This week saw two terror attacks in Israel at the hands of right-wing Jewish criminals. For too long have the State of Israel and Diaspora Jews tolerated rhetoric of hatred and violence, and each of us must find our own way to work to bring an end to the cycle of violence.
In the past 48 hours, we have witnessed not one but two terror attacks in Israel.
Yesterday at the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, an ultra-Orthodox man named Yishai Schlissel stabbed and wounded six men and women. Three weeks ago, Schlissel was released from a ten-year prison sentence. His crime? Ten years ago, he attacked and wounded three men and women at the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem.
And this morning, in the Palestinian town of Duma two men vandalized the home of a Palestinian family. They broke in the windows and threw firebombs inside. Sa‘ad and Reham Daobasa and their four-year-old son, Ahmed, were wounded in the attack. Ali Daobasa, Ahmed’s brother, was burned to death. He was buried earlier today. Ali was 18 months old.
These attacks were horrific. They should and have been condemned. But condemnation is not enough.
Yishai Schlissel, the repeated attacker of gay and lesbian men and women, subscribes to an extreme right-wing ideology that has far too many believers. Earlier today, Schlissel condemned the State of Israel for not adhering to Judaism the way he and other extremists understand it. At a hearing this morning, he said “I do not accept this court’s authority. This court does not follow the rules of the holy Torah. This court is part of the mechanism of evil.”
Schlissel’s appeal to Torah is common among right-wing extremists in Israel, including the group Lehava. Every year, Lehava activists organize a protest against what they call the “abomination parade.” Just a few hours before the Gay Pride Parade, Lehava CEO Benzi Gopstein wrote, “It cannot be that something that is declared in the Torah as an abomination will become a source of pride, and there is certainly no place for this in the heart of Jerusalem, the holy city.” Gopstein and Schlissel both agree – Torah forbids homosexuality. Now, Gopstein stated after yesterday’s stabbing that he “oppose[s] the stabbing of Jews.” But to me, this is cold comfort coming from a man who calls Israeli Arabs a cancer.
Schlissel awaits trial, and in all likelihood he will be sent back to prison. But the murderers of 18-month-old Ali Daobasa remain at large. And like Schlissel, these extremists are part of a much wider circle of Jewish Israelis who antagonize and attack Palestinians.
In 2015 alone, there have been more than 120 attacks on Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. When Palestinians have committed acts of terrorism in Israel, we have rightfully called for Palestinian leadership to take responsibility. We call on them to teach peace to their children, to advocate for peace in their policies, and to work diligently and sincerely to pursue peace with the State of Israel. In the same vein, the government of Israel, and in particular right-wing Jewish political parties and religious groups in Israel, must take responsibility for the language of hatred and violence that is tolerated on a daily basis.
Condemnation is not enough.
Israeli society shelters too many Jewish extremists, and American Jews offer them too much leeway in their repeated incitements and abuses. We can no longer tolerate a system that allows for the free propagation of a violent interpretation of Torah.
I share with you the words of Rabbi Sharon Brous, who underscores this point:
“The truth is that both attacks are horrific and neither should come as a real surprise. They are both the logical outcome of the atmosphere of racism and intolerance that has been festering over the past many years. From the ubiquitous labeling of ‘traitor’ to anyone who challenges the logic of the right wing, to government ministers calling asylum seekers a cancer and the Knesset Member who just this week called for the High Court to be bulldozed, to the thousands of daily musings from pundits, rabbis and community leaders who fuel or simply excuse a growing violence and intolerance in Jewish and Israeli culture, and then act with shock and disgust when incidents of violence occur. All of this while the rest of us whisper quietly our growing discomfort, afraid to speak out lest we, too, have our loyalty or love questioned.”
She continues, “Painful as it is, we must acknowledge that a culture of racism, hatred and indifference will inevitably become a culture of violence. It’s time for us to take responsibility for building a political and social reality that reflects Jewish values of tolerance, equality and humility, one that promotes civil discourse and fights, above all, for human dignity. It’s time to stand with strength and courage not only to offer words of condemnation and consolation, but to fight to change our social, political and religious reality so that such things never happen again.”
Rabbi Brous arouses our conscience, urging us no longer to be complacent in the face of Jewish terrorism in Israel. It seems that Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, agrees. He said today, “To my great sorrow, until now it seems we have been lax in our treatment of the phenomena of Jewish terrorism. Perhaps we did not internalize that we are faced with a determined and dangerous, ideological group, which aims to destroy the fragile bridges which we work so tirelessly to build. I believe that the more we understand this significant danger to the State of Israel, the more we will be aware to confront it, and uproot it.” I applaud the president’s response and encourage others to take it up.
The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, likewise will not tolerate Jewish terrorists any more than he will tolerate Palestinian terrorists. He said of today’s assault in Duma, “This is a clear terrorist attack. Israel takes a tough stance against terrorism regardless who the perpetrators are. I have instructed the security forces to use all means at our disposal to capture the killers and bring them to justice as soon as possible. Israel is united in its opposition to such terrible and heinous acts.” I applaud the Prime Minister’s response and encourage others to take it up.
Last Saturday night, we observed Tisha B’Av, the annual day of mourning that commemorates our people’s tragic familiarity with destruction. We are taught that our first national tragedy, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, occurred because of sinat chinam, reasonless hatred. As we seek to repair the violence of the past, we are taught to embrace the commandment V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha, love your neighbor as yourself. And we turn to the voice of the prophet Isaiah, who proclaims Nachamu, nachamu, ami, “Be comforted, be comforted, My people” (Isa. 40:1), which we will read tomorrow morning during the Torah service.
That’s why this Shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of “comfort!” It’s supposed to be our Shabbat from violence, our break from destruction. But the Jewish terrorists in the West Bank spray-painted the word nekamah—revenge—on the house they attacked. They sought to transform Shabbat Nachamu into Shabbat Nekamah, a Sabbath not of peace but of hatred.
We can’t let that happen.
Rabbi Michael Marmur, provost of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, urges each of us to commit our lives to “a Judaism of love and of life, one rooted in humanity and moderation.” He says, “The prospects for Israeli society are bleeding and charred this Shabbat. If we are to turn the perversity of nekamah into the possibility of nechamah, we will need to forge new alliances, find new resources, and refuse to abandon the arc of redemption.”
Condemnation is not enough. Even prayer is not enough. The prophet Jeremiah railed against the people of Israel for soothing victims of injustice with empty promises of “Peace peace when there is no peace!” (Jer. 6:14). We cannot stand idly by, nor can we simply hope that someone else will solve the problem. Each of us has the power to teach, to preach, to educate, and to advocate for a Judaism of peace. Each of us can sing with our whole selves, calling into the world a voice of peace to overwhelm the discord of violence.
Such was the project of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, perhaps our greatest modern advocate for peace in Israel. Nearly 20 years ago Yigal Amir, a right-wing Jewish extremist, assassinated Rabin during Israel’s most promising negotiations with the Palestinians.
The last thing Rabin did before he was killed was to lead a crowd of peace activists in singing the peace anthem Shir Lashalom, “A Song of Peace.” He sang the song, walked down from the stage, and was shot and killed. The words of the song were found in his jacket pocket, stained with his blood. For twenty years, this anthem has urged us to get up, to get out, and to work for peace.
אַל תַּגִּידוּ יוֹם יָבוֹא - הָבִיאוּ אֶת הַיּוֹם!
Don’t say, “The day will come.” Bring the day!
Each of us has a role to play in the bringing about of peace. So while we take comfort in the promise that peace can come, let us join together in our resolve to bring it about speedily and in our day.
[The congregation sings Shir Lashalom]
 Cf. Ibn Ezra on Lev. 19:17 (“You shall not hate your brother in your heart; surely you shall reprove your kinsman and not bear guilt on his account”):
הפך וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ [כָּמוֹךָ]. והנה אלה המצות כולם נטועות בלב, ובהשמרם ישבו בארץ, כי על שנאת חנם חרב בית שני.
This is the opposite of “You shall love your neighbor [as yourself]” (Lev. 19:18). Indeed, these are the mitzvot that are fully implanted in the heart, and by following them, they shall return to the land – for it was on account of baseless hatred that the second Temple was destroyed.
 Posted to Facebook July 31, 2015.
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