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Do not imperil the Jewish communities outside Israel
By ITZHAK LEVAV AND MEIR MARGALIT
01/27/2014
Is Israel providing grounds for the emergence or re-emergence of anti-Semitism?
 
Open or latent anti-Semitism remains alive in many places in the world. This despite these countries’ leaders (e.g. French presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande) forcefully fighting against the phenomenon.

Is Israel doing currently its full share in this fight, or paradoxically, is it providing grounds for the emergence or re-emergence of anti-Semitism? A prominent leader of the Jewish community in Argentina asked me, following the fatal incident involving the Turkish boat Mavi Marmara, whether the Israeli government had his community in mind when it planned such operations.

It is reasonable to expect that governments in their decision-making processes take into account the consequences of military action. As a result, they plan “damage control” should the action be taken, and, especially, contingency plans in case the operations are not successful and cause collateral damage. However, Israel is a sovereign state, and, conceivably, the possible impact on the Jewish community abroad of certain security-related actions conducted by the government may not be always high in the agenda.

This cannot ever be the case when Israeli individuals or groups, Jewish or otherwise, take part in acts of hooliganism against other individuals or groups of the country.

Take for example the Tag Mechir (Hebrew for “price tag”) phenomenon, which appears to have a free hand to deface the fronts of churches and mosques, set cars ablaze in Arab neighborhoods, destroy olive trees both in Israel and Palestine, threaten Jewish Israeli peace activists, plant bombs at the front door of Jewish-Israeli intellectuals, spit on priests and nuns in the Old City of holy Jerusalem.

A typical report from the Israeli press on a delinquent act of the group reads “Israeli police said on Wednesday that a mosque has been defaced with Hebrew graffiti and three cars have been torched in a Palestinian village in the West Bank.” Note as well that the very long list of price-tag vandalism does not end here.

The conclusion that these vandals have a free hand results from the absence of legislation that prohibits their actions, as well as the seeming incapacity of the police to systematically seize and take to court those responsible for this hooliganism.

Other important voices are equally absent. Often these vandals belong to religious sectors, yet repudiations from the large number of state-supported rabbis are not heard. They are not present at the Tag Meir (Hebrew for “tag of light”) protest demonstrations, leaving that to one or two rabbis of the Reform movement. To our knowledge, no concerted activity has been initiated by the state-supported rabbis to educate these vandals and their supporters in the spirit of tolerance and respect of the other.

Needless to say, all these price-tag acts are extremely dangerous. Their cost could be borne by schools, cemeteries, synagogues and community centers wherever Jews live. Past events are testimony to what could happen at any moment in the future.

Furthermore, how do we face the Jewish leaders in other countries who must fight against intolerance at all times, if anti-Christian or anti-Muslim intolerance in Israel is not curtailed? Israel’s tacit tolerance of this phenomenon is a challenge to the country’s self-imposed and oft-proclaimed task of protecting Jewish communities wherever they are.

Sadly, anti-Semitic (or anti-Zionist or anti-Israeli) events have occurred abroad as a result of Israeli actions.

Those that emanated from correct or less correct decisions of a sovereign state may be explained to the Argentine leader (see above). In contrast, those that result from sheer hooliganism by Jewish groups cannot be.

For another example, consider the case of MK Miri Regev calling refugees, asylum seekers or undocumented foreign workers a “cancerous body.” Her racist venom (sound familiar? Jews were regarded as “ulcers in the Polish body” by Catholic writers around 1936, as per professor Yehuda Bauer’s A history of the Holocaust) was not repudiated by the highest authorities of Israel, nor did the Knesset call her to order.

The mistreatment of Eritreans and Sudanese is a matter of shame, as per the prominent Israeli writer David Grossman and many others. What is to stop anti-Semites unjustifiably treating Jews likewise, if there is no stern negative sanction in Israel? Recall here that the reputation of Israel as a nation where human rights are unswervingly honored has been tarnished. Electronic communication, which crosses borders at dazzling speed, shows in real time abuses at roadblocks of Palestinian children, women and elderly.

Understandably, this puts Jews abroad in an uneasy situation.

Beware, Israel, of your own deeds.

Look yourself in the mirror and take action now. Our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora have the right not to be imperiled by Israeli actions by omission or commission. As it has been said, “do not do to others what you do not wish to be done unto yourself.”

Prof. Itzhak Levav is a psychiatrist and former advisor on mental health for the World Health Organization.

Dr. Meir Margalit is a  former member of the Jerusalem municipal council.

Both are Argentinian natives.
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