Condemnation of the brutal “lynch” (attack) by a wilding pack of Jewish youth in downtown Jerusalem on Arab youth last week came from nearly the entire spectrum of the Jewish world, both in Israel and abroad. About twenty Jewish teens were involved in the attack and many more looked on. The Prime Minister strongly condemned the attack as did Mayor Barkat. One of the Arabs, a seventeen year old Jerusalem resident, was left in critical condition. He was resuscitated by Magen David Adom and left on a respirator for several days. The Prime Minister strongly condemned the attack stating “We are not prepared to tolerate racism in Israel.” Mayor Barkat reacted with outrage as well. I would have expected nothing less.
As shocking as the attack was the reaction of the attackers when arrested by the police. One of the hooligans said, “He insulted my mother… I hope he dies… I would beat him again.” Even as the attack was in progress, witnesses described shouts of “They deserve it. They are Arabs.”
But not all were quick to denounce the incident (something I see as a far wider problem as exemplified by the rash of arson attacks on Mosques). The Jerusalem Post reported “This week, Lehava (an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning “preventing assimilation in the Holy Land”) began circulating flyers in Jerusalem that warn Arab men against flirting with or talking to Jewish girls, saying “We don’t want you to get hurt, respect our girls’ honor because they are dear to our hearts.”
How could such an attack have happened? The Torah tells us that we are to be “A kingdom of priests and a holy people.” We are instructed to be a “light unto the nations.”
How could it have happened? It is not difficult to figure out. The racism spewed by rabbis (not most rabbis but some that are on the government payroll), members of the Knesset, and a system that allows for marginalization of the “other” cannot help but result in ugly and violent behavior.
A recent poll by the reliable Geograpiacarta found that 68% of Jews would refuse to live with Arabs in their building and 46% would not allow Arabs to enter their homes. Another survey found that about half of Israeli Jewish high school students do not believe Arab citizens should have equal rights.
These attitudes do not spring up ex nihilo.
Now I am not naïve and I am aware of the hatred against Jews in so much of the Arab world. But I can only take responsibility for that which I can affect and change. My obligation to act justly begins at home. Pointing to the wrongs that may be carried out by others can never be a justification for our own wrongs.
President Shimon Peres hit the nail on the head with his remarks. Peres said "violence affects all that is good in our youth and in our schools. We cannot and do not need to be a society tainted by violence." He went on to point out that so many Jews have a love for the Land of Israel (Adama) but have not acquired the value of love for other people (Adam).
A society that places land ahead of human life and dignity cannot survive – at least not in a way that fulfills the command “Justice, justice shall you pursue!”