By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
I’d like to take back everything negative that I’ve written about President Reuven Rivlin. Though I had repeatedly expressed my admiration for his pronouncements since he became president on behalf of Israel’s Arab citizens, I was distressed by his seeming discrimination against exponents of non-Orthodox Judaism.
He seems to have second thoughts on that, too. Recently he hosted in his residence a gathering of representatives of all streams of Judaism that was widely reported in the media. Though the Orthodox establishment stayed away, several prominent Orthodox rabbis attended, notably Benny Lau, the first cousin of the current Ashkenazi “chief rabbi” and arguably the most eminent Orthodox rabbi in the country.
But what moves me to take back all my criticism is last night’s demonstration in Jerusalem that brought us together to express our solidarity with the victims of the stabbing at the Gay Pride parade that injured several people, one of them critically, and the arson the same night that killed a baby and badly burnt his Palestinian family. Both acts were committed by Jews.
President Rivlin spoke movingly at the rally about the collective shame we all feel because of what Jewish fanatics have done. He spoke of the need for national soul searching, a change in the way we educate the young and of taking collective responsibility for what happened.
What Rivlin’s politics may not have allowed him to spell out – he was a long term Knesset member and for some years its speaker on behalf of the ruling Likud party – David Grossman, the celebrated Israeli writer, stated explicitly. Writing on the front page of Sunday’s Ha’aretz Grossman argued that it’s the occupation that has come to foster Jewish terrorism.
There’s even a direct link between the occupation and the burning down of two Arab houses in the West Bank. The arson seems to have been in “retaliation” of the razing of the two illegally erected buildings by Jewish settles in the West Bank settlement of Bet El and their protests. Violence breeds violence and more violence.
Grossman blamed it on the constellation of reactionary forces that rule this country at present. Though he praised the prime minister for visiting the maimed family in hospital he was less enthusiastic about Netanyahu’s preoccupation with Iran while ignoring other, arguably more important, matters. I understood this to mean that had these been dealt with properly, the mood in the country would have been different.
Because of the shock in which Israel finds itself after the stabbing and the burning there’s a sense that Israelis want to change things. But will that last? I recall a similar feeling two decades ago when I came from Canada to the funeral of Prime Minister Rabin, murdered by a Jewish zealot who seemed to reflect the implied incitement by the right-wing politicians and rabbis. All, or at least most, of that feeling soon evaporated and today Israel is even more in the grip of reactionary forces than it was then. As Yossi Sarid put it, not only has Rabin died but so has his legacy of peace.
Will it be different this time? Perhaps. The relentlessness with which the president is urging the citizens to search their souls and to change their ways may find its response in the country, not least among his party colleagues in government.