Clergy living in Jerusalem know that nothing good comes out of a random encounter with young haredim in the alleys of the Old City.
The striking clothing of Armenian priests, the heavy crosses hanging on the chest of monks from each of the 15 different churches represented here – and lately also Christian buildings, especially entrance gates to churches – have become favorite targets for Jews to spit on.
Why do some Jewish extremists spit on gentiles? This was the subject of an emergency conference of scholars on Christianity and Christian communities in Israel, run by the Institute for the Study of Relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims at the Open University.
Why do some Jewish extremists in Jerusalem spit on Christians?
Yisca Harani, a scholar who has devoted years to the study of the phenomenon as part of her extensive research on the Christian denominations in the Holy Land, conceived and planned the conference as an initial response to the increase in these incidents.
The conference, initially planned to be held at the Tower of David Museum, was almost canceled due to Mayor Moshe Lion’s opposition to connecting the municipal institution with such a sensitive issue. On very short notice, the organizers moved the conference to the Armenian complex in the Old City.
Videos shown included ultra-Orthodox or National-Religious youths spitting in the face of priests or at their feet; stopping for a second – even while sitting in a car– just to spit at the entrance to a monastery or church; and disturbing graffiti. It all painted a worrying picture of a serious deterioration of relations with Christians in the holy city.
Some downplay the severity of the phenomenon, attributing it to bored young people who do not really understand the seriousness of the act.
Deputy Mayor Arieh King, who does not support the spitting incidents, has maintained that Christians, including the Evangelicals who love Israel, are all engaged in missionary work. He has said that this issue should be addressed, and not the spitting phenomenon, and accused the organizers of running an “antisemitic conference.”
For the conference organizers, the spitting phenomenon has been aggravated by political events. On Jerusalem Day, King – along with Rabbi Zvi Thau, who has been leading a hard line against Christians for years – protested during a traditional ceremony of Evangelical Christians at the Davidson Center, claiming that it was a blatant missionary event.
Harani said that the current political atmosphere in the country has enabled the spitting phenomenon to worsen. Now, she said, it is no longer a question of “bored brats,” but an organized campaign at least on the ideological level, which originates from the claim of fighting missionaries. In this context, King’s comments are significant, despite the fact that he does not approve of the spitting incidents.
The fact that the Armenian Church has never engaged in missionary activity does not seem to bother those who wish to increase the fight against the Christian presence in Israel.
Dr. Amnon Ramon, a researcher on Christian communities in Israel at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, pointed to the hostility that sectors of the extreme Right have toward Christians. This, he maintained, is a continuation of acts that occurred in the 1980s, such as when arsonists torched the Baptist Church in Rehavia.
According to Ramon, the extreme Right feels that the threat of Christianity to the State of Israel’s Jewish identity is much more dangerous than the fight against the Muslims. Ramon also said he believes that the current political extremism in the country is enabling the worsening of the spitting phenomenon.
With the exception of a letter issued about two weeks ago by former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, in which he expressed his opposition to the practice, silence on the subject among rabbis from all sectors is deafening. ❖