After four days of police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) investigations, it’s become clear. Jews were the ones who perpetrated a horrific act of murder. In their own convoluted thinking, they believed that by kidnapping and brutally killing Muhammad Abu Khdeir, an innocent 16-year-old on his way to prayers at his local mosque, they were performing an act of revenge.
The mourning families of Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel made it clear immediately that for them, what had transpired had nothing to do with revenge – it was abhorrent.
In a statement made while they were still sitting shiva for Naftali, the Fraenkels condemned Abu Khdeir’s murder. “There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder; there is no justification, forgiveness or atonement for any murder.”
That is the proper response to the Abu Khdeir murder, but to some segments of Israeli society, it’s falling on deaf ears. On the night of the funeral for the three slain Jewish teens, hundreds of Jewish youths took to the streets of Jerusalem and shouted “death to Arabs.” Were the six young men who made their way to Shuafat to kill Abu Khdeir among these youths? Another very troubling incident that was revealed soon after was the video clip of Border Police thugs apparently viciously beating Abu Khdeir’s cousin Tariq, after handcuffing him and leaving him incapacitated.
But can we draw parallels and say that the murder of Abu Khdeir – or the beating of his cousin – is a reflection of Jewish Israeli society just as Palestinian terrorism – whether it be a kidnapping at the Gush Etzion Junction or a Kassam rocket fired at Sderot – is a reflection of Palestinian society? The outcry and remorse over Abu Khdeir’s death from all facets of Israeli society has been immense and immediate.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Palestinian response to the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens – an action that is part of the fabric of terrorist organizations like Hamas, which are fighting for the removal of Israel from the map.
Still, the Abu Khdeir killing is a glaring red light, revealing that we have to clean our own house if this example of Jewish terrorism and the vigilante mood that preceded it is not to be repeated.
It can begin with our attitude toward our Arab neighbors.
Too many Israelis have undemocratic views vis-à-vis the country’s Arab citizens. A 2012 study by Haifa University sociologist Sammy Smooha in conjunction with the Israel Democracy Institute found that 27.9 percent of Israelis would like to strip Arab Israelis of their right to vote for Knesset members. If Jewish values clash with democratic values, 64.5% said they would choose the former over the latter.
Another survey commissioned by the Yisraela Goldblum Fund and carried in 2012 out by Dialog, a pollster, found that 59% wanted preference for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government offices. Haredim were found to harbor the most anti-Arab sentiments, with 70% in favor of barring Arabs from voting and 95% in favor of discrimination against Arabs in admission to workplaces. While not in anyway excusing their behavior, the recent rioting in Israeli Arab communities is reflective of the reaction to these longstanding attitudes.
There are other worrying trends in our midst: rabbis who claim Jewish blood is “redder” than gentiles’ blood; Facebook and other Internet forums, where young Israelis, including many IDF soldiers, demanded revenge – not justice – for the murders of the three boys.
Jews’ negative attitudes cannot be completely divorced from the political radicalization of Israel’s Arabs. Violent chauvinism is far from pervasive among Jewish Israelis, and not a single public figure, let alone political party, actively and openly advocates vigilantism.
At the same time, a worryingly high percentage of Israelis put tribal, faith-based loyalties before values set down in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, such as universal human rights and equality regardless of religion, nationality or race. Abu Khdeir’s horrific murder should serve as a reminder to us of the dangers of placing “Jewish” before democratic; religious loyalty before a commitment to equality and universal rights. This is 21st century Zionism’s challenge.