage Israel’s reputation.

Earlier, settlers from Migron condemned the graffiti.

“Damaging any religious building, in Migron or anywhere else in the world, is unacceptable and morally wrong,” a spokesperson from the Migron community said.

The building of the Trappist Monastery in Latrun. (Photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The building of the Trappist Monastery in Latrun. (Photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

According to the Ministry of Tourism website, the Trappist monastery served as a way-station for pilgrims from Jaffa to Jerusalem in the 19th century. Until 1960, its rules included a vow to refrain from idle talk and to uphold silence at all times — except during prayer.

The monastery sits across from a major museum of the IDF’s Armored Corps, in recognition of significant battles that took place there, along the  main road to Jerusalem, during the War of Independence. Veterans of the Corps visited the monastery on Tuesday to apologize for the attack.

Sam Ser and Aaron Kalman contributed to this report.