Why is there a need for 50 organizations throughout Israel to join together to combat religious racism in Israel?
This is a good question. The answer, unfortunately, is that religiously motivated racism is growing in this country by leaps and bounds and not enough is being done to prevent it or to reduce it.
I have been a member of the Tag Meir Forum for the past three and a half years. Tag Meir (Hebrew for “Light Tag”) is a coalition of 50 groups who believe that combatting religious racism must become a high priority in our country. We began our work on Hannukah, The Festival of Lights, a little over three years ago, to counteract the growing trend of “Tag Mechir” (” Price Tag” ) attacks by so-called “religious” extremist youth from the West Bank and Jerusalem, against Christians and Christian institutions, Muslims and Muslim institutions, peaceniks and women.
During these last three years, I have been present at many solidarity visits to Muslim and Christian institutions and homes in too many places in Israel. The numbers grow from year to year in a shameful and embarrassing way.
It seems, however, that the authorities of the state of Israel are not sufficiently embarrassed by this yet. Otherwise, they would have brought at least some of the culprits—who are well-known to the police and the security services—to justice. Not one of them has yet been brought before a court of law and sentenced to anything. It is rather unbelievable.
Those of us in the Tag Meir Forum feel that the problem is not just one of poor law enforcement, but one of education. Unfortunately, very little is being done in any meaningful way to combat this phenomenon in mainstream educational circles in Israel.
This is why representatives from the 50 organizations—including the one that I represent, the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (which is now a department of Rabbis for Human Rights)—gathered together this week at our annual meeting in central Jerusalem to discuss educational ways and means to reduce racism in this country.
First, we heard Amram Mitzna, a former Member of Knesset from the Labor Party and the Tenuah Party. In his last term of service in the Knesset ( Parliament), he served as Chairman of the Education Committee of the Knesset. He was instrumental in putting the issue of religious racism on the agenda, and invited us, leaders of the Tag Meir Forum, to testify twice at meetings of the Education Committee. Yesterday, he spoke forthrightly about the urgent need for this problem to be tackled by educators in Israel.
We also heard from five organizations who are doing pioneering work in this field in Israel in small but creative ways that may begin to make an impact. Among the people and organizations we heard from were: Lily Halprin of the Emet Institute, who works with underprivileged populations, Rabbi Navah Hefetz, Director of Education for Rabbis for Human Rights, who works with elite groups of pre-army and university students, and Shoshana Cohen, who is doing global work with students on issues of social justice. These presentations gave us some good insights into excellent practices in the field. If only there were many more such projects and that this kind of educational work can become mainstream in Israel!
Is there any chance that the new Minister of Education in Israel will make this a priority? Unfortunately the answer is no. This is not an issue that he and his supporters will likely see as critical to the moral fiber of the state of Israel.
Therefore, it will be up to non-governmental organizations and coalitions like the Tag Meir Forum, to lead the way. We cannot and must not wait for the government to come around to the importance of this issue!
As a rabbi who has been involved in interreligious dialogue and education in Israel for more than two decades, I can only say that “religious racism” is an oxymoron! Racism can not be religious! People who commit hate crimes and religiously motivated violence against others in the name of God—whether they are Jewish or Muslim or Christian—are actually desecrating the name of God. Their work is blasphemous, anti-religious at the core, and they should be condemned accordingly, by all people of good will, especially those who understand the basic moral imperatives of any religious world view.
Accordingly, in the months and years ahead, you can expect the Tag Meir Forum to grow and expand its influence in Israeli society through education, lobbying in the Knesset and through religiously-motivated acts of human love and solidarity ( as opposed to hatred and violence) with those who are victims of these hate crimes. We will demonstrate again and again that the forces behind these racist hate crimes do not represent truly religious ideas, and that all of us are created in the Divine Image and therefore all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.