Celebrated Israeli author Amos Oz set off a storm of debate on Friday after saying that Jewish settlers perpetrating so-called ‘Price Tag’ attacks on Muslim and Christian buildings should be branded “Hebrew neo-Nazis”.

Amos Oz speaking at a book fair in 2013

Amos Oz speaking at a book fair in 2013

The award-winning writer said: “Price-tag and hilltop youth are cute nicknames for a monster that needs to be called what it is: Hebrew neo-Nazi groups.”

Speaking at an event in Tel Aviv, Oz said the only difference between neo-Nazis around the world and those who commit hate crimes in Israel is that “our neo-Nazi groups enjoy the support of numerous nationalist or even racist legislators, as well as rabbis who give them pseudo-religious justification.”

Later that day police said there had been more attacks, with anti-Arab graffiti daubed across a home in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and a wall near Jerusalem’s Romanian Church vandalised with anti-Jesus slogans.

The hate crimes, which include death threats, racial and religious slurs and the defacing of sacred monuments, are thought to be the work of religious-nationalist Jewish settlers and are understood to be on the increase.

Using spray-paint, vandals self-label their assaults as a “price tag” attack, a reference to the Israeli government “paying” for any curbs on Jewish settlement building on Palestinian land.

Settler groups reacted by filing a complaint with the Israeli police accusing Oz of incitement. The Binyamin and Samaria Residents’ Council said: “His words are serious incitement to racial hatred. He deserves the Nobel Prize in racism.”

The attacks have been ongoing for several years, and authorities routinely criticise them as illegal, but it is unclear what efforts have been taken to reverse the trend.

After a Catholic monastery in Jerusalem became the latest target, Christian leaders in Israel called for a crackdown on the growing vandalism, with religious leaders asking the government to step in.

“Who is behind the violence?” asked Archbishop Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. “Who instructs them? How come they don’t catch the perpetrators?”

A series of attacks against Christian sites recently led to protest marches in Jerusalem and Haifa, and with only two weeks before a high-profile visit to Israel by Pope Francis, the issue has now being catapulted onto the world stage.