In his Yom Kippur sermon at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, former Israel chief
rabbi (and current chief rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa) Yisrael Meir Lau was very
forthright in his condemnation of the recent “price tag” desecration of the
mosque in Tuba Zanghariya. His comments were made before it became known that a
Muslim cemetery in Jaffa, the area under his jurisdiction, had also been
defaced, including such disgraceful graffiti on graves as “Death to
Lau, a Holocaust survivor and chairman of the Yad Vashem Council,
had no hesitation in comparing the desecration of the Muslim religious sites to
events which took place in Nazi Germany prior to the Holocaust.
fair, Rabbi Lau was not comparing the Jewish extremists suspected to be behind
the heinous acts to the Third Reich. But the very fact that he was prepared to
mention the events of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, and Babi Yar
(with which he opened his sermon) in the same breath was a clear indication of
the great revulsion he, like the vast majority of Israelis, felt at this latest
blemish on the Jewish State.
For almost 30 years, extremist activity and
violence on the part of the right wing has been attributed to a “few bad weeds”
or “fringe elements,” but the phenomenon appears to have sprouted
Examples of such violent extremism include the murder of Emil
Grunzweig, the Jewish terrorist organization of the late 1980’s (which had been
planning to blow up the al-Aqsa mosque), the mass murder perpetrated by Baruch
Goldstein in a Hebron mosque and the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak
Rabin. Then there are the so-called “halachik” (Jewish law) books and statements
of rabbis such as Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba or Yitzchak Ginzburg of the Od Yosef
Chai yeshiva in Nablus (who pervert the name of religion by arguing that they
have every right to disseminate what they see as religious, not political,
teachings without being subject to police investigation).
There has also been an
increase in violence against Palestinians and the uprooting of their orchards
throughout the West Bank, not to mention the support of Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel
Eliyahu for not renting or selling houses to Arab citizens or the increasing
number of cemetery and mosque desecrations. This phenomenon is the cumulative
outcome of weeds which were never uprooted or treated with weed killer, and
which have now set in very strongly.
ISRAEL IS rightly proud of the fact
that, during the past 60 years, the state has ensured full religious freedom for
Jews, Muslims and Christians.
That Jews were not always treated in the
same way in their countries of exile over the centuries, or that all the
synagogues and places of worship which existed in the Old City of Jerusalem
prior to 1948 were completely destroyed by the Jordanian authorities during the
19 years of Arab rule, is a sad reality. But this cannot be used as an excuse or
apology for the defacement or damaging of of Muslim places of worship or burial.
There is no question of “tit for tat” here.
The Western world has taken
its lesson from its own poor history in this respect. Acts of vandalism
perpetrated against religious establishments, be they Jewish or Muslim, in North
America or Western Europe today are met with the full force of the law. It is
time the Israeli government and law enforcement authorities undertook similar
actions to put an end to the growing acceptance of the legitimacy of this kind
of religious intolerance.
One of the good points Israel is able to sell
to the increasingly hostile international media is the fact that in the Jewish
democracy, all groups are free to practice their religion and culture without
fear of oppression or discrimination. But a country which, regardless of the
legal niceties, decides to construct its own Museum of Intolerance on the site
of a disused Muslim cemetery is displaying its own intolerance and a total
misunderstanding of what it means to respect the rights of minorities. This is
the message the state is sending to radical groups – if the state can build a
museum on the site of a Muslim cemetery, then what is to stop them going one
It was important and significant that President Shimon Peres and
the country’s chief rabbis immediately undertook widely covered visits to Tuba
Zanghariya to condemn the arson there, but that show of support will simply be
insufficient unless real action is taken. For as long as the Israeli police
treat Jewish extremism and anti-Muslim xenophobia differently than acts of Arab
and Palestinian violence and terror, the problem will only get worse.
least this time, some Religious Zionist rabbis have come out with public
statements against the Price Tag actions. Their previous silence was evidence
that they are losing control over some younger, more radical, groups that their
political ideology has spawned and who no longer view them as their religious
authority. Perhaps their silence was also an indication that they have not
always completely opposed these actions and that they would not be troubled if
the continuation of these attacks were eventually to bring about the gradual
emigration of minority groups from Israel, who no longer believe that the
country respects and is tolerant of its minorities, as behooves any true
Still, while it is a positive development that some rabbis
have spoken out against these attacks, the fact remains that in Israel today
there is a younger generation of radical elements who are prepared to light the
fires of a religious and fundamentalist war and bring them to a point which,
even in our own conflict-ridden region, we have not yet experienced.
is as though the emergence of groups like al-Qaida and the Taliban during the
past decade has spawned a Jewish extremist equivalent which, if allowed to go
unchecked, will bring even greater disaster and dishonor to the Jewish
This has absolutely nothing to do with the national conflict
between Arabs and Jews. It has everything to do with the lessons which the
Jewish people should have learned from their own miserable experience during two
thousand years of exile and oppression. If the state does not bring its full
power to bear to stamp out the racist and xenophobic groups within our own
society, we will end up being no better than the countries from which we fled
and were expelled. Jew, Arab, Christian – the law must be the same for each and
every one if we are not to lose the world’s respect as a country in which all
religions and minorities are respected.
The writer is professor of
Geopolitics at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.