WASHINGTON, May 13, 2014 — Concern is growing among Catholic leaders in Jerusalem that an increase in hate crimes by Jewish extremists against Christians and Muslims could mar the upcoming visit of Pope Francis.
When they started in 2011, these so-called “price tag” attacks were part of a campaign to extract retribution for actions against Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Any time the Israeli army removed an illegal outpost or Palestinian militants attacked settlers, somebody would pay a price.
Now, these attacks are taking place in Israel itself and have no relationship to actions against Jewish settlements.
On May 9, the hateful graffiti, “King David for the Jews” and “Jesus is garbage” were sprayed in Hebrew on the Romanian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. This marked the 20th attack of this nature inside Israel in 2014.
Jewish extremists have graffiti’d “Death to Arabs,” “America Is Nazi Germany” and “Jesus Monkey, Maria Cow” on Christian holy sites in attacks described by the church as “terrorist vandalism.”
After a column in front of the Vatican’s office of the Assembly of Bishops was vandalized early in May, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Vatican’s Holy Land Custodian, stated:
“The wave of fanaticism and intimidation against Christians continues … there has been terror for some time” and expressed concern that there had been no condemnation issued by the Israeli government. It notes “an absence or weakness of prosecution” of more than 400 such acts.
In the wake of these attacks, the renowned Israeli writer Amos Oz called the perpetrators “Hebrew neo-Nazis.”
At a 75th birthday celebration, Oz said the only difference between neo-Nazis around the world and perpetrators of hate crimes in Israel is that “our neo-Nazi groups enjoy the support of numerous nationalist or even racist legislators as well as rabbis who give them what in my view is pseudo-religious justification.”
A May 11 editorial in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz declared that:
“In Israel, Jewish terror exists … Hate crimes by Jews against Arabs have become routine in Israel — not only in the West Bank, where they are an integral part of the occupation and settlement policy. Last month 16 incidents targeting Arabs were recorded in the West Bank and Israel, compared with 17 in the first 3 months of the year and 48 in all of 2013.”
The manifestations of hostility to Christianity have been growing. Shimon Gaspo, the mayor of Nazareth Illit, a mostly Jewish community adjacent to Nazareth, the home of Jesus, which has a largely Christian population, announced a War on Christmas, declaring his refusal to tolerate a single Christmas tree within city limits.
“Nazareth Illit,” he declared, “is a Jewish city and it will not happen — not this year and not next year, so long as I am mayor.”
One ultra-nationalist member of the Knesset, Michael Ben-Ari, tore up a copy of the New Testament on the floor of parliament.
Religious intolerance also manifests itself against non-Orthodox Jews. In effect, Orthodox Judaism is Israel’s state religion.
Non-Orthodox rabbis cannot conduct weddings and funerals, and conversions performed by them are not recognized. There is no civil marriage in Israel and there is no way for Jews, Christians and Muslims to marry across religious lines.
Women are not permitted to pray at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, except in a small segregated area.
The year 2009 saw the publication of Torat Ha’Melech (“The King’s Torah”), which the Israeli newspaper Ma’riv described as “230 pages on the laws concerning the killing of non-Jews, a kind of guidebook for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew.”
The book was widely read.
According to the authors, Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and may have to be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.”
The commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” they declare, only applies to other Jews.
In their opinion, “There is justification for killing babies if it is clear they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation may be harmed deliberately and not only during combat with adults.”
“Torat Ha’Melech” was written as a guide for Israeli soldiers and army officers seeking rabbinical guidance on the rules of engagement. According to the authors, all enemy civilians — including women and children — can be killed.
The rabbis also justify the murder of Jewish dissidents, a philosophy which emerged from the settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank, where Shapira helps lead the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva.
He studied under Rabbi Yitzchok Ginsburgh, who defended seven of his students who murdered an innocent Palestinian girl by asserting the superiority of “Jewish blood.” In 1994, when the American-born Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Ginsburgh lionized Goldstein in a lengthy article entitled “Baruch Hagever” (“Baruch, the Great Man”).
These views are not those of just a few extremists. Instead, Od Yosef Chai has received funds from both the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs and the Israeli Ministry of Education, as well as from a tax-exempt group called the Central Fund for Israel.
It is fair to say that extremist rabbis are part of Israel’s religious establishment. Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of Hebron, for example, has achieved considerable influence inside the military. When the Israeli army’s chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Ronski, brought a group of military intelligence officers to Hebron for a special tour, he concluded the day with a private meeting with Lior, who presented his views on modern warfare, which includes collective punishment of Palestinians. Ronski himself has overseen the distribution of extremist tracts to soldiers, including “Baruch Hagever,” and a pamphlet stating, “When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers.”
Ovadiah Yosef, the Shas party spiritual leader and Israeli chief rabbi, declared, “It is forbidden to be merciful to Arabs. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.”
Anti-Christian acts have been growing, and not only in anticipation of the Pope’s visit. In 2012, a group of nationalist vandals set fire to the door of a Franciscan monastery at Latrun, the only remnant of a Palestinian community removed from the area in 1967. “Jesus is a monkey,” read graffiti spray-painted beside the door, along with the names of two extremist West Bank settlements. A month later, graffiti was found on the door of Jerusalem’s Church of the Dormition, a sanctuary built on Mount Zion at the site of the Last Supper.
The graffiti read: “Jesus, son of a bitch, price tag.”
Jerusalem’s Roman Catholic Bishop, Fuad Twai, declares that such attacks “are a blight on the democracy that Israel ascribes to itself. The bishops are very concerned about the lack of security and lack of responsiveness from the political sector, and fear an escalation of violence … There have been no successful prosecutions for price tag attacks. How can it be that they don’t catch the perpetrators? Given that the vandals are largely unprosecuted, one must question the priority of the government to get to the bottom of the problem.”
Many Israelis express similar concerns. On May 6, The Jerusalem Report declared, “Jewish terrorism is alive and kicking more than ever … Palestinians have been beaten and injured. Cars have been set on fire and olive trees have been uprooted … Jewish terrorism undermines Israel’s foundations as a democratic state and portrays it as a lawless frontier.
” It gives the impression that Israeli justice and law enforcement agencies use what English writer George Orwell [called ‘double speak.] One set of methods and laws is used to counter Palestinian terrorism and another set is deployed against Jewish terror.
“One law applies to Israel in its pre-June 1967 borders and another to the occupied and militarily ruled West Bank. And no less worrying, it distorts Jewish values and tarnishes the image of Israel among enlightened nations. The failure to stop the violence is … a failure of the entire system.”
Some Israeli Jews who lament their country’s growing intolerance have expressed dismay with the silence on the part of American Jewish organizations. On March 7, Dr. Daniel Blatman, a history professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote an article in Ha’aretz headlined: “If I Were An American Jew, I’d Worry About Israel’s Racist Cancer.” The article’s subhead read, “the silence of Jews worldwide is deafening.”
In Blatman’s view, “It is not the Iranian threat that endangers Israel’s survival, it’s the moral and ethical collapse of its society … The racist cancer … has spread deep into Israeli society. World Jewry must help Israel be cured of it. It must speak out and act … and cooperate with the shrinking groups of Israelis who have not yet lost hope that it’s possible to stop this downside toward the abyss.”
A coalition of 40 human rights groups in Israel known as Tag Meir (“spreading the light”) is organizing a campaign to confront racism and religious intolerance. Tag Meir Chairman Gadi Gvaryahu says, “Netanyahu keeps calling on Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Well, we want Netanyahu to recognize a Jewish state too, and we believe that a Jewish state does not act like this.”
Pope Francis will arrive in Israel at a troubled time. Hopefully, his visit will cause Israel to confront its mounting religious intolerance, which is contrary to the best values promulgated by both Judaism and Christianity.