Vandals sprayed anti-Christian graffiti on a Jerusalem church on Friday, despite Israeli police stepping up security around religious sites ahead of a visit by Pope Francis later this month.
“Price tag… King David for the Jews… Jesus is garbage” was spray-painted in Hebrew on the wall of St. George’s, a Romanian Orthodox church near an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.
“Price tag” is a euphemism for hate attacks by Jewish extremists.
Police said that “Death to Arabs” was found written on a house in the Old City in east Jerusalem, and swastikas were scrawled on the wall of a west Jerusalem apartment.
The Roman Catholic church has demanded Israeli action after Hebrew graffiti reading “Death to Arabs and Christians and to everyone who hates Israel” was daubed on its Notre Dame complex in Jerusalem on Monday.
“The bishops are very concerned about the lack of security and lack of responsiveness from the political sector, and fear an escalation of violence,” the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said.
The attacks on Christian property come amid a rise in anti-Arab property crimes. Israeli ministers held an emergency meeting on Wednesday, pledging to enforce harsh measures against perpetrators.
Although police have made scores of arrests, there have been nearly no successful prosecutions for price tag attacks, and the government has come up under mounting pressure to authorize the Shin Bet internal security agency to step in.
Israeli media on Friday reported that police and Shin Bet feared Jewish right-wing extremists would try to attract media attention by attacking Christian sites ahead of the Pope’s visit to the region, scheduled to begin on May 24 in Jordan.
He is then due to spend two days in the Holy Land from May 25.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld highlighted a boosted security presence around sensitive Christian sites.
“We’ve already stepped up security in different sites, in different areas, and obviously will continue to do so,” he said.
Rosenfeld said police did not connect the increase in attacks on Christian sites with the upcoming papal visit.