Galilee
A priest walks past a graffiti reading in Hebrew 'idols will be cast out' as he inspects the damage at the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the shores on the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, in the aftermath of a suspected arson attack.MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images

A top Palestinian politician in the Israeli Knesset has called on both the British government and US President Barack Obama to take a stance on a spate of racist attacks on Christian churches in Israel.

Ahmad Tibi, the leader of the Arab Movement for Change (Ta'al) Party, made the comments after an arson attack destroyed parts of the Catholic Church of the Multiplication at Taghba in Galilee.

The church, which is visited by hundreds of thousands Christian pilgrims every year, is built at the spot where Christians believe Jesus Christ performed a miracle by feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.

Members of the church said that Jewish extremists were responsible for the attack, as Hebrew graffiti on a building within the complex read "idols will be cast out", part of a common Jewish prayer.

Israeli authorities detained a group of Jewish extremist youths from the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar – known for its hard-line residents that have been implicated in a number of attacks on both Palestinians and Israeli soldiers – but they have since been released.

Tibi told IBTimes UK that the attack was just the latest in a string of racist attacks in Christian churches and church property – as well as mosques – over the past few years. He said that Palestinian members of Knesset had written to foreign diplomats to highlight the issue.

"From 2009 to now, 43 incidents of burning and attacking places of worship have taken place, and no one has ever been charged or put on trial as punishment for their actions," he said.

"The international community should take a stance against this increase of attacks on churches and mosques. It is very disappointing, I [expect] Barack Obama for example to take a strong stance against this. I [also] say to the British government that it is neglecting the issue of the treatment of the minority groups in Israel."

In 2014 there were a string of attacks on Christian churches in Israel in the run up to the visit of Pope Francis, including racist graffiti scrawled on the wall of Vatican property in Jerusalem and far-right Israelis attacking churches in northern Israel.

It led celebrated Israeli writer Amos Oz to brand Jewish extremists as 'neo-Nazis' and prominent Israeli politicians such as Tzipi Livni to call for radical right-wing settlers to be treated as terrorists.

"The torching of the church is a cowardly and despicable act which contradicts Israel's basic values," Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement.