When Jews are vilified merely because they are Jews, that is a particular form of racism commonly known anti-Semitism.
When Arabs are vilified merely because they are Arabs, that too is a particular form of racism. Unlike anti-Semitism, this form of racism lacks a commonly accepted name.
The distinction between these two particular manifestations of racism ends there and does nothing to make anti-Arab racism any less ugly and abhorrent than anti-Semitism.
When Jews are attacked solely because they are Jews, that is a hate crime that is motivated by racism.
When Arabs are attacked solely because they are Arabs, that too is a hate crime that is motivated by racism.
The same is true of when Muslims are attacked solely because they are Muslims, Christians because they are Christians or Buddhists because they are Buddhists. It is equally repugnant when a swastika is painted on a synagogue door as when hateful words or symbols are painted on the door of a church, a mosque or a temple.
Surely, that is obvious to every clear-thinking person, regardless of their nationality, religion and politics.
Amos Oz spoke out last week against the Israelis who perpetrate hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs and/or Christians. He infuriated many people when he said that the terms “hilltop youth” and “price tag” were euphemisms designed to obscure the repulsive thought that the perpetrators should more accurately be referred to as “Hebrew neo-Nazis.”
In many ways, Oz’s detractors were justifiably outraged. Few arrests have been made and even fewer people have been indicted, let alone convicted.
That being the case, there is no body of evidence to prove that the perpetrators of the hate crimes in question are youths who hail necessarily from the hilltop settlements and outposts.
More importantly, there is no proof that they are members of an organization with a fascist ideology that features nationalism, xenophobic populism, and authoritarianism – which are among the salient hallmarks of neo-Nazi ideology.
Most importantly, a deep and enormously significant gulf separates the perpetrators of non-lethal hate crimes from people who possess and act on a murderous ideology, such as Nazism.
That said, Oz’s remarks touched on a raw nerve in Israeli society precisely because they rang true on a certain substantive level, despite their formal inaccuracy. One shudders to think that a Jew who was raised in the tradition of the biblical commandment from Leviticus and Deuteronomy (which was reinforced by Rabbi Akiva) to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and on Hillel the Elder’s maxim of “that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow,” should commit such hateful acts, which are identical to hate crimes committed by neo-Nazis against Jews.
Precisely because we, as Jews, have suffered from hate crimes of this kind at the hands of neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites over the centuries, it is incumbent upon us to denounce them and their perpetrators when they are committed by our fellow Israeli Jews.
The obligation to condemn those crimes and to repudiate the perpetrators is shared by all members of Israeli society, Jews and Arabs, Right and Left, regardless of who the perpetrator is and whom their object of hatred happens to be.
WHILE OZ overstated his condemnation of the perpetrators those hate crimes (though fury of the media-fest in response to his remarks is owed to a great extent to that same overstatement), some of the reactions on the Israeli Right to his reprobation were starkly disappointing. Pundits, such as Asaf Golan in Makor Rishon and Kalman Liebskind in Ma’ariv, for example, took pains to downplay the significance of the hate crimes in question by describing them as harmless pranks committed by “bored children,” as per Golan. Others deliberately distorted Oz’s remarks and accused him of having compared the perpetrators to Nazis.
Oz did no such thing. According to a report in Ma’ariv on Monday Oz said: “I am opposed to comparisons to Nazis. The comparison I made was not to Nazis, it was to neo-Nazis. Nazis build crematoria and gas chambers.
Neo-Nazis desecrate burial places and harm innocent people. This is what neo-Nazis in Europe do. It would not occur to me to say Nazis.
“I want to shock. The time has come to see that there is no difference between our neo-Nazis and those who act in the European countries – desecrating cemeteries, beating innocent people, vandalizing property, uprooting trees, writing racist slogans – all this is done by the neo-Nazis in Europe and it is done by the neo-Nazis in Israel.”
In that sense, Oz was right.
The democratic Israeli Right need not respond defensively about the hate crimes being committed by people on the extreme anti-democratic fringes of the Right. They are not responsible for those hate crimes, just as members of the Zionist Left are not responsible for the repugnant statements and actions of people on fringes of the anti-Zionist Left.
The Zionist and democratic Left and Zionist and democratic Right in Israel share far more common ground with one another than either does with the extreme fringes – the anti-Zionist Left and the anti-democratic Right.
The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews share the common goal of seeing Israel thrive as a Jewish and democratic state. As we bear that in mind, it behooves us all to repudiate unequivocally actions that run contrary to that ethos, even while we disagree about the ways to secure that goal.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.
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