Vatican: Anti-Christian violence crosses ‘red line’ in Israel
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Vatican: Anti-Christian violence crosses ‘red line’ in Israel

Senior adviser to the Catholic church in the Holy Land calls on the government to crack down on Jewish extremists

A priest inspects the damage caused to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, which was set on fire in what police suspect was an arson attack, on June 18, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
A priest inspects the damage caused to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, which was set on fire in what police suspect was an arson attack, on June 18, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

A Vatican representative in Israel urged the government to take more stringent measures against Jewish extremists Monday, following a spate of verbal and physical attacks on Christian targets in recent months.

Wadiya Abu Nasser, a top adviser to the Catholic Church in Israel, urged Israeli authorities to clamp down on anti-Christian action and prevent further attacks.

“A red line has been crossed. Not only is property damaged, but now people too. Christian men of faith are spat on in Jerusalem,” Nasser told Army Radio.

“I hope that the government and relevant authorities deal with these phenomena in a meaningful way. They may be just a handful of [attackers], but we aren’t seeing any effective [measures against] them,” he said.

Nasser’s remarks came days after the Vatican City’s representative in Israel called on Jerusalem to indict the leader of an extreme right-wing group for inciting violence against Christian targets in the Jewish state.

The pope’s representative and leaders of the Catholic Church in Israel filed a complaint against Lehava chairman Bentzi Gopshtain Saturday, pressuring Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to indict him after he advocated the burning of mosques and churches in Israel at a public forum.

“The writing is on the wall, and the next [attack] that no one can foresee, is not a matter of if, but when,” a statement by the Vatican read, requesting that Gopshtain stand trial.

“The situation has become intolerable,” Nasser said. “Gopshtain isn’t the only one who incites. He simply marked himself. We are sure that this is a trend.”

Yinon Reuveni (right) and Yehuda Asraf, suspected of vandalizing the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, are seen at the Nazareth Magistrate's Court on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Yinon Reuveni (right) and Yehuda Asraf, suspected of vandalizing the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, are seen at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Last week, at a panel debate on an arson attack at the Church of the Multiplication in the Galilee by Jewish extremists in June, Gopshtain intimated that Jewish law mandates the burning of Christian and Muslim houses of worship.

“Maimonides…,” Gopshtain started, apparently alluding to the rulings of the 12th-century Jewish sage, “you must burn [churches].” Asked if he was advocating the burning of churches, Gophstain responded, “Of course I am.”

Nasser said, “Even though suspects were arrested in the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, in others cases we remained silent and we got all kinds of promises that simply dissolved with time. We’re talking about tens of cases about attacks on people and property.”

Two Jewish suspects, both allegedly subscribing to an anti-Christian ideology, were indicted in July for their alleged role in the arson attack.

“I’m confident that the vast majority of Israelis — from every religion and creed — [condemn and oppose] these attacks,” Nasser said.

“We’re not asking for special treatment. At the same time, we don’t want less [protection] than others. This is for the benefit of the State of Israel — not just for the Christians, but for Muslim and Jews too. People who incite [to violence] deserve to be put behind bars,” he added.

Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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