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World News

Israel's foreign minister condemns spitting attacks against Christians as 'ugly phenomenon'

by Donna Birrell

Israel's Foreign Minister has condemned several incidents this week in which Orthodox Jews have spat at Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem.

In a phone call to the Vatican yesterday with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Eli Cohen described the incidents as an "ugly phenomenon".

Five people have been arrested. One of the arrests is connected to a video showing ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting on Christian pilgrims carrying a cross out of the Church of the Flagellation in the Old City.

Speaking to Premier, Brendan Metcalfe from the Christian charity Friends of the Holy Land, said the situation is "very sad".

"This decline in relations has been something that has been seen over the last couple of years because of the policies of the recently elected government which have been fostering a sort of right wing attitude. Out of this, unfortunately, there have been some incidents that have particularly affected Christians.

"But I want to emphasise that these are a minority of people. It's not supported by the wider communities in Israel and in the West Bank. The Christian community in the Holy Land is very well respected. There's a great deal of support for Christians amongst the general population."

A local priest in the Old City, Father Matteo, told CNN that there were sometimes ten or so incidents of spitting every day outside his monastery on the Via Dolorosa.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement on Tuesday "strongly condemning any attempt to inflict harm on worshippers."

In a statement following his call with the Vatican, foreign minister Cohen said: "This does not represent Jewish values and the widespread condemnation of this despicable phenomenon is a testament to this fact.

"Freedom of speech and worship are foundational principles in Israel and the hundreds of thousands of Christian tourists who come to Israel every year to visit places that are holy to them and to us are wanted here, and will be welcomed with respect and with blessings."

Metcalfe beleives Netanyahu's intervention is hopeful.

"I absolutely welcome and am pleased that this has happened. They've taken action and arrested these individuals, and this is also a great step which hasn't happened previously. So this statement, this action, begins to show that the government is seeing that it's gone too far, and they need to take action with these radical movements.

"We're very pleased the government is taking steps and I'm sure the heads of churches in Jerusalem are also very pleased. We just need to see more of that."


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