Earlier this week, I attended an extraordinary meeting at the Knesset, with more than 120 people as part of the inauguration of the new lobby against hate crimes and extremist violence in Israel. This new lobby, which was initiated by The Tag Meir (Light Tag) Forum in cooperation with leading members of the Knesset, is chaired by Itzhik Shmueli of the Machane Hatzioni, (“The Zionist Camp”), an amalgamation of the Labor Party, led by Isaac Herzog, and the Tenuah (“The Movement” party, led by Tzippi Livni) and Merav Ben Ami, of Kulanu (“All of Us”), a new centrist party which was elected for the first time last year.
For the first time in a long time, I heard some voices of hope and sanity in Israel’s parliament. It was an uplifting and inspiring experience, which convinced me that there are still many people and movements which are actually working very hard at improving Israeli society by combatting and correcting many of our negative trends and dangerous directions about which we read every day in our daily newspapers.
It is important to state that this new parliamentary lobby is led by members of two very different political parties, one from the center-left and one from the center-right. This gives the lobby much-needed credence and credibility in the Knesset and in Israeli society. At the same time, it is important to state that no member of the Likud, or political parties to the right of the Likud, attended this inaugural meeting. This is unfortunate, but maybe it can be corrected in the future.
Itzik Shmueli, the co-chairperson of the group, in his opening remarks, appealed to the moderate sane right in the Knesset and in Israeli society to join and support this new group. Merav Ben Ami, who by her own admission, comes from the center-right of Israeli politics, echoed this sentiment when she said clearly that as a Jew and a Zionist, she wants to fight racism in Israel, since she believes it is clearly dangerous and destructive.
Many other Members of Knesset addressed us briefly, including Ahmad Tibi, of the Joint Arab List, Revital Sweid of the Zionist Camp, Rachel Azaria of Kulanu, Ayellet Nachmias Verbin of the Zionist Camp, and Tamar Zandberg of Meretz. In addition, many representatives of Israeli civil society who were there spoke, including Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu, chairperson of the Tag Meir Forum, Mr. Yuval Rabin, son of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory, Issa Jabber, mayor of Abu Gosh and former co-chairperson of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, (now a department of Rabbis for Human Rights), Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Director of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel, Professor Alive Shalvi, founder of the Israel Women’s Network, Anat Hoffman, Head of the Israel Religious Action Center, and Nadwa Abu Gosh, of Abu Gosh, who was recently the victim of a hate crime attack in Jerusalem. It was an impressive list of speakers, all of whom spoke with passion and poignancy about the importance of addressing the issues related to hate crimes and “religious” extremist violence in Israel.
Yossi Saidov, the spokesman of the Tag Meir Forum, which has been active in combating hate crimes in Israel for the past 4 1/2 years, presented a detailed power point presentation which demonstrated how serious the problem has become in recent years:
- Forty-four houses of worship—Muslim and Christian—have been vandalized. Several of them have been seriously burnt, with the intention to kill people.
- A Palestinian Arab family has been burnt to death.
- A Palestinian Arab young man was also burnt to death (in this case, the perpetrators have been caught and sentenced to prison).
- Attacks on innocent Arabs in the streets of Israel are happening spontaneously more often.
- There is growing incitement by certain extreme Jewish groups, like Lahava and LaFamilia.
- There is growing incitement on a daily basis on social media , such as Facebook and Twitter, in staggering amounts and with great amounts of verbal violence.
- Well-known rabbis in many places in Israel and the West bank are teaching and preaching violence and hatred.
- Law enforcement has not been effective enough. Most cases that are initiated against perpetrators of such violence are dropped.
Much needs to be done to combat these disturbing phenomena in Israeli society. Law enforcement has to be more effective. New laws may have to be passed, but old laws have to be enforced. Much educational work needs to be done. About half of the 51 organizations affiliated with the
Forums are already engaged in educational programs, and many of them are devoting time and energy to teach humanistic Jewish values, instead of hatred and violence.
A good combination of a parliamentary lobby like this new one and energetic committed involvement of many groups in civil society could help in mitigating some of the hate crimes and extremist violence that we have seen too much of in Israel in recent years. It is important to be involved in this for Jewish, moral and pragmatic reasons. We are engaged in a struggle for the sanity of the public discourse and the sanctity of human life in the state of Israel. It is high time for the voices of reason to speak up loud and clear in Israel now on this issue which is so vital for our present and our future.