Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken out against “derogatory conduct” targeting people for their religion, following an incident in which Jewish residents were filmed spitting at Christian pilgrims. In a statement, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel is committed to protecting the right to worship and pilgrimage at holy sites for all faiths. He condemned attempts to intimidate worshippers and promised swift action against such behavior.
The incident in question occurred in Jerusalem’s Old City during the celebration of Sukkot, a Jewish holiday, and the Feast of Tabernacles, an annual religious event that attracts Christian pilgrims to Israel. A video showing ultra-Orthodox Jews, including children, spitting at Christians went viral, sparking widespread controversy.
While Netanyahu did not specifically refer to the incident, it is widely believed that his statement was prompted by the video. The Prime Minister’s condemnation of the behavior indicates that his government takes such incidents seriously and is committed to preventing acts of intimidation against worshippers.
In defense of the spitting, Elisha Yered, an Orthodox activist and former spokesman for the hard-right Otzma Yehudit party, referred to it as an “ancient Jewish tradition.” However, he also made a controversial remark, stating, “we have forgotten what Christianity is,” and alluding to historical atrocities committed against Jews. Yered’s comments are likely to fuel further debate surrounding the incident and its implications.
Israeli police have since announced the arrest of five individuals suspected of spitting at Christians. Jerusalem district police commander Doron Turgeman described the acts as “disgraceful acts of hatred,” primarily perpetrated by extremists. Turgeman’s statement reflects the seriousness with which law enforcement is treating these incidents.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir also condemned the spitting but argued that it should not be treated as a criminal offense. Instead, Ben Gvir suggested that addressing the issue through education and instruction could be more appropriate. As a member of the religious Jewish Otzma Yehudit party, his perspective aligns with their party ideology.
These incidents occurred just before the annual Jerusalem March, a major event that attracts large numbers of Jews and Christians from around the world. Despite the controversy surrounding the spitting incident, the march proceeded without violence or clashes, with around 60,000 participants, including thousands of Christians from over 90 countries.
Netanyahu’s response to the spitting incident reflects his government’s commitment to religious freedom and tolerance in Israel. By condemning such behavior and promising decisive action, he sends a clear message that such acts of intimidation will not be tolerated. The incident, along with the subsequent arrests and the peaceful Jerusalem March, highlights the complex religious dynamics in Jerusalem and the importance of maintaining harmony among different faiths in the holy city.