ADL: Rabbinate Needs Wake-up Call on anti-Christian Spitting Attacks

Ugly practice comes into spotlight again after court dismiss indictment of an Armenian priesthood student who punched a yeshiva student in reaction to being spat upon.

Raphael Ahren
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The Anti-Defamation League has refused to accept the explanation by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate about its efforts to combat the phenomenon of Ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting at Christian clergymen in Jerusalem's Old City. While the Rabbinate asserts the ADL is "misguided' in publicly lashing out at the government institution for not doing enough to fight the phenomenon, the ADL is sticking to its assertions.

"We do not believe our statement was 'misguided' in the least. On the contrary, we believe the Rabbinate needed a wake-up call on this issue. We believe they have not done enough," ADL chairman Abraham Foxman told Anglo File this week. "They've condemned it before, they've issued all of these statements, but nothing has changed."

Abe Foxman, chairman of the ADL.Credit: AP

The ugly practice came into the spotlight again recently after the Jerusalem Magistrate's court dismissed the indictment of Johannes Martarsiana, an Armenian priesthood student who had punched a Haredi yeshiva student in the face in reaction to being spat upon. The judge's ruling and subsequent news reports mentioned that some Jerusalem Haredim have been spitting at Christians for years.

Following the incident, the New York-based ADL on November 30 sent a letter to the Rabbinate, urging it to "publicly and forcefully denounce the repulsive phenomenon." Foxman also asked the rabbis to "convene a meeting with Haredi rabbinic leaders to take concrete steps to ban the decades old practice and educate these communities about respect for other religions."

After the ADL, which combats anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry worldwide, did not receive any response from the Rabbinate for about a week, the organization took the issue to the public. In a press release, the organization repeated its demands and threw in some indirect criticism at the Rabbinate. "The issue makes headlines every few years, and promises are made to combat it, but it continues every day," the ADL's director of interfaith affairs, Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, wrote.

This time, the Rabbinate took up the gauntlet. The following day, director-general Oded Wiener issued a statement expressing "regret that the ADL has issued a call to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel on a particular matter without doing the most basic research on the facts."

Wiener called the ADL's demands "misguided" and "particularly ironic" since "no Jewish institution has done more to fight the totally unacceptable phenomenon referred to than the Chief Rabbinate." He asserted, "What the ADL calls on the Chief Rabbinate to denounce has been condemned by the Chief Rabbis publicly on more than one occasion."

Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar also invited the Christian leadership to meet with them to express their "abhorrence" at the spitting and issued "a forceful call to all yeshivot and congregations in the Old City to make sure that no errant members of their institutions misguidedly engage in such practices," he wrote.

Metzger paid "a solidarity visit" to the Christian patriarchs and met with the police and municipal authorities to encourage greater law enforcement, he added. Wiener also wrote that the situation has improved "dramatically" over the last few months.

Indeed, several Armenian and Orthodox clergymen told Haaretz that while still prevalent, spitting incidents have decreased recently.

Wiener stated the new incident acquired "disproportionate attention" because of media reports. "Had the appropriate inquiries been made, the ADL would have had the opportunity to congratulate the Chief Rabbinate for its actions in this regard rather than issue this misguided statement."

But instead of backpedaling, Foxman told Haaretz it still holds the Rabbinate has not done enough. Foxman further demanded the Rabbinate "needs to institute an educational program of respect, so that there is a greater understanding in the ultra-Orthodox community of why this conduct is so offensive and inimical to Jewish values."

Rabbi David Rosen, a British-born honorary advisor on interfaith relations to the Rabbinate, did not accept the ADL's criticism.

"I would be the last person to say that everything is perfect and that there's not more to do," he told Anglo File Wednesday. "But the critique needs to be directed elsewhere. The one place that does not deserve it over this issue is the Chief Rabbinate, which has done more than arguably any other body."

Regarding the demand the Rabbinate create an "educational program of respect," Rosen, who also directs the American Jewish Committee's Department for Interreligious Affairs, said the ADL doesn't understand the nature of the Rabbinate.

"It's not the Education Ministry, that's the job of the Education Ministry. But Oded Wiener and myself are actually on our way to a meeting of the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, which involves all the Christian leadership," he said.

"And one of the projects we're working on is the review of textbooks and to see how people are being maybe miseducated or just kept ignorant altogether about one another. So in fact the Chief Rabbinate is actually involved in matters of education but obviously it's not the primary responsibility of the Chief Rabbinate."