By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
In the post-World II Poland of my childhood it was dangerous for Jews – as it had been before the Holocaust – to walk in the streets lest thugs attacked them. That’s why I wasn’t sent to a local school when we returned from the Soviet Union in 1946 but had to travel to another city to attend a one-room Jewish makeshift arrangement. The mood in the country before the Nazis invaded it had remained, especially in attitudes to Jews. Several pogroms took place, documented by many contemporary historians.
I, therefore, very much identify with the Arabic-speaking Israeli who was beaten up the other day by a minyan of kippa-wearing youngsters near the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. This is yet another of many instances when citizens of the State of Israel are in danger of being molested because they’re “different” in the same way as the grandparents of some of the molester where treated in the countries of their birth,
The Arabic-speaking young man near the bus station in Jerusalem was a Druze who had just finished his service in the Israel Defense Forces. (We don’t know if his attackers had spent time in defense of their country or if they chose to express their love of Israel by attacking one of its defenders.) The passing out ceremony was attended by President Rivlin who hastened to condemn the incident in strongest possible language, published his photo with the young man at the ceremony, and called the victim’s family to express his shock at what happened.
Though there’re unfortunate similarities between being a Jew in Poland then and a non-Jew in Israel now, there’re also important differences. One of them is that whereas the president of Poland didn’t lose sleep over Jews being harassed, the president of Israel is shocked and dismayed when a non-Jew is molested.
Despite his apparent blind spot when it comes to Reform Judaism, Reuven Rivlin has come to reflect the best of Israel. His pronouncements on a variety of issues including those concerning the rights of the country’s Arab citizens have been exemplary.
But even the lofty words of Israel’s head of state cannot hide the racism that exists in his realm. As mentioned above, the incident near the central station in Jerusalem is by no means unique. Thus, for example, a large number of Arab bus drivers have left the service in Jerusalem and elsewhere because of the abuse by Jewish passengers. Arab taxi drivers are also very weary to take Jews because of bad experiences with belligerent passengers acting, of course, in the name of Jewish piety and Israeli patriotism.
It’s the same mix that prompted Yigal Amir to assassinate Prime Minister Yitzhak
Rabin thus trying – and, alas, to a considerable degree succeeding – to prevent to make peace with the Palestinians. Amir was said to be an observant Jew and a university student. He has many admirers to this very day and some minor clones that end up bullying an Israeli veteran because he speaks Arabic.
Not that the violence is one-sided. Hebrew-speaking Israelis aren’t always safe inside Israel – think of the rampage in Tel Aviv the other day – and even more so in the West Bank where Jews had been murdered by Arabs, including three young men that prompted a retaliatory assassination of an Arab boy.
Violence is contagious. The enmity on the battlefield and in the political arena has come down to the streets. It afflicts many of us, not only them.