The hate crimes that don’t make headlines

Attacks on mosques and churches rightly outrage Israelis. But why don’t attacks on Jewish sites?

Vehicle vandalized in suspected price tag attack in Yokne'am (photo credit: Courtesy)
Vehicle vandalized in suspected price tag attack in Yokne'am
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Kudos to the Religious Zionists of America for choosing this particular moment – when Israel is in an uproar over a recent wave of anti-Arab hate crimes whose targets have included mosques and churches – to point out that attacks no less heinous are regularly committed against Israel’s Jewish holy sites. I doubt the organization’s petition, signed by over 100 Orthodox rabbis, will get much attention here, but it should. For there’s something morally perverse about the idea that in the Jewish state, of all places, Judaism should be the one religion whose holy sites can be vandalized without sparking a public outcry.
The anti-Arab vandalism, which has involved slashing car tires, spray-painting graffiti and even occasional arson, is unequivocally reprehensible, and the public uproar is fully warranted. But attacks on Jewish sites have been going on much longer and have frequently been more severe, without eliciting a fraction of the political and media attention recently devoted to the vandalism of Christian and Muslim sites. So are anti-Jewish attacks somehow less reprehensible?
Consider, for instance, the subject of the RZA’s petition: Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives Cemetery. This is the world’s oldest Jewish cemetery, containing the graves of three Biblical prophets, Talmudic and medieval sages, prominent Zionist leaders and generations of ordinary Jews. Yet for years, its graves have been vandalized repeatedly (like these back-to-back incidents in 2011), and visitors have been repeatedly attacked. In one well-publicized 2012 incident, for instance, a baseball-sized rock was thrown at two visiting Jewish congressmen.
At a Knesset Interior Committee meeting last November, police reported that Palestinian rock-throwers had attacked 24 people at or near the cemetery in the previous month alone – a frequency far outpacing that of the recent anti-Arab attacks (33 nationwide since the start of the year). Moreover, unlike slashed tires and spray-painted graffiti, rock-throwing can wound or even kill. Stone-throwers have killed several Israelis – see for instance, Asher and Yonatan Palmer or Yehuda Shoham. And though nobody has yet been killed at the Mount of Olives, a yeshiva student was hospitalized by a rock-throwing attack near the site just a day before the committee meeting. In contrast, the anti-Arab vandalism hasn’t produced any casualties, and most of the attacks (the handful of arson cases excepted) aren’t even potentially life-threatening.
Thus by any objective criterion – the number of attacks, their severity and how long they have been occurring – the anti-Jewish hate crimes at the Mount of Olives are worse than the recent anti-Arab crimes. Yet they have received only a fraction of the public, political and media attention.
The Mount of Olives attacks haven’t merited front-page headlines like those given anti-Arab crimes. There have been no cabinet meetings on the subject, the suspected perpetrators haven’t been declared an illegal organization, ministers haven’t demanded that suspects be treated as terrorists or put in administrative detention (demands the cabinet has so far sensibly rejected; vandals aren’t suicide bombers), and police haven’t created a special unit to combat these crimes – all things that have happened with regard to anti-Arab crimes. Indeed, as the Knesset meeting revealed, police haven’t even honored their promise to keep the station near the cemetery open round the clock.
The point isn’t that anti-Arab hate crimes don’t merit all this attention; they do. But why do anti-Jewish hate crimes not merit the same attention? Why, in a Jewish state, is protecting the world’s oldest Jewish cemetery and ensuring that Jews can visit their loved ones’ graves without being stoned not equally as important as preventing vandalism to mosques and churches?
Or take another site that the RZA letter didn’t mention: the Temple Mount, which is not only Judaism’s holiest site, but contains priceless Jewish relics dating back to the First Temple. The Muslim Wakf, which governs the site, has repeatedly carried out construction with relic-destroying mechanical equipment – in defiance of Israel Antiquities Authority directives – and tossed the excavated dirt into garbage dumps (where volunteers have patiently sifted it for artifacts ever since). Dr. Gabi Barkai, an expert on Temple-era excavations, termed this behavior “a crime” and “first-rate barbarity,” since it destroys irreplaceable archaeological artifacts. It’s also a crime literally, since it violates Israel’s antiquities laws.
By any objective criterion, the vandalism at the Temple Mount is far worse than the recent anti-Arab attacks: Graffiti, however offensive, can be removed, and even a torched mosque can be repaired or rebuilt, but millennia-old archaeological relics, once destroyed, can never be replaced. Yet neither the police nor successive governments have lifted a finger to stop this blatant destruction of a Jewish holy site, while the media rarely mentions the issue. Incredibly, at the government’s request, the Knesset even barred publication of a 2010 State Comptroller’s Report on the ongoing devastation, in a (successful) effort to minimize public and media pressure to halt it. So why, in a Jewish state, is preventing the irreversible destruction of priceless relics of the Jewish Temples not equally as important as preventing vandalism to mosques and churches?
The new fad among Israeli leftists is asserting that the ongoing failure to solve most of these anti-Arab crimes “proves” that Israel’s police, government and public are racist. But the police and successive governments have failed for years to do anything about anti-Jewish hate crimes beyond occasional lip-service denunciations, and neither the public nor the media seemed to care. So why would anyone expect them to treat anti-Arab crimes differently? 
That both the police and the government have now finally decided to make combating anti-Arab hate crimes high priority seems to stem less from moral outrage than from fear of the practical consequences: Such attacks undermine Israel’s image overseas and could spark Arab violence. Since neither consequence applies to anti-Jewish crimes, they are unlikely ever to receive similar priority. The ironic result is that Jewish sites in Israel are being treated as less deserving of protection than Christian and Arab sites.
I firmly believe the latter deserve full protection; but Jewish sites deserve no less. The Jewish state should not be yet another country where Jewish sites can be vandalized without anyone seeming to care.
Evelyn Gordon is a journalist and commentator. Follow her on twitter here.