On Tuesday evening, several dozen Orthodox Jews protested outside the Pais Arena where the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) was holding its Israeli Night event as part of its week-long Feast of Tabernacles.
The banners read, “No, to destruction, no to Christianizing”, “No to a Jewish Holocaust”, “Your intentions are exposed, stop pretending”, and “Declaring spiritual war on Jews, God calls us to the battlefield”.
Tens of thousands of Christians from dozens of countries worldwide are attending the annual Feast of Tabernacles.
Unfortunately, some Christian visitors will hope to use their time in the Jewish state to engage in missionary activity. The ICEJ does its best to prevent this, warning its guests to refrain from such offensive behavior. It is important to emphasize that the ICEJ has never been involved in any attempts to proselytize in Israel.
“The ICEJ has never engaged in missionary activity in Israel,” ICEJ spokesman David said to the media. “The vast majority of Israelis we encounter know this and have warmly welcomed us for Sukkot once again, especially since the Hebrew prophets foresaw long ago the presence of the nations here at this unique and joyous pilgrimage festival.”
This year, the Jewish holiday and concurrent Christian event come during heightened tensions in Jewish-Christian relations, which have been rising due to fears that Christians are intensifying their efforts to proselytize Israeli Jews. In March, a law was proposed in the Knesset by the United Torah Judaism alliance that would have criminalized missionizing in Israel. In August, several Christian organizations, including the ICEJ had their requests for clergy visas denied, inhibiting them from carrying out projects that benefit Israel. Several Jewish leaders came out in unequivocal support of the organizations. In the first three weeks of July, some 17 discriminatory acts against Christians were reported across Israel, reported by independent researcher and activist Yisca Harani. They included spitting, verbal abuse, vandalism, and stone-throwing.
On Monday, ultra-Orthodox Jews, including children, were filmed spitting on the ground in front of Christian worshipers in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted Tuesday that “Israel is totally committed to safeguarding the sacred right of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths. I strongly condemn any attempt to intimidate worshippers, and I am committed to taking immediate and decisive action against it.”
He added: “Derogatory conduct towards worshipers is sacrilege and is simply unacceptable. Any form of hostility towards individuals engaged in worship will not be tolerated.”
President Isaac Herzog sent a video greeting, pledging to protect freedom of worship for all faiths.
“We will insist on protecting all of the religious communities that make up the beautiful human mosaic of our country,” Herzog said, “and safeguard every site, religious leader, and human being from any vile expressions of hatred or intolerance.”
“This commitment goes to the very heart of who we are as a Jewish and democratic state,” he continued.