A German abbot claimed on Wednesday to have been instructed to remove a cross he was wearing during a visit to the Western Wall alongside a German Cabinet minister.
He was also accused of committing a provocation by a local usher. "Sad to see how the climate in this wonderful city is changing for the worse under the new government," Nikodemus Schnabel said in a tweet. A video clip of the incident was posted on social media.
Schnabel, a high-ranking member of the Benedictine Order serving in Jerusalem, escorted German Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger, on her visit to the holy Jewish site when he was approached by an usher and told he must remove his cross which she saw as a provocation, despite his explanation that he was a man of the Church. The usher claimed that all visitors to the Western Wall are asked to do the same.
Schnabel voiced his shock at the request. "You do not respect me and deprive me of my human rights," he said. The visiting minister was also dismayed, and an official complaint was lodged with the Foreign Ministry which was quick to demand explanations from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which employs the guard.
Officials in the foundation said there was no new law or regulation but that requests were made when crosses were large in size and clearly displayed out of respect to the Jewish worshippers. They claimed Jews wearing a clearly visible Star of David are also asked the same when they enter Temple Mount and that no Jews would enter a church with tefillin. They added that perhaps the usher had failed to communicate well in English and that the German delegation had completed its tour without the cross being removed, as was suggested.
"Unfortunately, we are seeing too many incidents that causer the appearance that there is hostility towards Christianity and Christians and that is harmful to Israel's reputation and must stop," an unnamed official in Jerusalem said
Germany's consulate in Ramallah expressed solidarity with Schnabel. "We share his concern about the limitations placed on the space of some faiths in Jerusalem. Mutual respect and tolerance are the sources of the holy city's unique character."
Schnabel who served at the head of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem and was an adviser to the German Foreign Ministry, has been leading a campaign in Germany and in among Christians in the world to inform them of the difficult situations Christians in Israel are in and the growing number of incidents of abuse and attack – including being spat on – that they endure.
In an interview he gave in 2016, he said he himself sometimes covers his cross when entering the holy sites of other faiths and that Jews remove their head covering when entering a church. "It is a matter of honor for me," he said at the time.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation later issued an apology for the incident. "We apologize for any distress caused. The Western Wall is open to all. It should be emphasized that there are no regulations regarding this matter at the Western Wall Plaza. The usher approached and politely asked if it would be possible to cover the cross to prevent any discomfort, as has recently occurred in the Old City, out of a desire to respect both the visitor and the site. When he refused, entry was obviously not denied, and the usher respected the decision and continued on her way," a statement read.