Ultra-orthodox Jews ‘must stop religious abuse’

Ultra-orthodox Jews ‘must stop religious abuse’
Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem

The Observer
Sunday October 17, 2004*

Jerusalem’s Christian community has demanded that Jewish leaders and
the Israeli government take action against what they claim is growing
harassment of their clergy by religious Jews.

Christians say ultra-Orthodox Jewish students spit at them or at the
ground when they pass. There have also been acts of vandalism against
statues of the Virgin Mary.

The harassment came to a head last week when a Jewish student spat
at Armenian Archbishop Nourhan Manougian and ripped off his crucifix,
whereupon the archbishop slapped him. The police questioned both men.

Mainstream Israeli opinion has been revolted by the revelations of
the abuse of Christian clergy. Avraham Poraz, the interior minister,
condemned the trend of spitting at the cross and those wearing it,
saying it was ‘intolerable’ and that he was ‘revolted’ by it. A former
chief rabbi also voiced his outrage.

All the Christian groups complain of harassment, but the Armenians
bear the brunt. Armenian clergymen said that, when they complained
to the interior minister seven months ago, he told them: ‘Most Jews
have a big problem with them as well.’

The 3,000-strong community live in the Armenian quarter and many Jews
walk through it on their way from west Jerusalem to the Wailing Wall
or Western Wall.

Father Pakrad Bourjekian, a spokesman for the Armenian church, said the
attack was an extreme example of the harassment they receive every day.
‘Every day the fanatical Jews turn their face to the wall or spit on
the ground or at us when they see the crucifix,’ he said.

The Christians admit that it is only a minority who carry out the
abuse, but they feel that the issue is being ignored by religious

Bishop Aris Shirvanian of the Armenian church said: ‘The majority are
courteous or indifferent. The problem is the very religious. It’s a
question of education. What must these people be learning to behave
like this?’

The old city of Jerusalem is buzzing with rumours that young Armenians
will take revenge for the attack and the daily indignities suffered
by their priests.

Bishop Aris acknowledged that there was a danger of reprisals. ‘We
are trying to control our young people and we are succeeding. But
the question is that there is no one in the Jewish community trying
to control their fanatics,’ he said.

Father Pakrad added: ‘There is no hierarchy. Anyone can become a rabbi,
set up an institution, get funds from abroad and teach what they like.’

Jerusalem has always been a city of conflict. Even the old Christian
churches – the Armenian, Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian and
Catholic – are known for their disputes, which regularly result
in brawls.

In the current dispute, the Muslims, the old city’s biggest group,
are for once not involved. ‘I do not think these Jews would dare spit
at a Muslim sheikh; the whole city would explode. We are only a small
group, so it easy to bully us,’ said Bishop Aris.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004