President Isaac Herzog on Sunday condemned growing attacks against Christians in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, calling them “a true disgrace.”
“I utterly condemn violence, in all its forms, directed by a small and extreme group, towards the holy places of the Christian faith, and against Christian clergy in Israel,” Herzog said at a state memorial ceremony for Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl.
“This includes spitting, and the desecration of graves and churches,” he added, noting that the phenomenon has been on the rise “in the last weeks and months especially.”
Herzog vowed that “the State of Israel is committed to putting an end to this phenomenon,” saying that he is personally working with law enforcement officials to “bring an end to this disturbing reality, which is perverse evil and an utter disgrace for us as a society and a country.”
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is scheduled to visit the Vatican this week, but it remains unclear whether he will meet with Pope Francis.
While there have long been periodic incidents of vandalism and harassment against Christian clergy in Jerusalem’s Old City, there has been a noticeable rise in attacks in recent months.
In November, two soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces’ Givati Brigade were detained on suspicion of spitting at the Armenian archbishop and other pilgrims during a procession in the Old City. In early January, two Jewish teens were arrested for damaging graves at the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion.
The next week, the Maronite community center in the northern city of Ma’alot-Tarshiha was vandalized by unknown assailants over the Christmas holiday.
Jerusalem’s Armenian community buildings were also targeted by vandals, with multiple discriminatory phrases graffitied on the exterior of structures in the Armenian Quarter. On a Thursday night in late January, a gang of religious Jewish teens threw chairs at an Armenian restaurant inside the city’s New Gate. Vandalism at the Church of the Flagellation occurred the very next week.
And in March, a resident of southern Israel was arrested after attacking priests with an iron bar at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in Gethsemane.
Some tie the rise in aggressive behavior recently to the composition of the current Israeli government, which is made up of ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right factions fiercely protective of Israel’s Orthodox Jewish character and strongly opposed to public displays of Christian worship.
The president on Sunday also condemned the recent burning of a Quran outside a mosque in Sweden during Eid al-Fitr, which caused intense anger in the Muslim world.
“I was horrified when I heard the recent news from Sweden,” he said. “One cannot and one should not remain silent in the face of this. I condemn utterly, this disgraceful act, towards that which is sacred to our brothers and sisters.”