Tolerance and Diversity Institute

Antisemitism of the Church - Updated Summary

Last update: 9 February 2021

The recent anti-Semitic statements of the Georgian Orthodox clergy sparked public debates about the issue. Clergy, diplomats, community, and civil society organizations, and several state officials responded on different media platforms. Following these events, anti-Semitic messages have appeared on social networks too. Thus far (as of 11 January), the Georgian Orthodox Church has not acknowledged or condemned antisemitism of high-ranking clergymen, nor has the State assessed critically these statements. 

Below we offer regularly updated chronology and summary of the events and related important statements.  

20 December 2020 - the Metropolitan of Kutaisi-Gaenati Eparchy of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the head of the Education Center of the Georgian Patriarchate, Ioane Gamrekeli made antisemitic statements during his sermon at Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi. 

In the sermon about the life of Ambrose of Mediolanum, Ioane Gamrekeli recounted a story of a clash between Christians and the Jewish community; According to him, Christians who outnumbered the Jews defeated them and pulled down a synagogue. Later, Christians rejected a request of Jews to rebuild the synagogue, because according to the ruler, Jews tortured Christians for centuries and they had to pay the price for that. By providing this example, the Metropolitan justified the discrimination against Jews and the destruction of the synagogue; then, the Metropolitan generalized the “lineage of infidels” to those people who criticize the Patriarchate ("this fight continues to date, here, it is not determined by ethnicity, it is the fight of the lineage of infidels against the Church."). In the same sermon, Ioane Gamrekeli mentioned one of the most widespread antisemitic conspiracy myths that Jews enjoyed special influence at the “king's court” back then and continue to enjoy it today as well.

See the English translation of Metropolitan’s sermon transcript at the end of this document.

The video recording of the sermon was published by the Kutaisi-Gaenati Eparchy.

28 December 2020 - TDI issued a statement condemning antisemitism of the Church. TDI underlined that the sermon promoted a dangerous religious stereotype that attributes collective guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus to the entire Jewish people and portrays Jews as persecutors of Christians - a widespread stereotype that represents the most solid basis of institutional antisemitism. TDI called on the GOC Patriarchate and the government of Georgia to critically assess and condemn antisemitism. 

See TDI’s 28 December statement

30 December 2020 First response of the Church: The Metropolitan published the first letter on the official Facebook page of Kutaisi-Gaenati Eparchy after TDI’s statement. Ioane Gamrekeli did not acknowledge anti-Semitism in his sermon and said he did not single out Jews on the ethnic ground. He further accused human rights defenders of attacking the Church. He mentioned concrete persons, the head of the Tolerance Center at the Public Defender of Georgia, Beka Mindiashvili, and Archpriest Basil Kobakhidze.

29 December 2020 - the current Ambassador of Georgia to Israel, Lasha Zhvania, expressed his position which can be considered alarming. On his official Facebook page, the Ambassador said that branding the sermon of the Metropolitan of Kutaisi-Gaenati as antisemitism was an attempt to defame the Metropolitan and the Church. As for the story in the Metropolitan’s sermon, the Ambassador referred to it as a “particular unpleasant fact” that happened 1600 years ago and was cited by the Metropolitan from the dialogue between Ambrose of Mediolanum and the king; furthermore, the Ambassador offered his interpretation of Metropolitan’s words “lineage of infidels' [or “faithless generation,”] saying that it was generalized to the faithless generation of mankind, in accordance with the Gospel of Mark.

1 January 2021 - Second response of the Church: the Kutaisi-Gaenati Eparchy published the Metropolitan’s second response to TDI. The Metropolitan repeated that the sermon touched upon “historical facts” and justified his statements with the argument that he generalized his words on “organizations of TDI type operating in modern Georgia, not the Jewish community.”  He declared that the TDI tries to “upset a centuries-long cordial relationship between the Church of Georgia and the Jewish people.” 

3 January 2021 - the Jewish organization, Israeli House, issued a statement concerning the sermon of Ioane Gamrekeli, noting that the Metropolitan’s sermon is “a manifestation of anti-Semitism, an attempt to kindle disagreement and encourage several radical groups.” The Israeli House calls the position of Georgia’s Ambassador to Israel Lasha Zhvania even more alarming as he “plays down antisemitic statements of the Metropolitan and by offering incomprehensible explanations, tries to relieve him of responsibility for the statements.” 

4 January 2021 - The first statement of the Ambassador of Israel to Georgia, Ran Gidor about the recent developments: In his special statement, the Ambassador noted that the sermon of the Metropolitan “might have lent itself to various interpretations - some of them of particular concern.” He wrote, he “was heartened” to read Metropolitan’s public explanation on 31st December, in which “he clarified his original meaning, and reiterated his respect for the Jewish people.”

4 January 2021 - The Ambassador Ran Gidor in another statement congratulated Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II on the occasion of his birthday, and noted that the role of Ilia II as a spiritual leader is more important now than ever before due to the recent “unfortunate spread of racism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance.”

4 January 2021 - Another clergyman from Kutiais-Gaenati Eparchy, Archpriest Ilia Karkadze, made antisemitic statements. The Archpriest made his statements in support of Metropolitan Gamrekeli. 

According to the Archpriest, there are Zionist groups who “side with the unkind earthly force,” but there are also Jews of the faith of Moses who “do not merge” with the former. Ilia Karkadze said that in his sermon Metropolitan Ioane recounted the facts: “If I read out Abel’s prophecies where, for example, Abel writes that the Yids will torment Russia, it’s a fact that it is true”. Archpriest says that in the Soviet times the Jewish people had a big influence and according to the documentary film directed about Stalin, their groupings would make revolutions. Archpriest Ilia Karkadze switches from the topic of the influence of the Jewish people to the issue of financial influences today: “Who does possess the modern bank system? I am not going to talk about it, please have a look and you will understand.” According to him, Stalin could not be duped, because he was a “great genius”. However today, Georgia and Russia are conquered by “offshore money”. “It is easy to guess who is leading this process [what kind of powers] - “They wield financial leverages today.” - says the Archpriest.

5 January 2021  - TDI made a second statement, summarizing the events and giving its assessment about the antisemitic statements made by Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli of Kutaisi-Gaenati Eparchy, Archpriest Ilia Karkadze, as well as unfounded criticism leveled at human rights defenders. TDI once again underlined that it is of utmost importance for the Patriarchate of Georgia to clearly critically assess the statement by Metropolitan Ioane. The Patriarchate and the representatives of the government must condemn antisemitism and hate speech against Jews and human rights defenders and issue statements that support tolerance, respect for human rights, and condemn discrimination.

See TDI’s second statement

8 January 2021 - The Church’s third response: The Metropolitan acknowledged the anti-semitism in the sermon of Archripiest Karkadze, but not in his own statements. The latest criticism of his statements he still referred to as an “organized campaign” against him. 

The Public Relations Service of the Patriarchate, as well as the Kutaisi-Gaenati Eparchy, published the statement of Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli. 

The statement reads, that Archpriest Ilia Karkadze's sermon of January 4, "represents completely groundless accusations against the Jewish people or its individual representatives. It is not based on the teachings of the Church and is inspired with the anti-Semitic pathos". As the Metropolitan noted, Archpriest Karkadze received a warning and he is sorry for what he has said. (To be noted, the Archpriest’s sermon was removed from the Facebook page on January 6).  

Thus, Neither the Patriarchate of Georgia nor the Metropolitan admitted that the 20 December sermon contained antisemitic statements and issued no apology. 

8 January 2021 - TDI’s third statement: TDI welcomed the critical assessment of the anti-Semitic statements of Archpriest Ilia Karkadze by the Church and considered it as the first step forward. However, TDI noted, that this response was insufficient to address the problem of anti-Semitism and intolerance within the Church. TDI once again called on the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church, to clearly express its position and offer a critical assessment of the statements by Metropolitan Ioane and Archpriest Ilia. TDI also called on the Patriarchate and the representatives of the government to condemn antisemitism and hate speech against Jews and human rights defenders and issue statements that support tolerance, respect for human rights, and condemn discrimination.

See TDI’s third statement

8 January 2021 - the Ambassador of Israel to Georgia, Ran Gidor made his third statement. The Ambassador says “exactly one week ago I expressed my wish that the new year would be welcomed with a public reassurance that the friendship between Georgians and Jews is as strong as ever and that anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry have no place in Georgian society. Unfortunately, that was not the case [...]”. The Ambassador was concerned with the Archpriest Ilia Karkadze’s antisemitic sermon. Also once again highlighted that Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli “had delivered his own highly controversial and problematic sermon, parts of which could have been interpreted as anti-Semitic”. Ambassador Gidor called upon “the Georgian government to make its voice heard loud and clear in condemnation of those hateful anti-Semitic speeches”; he also expressed the hope that the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church will make a “ much-needed message of tolerance and rejection of all forms of anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry”.

8 January 2021 - the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia David Zalkaniani responded to Ambassador Gidor’s statement with a brief statement on his Twitter account. He said, “not the smallest expression of anti-Semitism may find its place in the hearts and minds of Georgians”. The Minister did not make any critical response to the recent antisemitic statements; he also did not respond to the alarming statement of 29 December of the ambassador of Georgia to Israel Lasha Zhvania, who supported the antisemitic statement of the Metropolitan Gamrekeli. 

9 January 2021 - Archpriest Ilia Karkadze without acknowledging the antisemitism of his previous preaching, made some lengthy explanations. He said during another preaching that he has Jewish friends, loves his Jewish classmates, and fears that his friends might be upset by the recent events. Additionally, he cited “historical records” according to which Stalin told Khrushov not to fight “ordinary Jews”, but to “fight Zionists, as the enemies”. He concluded that anti-Semitism never existed in Georgia. 

9 January 2021 - The opposition political party European Georgia responded to the recent anti-Semitic statements. The leader of the party Giga Bokeria says that "preaching agains any religious or ethnic group is immoral and shameful behaviour, especially the anti-Semitism". According to him, ambassador Lasha Zhvania's statement, who justified Metropolitan Gamrekeli's anti-Semitic sermon, is even more alarming and disgraceful. The political party considers that "these statements are disgraceful immoral, are directed against human freedoms and dignity and are perilous. The response of the government on this must be distinct". The European Georgia calls on the Minister of Foreign Affairs to recall ambassador Zhvania from Israel.  

10 January 2021 Chief Rabbi of the World's Georgian-Jewish Community Jacob Gagulashvili issued the statement. He speaks about the centuries-long friendship of Jewish and Georgian people and based on that says that there cannot be anti-Semitism in Georgia. He assessed the critical response to the anti-Semitic statements as the provocation and called on society, not to follow it.  

10 January 2021 - The spokesperson of the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Andria Jaghmaidze in response to the journalist’s question, whether the Patriarchate was going to comment on the issue, noted that the Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli already made explanations and he did not mention Jewish people in any negative context. According to him, Metropolitan’s words addressed societal groups who attempt to undermine the Church. Jaghmaidze clearly expressed that the Georgian Orthodox Church is not going to make any additional explanations or apologies on that matter. 

11 January 2021 -  Public Defender (Ombudsperson) of Georgia and Tolerance Center of Public Defender issued a statement regarding the Church anti-Semitism. According to the Public Defender, “the spread of anti-Semitic views in the country threatens the equality of the ethnic Jewish people and, at the same time, shows that one of the most horrible crimes in the history of mankind - the Holocaust and its preconditions - have not been properly understood. Any manifestation of anti-Semitism is dangerous for every citizen, as well as for society as a whole.”

It is noted in the statement, that it is necessary that the recent anti-Semitic rhetoric be not only the matter of discussion of certain individuals but that the Georgian authorities. 

12 January 2021 - the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia responded to the journalist’s question: “we live in a secular state and of course the Church already made explanations on the clergymen’s statements and we saw this. Of course I will not make further comments on this”. He further repeated Foreign Minister Zalkaniani’s Twitter statement and said that “there has never been a place for antisemitism in our society and will never be in the future”. 

22 January 2021 - Writer and publicist, Abraam Sapir addressed the Ambassador of Georgia to Israel, Lasha Zhvania with an open letter and criticized him for supporting the antisemitic statement of the Georgian Orthodox Church Bishop.

27 January 2021 - Israeli Ambassador Ran Gidor, in the interview with Radio Liberty, spoke again about the antisemitic statements made by the Georgian Orthodox Clergy. The Ambassador said that as the high-ranking officials did not respond and condemn adequately the antisemitic statements, he had to issue a critical statement. 

“First time, the statement was made in Kutaisi, from a very high-ranking clergyman of Georgian Orthodox Church. I tried to respond in a very diplomatic manner. However, in less than two weeks, another, even worse statement was made. I hoped that this statement would be strongly condemned by the high establishment of Georgia. However, when I saw some hesitation, I had no choice but to publish a statement myself”.

In January 2021, the antisemitic statement of another clergyman, Archpriest Tadeoz Saralidze, made during a sermon in 2018 was shared in media. The Archpriest spoke about Jews and Armenian people as a threat: “There can not be Jews and Armenians in our government, we are in the hands of those three exactly and we are struggling”. In this context, he noted that the threat is coming from the United States and Europe: “Putin respects our Patriarch. It is obvious why he appointed Bishop Shio [as the Patriarch’s locum tenens] - because he has the right orientation that is not directed towards Europe and cowardly people”.

8 February 2021 - Bishop of Khoni and Samtredia, Saba (Gigiberia) during the sermon in the cathedral of David the Builder stated, that he is not going to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and he continued speaking about building the Solomon’s Temple in Israel, which, according to him, means an imminent return of Christ. “I’m telling you, that I’m not going to receive the vaccine and you can do as you wish. By the way, such information came also. We tried to clarify it and partially got the note, that this is true. In Israel, they started building Solomon’s Temple. Many of you will understand that I’m not saying this by an accident and this event is related to the Second Coming of Christ”.

See TDI’s Statement on the sermon of Bishop Saba

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English translation of Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli’s sermon transcript (10.20 minutes)

Sermon by the Metropolitan of Georgian Orthodox Church, Bishop Ioane Gamrekeli of Kutaisi-Gaenati Diocese.

Bagrati Cathedral, 20 December 2020

“In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Today the Church remembers Ambrose of Mediolanum, that is of modern-day Milan. He was an educated layman for his time, serving as a public servant, and was close to the king. And in Milan a quarrel took place among the populace; disputes happened back then too, not just today, as people are split, sometimes switching sides, at times fighting against each other. The king tasked Ambrose to reconcile the sides, and the dispute was eventually resolved. There was no bishop back then, and a successor should have been elected, which was the reason behind the dispute. They disagreed over who to elect as a new bishop. And then a child cried out, “Ambrose, the bishop, Ambrose, the bishop”, and the crowd took up this chant. People could see his wisdom, peacefulness, his efforts for reconciliation, achieving peace, his patience and thus regarded him as a man to lead our Church, as God is pleased by these righteous virtues. Though he was the layman, he quickly passed through all the Church ranks of a deacon, a priest, a monk, and bishop, and he eventually became the Bishop of Milan.

After becoming the Bishop, the following case [he had to deal with] happened: a community of Judeans had a dispute with the Christians. The latter outnumbered the former, and the dispute poured into violence, because of which the Christians defeated the Judean community, and destroyed their synagogue. The authorities outraged – the Judeans made a complaint [before authorities for the Christians] to rebuild their synagogue. They [Judeans] might have been few in the city, but they are not few in the world, and they always have influence at the royal court... Even now. The Christians disagreed [to pay]. The ruler then asked Ambrose to repay. He replied: “How could we, Christians build - for the crucifiers of the Christ, the persecutors of the Christians - a place of worship where they are cursing us?” [The ruler answered]: “Well, they are citizens too and have rights” – rights in today’s understanding. Ambrose, being a former public servant, passed a message: “Alright, but beforehand, they [Judeans] ought to pay for a century-long torture of however many Christians that happened for their [Judeans’] denouncing and defamation, for however many destroyed Christian shrines… We will repay them to rebuild their synagogue after they compensate for these [actions]”. And they realized this was an amount they could not pay. Could one really pay for the blood of the innocent? For how many had been tortured because of their defamation, accusation, denounce? How many times they committed violence against Christians before Christianity was announced as a state religion? Then the ruler summoned the [Judean] community leader and passed on the message: “You repay for [actions of] centuries – for two centuries at least – and then they [Christians] will repay you from there”. And they [Judeans] refused, saying we would rebuild it ourselves.

Even today, as they speak of human rights, strangely, there is a right to swearing and defamation against the Church, then there is freedom of speech. But whenever we seek to criticize this action… if they have the right for doing this, why cannot we have the right to express our opinion? This battle continues to date. This is not defined by ethnicity – this is a battle of the lineage of infidels against the Church. But they have got nothing but good from the Church – be it the Georgian script of Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri, these cathedrals, these frescoes, icons, hagiography, the lives of the saints, everything that the Georgian nation is proud of calling its culture and religion. And the Church - creator of all this, is deprived of the right to raise the voice and argue for this defamation to stop... that they are cutting two words out of five, alter opinion, [bringing] reversed view, sitting down to edit in a way to convey an opposite meaning. They are then commenting on this with however they understand it, and we know how they understand it – however they are lectured to perceive it. But we are not surprised, this is their sin, we even pity these people. But where is this stemming from? They cannot see the good coming from the Church, and more so, they do not want to [see it].

The Georgian Constitution acknowledged the special role of the Orthodox Church in the history and culture of the Georgian nation. They are in fact against the Constitution when they [fight] the Church. Cannot they see how many new cathedrals were built or restored, or how many schools/colleges were built? Or charity houses? Well, they know it, but they are neither grateful to God, nor praising it.

Today you have listened from the Gospel the story of cleansing 10 lepers. They [lepers] were near the road, hearing Jesus was coming, and pleaded Jesus to heal them. The God healed them and told them to “go and show yourselves to the priest”. According to the religion of Moses, a priest had to confirm that they were truly healed from the disease. There were signs [that they started healing], in this case the priest was not doing it himself but had to fulfill what was blessed from God. And God told [lepers] to go in search of the priest. The priest did not heal them, but God. One of these ten returned and praised God. And the Christ wondered, where were the remaining nine that were healed, could not they guess they were supposed to return and praise God? God did not demand from them “come to worship me”, as they [lepers] saw a human, not God, but could not they thank God after all, and then head to the priest?!”

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Other relevant publications in English: 

European Jewish Congress - Georgian Orthodox Clergy double down on antisemitic sermons 

World Zionist Organizations - Antisemitism of Georgian Orthodox Church 

OC Media - Georgian Orthodox Clergy double down on antisemitic sermons 

Jam News - Georgian priest calls Jews 'persecutors of Christians.' Street, social media protests ensue