Christian worshipers who prayed at an archeological park bordering the Western Wall on Sunday, were met by hundreds of Jewish protesters, including Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, shouting at them to leave.
The protesters were responding to an Evangelical Christian call for prayer at the Davidson Center, which is situated south of the Western Wall Plaza and features access to a segment of the Jewish holy site.
The incident underlines the strains on the relations of religious Israeli nationalists with Christian Evangelicals, who politically and financially support Israel as well as the strategic goals of religious nationalists, but diverge radically from them on theology.
On Christian websites — including the one devoted to advertising the prayer gathering — the event was described as promoting the safeguarding of Jerusalem and God’s “purpose for Israel.”
Participants in the gathering, which capped a 21-day period of fasting and prayer declared by the International House of Prayer of Kansas City, an Evangelical movement, were invited to serve as “guardians on the walls” of the city.
At the prayer event, which several hundred worshipers attended, police shoved some of the protesters, including Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King, to allow the worshipers to pass.
כעת במתחם דוידסון: סגן ראש עיריית ירושלים אריה קינג ועוד עשרות מפגינים מוחים נגד נוצרים שמקיימים במקום אירוע. המשטרה מנסה להשליט סדר pic.twitter.com/7EGpJtxPhp
— Yossi Eli יוסי אלי (@Yossi_eli) May 28, 2023
At least one glass door of the Davidson Center was smashed, and at least one person was detained amid the clashes. The Davidson Center is an archaeological park adjacent to the egalitarian plaza, south of the Western Wall central plaza, that currently serves as a restriction-free prayer space for non-Orthodox Jews.
Asked to comment on the incident, the Foreign Ministry said it condemns “any harm to the freedom of religion and worship in Jerusalem,” and any attacks on religious figures in the city. The statement added that the State of Israel views such freedoms in the capital, “which is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, as a central value in the fabric of life in the city.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has nurtured close ties with Evangelical leaders, including Pastor John Hagee, who last year said he was sending “God’s prayers” to the Israeli leader “for all the rest of his life.” But Netanyahu’s coalition may test that relationship, given expressions of hostility toward Christians and Christian worship by some members of the coalition’s five religious parties to the right of the premier’s Likud.
In March, a number of Christian Zionist groups expressed outrage at a coalition member’s bill proposal that would have made religious proselytizing punishable by jail time, forcing Netanyahu to publicly disavow the effort.
King, who belongs to the far-right Meuhadim faction on Jerusalem’s City Council, was filmed shouting “Missionaries go home” with others at the prayer event. In a statement about the incident, he praised the protesters and described their action as directed against Christian proselytizing, the prayer event, and the decision to allow it by the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is responsible for the Davidson Center.
He condemned those who allowed “Christian missionaries to hold a Christian worship and ceremony designed to prepare a missionary effort directed at Israeli residents,” he wrote. “It is a dignified and just protest against a government company that allowed this, and against the missionaries. As far as I’m concerned, let every missionary know they are not welcome in the Land of Israel.”
A spokesperson for Emek Shaveh, a nonprofit that says it opposes “the use of archeology and heritage as a tool in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” wrote on Twitter that the protesters’ actions “are what Jewish supremacy and the Judaization of Jerusalem look like.”
The International House of Prayer of Kansas City on its website article for the event did not mention any attempt to convert Jews to Christianity. But the page advertising it featured a recommended article titled “Jews Come Home to Jesus,” by Pastor John Piper, who wrote that “a priority is given to the Jewish people in the Christian mission.”
According to a Haaretz article from 2018, Evangelical Christians in recent years have raised more than $60 million for projects in the West Bank alone. Evangelical tourism to Israel in 2017 accounted for at least 440,000 arrivals to Israel.
David Franzose, a tour guide who is active on Twitter and has publicly supported Netanyahu, addressed this aspect of the relationship with Evangelical Christians in responding to the Sunday’s incident.
“I see what’s happening at the Davidson Center in Jerusalem: A riot by hooligans including the deputy mayor, Arieh King,” wrote Franzose on Twitter. “I’m addressing you as a tour guide who works with the Christians. And I’m telling you publicly that you are a fool who’s causing tremendous damage.”