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Hate Crimes and Misdemeanors

The anti-Semitic hate crime committed against the Jewish People yesterday is the product of the world we live in. Sad, despicable, horrendous as the carnage against the innocent worshipers at the ‘Tree of Life’ synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa. was, it is not an isolated incident. Nor is it reserved solely for the Jewish People. It happened in churches, in kindergartens, in high schools, in music concert halls. It is powered by and irresponsible, bombastic rhetoric of politicians, and by guns in the hands of sick, hateful people, who spray bullets of death everywhere.

You may have heard of the ‘Proud Boys’, a far-right group of young, racist white males, full of hate and disposition on inflicting violence whenever possible, lately against progressive demonstrators in Portland, Oregon. If you haven’t heard of them, you soon will, just as you probably have heard of their cousins in Europe, especially in Russia, Poland, Hungary and Germany, where their main target of hate and violence are Muslim immigrants, refugees, and of course Jews, for no particular reason.

And talking about Jews, this is really what I wanted originally to tell you about. Because we, in Israel, have our own version of the ‘Proud Boys of Violence.’ Among their forbearers are the Israeli version of ‘La Familia,’ the staunch supporters of the Israeli soccer team ‘Beitar Jerusalem,’ of whom I just watched a most fascinating documentary on Netflix (highly recommended), titled “Forever Pure.” Their favorite slogan, shouted at every opportunity, is “Death to the Arabs.” They are the core supporters of the Likud, on whose shoulders (literally) both President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu rode to power. They had also, most probably, spewed Yigal Amir, the assassin of Prime Minister Rabin.

But no, today I’m talking about those who, as we say in Hebrew, are “Mamshichey Haderech.” The “Road Successors.” The young settlers roaming the hills of Judea and Samaria, wearing tzitziyot (fringes) and knitted kippahs, inflicting pain on the Palestinians of the West bank whenever possible. Whether they are shepherds leading their sheep and goats to pasture, or olive growers tending to their groves, you’ll find those Jewish ‘Proud Boys’ exacting pain on the local residents under the protection of the occupation authorities, and the Israeli Army.

Lately, they happened to throw stones on a passing car of a Palestinian family, causing the death of the wife and mother traveling in that car. Now you’d think, since those ‘Proud Jewish Boys’ did that in broad daylight and plain sight, that they would be caught by now, and maybe brought to justice. You’d be wrong. Three weeks later or so, they are free to roam the hills, inflicting pain and suffering again, putting words to action from the book of Beitar Jerusalem’s soccer fans, shouting “Death to the Arabs.”

You might also be saying: Wait, didn’t a young Palestinian man stab to death a Jewish man, a settler, not long ago? And didn’t another young Palestinian man kill two workers at the Barkan Industrial Park near the largest settlement of Ariel, and is yet to be caught? You’d be right bringing up these two cases to the forefront. And though one assailant was caught and already charged with murder in a court of law, and the other one is still on the lam, with the Israeli Army and the Shin Bet hot on his heels; and though their actions are not justified, should be condemned, and would bring the Palestinians no closer to their goal of a state of their own, the differences are striking.

These are act of desperation, by lone wolves, dying to die themselves, and are directed against the occupiers, who are terrorizing and controlling their lives since they were born. It’s an act of defiance, if you will. They do not operate under the cover of a large army, not even under the cover of their own Palestinian security forces. In ninety-nine percent of the cases they are either killed during their terror acts or end up in prison, spending their life there with many of their brothers. As I said, these are lone, desperate acts, not organized terror.

But the actions of these young, messianic settlers, are organized terror against the local Arab population. A “Jewish Terror Act” is how the Israeli media described it lately. They mostly act, wreaking their violence, with impunity. Under the protection—many time literally, as documented by plenty of videos, whereabout Israeli soldiers stand by and look on as they throw stones—of the Israeli Army, the occupation authority of the Israeli Government. What unite these ‘Boys of terror,’ these ‘Proud Boys of Violence,”—like the American anti-Semitic racist who murdered eleven people at the ‘Tree of Life’ synagogue—is pure hatred and the worship of violence.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.


Jewish Values



Recently, a friend of mine told me a story: A rabbi in a large Jewish congregation – say, somewhere in the great state of California – was asked by a permanent member of the congregation for the rabbi’s opinion and thoughts regarding a panel discussion to be centered around the issue of “Jewish values in relation to Israel, and the important role that the American Jewish community has in engaging in such a discussion.” The member of that congregation was happy to learn that the rabbi thought it was a great idea, and furthermore proceeded to suggest some important topics for discussion, and esteemed candidates to participate in that panel. The member was disappointed, however – though by no means surprised – that the rabbi, for “obvious reasons,” did not feel comfortable participating as a panelist. Even more so, the rabbi thought that other rabbis in town will react in a similar fashion.

My immediate reaction to that story was surprise, and indeed disappointed at the rabbi’s stance on the matter, in particular the rabbi’s refusal to participate in such a panel discussion. My friend, while knowing I was born in a kibbutz in Israel, and that to date I still carry with me certain naiveté, nonetheless asked me why I was so surprised by that. Here’s my response:

What was the rabbi afraid of? And why was that rabbi so afraid? Was the rabbi afraid to discuss, and expose the community to the problematic issue of Israel’s occupation and rule over other people for the last 48 years? Was the issue of ruling, by military means, over other people, depriving them in many cases of basic human rights and national aspirations, inconsistent with Jewish values? And if so, what to do about it? And if not so, if it’s not an occupation, what is it? If it’s an annexation, de facto – by the settlers, in cahoots with the various governments since the Six-Day War of 67 – then what about the rights of the Arabs, the Palestinians there to vote? Isn’t that, well… an apartheid, to deprive them of these basic citizen rights? And if the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria – call it what you will – is part of greater Israel, what about the danger of the Jewish people becoming a minority in the not-so-distant future, losing the characteristic of being a Jewish, democratic state?

Was that particular rabbi – be it a he or a she – afraid to touch, and open all these wounds? Even though, the rabbi is the spiritual and religious leader of the congregation? And as such, isn’t the rabbi supposed to discuss these issues? Was the rabbi further afraid of talking and debating the question of the Israeli Arabs, citizens of the state, some 20 percent of the population, and their status as “second-class” citizens? Especially in regard, and in connection to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s perceived racist remarks about them before the last elections. Furthermore, was the rabbi afraid to discuss the ethnic question? The great divide, the “ethnic demon” as it is called in Israel, which is still so prominent in its society, and separate – in income, education and position of power – Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews?

Too hot to handle, for that rabbi. But what about the Jewish-State Law? What about losing the democratic values to a stricter, more orthodox, religious regime? And what, if we are at it, of the danger of Israel – due to the foreseen makeup of the new government – becoming even more theocratic in nature? Do away with pluralism, religious pluralism in particular, maybe? Put forward more objections and changes to equality between the sexes, for instance, in marriage and in divorce. And to go along with that, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. What so difficult, what so frightening in talking about, and discussing these issues in the open, here in America. Maybe we should tell the Israelis what we think about these matters, and maybe we shouldn’t. But why not talk about it here, among ourselves? Jews in America engaging in conversation about the future of Israel? And with it, the future of the Jewish people as a whole? What can be more natural, essential even, than that?

Perhaps that rabbi didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, or was simply afraid of losing the congregation rabbi’s job. What’s not in doubt in my mind, as I told my friend, is that the rabbi, like other rabbis in that California town, and indeed throughout the land, was afraid. Period. Exclamation point. You name it. Which reminds me that when it comes to Jewish values, none is better than Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and his famous saying, to remind us all what our world, and us Jews within it, are all about: “A person walks in life on a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid.”

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”

** The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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