Fifty-two years ago today tears flowed in United States over the sudden and violent death of a young leader who inspired so many and had such a promising future ahead of him. And on this very day, tears flowed again, as an even younger promising leader who, despite being a tender 18-year-old, had already himself inspired many, was laid to rest just a short distance from where President John Kennedy was born.
Now, as then, the aggrieved — a group extending far beyond the family — struggle to make sense of such a tragedy – one not brought on by illness, not by accident, but by a deliberate act of evil.
Though I was not there to see Ezra Schwartz to his final resting place today, I was privileged to join hundreds of others to pay respects and hear a bit about Ezra at Ben Gurion Airport last night, just before he was flown to his family. Just as in Massachusetts today, there was only one sentiment among those gathered: Overwhelming sadness. There were no chants for revenge, no calls of “Death to the Arabs” — in fact, there was not even a hint of anger among the mourners. Just unbearable sorrow.
This should not be surprising, or even noteworthy.
But it is important that everyone understand this: Ezra’s death did not occur in a vacuum.
Just hours before Ezra’s murder, a 36-year-old Palestinian named Raid Halil bin Mahmoud stabbed two Israelis to death in a Tel Aviv synagogue. Mahmoud was a 36-year-old father of five without a criminal record — demographic not at all unlike that of Ezra’s own father.
On a bright Thursday afternoon, two seemingly-ordinary people decided to throw their own lives away in pursuit of the same goal: killing Jews. How can this be explained?
The answer is one word: incitement.
Tragically, since the Palestinian Authority took control of media, education and other vessels of information in the mid-1990s, Palestinian society has been awash in ancient anti-Semitic canards, blood libels and Jew-hatred of every sort. Look no further than what the mother of Thursday’s Tel Aviv killer told Hamas television: “My son is a source of pride for Hebron and Palestine.” Such reactions are neither uncommon, nor are they new. Following the attacks of 9/11, many Palestinians publicly held joyous celebrations, and in this recent spate of violence, street parties and the passing out of candy following the deaths of “Zionists” have become de-rigour. The naming of public squares for mass-killers is already a long-established practice in Palestinian society.
This past September, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas intensified the rhetoric, with rehashed, baseless lies about threats to Muslim holy places, and said “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem.”
And his public took his cue: The “stabbing intifada” was born — with daily incidents of Palestinians assaulting Israelis with knives, with vehicles, and with guns.
Just a few weeks before Ezra’s murder, senior PA official Tawiq Tirawi, took to Palestinian television to boast that his son — “not yet three” (!!) — had learned the following verse: “Daddy buy me a machine gun and a rifle, so that I will defeat Israel and the Zionists.”
This disgusting spectacle must no longer get a free pass from the international media, or from governments representing decent people everywhere, particularly in the United States.
In the wake of Ezra’s murder, Joe Kennedy, who represents the Schwartz family in Congress and is the grand-nephew of the murdered President, posted a moving note about Ezra and the circumstances of his death.
And so I have for Congressman Kennedy a modest proposal: As a tribute to Ezra’s memory, and in order that some meaning be drawn from his death, perhaps he might consider taking on as his duty to his constituents, to his country, and to his conscience, a sacred mission: eradicating incitement. Whether from the Boko Harem of Africa, whether from ISIS of Syria, whether in America itself, or whether among the Palestinian leadership, good people everywhere must no longer react to those who actively promote violent hatred with a shrug of the shoulders, or still worse — justification and rationalization.
What consequences should result? That is a matter for consideration, and there won’t be a universal formula. However, the principle that vicious incitement should have meaningful consequences should be made sacrosanct. To begin with, it is far past time for the disinfectant of light to shine upon situations in which American taxpayers are unwittingly — directly or indirectly — subsidizing those that preach hatred and encourage violence.
President Kennedy, in his inaugural address, said that America was “unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”
With the brutal murder of a constituent, patently resulting from incitement, Congressman Kennedy has an opportunity to turn his great-uncle’s words into deed, and to add to his family’s incredible record of public service to America. Let him lead this effort to commit America to no longer turning a blind eye to those that incite to violence, wherever they may be. Through his actions, let us ensure that libelous vitriol never again has the opportunity to cut short as promising a young life as that of Ezra Schwartz.