Tolerance and Diversity Institute

TDI condemns anti-Semitism of Georgian Orthodox Church

TDI considers the anti-Semitic sermon of the Metropolitan of Kutaisi-Gaenati and the head of the Education Center of the Georgian Patriarchate, Ioane Gamrekeli, to be extremely disturbing. To date, the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church has not yet publicly condemned the anti-Semitic manifestation of the Church. 

During the liturgy of 20 December, Metropolitan Ioane referred to the Jewish nation several times in a derogatory context. He called the Jews "persecutors of Christians" and "the generation of unbelievers." The reference to such words is a demonization of the Jewish people, Judaism, and repeats a dangerous stereotype that the entire nation bears collective responsibility for the murder of the Christ.

The Metropolitan preached about the life of Ambrose of Mediolanum and told several episodes. His preaching contained a number of historical inaccuracies. In the case at hand, however, it is not the goal of TDI to establish historical truth. The Metropolitan noted: Christians were able to destroy Jewish communities and synagogues. When the Judaic community asked the ruler to build a synagogue, the king told them to first pay for "all those Christians tortured for centuries”. The Jews finally refused, saying they would have built the synagogue themselves. He also added that “there might not be so many Jews in the city but there are not few in the world, and they had always influenced the king's court, and they do so now."

Ioane Gamrekeli said during his sermon that "the fight continues to date, it is not defined by the ethnicity, it is the fight of the generation of unbelievers against the church." He drew a parallel between the Jews, "the generation of unbelievers" and human rights activists who currently criticize the Church and thus continue the path of the Jewish community.  The reference to human rights defenders as "fighters against the Church in this context is also disturbing."

According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), anti-Semitism is a perception of Jews that may be expressed in hatred towards them. Verbal and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism target Jews, their property, Jewish organizations, and religious institutions. Anti-Semitism includes conspiracy theories about Jews and blames them when something negative happens in the world.

The EU Council of Ministers' Declaration on the fight against antisemitism and the development of a common security approach to better protect Jewish communities and institutions in Europe (2018) states that anti-Semitism, regardless of which extremist, political or religious group is behind it, threatens the security, well-being, and ability of the Jewish people to express their identity.

The widespread stereotype that Jews persecute Christ and Christians is extremely dangerous. Ahmed Shahid, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 2019 Report on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Intolerance, notes that anti-Semitic narratives attribute to the Jews a collective crime of murdering Jesus Christ, citing them as descendants of Judas and  Satan; They are often described as "insidious people with special influence and control". Such stereotypes have been practiced for centuries in religious teachings, sermons, and the arts, says the UN Special Rapporteur.

The consequences of anti-Semitism have left the heaviest mark on the world. Many negative stereotypes stem from a false propaganda pamphlet - Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published in Russia in the early twentieth century. The document employed plagiarism of ancient sources and served as the basis for developing a conspiracy theory about Jewish world domination and control. Institutionalized antisemitism, manifested in various forms in the modern context, was built on the basis of stereotypes about Jews. 

The intolerance towards Judaism and Jewish people demonstrated by the clergymen of the Orthodox high hierarchy in Georgia is a disregard for the centuries-old tradition uniting Jews and Georgians.

This sermon by Metropolitan Ioane Gamrekeli is not the first case of public expression of anti-Semitism by Orthodox clergy. For example, on 4 December 2013, during an event dedicated to the celebration of Hanukkah held at Liberty Square, Orthodox clergy partook in incitement of religious hatred and anti-Semitism. During the festive gathering, which was attended by the President of Georgia and the Ambassador of Israel, Archbishop David Isakadze insulted the Jewish people, Judaism, and said that to them - as Georgian Orthodox persons, the celebration of Hanukkah was unacceptable. At the time, the Patriarchate did not condemn the anti-Semitic calls of the Orthodox priests and refrained from commenting.

In many countries around the world, the severe consequences of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust are being taught and the events reflected upon from school age. The Holocaust is a possibility to discuss basic moral principles and values. Studying and discussing these topics in depth is the most effective way to prevent a recurrence of a similar phenomenon.

Unfortunately, understanding anti-Semitism, Holocaust and their consequences are not a priority for the Georgian government either. This is evidenced by an annual report of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE / ODIHR), which describes the measures taken by the member states to teach the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and the consequences of anti-Semitism. The report is based on information provided by the States. They say nothing about the measures taken by the Georgian government.

TDI calls on  

Patriarchate of Georgian Orthodox Church:

  • To publicly and critically evaluate and condemn the anti-Semitic sermon of the Metropolitan;

Government of Georgia:

  • To introduce topics of antisemitism and Holocaust in the general education system, which shall contribute to the promotion of a tolerant environment and respect for human rights;

  • To make statements in support of tolerance, respect for human rights, and prohibition of discrimination, and strongly condemn anti-Semitism and hate speech.