Israel’s time of mourning and introspection did not end with Tisha b’Av this summer. It was extended when, within 24 hours last week, two murderous acts of Jewish violence took place. On Thursday a charedi zealot, recently released from prison after 10 years for attacking participants at a 2005 gay pride parade, stabbed six people at this year’s annual parade in downtown Jerusalem. A teenage girl watching the festivities later died from her wounds.
On Friday a firebomb thrown into a home in the West Bank town of Duma burned an 18-month-old baby, killing him, and seriously wounded his parents and brother. Jews were suspected of perpetrating the crime because the word “nekamah” (Hebrew for revenge) was spray-painted at the scene.
A wide range of Israel’s political and religious leaders spoke out firmly against these heinous acts. President Reuven Rivlin acknowledged, “We have been lax in tackling Jewish terrorism.” And Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid Party, asserted, “We are at war with the enemy within.”
Are Israelis prepared to do more than express their outrage? Last summer Israelis were shocked when a Palestinian teenage boy was burned to death by several Jewish extremists. In that case the perpetrators were arrested, but statistics show that it is extremely rare for Jews to be caught and punished for terror crimes against Arabs. In time, the horror fades.
This week the 23-year-old grandson of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League and symbol of religious Jewish extremism, was arrested, said to be the leading Jewish target of the Shin Bet for nationalist crimes. His grandfather no doubt would be proud.
And Israel’s cabinet this week approved the use of administrative detention, no doubt seeking to prove that Jews as well as Arabs may be held in prison for long periods of time without formal charges. But some liberals condemned such detention as unfair to anyone, Jew or Arab.
There is a growing sense in Israeli society that more needs to be done to counter the spike in Jewish terror, often by religious militants who show no respect for the laws of the state. That’s why statements by respected rabbis condemning violence as against Jewish law are particularly important. Rabbi Yehuda Gilad of Yeshivat Maale Gilboa in Israel wrote this week that “religiously motivated murder distorts the very notion of morality” and that a “literal interpretation of the Bible,” in terms of killing, is “simplistic … and extremely dangerous.”
Still, the reality is that a significant and growing minority of Israelis, including many ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Arabs, do not adhere to Zionist and/or democratic values. This puts a strain on the society, complicated by the alienating factor it has on the majority of diaspora Jews who worry about the fundamentalist impulse in Israel today.
The mood of indignation must not be allowed to fade this time. It must be translated into acts that prevent future crimes and indicate society’s red-line intolerance of Jewish terror.