Breaking our silence in America

The days of characterizing Diaspora Jews as disloyal to the State of Israel for expressing our concerns about societal trends in Israel are over.

January 4, 2016 21:39
4 minute read.
Terror Israel

Video of far-rightists stabbing photos of dead Palestinian baby‏. (photo credit: CHANNEL 10)

The images are no less shocking to Americans: participants at a Jewish wedding in Jerusalem dance while brandishing assault rifles, guns, knives and a fake fire-bomb. They repeatedly stab a photograph of Ali Dawabshe, the 18-month-old Palestinian who was murdered along with his parents in the West Bank village of Duma five months ago by Jewish terrorists.

The song to which the revelers were dancing, “Zachreni Na,” is a well-known “revenge song” based on Samson’s final words: “Remember me... let me take one vengeance for my two eyes on the Philistines.” In Hebrew, “Philistine” and “Palestinian” derive from the same root and are essentially the same word.

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This song is played regularly at bar mitzvas and weddings in the religious Zionist community, so it cannot be dismissed as some sort of extremist anthem, and its playing unfortunately cannot be viewed as an aberration.

The video, taped on a wedding guest’s smartphone, has gone viral since it originally aired on Channel 10 TV. Israeli leaders across the political spectrum have strongly condemned the “wedding of hate.” Yet Ayelet Shaked, a star in Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi Party and the current justice minister, told Army Radio a day after the video first aired that she “regretted” that it was released because it “hurts the State of Israel.”

Actually, Minister Shaked, what is hurting the State of Israel is the atmosphere in which this kind of blood lust – something we are used to seeing with Islamic State (IS), even with Palestinians celebrating the deaths of terrorist “martyrs,” but not from fellow Jews – finds expression in one of the holiest Jewish life cycle events.

The bride and groom – who have subsequently been arrested along with several wedding guests – belong to an extremist group, The Rebellion, whose aim is to topple the Israeli government, replace it with a monarchy and expel all non-Jewish inhabitants. The newlyweds are friends with the two settler youths being held as suspects in the murder of the Dawabsha family, and wedding attendees included the lawyer for the suspects, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Bentzi Gopstein, leader of the virulently anti-Arab group Lehava. Even the rabbi who officiated, Rabbi Daniel Stavsky, has weighed in by stating that the Duma killings were perpetrated by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, and Arabs.

There have been warnings for some time about a growing atmosphere of intolerance, racism and violence in Israel. For too long, it appears that the security services did not act aggressively enough to staunch the growing Jewish terrorist underground movement by investigating its crimes, such as church and mosque burnings, “price tag” actions, illegal outposts established by the “hilltop youth,” and more. Carmi Gillon, who headed the Shin Bet when prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, has described the threat to Israel by the far-right Jewish terrorist underground as even greater than that which existed during the period leading up to Rabin’s murder at the hand of a Jewish extremist. In chilling reminders of that time, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been depicted recently in social media in Nazi and Arab garb, just as Rabin once was vilified.

Clearly, these extremists do not represent the vast majority of Israelis, and all countries, including the United States, have to contend with intolerant, racist and hateful elements in their midst. But Shaked’s suggestion to “keep it in the family” or out of the international public view is merely an ill-conceived (and completely ineffectual) attempt to counter efforts to defame and delegitimize Israel through the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

When we witness the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, whose members are Israeli army reservists, being criticized and marginalized by Israeli public officials for publicizing experiences during army service in the West Bank and Gaza, we must ask ourselves who is protecting whom and from what. Sunshine is still the best disinfectant.

Of course, Israelis have good reason to feel beleaguered – the instability of the region, the threats from Iran, Hezbollah and IS, and the latest wave of violence against innocent civilians that shows no sign of abating. But the idea of keeping Israel’s challenges and less than positive aspects “in the family” is beyond antiquated; it harms Israel’s own interests.

I sometimes get the feeling that Israeli officials are surprised that American Jews follow developments in Israel as closely as many of us do. But we have access to Israeli print and television news in Hebrew and in English and in real time, so this should come as no surprise.

The days of characterizing Diaspora Jews as disloyal to the State of Israel for expressing our concerns about societal trends in Israel are over, and those of us who still believe in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state need to speak up and support those in Israel who share a deep distress about a growing atmosphere of intolerance and hatred that leads to scenes like the “wedding of hate.” After all, we’re still family, and it’s time to break our own silence.

The writer is a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, a longtime community leader and the mother of an Israeli citizen.

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