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 firstname.lastname@example.org
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom