Sickness in the Family

“Whoever can reprimand his family for their sins, and fails to do so, is punished for their transgressions” (Tanhuma, Mishpatim, 7).

This past week yielded very little good news for the Jews. On July 30 Yishai Shlissel stabbed 6 participants in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. One of them, Shira Banki, a girl of sixteen, died on August 3, of her wounds.

Israel portrays itself as one of the most accepting society when it comes to the gay and lesbian community, and generally speaking it is. But this is not the case when it comes to the ultra-Orthodox community. Though that community has an outstanding record of creating wonderful zedakah organizations that frequently reach beyond its own sector, there is nevertheless a culture of demonization of homosexuality that permeates its atmosphere. For example, there other things besides homosexuality that the TaNakh calls to`evah, “abomination,“ not the least of which are cheating your fellow in business, lying, and using false weights and measures. Yet homosexuality is the only thing that the ultra-Orthodox community consistently labels to`evah in its public condemnation of transgressions. It is therefore not surprising that such a culture would eventually produce a Yishai Shlissel.

On Friday, only one day after Gay Pride Parade incident, a baby, Ali Dawabsheh, 18 months old, was burned to death by arsonists who set fire to the family’s home. Along with the baby, two other members of the family were seriously burned. The arsonists left graffiti in Hebrew saying, “Revenge” and “Long live the Messiah” raising suspicion that the arsonists were radical West Bank settlers. Today, four days later, none of the perpetrators have been found and no one has been indicted. Not one settlement was locked down nor was anyone arrested for interrogation — common practices in cases of Palestinian terrorist attacks. Only a few IDF soldiers and Israel police have been allocated to the task of finding the terroists and bringing them to justice.

At a protest held in Gush Etzion in condemnation of these violent acts, especially those perpetrated against the Dawabsheh family, one of the speakers stated that the arsonists were “on the margins of the margins of our society.” The Jerusalem Post went on to report that the speaker continued by saying this was in contrast to many Palestinians who support acts of terror against Israelis (August 2, 2015).

With all due respect to the speaker, the protest was not the place to excuse what is likely to be Jewish terrorism. While the Palestinian street and government should not be given a free pass for its attitude about what should be done to Jewish civilians, Jews should not be deluding themselves into thinking that Jewish terrorists and their sympathizers are “on the margins of the margins of Jewish society.” There are simply too many graffiti saying “Mavet la`Aravim,” “Death to the Arabs,” that one can see around Israel to believe that there isn’t a population that indeed supports even lethal terrorism against Arabs. Further, the increased number of acts of aggression, especially arson, against mosques, churches, and schools whose educational program promotes co-existence only supports this thesis.

It must be asked why this sort of terrorism isn’t handled exactly as Palestinian terrorism is. The Israel secret service knows better than most such organizations in the world how to thwart such attacks and how to find their perpetrators. Why then are those in the West Bank settler community who are responsible for “price tag” retaliatory attacks for policies of which they disapprove treated any differently from a Palestinian who runs his car into a Jerusalem pedestrian for “nationalist reasons”? Why are Jews who do these things never found, never tried, and never jailed?

In this case, the fish stinks from the head. The government, including the Supreme Court, allows a certain sector of the population to be incarcerated indefinitely in administrative detention without them or their lawyers being told why. The sector is not Jewish. How can this not give the impression that the imprisoned are not somehow different and less than others?

How can the government expropriate Arab land and destroy Arab property when it only rarely acts in this way toward Jews who have built settlements declared illegal by the government itself? How can this not leave some Israelis thinking that not only Arab property but even Arab blood is cheap? Is there no connection between the atmosphere created by these realities and the attack in February on two Druze soldiers, fighters for the State of Israel, Tom Hasson and Razzi Houseya, who were beaten for the great crime of speaking Arabic in a public place.

Worst of all, how can the government continue calling Jewish terrorist bands “criminal organizations” rather than “terrorist organizations”? This may seem a small semantical difference, but the government allots less money and manpower to root out “criminal organizations” than it does to rooting out “terrorist ” ones.

Those who do not protest transgression are punished for their failure to do so. If the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, can call his society sick (Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2014), then I can not only concur but praise him for reprimanding his own people and its state, for which he received death threats this week. Death threats to the President of Israel by Jews? It’s Kafkaesque.

There is indeed something sick in the State of Israel, and until we can admit that we Jews can be just as savage as others, the sickness will not heal. It is time to enact the legislation and allocate the resources to end the malady of Jewish terrorism and to vigorously declare equality, the rule of law, and democracy as Jewish values essential to the character of the State.

About the Author
Rabbi Michael Chernick holds a doctorate in rabbinic literature and semikhah from Yeshiva University, and he is the chair of the executive committee of Ruach Hiddush (Rabbis and Cantors for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel).He served as professor of rabbinic literature at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion for forty years.He is an oleh hadash with continuing close ties to the United States. Rabbi Chernck regards himself as "a Jew for all Jews."
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