Thousands of people joined political leaders and President Reuven Rivlin at rallies in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa Saturday night to condemn violence in Israeli society, as personified by Thursday night’s stabbing attack at Jerusalem’s annual gay pride parade and the suspected Jewish terrorist attack at Duma that killed a Palestinian toddler and seriously injured the rest of his family.
Standing on a podium in front of an enormous gay pride flag in Jerusalem’s Zion Square Saturday night, Rivlin condemned the attack at the parade, and the “spreading flames of hatred” following the murder of the Palestinian boy.
Amid a crowd of thousands, many of who hoisted adjoined Israeli and gay pride flags, the president said violence carried out in the name of the Torah is antithetical to Judaism, and demanded that incitement come to an end.
“Friends, the flames are spreading in our land – flames of violence, flames of hatred, flames of false, distorted and twisted beliefs,” said Rivlin.
“We cannot continue to dismiss these flames, which are consuming the public in Israel...These flames, which are consuming all of us, cannot be extinguished with weak condemnations. These flames cannot be extinguished with solidarity rallies.”
Noting that a 15-year-old girl stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox Jew at the gay pride parade remains in critical condition, the president said the suspected Jewish extremists who killed a Palestinian toddler in the West Bank the following day have further shamed the nation.
“To my great horror and shame, the letting of blood, the path of hatred and murder, did not stop [at the parade],” he said.
“Over the course of the same night, Jewish terrorists burned down the house of the Dawabsha family in the village of Duma, killing their baby son Ali, and seriously injuring his four-year-old brother, and his father. His mother is still fighting for her life.”
Rivlin said that when he visited the family at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, he was ashamed and “ridden with dread for the power of hatred.
“Ashamed that a country which has known the murder of Shalhevet Pass, of the Fogel family, of Adele Biton, of Eyal, Gil-Ad, Naftali and Muhammad Abu Khdeir, there are still those who do not hesitate to ignite the flames, to burn the flesh of a baby, to increase the hatred and terrorism,” he said.
“‘Even though you make many prayers,’ cried out the Prophet Isaiah,” he continued. “‘I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.’” Rivlin warned that such “flames cannot be extinguished with posts on Facebook, and statements in the media.”
“These flames cannot be extinguished with repression, denial and disregard,” he said.
“Incitement, ridicule, frivolity, laxity and arrogance of the heart, cannot extinguish the fire, but only allow it to burn stronger, with fervor, to spread in all directions, and permeate all walks of life. A blatant disregard for the rule of law, for human dignity, for a love of mankind, for a love of Israel, and freedom of opinion, has spread within us, and is wreaking havoc.”
Moreover, Rivlin warned that an atmosphere of leniency toward extremism has taken root within Israeli society.
“Every society has extremist fringes, but today we have to ask: What is it in the public atmosphere which allows extremism and extremists to walk in confidence, in broad daylight?” he continued.
“What is it that has enabled these weeds to threaten the safety of the entire garden of flowers? These flames cannot be extinguished through repression. To put out the flames, we need be a much more determined and decisive. We must be thorough and clear.”
To effectively address the growing problem of intolerance, Rivlin said a holistic reckoning must take place throughout the country’s classrooms, police precincts, and the Knesset itself.
“We must put out the flames, the incitement, before they destroy us all,” he said.
“Citizens of Israel: A Jewish and democratic Israel needs a wakeup call today. The Israel of the Declaration of Independence, the Israel of the vision of the Prophets, of compassion and mercy, today needs a wake-up call.”
“We will not be zealots,” he continued.
“We will not be bullies. We will not become an anarchy. The State of Israel was, and will continue to be, a state of the rule of law.
The State of Israel was, and will continue to be, a state of liberty, tolerance and justice.
“The State of Israel was, and will continue to be, our home – the home of us all,” Rivlin concluded.
Carrying a large gay pride flag, Shahar, 37, who requested his last name not be published, said gay rights in Jerusalem continues to be a flashpoint among Israelis.
“It is important to emphasize that Israel has a climate of xenophobia and hatred of anything that is different – be it queers, Palestinians or migrant workers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Natalia Gutkowski, who carried a placard reading “Lehava is a terrorist organization,” said the Jewish extremist group, which protested the parade in Jerusalem, must be outlawed.
“I wanted to come to protest here because I think that the government is letting Lehava rule the streets of Jerusalem, beating up Palestinians, and now they’re celebrating that people were stabbed,” she said.
In Tel Aviv, two events were held, a rally in Rabin Square organized by Peace Now and one in the Gan Meir park, organized by the LGBT community as well as youth groups.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai called for the prime minister and cabinet members to pass laws to ensure equality for gay citizens of Israel in areas such as marriage and raising children.
“People often talk about the ‘appropriate Zionist response’ to any criminal action by terrorists,” Huldai said. “What we need now is appropriate Zionist legislation in response.”
Former president Shimon Peres blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for creating an atmosphere of incitement.
“It’s time to end the masquerade,” he said. “He who incites against Arab citizens of Israel should not be surprised when churches and mosques are burned down, and in the end a baby is burned alive in his sleep.”
Nasser Dawabsha, the uncle of the 18-month-old killed in Friday’s arson also spoke at the rally.
“They burnt a family that slept peacefully, that did not believe in violence,” Dawabsha said.
Addressing the prime minister, Dawabsha asked, “Why was Ali murdered, an 18-month-old, what did he do? What did he do to the IDF? What did he do to the settlers? I ask that this be the end to our nation’s suffering.”
“Before Ali there was also Muhammad Abu Khdeir, and we don’t know who else is in line.”
Other speakers at the rally included Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabai, opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and other MKs.
Corinne Alal opened the demonstration singing “We Have No Other Land,” and Harel Skat was expected to sing “Hatikva” at the end; both singers are openly gay.
At Rabin Square, Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On called the perpetrators of the attacks on the LGBT marchers and the Palestinian family “Jewish ISIS.”
“To the prime minister, the ministers, the right-wing government, I say: We don’t want your condemnation,” she said.
“We’re not interested in your embrace. All your nice words and shock are up in the air... terrorism must be fought. That is not how you fight homophobia or incitement or racism or Jewish terrorism, Jewish ISIS. Criticism on Facebook – one must stop this atrocious violence.”
According to Gal-On, the violence is rooted in statements by right-wing politicians and rabbis who are the “ideological and executive infrastructure for Jewish terrorism... and fill the Molotov cocktails with gasoline, that are thrown at a Palestinian home and burn a year-and-a-half year-old baby in his sleep.” Meanwhile, in a video posted on his Facebook page, Netanyahu pointed out that one of the parade stabber’s victims is a 15-year-old girl who studies at the Hebrew University Secondary School, which he and his children also attended.
“This attack was on all of our children,” the prime minister said.
“Full of insane, murderous zealotry, a scoundrel came to murder her and others, and what is even worse, some are wishing for her death.”
Netanyahu said he rejects such hatred and that the important lesson from the event is that people should accept those who are different from them.
“What happened in Jerusalem goes against the spirit of our people.
What we are doing today – that is the spirit of our people,” he said of the demonstrations.
“Judaism and humaneness go together. Judaism taught people to accept human beings as equal before God. That is our true legacy.”
The prime minister added that every society has its extremist fringe, including Israel, but a society and country are judged by how the Center and its leadership respond. He praised rabbis for condemning the stabbing and the nation for uniting against hatred.
“We are praying for the teen’s health and we wish a speedy recovery to all who were injured and we will continue leading our country against hatred and homophobia,” Netanyahu said.
“We will accept the other, because the other is us.”