Edmund Burke, the Anglo-Irish thinker, wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
In the past few weeks there have been a number of disturbing incidents in Jerusalem. Two weeks ago right-wing “price tag” vigilantes scrawled “death to Arabs” on the wall facing the Jewish-Arab bilingual school in Katamon, and last week nasty graffiti was found on the walls of the Baptist church in Rehavia. Most Jerusalemites do not support these acts, which threaten the ability of the city’s highly diverse population to live in peace. The social fabric of Jerusalem is very fragile; the aim of these criminals is to erode coexistence in our city.
There is a prevailing sense of confusion among the general public as to how to respond to these “price tag” actions that they don’t support. The inability of Israeli society to respond to actions that we oppose allows the worst kinds of people to act with a sense that they can destroy our society with impunity. It is clear that the present Israeli government pays lip service to concepts like “rule of law” and “democratic values” while it simultaneously strengthens those who would limit the rights of minorities (religious, ethnic or ideological) in Israeli society.
We must not delude ourselves. Those who threaten Arabs and Christians will turn on us and against all those who reject their racist agenda. If we do not respond immediately and forcefully against these perverted acts we endanger ourselves.
The “price tag” criminals define themselves as observant Jews. They perpetrated their despicable acts during the season when we read the Ten Commandments and the weekly Torah portion of Mishpatim (Laws). In these portions the Torah states categorically how we are to treat the stranger or other who dwells in our land:
You shall not oppress the stranger because you know intimately the soul of the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23.9)
Less than one hundred years ago we Jews lived as a minorities in societies, targeted by those societies’ most despicable elements. It started with hooligans burning synagogues and scrawling graffiti.
Today we are privileged to live as “a free people in our own land” – we are the majority. How is possible that we do not hear the voice that calls us to defend the oppressed minorities? In the Bible the experience of slavery obligates us to identify with the suffering slave and not to aspire to be the enslaver. Thousands of years of living as a minority in Christian and Muslim lands should guide us as to how to act as a majority. If we treat the minorities in our midst as we were once treated, we loose our right to complain about previous suffering.
This past summer we showed ourselves and the world that when something pains us as a society we have the capacity to demonstrate and to demand to be heard. We saw hundreds of thousands fill the streets, demanding social justice. But if the Jewish Israeli public can only demand social justice for itself, without caring for the weakest in our society — those who have no voice — then the struggle is doomed.
The medieval German halachic anthology “Sefer Hasidim” says the following in its section on prayer:
One who fails to include the pain and degradation of one’s fellow [in prayer] –- his prayers will not be answered. That is why the rabbis established that prayers and supplication be in the plural.
Our prayers and yearnings for a just society will go unanswered if we fail to include the cry of the minorities in our prayers.
I am proud that at Kol HaNeshama we have a group committed to fighting against racism. I call on all religious communities in Jerusalem to look to the words of the Isaiah — “Zion will be redeemed through justice and its returnees with righteousness” (1.27) — and join the effort to save Israel from those who would destroy it from within.