Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his government will not tolerate “derogatory conduct” against people for their religion, after Jewish residents were filmed spitting at Christian pilgrims.
“Israel is totally committed to safeguard the sacred right of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths,” the prime minister wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “I strongly condemn any attempt to intimidate worshippers, and I am committed to taking immediate and decisive action against it.”
Though Netanyahu did not mention any particular incident, the statement came after a video surfaced online showing ultra-Orthodox Jews, including children, spitting at Christians in Jerusalem’s Old City earlier this week. The episode took place during celebrations for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, as well as the Feast of Tabernacles, a yearly religious event that draws Christian pilgrims to Israel.
While the video quickly sparked controversy, an Orthodox activist and a former spokesman for Israel’s hard-right Otzma Yehudit party, Elisha Yered, defended the practice of “spitting near churches or monasteries,” calling it an “ancient Jewish tradition.” He added that “we have forgotten what Christianity is,” going on to reference a number of historical atrocities carried out against the Jews.
On Wednesday, Israeli police announced that they had arrested five people suspected of spitting at Christians. “Unfortunately, we witness the continued disgraceful acts of hatred towards Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem, primarily through spitting by extremists,” Jerusalem district police commander Doron Turgeman said.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir also condemned the spitting on Christians, but argued that it is “not a criminal case.”
“I think we need to act on it through instruction and education. Not everything justifies an arrest,” Ben Gvir, who is also a member of the religious Jewish Otzma Yehudit party, said.
The incidents came in the immediate lead-up to the yearly Jerusalem March, which typically draws large crowds of Jews and Christians. Despite the controversy, the gathering was held on Wednesday, with thousands of Christians from more than 90 countries reportedly taking part alongside 60,000 total participants. Police reported no violence or clashes during the march.