Jewish activists protest Pentecost event in Jerusalem; deputy mayor calls Christianity a 'cult'

Israel flag with a view of old city Jerusalem and the Western Wall.
Israel flag with a view of old city Jerusalem and the Western Wall. | Getty Images

An Evangelical prayer gathering to commemorate the day of Pentecost near the Western Wall in Jerusalem descended into chaos Sunday after right-wing orthodox Jewish activists chanted insults and reportedly spit on participants, leading to some arrests.

“Pentecost 2023 - A Global Day of Prayer for Jerusalem and the Nations,” held on Saturday and Sunday, consisted of a “coalition of believers in Israel and the Nations, denominations, missions and prayer organizations” coming together in prayer for Jerusalem, the Jewish people and the “Gospel to go to the ends of the earth.”

Hundreds of Christians gathered Sunday at the Davidson Center, an archaeological park near the Western Wall, as part of the initiative’s “Pentecost 2023 Vision,” where organizers held a time of worship and prayer on the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The theme of the event was centered on Psalm 122, which commands God’s people to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

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During the event, several Orthodox Jewish activists — including a prominent rabbi and the deputy mayor of Jerusalem — took part in a protest that eventually turned violent, with several of the protesters hurling insults at Christians gathered in the area and others spitting on them, according to Haaretz.

Windows at the Davidson Center were also smashed during the protest, the Israeli newspaper reported, adding that 10 protesters were arrested during the gathering but were not identified. 

Israel Today reports that some signs protesters held up cited the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD by Rome and the Holocaust as reasons for the protest. 

One sign reportedly read: “We haven’t forgotten our temple that was destroyed by Rome nor the equitation in Spain and all the pogroms. We have not forgotten all the bloodshed nor the six million who were murdered in the Holocaust.

“Now we have returned to our country and pray in the remnant of the temple that will be built soon. Please respect the feelings of the Jewish people and do your Christian ceremonies in your churches and not here.”

Among those who participated in the protest were ultra-orthodox Rabbi Zyi Thau, the spiritual leader of the right-wing Noam Party, and Arieh King, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who equated Christian missionary activity with radical Islamic terrorism.

In a tweet, King applauded the “dignified and proper protest” and said, “As far as I am concerned, every missionary should know that he is not a welcome person in the Land of Israel.”

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, King said, “Missionary terrorism is as dangerous as Islamic terrorism. … Do you think they would have allowed the Jews to hold a prayer service at the entrance to the Vatican? Or in Mecca? This is a provocation.”

King said he met “at least three of the participants at [Sunday’s] demonstration … are Israelis that converted to Christianity.”

King called participants in the prayer and worship event — which was live-streamed to millions of viewers — part of “the Christian cult.”

"It is the duty of every Jew to save all Jews from descending into the Christian cult," King told protesters last weekend, according to Haaretz. 

"They want to pray? Let them pray in their churches, not at the holiest place to Jews, at the south entrance to the Temple, the Huldah Gate staircase,” King added.

“Can anyone imagine that Jews would be allowed to hold a mass prayer at the entrance to the Vatican or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre's plaza?"

The Christian Post reached out to Deputy Mayor King. A response is pending. 

Senior Israeli rabbis told The Jerusalem Post the protest was sparked mainly by messaging on the Pentecost 2023 site. The website labeled the event “the beginning of a decade of prayer, evangelism and discipleship” as part of what the organization is calling Commit 2033. The initiative marks what Christians believe will be the 2,000th anniversary of the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.

Since 2021, the Christian community in Israel — which is largely comprised of Arab Christians — has been the target of criticism by Orthodox Jews and other Israeli conservatives, who have urged missionaries to “refrain from such offensive behavior” as sharing the Gospel with the Jewish people.

Last October, following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, many Christians returned to Israel to mark the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, with more than 2,000 pilgrims from 70 nations estimated to come to Jerusalem during the feast.

But while the gathering heralded the return of Christian tourism to Israel following the pandemic, some Jews, like Israel365 founder Rabbi Tuly Weisz, seem ambivalent about the trend — which, for them, also means the return of evangelism to the Holy Land.

Weisz believes that while non-Jewish tourists should be "warmly welcomed" to "come closer to the true fulfillment of Sukkot," he appeared less welcoming to the Evangelical practice of sharing the Gospel with the Jewish people.

"Unfortunately, some of the Christian visitors will hope to use their time in the Jewish state to engage in missionary activity," he wrote. "The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) does its best to prevent this, warning its guests to refrain from such offensive behavior."

Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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