Where is the National-Religious outrage about Jewish terror?

The idea of Jewish terrorism should be shocking and unthinkable, and yet when such incidents occur condemnation from community leaders, especially rabbis, has been scant.

Mitzpe Avihai 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mitzpe Avihai 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With the indictment on Thursday of the prime suspect in the slaying of Aysha Rabi, a Palestinian mother of eight, questions are once again being asked as to how an Israeli youth could commit such a horrifying and shameful attack.
But beyond the issue of radicalization and extremism lies another question, that of whether or not there is sufficient moral outrage and condemnation of violence against Palestinians in the National-Religious sector.
The idea of Jewish terrorism should be shocking and unthinkable, and yet when such incidents occur condemnation from community leaders, especially rabbis, has been scant, while much of their ire, justifiably or not, has been directed at the methods employed by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to find those responsible and bring them to justice.
But concerns about moral standing have however been voiced by some leading figures in the sector.
Last week, Rabbi Yaakov Medan, co-dean of the prestigious National-Religious Har Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut, gave an address to his students where he talked of how debates about the minutia of unusual aspects of Jewish law have obscured a deeper moral problem inherent in the debate.
After the attack that killed Rabi, it emerged that ultra-nationalist activists from a settlement nearby to where she was killed violated the laws of Shabbat to instruct the suspects as to how to avoid incriminating themselves when interrogated by the Shin Bet.
A debate arose around aspects of Jewish law as to whether or not their actions did or did not violate Shabbat.
“I don’t hear the cry [of moral anguish],” said Medan in his lecture. “An Arab women, Aysha Rabi, mother of nine children, was killed by a rock that shattered her skull,” he declared.
“This they don’t discuss,” he said. “The question is whether or not it is permitted to violate Shabbat or not, [but] on what happened to this woman by our community, on what should have required public mourning they don’t debate?”
The rabbi has however sought to put the debate into context, and argues that extremism within the margins of the National-Religious community is on the wane, and describes the death of Rabi as an anomalous incident.
Indeed, the number of radical youth in the settlements, outposts and hilltops of the West Bank is thought to be just a few hundred, from which a few dozen might be violent.
Medan also says the idea that there has been a moral decline in the National-Religious community in its attitude and behavior toward Palestinians is exaggerated, since the number of violent incidents are so small, and because, he says, he frequently sees cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in Judea and Samaria despite the conflict.
He believes that the situation is not perilous, but that the community does have to stand guard to prevent any serious decline.
Like Medan, Rabbi David Stav, head of the popular, mainstream Tzohar rabbinical association, does not believe there is a widespread moral rot at the heart of the National-Religious community.
And he also has questions as to whether or not the evidence presented in the indictment on Thursday is sufficient to determine that the suspect is indeed guilty.
But at the same time, he acknowledged that there are problems of radicalism in the community, although insisted that it was at the very margins of the sector.
“Are there within the National-Religious community, at its extremes, those who hold cheaply the life of non-Jews, the answer is yes, but they are very much at the extreme and it is a very small phenomenon,” said Stav.
He went further, saying that “We have no right to exist here in the State of Israel if we do not live ethically, if we do not insist that it is the right of all people who live here to live in peace, regardless of our positions on political matters here.”
And he conceded that there is a need to do more to publicly to condemn extremism and violence carried out by radical ultra-nationalists, noting that “it is much easier to rally people on nationalist issues then on humanitarian, universal issues,” but nevertheless argued that even “the mainstream of the margins” of the National-Religious community does not justify violence against Palestinians.
Despite the sentiments of Medan and Stav, there is nevertheless a noticeable absence of moral outrage at her death from the long line of National-Religious rabbis who frequently denounce the evacuation of settlement outposts, or voice their protestations toward more liberal policies in the realm of religious life in Israel.
There have been no such declarations by dozens of National-Religious rabbis denouncing violence against Palestinians or expressions of hatred towards them, and as long as this is absent, questions about the lack of moral outrage from the communities leadership will continue to be asked.