As Pope Francis rests up for his three-day trip to the Holy Land, Jewish extremists are putting out the word that Christians are not welcome in Israel. There have been fourteen incidents of “price-tagging,” that is defacing Christian sites with hate slogans, in the last year, seven in the last month.
In Nazareth, the town with the largest Christian population in Israel, Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo was the target of a death threat. A note in Hebrew told him, “Leave Israel or face the wrath of G-d.”
Earlier this spring a disgruntled Jewish Israeli set off firecrackers in the Basilica of the Annunciation, provoking a panic. It could have been worse. The baby stroller he pushed contained several incendiary devices. Bishop Marcuzzo commented that such acts are “a very dangerous threat” to interreligious coexistence in Israel.
One of the latest graffiti attacks took place at the office of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. It read in Hebrew, “Death to Arabs, Christians and all who hate Israel.” At a Catholic church on Harhoma Hashilit Street in Jerusalem, a graffito read, “King David is for the Jews, Jesus is garbage.”
Extremist Orthodox Jews have been protesting the pope’s plans to conclude his pilgrimage with the celebration of Mass at the Cenacle, the traditional site of the Last Supper.
Formerly the site of a mosque, the building also houses on the ground floor a Jewish shrine said to be the tomb of David. For this reason, it is a natural point of tension.
The Catholic Church has long sought to open the Upper Room to regular celebration of Mass. Earlier this year Israeli officials let it be known that an agreement had been reached for Eucharistic celebrations there.
Yisca Harani, identified as an historian and an intermediary between protestors and the churches, gave expression to the protestors’ distemper over the pope's plans. She told the respected Israeli newspaper Ha’Aretz, “Let [the Christians] learn from what happened to the Jews on Good Friday in the Middle Ages. There are some days when it is better not to be out and about in the streets" (“Vatican concerned by Israel’s lack of control over hate crimes,” Ha’Aretz, 5/11).
Drew Christiansen, S.J., former editor of America, is Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Global Human Development at Georgetown University.