I’ve never felt ashamed to be Jewish, but this week was the closest I’ve come.
It’s not that this murder was more horrible than the killing of three boys, because all murder is equally abhorrent. But this time it was different. Because we did this.
The Talmud asks how we know that in a life or death situation, a person should be killed rather than kill an innocent person. The rabbis give the example of a person who asked Rabba for advice after the governor of his town had commanded him to kill another person at penalty of death. Chillingly, Rabba did not allow him to commit murder: “Is your blood redder?”
With the death of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, we have seen how racism can lead a person to see another’s blood as less red than his own; to dilute the colour of Arab blood with hatred and malice.
On a personal level, the most troubling aspect of this entire incident is that the murder was performed in the name of values that I hold so dearly. It’s easy to look at the murder of the three kidnapped boys and wonder how anyone can subscribe to values that sanction such terror. Abu Khdeir’s murder, however, was performed in the name of Judaism and Zionism. If this is Judaism, I’m no longer interested. If this is Zionism, take me off the listserv.
But it isn’t, I remind myself. Although the killers (or to be frank, terrorists) may walk around in kippot haughtily believing that they are in God’s good books, their religiosity ends there. They may be observant in a technical sense, but they are far from religious in a meaningful way. Judaism is a religion that sanctifies life. These people, who turn to death, practice only a cheap imitation. Zionism at its core is about the manifestation of historical justice on the world stage. Their actions were anything but just, and so despite their nationalist motive they share nothing with the Zionism that is at the heart of Israel’s existence and my own value system.
Elsewhere, the Talmud lists three qualities that characterize the Jewish people: compassion, modesty, and chesed – the performance of acts of loving kindness. To state the obvious, these “Jewish” characteristics are not manifest in the killers or any of their extremist supporters. If the Talmudic rabbis were writing today, they might have added three qualities that characterize Zionism: a perpetual quest for social and historical justice, a conviction in equality for all human beings, and an uplifting pioneering spirit. Zionists, these people are certainly not.
I was proud to see that virtually all Jewish and Zionist groups both in and out of Israel were quick to unequivocally condemn this act of homegrown terrorism. It reminded me that as a people, we are so much better than this. As Netanyahu said, we differentiate ourselves from many of our neighbours by quickly bringing terrorists to justice rather than celebrating their actions in the public sphere.
We must do more to ensure that nothing of this nature ever occurs again in Israel. These events do not occur in a vacuum – we should start by rooting out racist attitudes from wherever we can. In the past, it might have been morally excusable to ignore an overheard off-colour comment, but these recent events change everything. This week, we witnessed how too many years of offhanded remarks have built up and created a generation stained by apathy and even hatred. Abu Khadr’s murderers may be from a tiny minority of extremists, but racist attitudes are more prevalent than we like to admit.
And true, racism is far more widespread in Palestinian media and culture than Israeli, but we must start with ourselves, and end the vicious cycle of blame and hatred before another child – Jew or Arab – is killed.
Regardless, now isn’t the time for debate on how or when to end incitement. Now is the time to join the Shaar, Yifrach, Frenkel, and Abu Khdeir families in grief, and pray that there will be no others.