The arrests of five Orthodox Jews accused of spitting at Christian worshippers in the Old City of Jerusalem, demonstrates that Israel takes religious freedom seriously, says Rev Johnnie Moore

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This week, five misguided Israeli Jews came upon Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem from Asia, and they chose to spit, desecrating the spirit of the Holy City.

What happened next was a textbook example of how a responsible nation handles such behavior.

Immediately, statements were issued by the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Chief Rabbi of Israel condemning it.

The Prime Minister of Israel said, “We will have a zero-tolerance policy” for this behavior, and he promised to “take urgent steps against such actions.” Which he did. The perpetrators were arrested shortly thereafter.

Chief Rabbi David Lau called it a “desecration” and stated, “Such unacceptable behavior should not be associated with Jewish religious law in any way.”

The Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, clarified that “this phenomenon does not represent the values of Judaism” and that religious freedom and tolerance will remain “a fundamental value in Israel.”

Israel’s Minister for Diaspora Affairs Amichai Chikli quoted Isaiah in his statement, noting that “my house should be called a house of prayer for all people” and assured Christians that Jerusalem will remain a city that will “embrace people of all religions.”

The statements kept coming from those in and out of government and from every corner of Israel.

Such swift, responsible action is exactly why Israel has become a safe haven for Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Middle East, where such coexistence has been rare in modern history.

The Israeli government deserves commendation, not condemnation, for the situation.

Interestingly, some critics of Israel were quick to share the video of the spitting incident yet have been slow to share the myriad condemnations. We also wonder if those same critics engage in such spirited condemnation when Jews are vilified and attacked.

Those not acquainted with the history of Christian antisemitism might not appreciate the miracle of the growing friendship between Jews and Christians. Not every Jew and not every Christian fully appreciates this miracle or properly respects the sincerely held beliefs of their neighbours. There are bridges still to be built between communities, bridges built best on shared values, and bridges more easily built in pluralistic Israel than in some lands.

These are also moments to reflect on those nations that do not act so swiftly and responsibly to protect the religious freedom of minority communities.

That is a long list.

The list includes some of Israel’s neighbours. The authorities in one country earlier this year got in the habit of confiscating the private religious items of Jews simply passing through, and at least two others allow the Iranian regime not only to incite hatred within their borders but to coordinate antisemitic terrorist attacks against the Jewish people.

critics of Israel were quick to share the video of the spitting incident yet have been slow to share the myriad condemnations

Then there are Palestinians within the Holy Land who’ve violently attacked Jewish worshippers at Joseph’s Tomb, including some who have attempted to burn it to the ground on multiple occasions.

This week, the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem absurdly described the Gaza Strip as an open-air prison. Still, we suspect when he visits, he’ll enjoy accommodation at one of the luxurious hotels in Gaza. We doubt he’ll feel as free to wax eloquent about the condition of Christians there. He can give it a try, though, but he should start by asking why the Christians are almost gone in Gaza. Then, he can ask why Hamas still holds hostage the bodies of two Israeli soldiers in contravention of the three Abrahamic faiths.

The real, state-sponsored religious freedom violations proliferate the globe - but not in Israel. What happened to those Christians who were spat upon was not the responsibility of the Israeli state but the crimes of individuals. The state addressed it, and religious leaders denounced it. That’s good news.

Rev Johnnie Moore co-authored this article with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean and director of the Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

For more on this story listen to the Premier Christian Newscast episode 'Harrasment in the Holy Land'