By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
One of the bitter ironies of contemporary Israel is that some of the Jews who claim to be the most ardent defenders of the Jewish faith, the Jewish people and the Jewish way of life – the ultra-Orthodox – behave like the non-Jewish thugs who still try to make life miserable for Jews in the Diaspora.
The latest of alas too frequent incidents of vandalism against non-Jews in Israel, this time against Christians, set fire to a church in the Galilee at one of the most frequented Christian pilgrimage sites in the country. The graffiti that the perpetrators left behind suggests that they were yeshiva students who chose to express their dedication to God and God’s creatures by trying to burn down a Christian holy place.
It’s by no means certain that the culprits will be brought to justice or even identified, because their mates will do their utmost to help them cover their traces and testify under oath to their innocence. But the suspicion is that they came from circles in the West Bank where chauvinism as vandalism seems to be an integral part of piety.
That’s why, in addition to the proper condemnation by the prime minister and many others in authority, the way to eradicate the problem is to change the educational philosophy of Israeli schools, particularly the yeshivot. But that’s not likely to happen, because for reasons of coalition politics, the government will continue to tolerate extremism in the guise of holy study, and even pay for the so-called students to do nothing other than cause harm in the name of fidelity to God.
Of course, such extremism isn’t characteristic of the majority of yeshiva students but it’s true enough of some. It may also reflect something of the general mood in the realm. The recent pronouncement by the deputy minister responsible for religious affairs in Israel against Reform Judaism is another manifestation of the same disease. It prompted Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party, now in opposition, to tell leaders of the World Jewish Congress the other day that the only country where not all Jews enjoy freedom of religion is – Israel.
The prime minister has also condemned the attack on Reform, but he’s not likely to fire the culprit in order not to tamper with his fragile government coalition. Nor will his ultra-nationalistic kippa-wearing minister of education take steps to promote pluralism in the Israeli school system. Chauvinism in the guise of patriotism has gained ominous acceptance in the land – and not only in extreme Orthodoxy.
However, the government can do something right away: provide security for churches and mosques, just as many countries in Europe offer security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions. If Jewish thugs in the Jewish state seek to vandalize churches and mosques and their cemeteries the way non-Jewish thugs vandalize synagogues and Jewish cemeteries around the world, the State of Israel must provide the same kind of protection to non-Jews that Jews enjoy in the Diaspora.
Will all that have a negative effect on tourism to Israel? Maybe. But I take to heart the words of Father David Neuhaus, priest of the Hebrew speaking congregation here and Deputy Patriarch of Jerusalem, when he said that, on the contrary, the sad event should move people to come here to express solidarity with the victims and thus tell the perpetrators that, hard as they may try, they won’t get their way.