Oscar Wilde would probably have commented to the effect that “one wild weed is bad gardening, two wild weeds is totally irresponsible, while three wild weeds is nothing short of gardening suicide.”
Has it finally dawned on the Israeli leadership, including some of the right wing, that every time a violent event takes place it is a lot more than single, or a few, wild weeds that are responsible for such events? The assassin of Emil Greenzweig was a wild weed.
The Jewish terrorist organization that bombed Palestinian mayors at the end of the 1980s was nothing more than a group of over-enthusiastic settlers who had misinterpreted the teachings of their rabbis and their political leaders.
Baruch Goldstein, who massacred Muslims praying in a mosque in Hebron was a “saintly” doctor who had been affected by the patients he had to treat after Arab violence, and simply flipped the lid on the day (Purim) which commemorates Jewish victory over their enemies.
The assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was nothing more than a boy from a “good family” gone wrong.
The young settlers who threw rocks and stones at Israeli soldiers who had come to evacuate them from their homes in Gush Katif (10 years ago) or in Bet El and Sa Nur (last week) according to decisions taken by the democratically elected right-wing governments of Israel were no more than a group of unfortunate people who were being forced to leave their homes.
The daubers of graffiti on mosques and synagogues were but a small group of radicalized youth who do not fully understand the meaning of freedom of worship for religions other than Judaism and need to be taught to behave differently.
The murderers of a Palestinian baby and the firebombing of his family’s home in the West Bank just a few days ago were probably a group of young settlers or their supporters who have chosen not to listen to the teachings of their rabbis.
The wild weeds have become so overgrown and so deeply rooted in certain parts of Israeli society that it is simply no longer possible to protest the tainting of a whole sub-sector of society for the acts of the “few individuals.” True, one cannot accuse an entire community of being potential murderers and terrorists, but if that same community does nothing in its educational system (in schools, synagogues and yeshivot) to socialize its listeners into thinking and behaving differently, then it cannot complain about being collectively tainted.
The fact that one of the community’s most important leaders, Rabbi Haim Druckman, came out with a strong condemnation of this violence this past week may indicate a turn in the right direction, if it is not already too late and the leadership of the younger generation of activists has not been hijacked by younger, more radicalized political rabbis, spreading their version of an ultra-nationalist religion.
An entire generation of young, radical settler youth have scant regard for the sanctity of human life. Jewish lives, and those of settlers, have a higher value than those of others. They have stained the State of Israel, and Jewish people everywhere, by showing the world that we are no better than all those other nations and peoples of whom we are so critical for their lack of humanity.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have finally seen the light in making it adequately clear that the perpetrators of these crimes are no better than the terrorists we fight on a daily basis and deserve to be pursued, captured and punished in exactly the same way. But he cannot entirely escape the blame for what has happened, given that his policies and some of his past statements have given legitimization to those who would carry out the crimes themselves.
And neither does the argument “look at how we react to a single incidence of violence practiced by a Jew as compared to the mass murders and terrorism practiced, without comment, by our neighbors and our enemies” have any significance. Are the standards of our neighbors in Syria, Iran and Hamas the same standards by which we want to be judged? Is that the level to which we have to sink in order to justify the unjustifiable and to find apologetics for the violent crimes of our own citizens? No thank you.
To have to admit to such a comparison would mean a loss of values and a moral defeat making us no better than those who would destroy us if they had but half a chance to succeed.
Israel is presently building a Museum of Tolerance in the heart of the most intolerant of cities, Jerusalem.
The museum itself is a symbol of intolerance given the fact that it was built on the remains of an old Muslim cemetery. Had such a construction project taken place on a Jewish cemetery, we would not have heard the end of the demonstrations which would have taken place around the world protesting what would have been perceived as a blatant case of anti-Semitism.
One wonders what content will be in the museum to reflect not only the worlds’ intolerance to Jews, but equally the intolerance of too many Jews and Israelis to their fellow citizens, of Orthodox Jews toward the Reform and the gay communities, of right-wing Israelis to their Palestinian and Arab neighbors, of parts of the secular population toward their religious and Orthodox neighbors, or of radicalized Messianic Jews toward their Christian and Muslim co-residents.
President Rivlin is to be applauded for his straightforward messages on issues relating to tolerance and democracy. Unlike Netanyahu and most of the cabinet ministers in today’s Israeli government, Rivlin is a true Jabotyinskyite. I may not agree with his political beliefs concerning the future of the West Bank (he always voted against every territorial concession, including the disengagement from Gaza) but he has come out strongly and forcefully against the intolerance and violence which is on the increase. His protest does not appear to be the political opportunism of those sitting around the Cabinet table.
We have to put our own house in order if we want the world to begin believing in us again.
We have to put our own house in order if we want to uphold the principles around which the state was established.
We have to make the entire country into a living museum of tolerance, not just erect a single edifice in downtown Jerusalem which tourists from around the world will visit after they have been to Yad Vashem.
We are not the sole victims of intolerance, violence and genocide. It is to our discredit that we are slowly becoming the perpetrators of a new brand of Jewish intolerance which is of our own making.
If we believe in the future of this country and the values it stands for, such behavior – from the government down to the individual – has to be stamped out without any self apologetics or lame excuses.
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.