On the Need for Tolerance Education

The stabbing attack on Thursday and the arson attack on Friday are related.

A society that tolerates one type of discrimination is bound to tolerate other types of discrimination as well.

It’s hard to come up with a logically, morally coherent argument for why discriminating against one group is ok, but discriminating against a different group isn’t. That’s why most arguments for tolerance tend to be universalist in nature, advocating for equal rights for all, and underscoring our shared humanity.

That’s also why, at the end of the day, a society that tolerates homophobia will tolerate racism against Arabs, and vice versa. In order to fight discrimination against gay Jews, we must fight discrimination against Arabs — and in order to fight discrimination against Arabs we must fight discrimination against gay Jews. They’re flip-sides of the same problem: a failure to see tolerance, equality, and respect for humans qua humans as an essential value.

There might be many solutions to that problem, but there is one in particular that stands out: Education. We must use the education system to instill the values of tolerance and respect for human dignity into our children and into Israeli society. Clearly, these values already can be found in Israeli society – the condemnations of both the attack against homosexuals and the attack on Palestinians from across the Israeli political spectrum, as well as the mourning on social media and the various protests organized across the country, demonstrate that.

However, we must make those values stronger, and ensure that they are taught in all public education streams. While the attackers of last week may not be said to be representative of society, we cannot pretend that their actions and the society they grew up in are completely unrelated. The attackers chose to take seeds of disrespect, planted by society, and grow those seeds into acts of hate. But we are not completely devoid of responsibility.

It is up to us to use this moment in order to demand that our government take concrete action to come up with curriculums to teach tolerance and democratic values, and ensure that those curriculums are used in the Israeli public school system, across the board.

Ideally, I wan to live in a world where stabbings and arson never happen. But I also know that even in the most ethical society, there might be that one person who chooses a violent path.

So instead, I propose a more modest goal: Let us aim for a day when someone hears that an attacker is religious, and is surprised because they know that the religious school systems teach people to respect others even if they disagree with them – because it’s taken for granted that that’s what Jewish education does. Let’s aim for a society, in which someone who hears of an arson attack against Palestinians by an Israeli is shocked, and wonders, “But where could this hatred have come from? If I look at all the political and religious leaders, constantly I hear about the importance of respecting each person as a human being, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity – anyone who says otherwise would be a complete social pariah.”

Only a week after I sat on a promenade, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, and mourned the Temple’s destruction and 2,000 years of exile, I cannot help but be reminded of the prophet Jeremiah’s words:

“This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. 5 But if you do not obey these commands, declares the Lord, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin. (Jeremiah 22: 3-5)

Innocent blood has been spilled. We must use education to build a just and right society, in which innocent blood is spilled no longer.

One week after the 9th of Av, let us start building a society worthy of redemption.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.