10 October 2012
On Israeli Racism and Democracy

Nothing makes us cringe more than screaming headlines reporting racist outbursts or hate crimes in our own country,

There were a number of such cases over the past year and earlier this month, a Jerusalem Christian Church was vandalized with foul graffiti by unknown villains. There were also “price tag” incidents, allegedly perpetrated by fringe groups of alienated young settlers unhinged by a combination of the hatred radiating from Arabs surrounding them and bitterness over the Gaza disengagement.

There was also an appalling incident recently in which a group of young Jewish hoodlums brutally attacked four Arabs in the heart of downtown Jerusalem, severely injuring one of them. Prior to that, a Palestinian taxi was firebombed in Gush Etzion injuring an entire family. There were also occasional reports of defilement of mosques within and beyond the green line. We occasionally hear of hooligans despicably chanting “death to Arabs” at football matches”.

No matter how rare, such acts not only shame us but encourage us to ask ourselves how such obscene behavior could occur in the homeland of the Jewish people which itself endured 2000 years of persecution and humiliation in the Diaspora. Have we failed to inculcate to young Israelis those fundamental humanistic Jewish traits and ethics that we imbibed from childhood?

Regrettably, the fact is that one can detect the emergence of strains amongst the younger generation of Israelis which make them less sensitive to these issues. For many, the burning revulsion against bigotry and racism which was seared into the consciousness of their parents and grandparents has diminished with the fading memory of the Holocaust.

And more importantly, the unremitting, poisonous and vile hatred directed against us by our adversaries – calls for our annihilation, suicide bombings, missile attacks and the rabid anti-Semitism – has led to waves of loathing and anger against Arabs.

Moreover, this prejudice was intensified by radical Israeli-Arab politicians collaborating and aggressively identifying with those who seek to murder us and are committed to ending Jewish sovereignty in the region. It is highly unlikely that any other country would tolerate the seditious outbursts repeatedly expressed by Arab MKs in the Knesset.

The situation is further exacerbated by some of our less worldly rabbis who tend to indulge in demagoguery and concentrate excessively in preaching about Amalek – our first biblical genocidal adversary – and rather less on the humanistic foundations of rabbinic Judaism.

Does this imply that there is validity in accusations depicting us as a criminal and racist society and comparing our behavior to that of Nazis?

Whilst we must stamp out any manifestation of racism, it is absurd to beat our breasts and provide credence to our enemies who depict us as a nation of monsters. Despite accusations of racism and  apartheid leveled against us – ironically mainly by outright racists –  one need only observe the variety of races – ranging from black Ethiopians to blonde Russians – who comprise the core of the nation, to appreciate that Israel could in fact serve as a role model for a genuine multi-racial society.

In the context of a country surrounded by neighbors seeking our destruction, we should also take pride in the fact that 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs who enjoy all the benefits of a democratic society, despite the outrageous behavior of some of their extremist representatives. One need only visit a hospital or shopping mall to witness the extraordinary level of coexistence in everyday life which prevails between Jews and Arabs.

Without detracting from their vile behavior, the racist thugs who beat up Arabs are the lowest underclass of society and probably victims of the drug culture. Those involved in the “price tag” offences belong to extremist fringes whose alienation from the broader settlement movement is exemplified by their equally outrageous attacks on the property and equipment of the IDF which protects them.

Every country has its percentage of deviants, hooligans and racists. The litmus test on the ethical standing of a society is the extent to which the leadership and community at large rather than silently standing by or distancing themselves  from such outrages, condemn the perpetrators and actively demand that they be punished with the full severity of the law.

Here our position is crystal clear. Despite being a country under siege, every mainstream Israeli political leader has sincerely and passionately condemned these hate crimes. Not only because it brings us into disrepute but more importantly because such behavior is considered dastardly and contrary to all Jewish ethical values.

We flagellate and irresponsibly besmirch ourselves if we concede that these actions of fringe elements are comparable to the despicable behavior of our neighbors who indulge in street celebrations and exult over the murder of innocent Israelis. Yes, there are a few deviants who lionize the murderer Baruch Goldstein, but they are reviled by the nation as a whole. We do not hold state ceremonies sanctifying mass murderers or honoring them by naming squares, schools and football clubs after them.

Yet notwithstanding this, in the extraordinary tense and volatile climate in which we live, with hatred and defamation continuing to be relentlessly directed at us from both within and without the country, we must intensify efforts to ensure that the poison from our neighbors does not impact on our youngsters.

We have an obligation to ensure that our schools inculcate those aspects of Jewish tradition and Jewish history which will instinctively alienate us from all forms of racism and bigotry. Our humanistic traditions should be emphasized and our children must be educated to appreciate and respect every human being because God created us all B’tzelem Elokim – “in His image”.

At the leadership level, there is a need to introduce new legislation to tighten the punitive laws dealing with hate crimes.

This requires the government to bite the bullet and act against the prevailing dogma of unlimited freedom of expression which is being abused to foment racism and treason. This includes the delusional leftists who promote hatred of Israel and falsely defame the IDF, accusing it of engaging in war crimes and of Nazi-like behavior. They share a major responsibility for polarizing of our society and stimulating the emergence of extremism.

It is also time to curtail the abuse of freedom of expression by those Israeli Arabs who incite hatred or engage in treason by publicly embracing those seeking to kill us and destroy the state.

Israel is far from being a normal country. But even normal countries would not tolerate this level of subversion. If stringent punitive legislation was introduced to restrict those promoting sedition as well as the thuggish elements on both the extreme right and the extreme left who abuse freedom of expression to foment hatred, bigotry, and racism, it would effectively enhance rather detract from our democracy and create a healthier and more tolerant Israeli society.

The writer may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com  

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom

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Isi Leibler

Isi Leibler is a veteran international Jewish leader with a distinguished record of contributions to the Jewish world and the cause of human rights, including the struggle for Soviet Jewry. He was head of the Jewish community in Australia for many years and made aliya in 1999. Leibler has held senior roles in the World Jewish Congress, including chairman of the governing board and senior vice president. Today, he writes prolifically and is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post and Yisrael Hayom.

(4) Readers Comments

  1. Most of the racism among Israeli Jews come from families who never experienced the Shoah, but experienced Arab countries’ racism first hand, or from ultra-religious Kahane-type supporters. With the vanishing Shoah survivors and their direct testimonies, it can be feared that the first group will extend to all the Israeli society.

    Again, Isi is spot on.

  2. It is always a sign of health when a society dispassionately confronts its less flattering, even dangerous manifestations of intolerance. The article does justice to the pride that is Israel for Jews everywhere, demonstrating the example to follow by her neighbors, while exposing the darker underbelly. People of good will can properly neutralize negative influences through education, understanding, and more contacts.

  3. Actually, there are many things that make me cringe more than the headlines you refer to, such as:
    When the Israeli government sends soldiers, many of them non-Jewish, to forcibly expel Jews from their homes and destroy Jewish communities in the land of Israel, because those communities make it harder to surrender that land to Israel’s enemies;
    When Israel’s enemies accuse the Jews of occupying stolen Arab land and of having no history in the land, and Israel’s leaders are incapable of formulating a coherent response;
    When Jews are forbidden from praying at the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount, because it might anger the Arabs who think the Mount is exclusively theirs. Is this why we established a Jewish state, so Jews could be second class citizens and live in fear of their enemies in their own country?
    When Arabs feel they can attack Jews with impunity, because Israel is too frightened of world opinion to deal firmly with its adversaries, even though Jewish lives are lost in the process.

  4. The behaviour of thuggish persons, whether Jewish or not, must be condemned, and Isi Leibler’s comments are exactly right. This is not properly Jewish behaviour, nor in accord with the beautiful and humane teachings of Judaism itself. Those responsible are rightly repudiated by the entire community and its leaders whether secular or religious. They should be brought to justice.

    But I would like to add a point that may otherwise be overlooked: some (possibly a minority, possibly not, and in any case some) of these “price-tag” vandalisms and outrages do not come from Jews at all, but from those who wish to blacken Jews, Israel, Zionism and the like. It reflects the standard ploy for example of the sermons by the imams of the P.A., whether from Hamas or even from al-Aqsa Mosque, to charge that “the Jews” are intentionally desecrating the Temple Mount and attacking Islam as such with their mere presence and/or prayer on the Mount, that there is a concerted “Zionist” plot to take the Temple Mount over, and that “Jews” and “Zionists” are responsible for all manner of Jewish profanations and “Judaizations” of Muslim shrines everywhere in the P.A. — i.e., he attributes to and projects onto the Jews the actual actions of his own Muslim community against Jewish shrines and the Jews, slandering them to the world. National Union Chairman MK Yaakov Katz claimed in January this year that all mosque fires in the last three years “were set up by Arabs who want to stir up hatred.” In any case it appears that this is certainly true of at least some desecrations and vandalisms: Katz referred to a television interview with a resident of Tuba Zangariya who asserted that local residents had committed the mosque arson there, a video released more recently by the Shomron Council showed Palestinians and left-wing activists burning down local olive plantations preparatory to blaming it on Jewish residents, and there have been a number of cases in which the perpetrators of such “Price-Tag” attacks have been caught and they turned out to be Arabs — see the Wikipedia article on “Price-Tag Policy,” the section entitled “Allegations of staged price tag attacks.”

    The best response to these unacceptable actions, therefore, is not to exaggerate their importance but most certainly hunt down and prosecute the offenders, whoever they might be.

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