David Ben Gurion once said, “We will know we have become a normal country when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew.”
A more up to date indicator of Israel''s normality, taken from recent news, is young Jews terrorizing Arabs.
Are these occasions for "oy gevalt," or simply a recognition that we ain''t all that different from others?
Or does the violence justify an argument as to how different, and whether we are doing enough to deal with our pathologies?
In one incident, a group of Jewish teenagers, mostly 15- and 16-year olds--hanging out at a place in central Jerusalem where careful adults do not venture at night--severely beat an Arab teenager who dared come onto their turf.
In another incident, two Jewish boys of Bar Mitzvah age threw Molotov cocktails onto a car with a family of Arabs, severely injuring its passengers.
Competing for an "oy gevalt" is news that a Jewish 10th grader was stabbed and moderated injured by another Jewish student in a school brawl less than a week after the beginning of classes.
Israeli law requires the masking of juvenile identities. What we know from partial reports and face-blurred pictures is that the two little kids involved in the fire bombing are residents of a village in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, and wear the religious settlers'' uniform of kipot, peyot, and titziot.
Those responsible for what is called the Jerusalem lynching are said to have been egged on by a 15-year old girl ("Death to Arabs . . . Whoever wants to shows that he''s a man go and hit the Arabs"), to have come from Haredi homes, but to have rebelled against families and rabbis.
Okay. So we have our hate crimes along with skinheads, racists, Ku Klux Klan equivalents, or what a Hebrew expression loosely translates into simpletons or good-for-nothings.
These are not the first incidents of Jews terrorizing Arabs, but these are notable for the ages of the accused.
It''s appropriate to claim that the incidence of such activity is microscopic compared to Arabs who have terrorized Jews, including very young boys and girls who throw stones.
It is also appropriate to note condemnation of the recent incidents from Israeli Jews high and low, contrasting with the widespread veneration of anti-Jewish violence that we hear from Arabs. In the case of the 12- and 13-year old fire bombers, as well as the older teenagers, the police and courts have so far stood firm against demands that they be treated as naughty children, and released to their parents pending court actions.
Among the indications of normality are some of the accused denying that they did it, or were even at the scene, with parents saying "It couldn''t be them," or justifying their actions on account of Arab terror. Among the explanations for the Jerusalem beating by those who admitted to participating is a claim that the Arab insulted one of their mothers.
Religion is somewhere in the motivations of many, most, or practically all Jews and Arabs who have been involved in political violence. There have been scandals about rabbis who publish or preach discrimination or violence against Arabs, usually linked to a passage in old religious texts that is generally ignored. Any subscriber of knows that anti-Jewish ravings by Muslim religious figures drown out Muslim clerics who preach co-existence or tolerance. Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, has been jailed, released, and banned from Jerusalem on account of incitement to violence.
However, the weighing of religious doctrines, competing nationalism, personal revenge or other motives as elements in violence requires an analysis that is likely to be long, contentious, and ultimately unsatisfying.
Israel has imposed long prison terms on Jews convicted of violence against Arabs, even while activists charge that police have been passive in the presence of Jews acting against Arab individuals and property, and that courts have been much more lenient toward Jews than toward Arabs. Right-wing, religious, and nationalist Jewish politicians have demanded--with mixed success--leniency toward Jews accused or found guilty of violence against Arabs. The leader of the SHAS delegation in the Knesset demanded--but did not achieve--the release of Jews incarcerated for long terms as part of the prisoner-exchange involving Gilad Shalit.
There have also been violent Jews who saved the establishment competing demands and soul searching by virtue of being killed by Arabs at the scene of their carnage. In the case of Baruch Goldstein, however, official pondering of what--if anything--to do about his admirers occurs on anniversaries of his crime and death when there are pilgrimages to his grave.
Some officials have looked the other way or have been excessively "understanding" of Jews who have attacked Arabs or their property. However, the establishment acted more aggressively against Meir Kahane than against Arab MKs who, arguably, have been no less guilty of violating rules against incitement or racism.
Pressures and official ambivalence about Jewish terror were especially intense and prolonged in the case of Natan Zada, a newly religious soldier who went AWOL, killed four Arabs and wounded 12 others in Shfaram in August, 2005. A crowd beat him to death, but only after he was disarmed, restrained and hand-cuffed.
The sequence providing justification for claims of a lynching, and the possibility of murder charges against those who participated in Zada''s death, but the prospect brought forth years of protest and official dithering. Israeli Arabs rallied against the prospect of criminal charges, and right-wing Jewish politicians demanded indictments for murder.
Prosecutors filed charges only in 2009, a trial lagged until 2012 when those identified with his killing were offered a plea bargain that included greatly reduced charges and limited jail time. However, the accused refused to accept the plea bargain, and have insisted on a declaration of their innocence.
Disputes about the details of these unpleasant events as well as larger issues of justice are part of our ongoing arguments. In this, as well, Israel fits somewhere within the range of normality.