And now, O Israel, what does the Eternal your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the Eternal your God, to walk only in God’s paths, to love God, and to serve the Eternal your God with all your heart and soul. . . . (Deuteronomy 10.12-13, from this week’s Torah portion.)
The news coming out of Israel has been particularly tough over this weekend. It seemed to ignite the moment we stepped onto the plane to leave late Thursday afternoon. I won’t be egomaniacal enough to suggest that one precipitated the other. Nevertheless, I wish I could have been there to participate in the LGBTQ Pride Parade on Thursday in Jerusalem (taking place as we drove to the airport), and then in the massive memorial gathering on Saturday evening in Zion Square – a gathering joined by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who has had to evolve and do a great deal of soul searching during the first year of his presidency.
As you know, in the midst of the Pride Parade last Thursday, a lunatic stabbed six people marching in the parade, including 16-year-old Shira Banki, who now has died from her wounds, and her parents have donated her organs. But in fact, we do a disservice to Israeli society as a whole, and to people of good will everywhere, by dismissing this individual as merely a lunatic. In fact he is a particular kind of lunatic – formed and shaped by the ideology of the extremist Haredi community out of which he has emerged. He previously served a ten-year prison sentence for virtually the identical crime at a prior Gay Pride Parade. The fact that he was allowed to get anywhere near this parade on Thursday was a failure of the police. The fact that he is driven to commit murder in the name of extremist ideology is a failure of the Israeli government, and society as a whole.
Similarly, ideological lunacy of a slightly different permutation is what drove the perpetrators of the hellacious attack upon a Palestinian family in Duma Village near Nablus on the West Bank. An 18-month-old baby, Ali Saad Dawabsheh, was burned to death, and his parents and 4-year-old brother were also badly burned, when extremist settlers set fire to the family home. Several hundred members of Tag Meir, an Israeli grass-roots anti-racism group, went to the Dawabsheh home on Saturday night to express their sympathy and solidarity with the family, and their revulsion at this cruel act.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner issued the following statement on behalf of the Israel Army:
“This attack against civilians is nothing short of a barbaric act of terrorism. A comprehensive investigation is under way in order to find the terrorists and bring them to justice. . . The [Israeli army] strongly condemns this deplorable attack and has heightened its efforts in the field to locate those responsible.”
We in the United States have our own history to contend with as we remember the sinister and murderous activities of the Ku Klux Klan. They burned crosses on people’s lawns, they firebombed homes, churches and synagogues, they shot people as they walked in the street, and they lynched people – mostly black men – and strung them up on the nearest tree. The Ku Klux Klan did not represent all Americans, nor did it represent the American dream. It was a perversion and brutalization of both, and we are grateful it has all but fallen away into oblivion. But the primary reason it fell into oblivion is that Americans had finally had enough. They demonstrated, protested, and petitioned the courts until the laws of this land were changed.
Now Israel must stand up as well. Israelis must stand up for justice and righteousness; for human reason and the rule of law; for humility and human compassion. Tag Mechir and Lehava are renegade extremist terrorist groups. They are outlaws and racists. They are vandals, arsonists, and murderers. They cannot be allowed to persist in their nefarious activities. It is time for Israelis to stand up and put a stop to this. And it is time for us to stand up as well. While the prospect may seem overwhelming, here is one small thing we can all do immediately. Write a letter and send a contribution to IRAC – the Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. They have been fighting against these groups for some time. Now they will redouble their efforts, and increase the pressure on the government and the courts to crack down on these groups once and for all. And, if you wish, sign the letter of condolence that IRAC will take when they pay a shiva call this week to the Banki family.