Yishai Schlissel arrested after stabbing six people at the Jerusalem gay pride parade.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The last few days have been some of the most trying in the state’s short history. The thread connecting a series of terrible incidents is religious extremism.
In one of the most atrocious acts of Jewish terrorism in recent memory, Ali Dawabsha, an 18-month-old Palestinian baby, was burned alive when her family’s home in the village of Duma was torched. Ali’s father, Saad, his mother, Reham and his four-year-old brother Ahmed are all in critical condition.
The murderers – most likely Jewish zealots sometimes euphemistically referred to as “hill top youth” – spray-painted “Revenge” and a Star of David on the walls of the Dawabsha home.
On Thursday, Yishai Schlissel, another religious fanatic, waged a bloody religious war against what he considered to be unacceptable licentiousness that defiled the holy city of Jerusalem, the gay pride parade. He managed to stab six people, including 16-year-old Shira Benki, who died on Sunday of her wounds.
Schlissel was released just a few weeks ago for a similar attack during the 2005 gay pride parade. He returned to his hometown of Modi’in Illit and commenced distributing hand-written pamphlets calling on “all Jews faithful to God” to risk “beatings and imprisonment” to stop the 2015 parade.
Earlier last week, hundreds of religious men and women grappled with soldiers and police in an effort to prevent the destruction of an apartment complex illegally built on land in Beit El belonging to a Palestinian.
The demonstrators, who threw chairs and stones at the security personnel, said that God had promised them the Land of Israel, which, therefore, gave them the right to trample the land rights of non-Jews and to reject decisions handed down by the secular High Court of Justice. Moti Yogev, a Knesset member from the Bayit Yehudi party, who is one of many religious politicians and leaders who is convinced God is on his side, called for the destruction of the court, though he later retracted his comments.
Meanwhile, Palestinians stepped up violence against Jews. In recent days, rockets were again fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip at Jewish communities in the South; on Friday shots were fired at a Jewish settler as he drove his car near Kochav Hashahar, not far from Duma; Beit Shiva, a Jewish house located in the predominantly Arab Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, was firebombed; Palestinians rioted and threw rocks at police during demonstrations Sunday on the Temple Mount; and in a number of locations from the South Hebron Hills to the western parts of Jerusalem brush fires have been ignited by what appear to be Arab arsonists.
All these incidents are all motivated by religious extremism, whether of the Jewish or the Muslim variety.
In Israeli society, only people on the fringes are extreme enough to carry out a terrorist attack against innocent Palestinians or stab participants in a gay pride parade in Jerusalem or use violence against security personnel to prevent enforcement of a Supreme Court decision. Much larger swathes of Israeli society, however – particularly among those who are more religious – are reluctant to publicly denounce these despicable acts, and often identify with the perpetrators’ animosity toward Arabs, homosexuals or Supreme Court justices.
Classic Jewish texts and traditions and the rabbis who interpret and inculcate them regularly express highly negative attitudes toward non-Jews, homosexuality and secular legal systems. And when these views are wedded to nationalism or to a zealotry surrounding a particular place, such as Jerusalem, the results can be explosive.
With the return of the Jewish people to its homeland, the potential for violent religious zealotry has increased exponentially. We must aggressively support a vision of Israel that is more liberal, more democratic and more respectful of the basic humanity of all people regardless of their religion, sexual persuasion and national identity.
During the long centuries of exile, Jews were repeatedly the victims of religiously motivated violence. And they continue to be. As Jews enjoying political autonomy in our homeland, we have a unique moral obligation to minorities and the discriminated members of our society. As the sage Hillel noted, “Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you.”