Faydra L. Shapiro
In Our Time: Jews & Christians
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Anti-Christian hate crimes in Israel: Where are our chief rabbis?

For Jewish religious leaders to walk a moral path, they must speak out to protect Israel's minorities and prevent Jewish radicals from turning violent
Damaged tombstones at the Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery, in Jerusalem, January 3, 2023. (Israel Police)
Damaged tombstones at the Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery, in Jerusalem, January 3, 2023. (Israel Police)

In his third notebook, Albert Camus wrote that “democracy is not the law of the majority but the protection of minorities.” This emphasis is a welcome reminder today in Israel: as our controversial current government is excused by many who shrug and remind us that this is what the majority of Israelis chose. Perhaps so. But is the law of the majority the sole test of a true democracy?

A week ago, two young ostensibly religious Jews broke into the historic Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion and vandalized dozens of gravestones, including pulling down several crosses. One of the desecrated headstones included one with a bust of the second Protestant bishop in Jerusalem, the Reverent Samuel Gobat. The perpetrators carried out this shameless destruction proudly wearing kippot and tzitit (ritual fringed garment). All this was caught on a security camera, which you can see part of below.

A few days later, the pair was arrested.

Their choice of date — January 1 — was not accidental. Nor was their choice to target a Christian cemetery and specifically tear down Christian religious symbols. This was not simply vandalism. We must call it what it is: a religiously-motivated hate crime against Christians. It must be prosecuted clearly under the 2004 amendment to the penal code that stipulates a double of the standard punishment in the case of hate crimes.

We can be proud of the fact that Israel apprehended the pair and takes these crimes seriously.

We can also be proud of the fact that many prominent voices in Israel were raised in criticism of this despicable event, including President Herzog, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Jerusalem district police commander. Dozens of Jewish Israelis made a solidarity visit to Mount Zion. The crime was also condemned by important international figures, including the US government’s antisemitism envoy and the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

Missing however, are the voices of the chief rabbis of Israel.

Now look, I’m not actually so naïve as to expect them to speak out. I’m quite aware of the religious and halachic ambivalence about the Christian presence in Israel, and our chief rabbis have some particular histories of controversial statements and equally controversial silences. Sadly, what we’ve created is a state that is increasingly Jewish and democratic in a “parallel” sense, where each receives their own spheres, rather than in a “mutually-enriching” sense.

I desperately wish that I could say that this crime is exceptional, that nothing like this happens usually in Israel. Sadly, that just isn’t the case. Christians in Israel are increasingly the victims of religious radicalism, a trend that must be stopped.

Freedom of religion isn’t enough.

Until we begin to expect more from our Israeli rabbis in the service of Israeli democracy, the protection of minorities and forging a moral path for the Jewish future, some will feel emboldened to translate that religious ambivalence into active hate crimes. This is not only immoral; it sends a dangerous message to our Jewish youth, to the Diaspora, and to Christians around the world.

The unsaid speaks volumes.

About the Author
Faydra Shapiro is the founding director of the Israel Center for Jewish-Christian Relations and holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. She is also a senior fellow at The Philos Project and a member of the Center for the Study of Religion at Tel Hai College in Israel. Dr. Shapiro teaches visiting Christian groups as well as local Israelis and also writes regular academic and popular articles on Jewish-Christian relations. She is passionate about her mission of creating greater understanding between Jews and Christians both in Israel and in the diaspora. Her latest book is "Catholic Approaches to the People, Land and State of Israel", published in 2022.
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