Settler Violence Comes to the City

When the founders of modern Zionism hoped that having a country of their own would make Jews like all other nations, they didn’t think that the Jews would adopt any of the despicable traits of the anti-Semites among whom they lived in dispersion. The aim of Zionism was not only to liberate the Jews from their perilous existence as pariahs but also to enable them to live by the highest ideals of their tradition.

Yet more than six decades after the establishment of the State of Israel that has indeed afforded Jews who settled here freedom from persecution  – and even provided psychological and physical support for their sisters and brothers abroad – some of its Jewish citizens have taken to imitating anti-Semitic violence by trying to turn others into pariahs. Like synagogues in the Diaspora, churches and mosques in Israel are nowadays not infrequent targets of acts that damage their property and endanger people’s lives.

This week’s casualty is the Baptist church in downtown Jerusalem. The graffiti the vandals left behind on its walls made outrageously offensive comments about Jesus. Three cars parked outside were torched, two of which belonged to Jewish residents in neighbouring buildings and the third to a church worker.

The vandals signed off as tag m’chir (price tag), purporting to have acted on behalf of those who say that their terrorist acts are in retaliation to what they perceive to be restrictions on the settlers in the territories. How the Baptists in downtown Jerusalem would seek to restrain settlement expansion isn’t immediately obvious. It’s, therefore, reasonable to assume that the “explanation” is no more than a scandalous excuse for criminal behaviour, a tragic counterpart to anti-Semitism to which the forbears of the perpetrators themselves may have been once subjected.

Though it’s important to take note of this deplorable incident as an affront to everything Judaism stands for and that Jews have experienced, we must bear in mind that that’s not how Israelis normally behave. The pastor of the church said in a television interview that in this, as in previous incidents of a similar kind, he has had good cooperation from the police. He also told the interviewer that his church enjoys excellent relations with all its neighbours, particularly with Har El, Israel’s first Reform synagogue, which backs on to the property.

Nevertheless, we must not ignore the bitter truth that incidents of this kind – normally directed more against mosques than churches – have increased of late. Not many days ago a bilingual school for Jews and Arabs has also been vandalized. Palestinian villages are frequently harassed and attacked by settlers. Other incidents could be cited.

The reason for the increase in Jewish violence is to be sought in the radicalization of the settler movement. The reference to the price tag in the church attack illustrates it. Those who warned that the settlements would not only complicate the peace process but, even more significantly, damage the very soul of Israel have been proven right.

When Jews no longer heed the teaching to be good to “the other” because “you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” Jewish values are being trampled. The fact that it’s being done in the name of the love of Israel adds to the irony and the bitterness. Even though it’s not in our power to change things, we must not yield to the understandable temptation to sweep such incidents under the PR carpet.

Originally published by Rabbi Dow Marmur on February 22, 2012


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