We are all very skilled at identifying the sins of others. There are people whose repertoire of grievance is extensive and masterful. They can recount every slight and insult they have ever endured. Such individuals are generally not so good at recalling the ways in which they have hurt others.
But for both individuals and nations, moral health begins in self-examination. Over the years Israel has rightly cried out about the terrorism repeatedly and savagely practiced in its midst by a range of pro-Palestinian groups. But Israeli society is becoming aware yet again of the toxin of terrorism inside Israel, perpetrated by Jews.
In recent days, an arson attack left a Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabshe dead, and his parents escaped with their four year old, all of them badly burned. The murderers spray-painted “Revenge” and a Star of David on the walls of the Dawabsha home. As the Jerusalem Post points out, this is not an isolated incident. Also this week, a knifing at a gay pride parade wounded five and resulted in the death of Shira Banki, a 16 year old.
These despicable crimes were religiously and ideologically motivated. There exists an ugly strain of racism and xenophobia in Israeli society that expresses itself in the continued reverence shown by extremist elements for Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Muslims at prayer and wounded over 100. Every society will have fanatics, of course, but for Israel, which has suffered at the hands of hatred and lives in such a volatile reason, self-examination takes on a special urgency. Extremism attracts a certain temprament; its brutal glow draws them to what they mistake for light.
Inside of Israel there are many voices that call for Heshbon Nefesh, an accounting of soul. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin issued a statement in both Hebrew and Arabic saying that Israel had not done enough to combat Jewish terrorism. The result? The President had to call in the police because of Jewish terrorist threats calling him a “traitor” and a “terrorist.” Israelis remember very well that such talk about Yitzchak Rabin preceded his assassination at the hands of a Jewish terrorist who still sits in prison for the crime.
Israeli society is a cauldron of competing views and they often sit uneasily with one another. The religious establishment (which was uniform in its condemnation of both crimes) promotes one strain of Jewish life and acknowledges one kind of rabbinic authority to the exclusion of others. The majority of Israelis are not religious, but there are still competing passions over the prospects for peace, the way to get there, and all the threats internal and external that swirl about in this land that seems too full of history for such a tiny place.
The battle against terrorism has to be fought by the entire society. Here there is no equivalence between Israel and its neighbors. As Jonathan Tobin writes: “Unlike the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Israeli government does not applaud terrorists; it seeks to prosecute them. There will be no parks or sports teams named after those who killed a child in Duma as there are for Palestinians who kill Jews. Nor will there be programs on Israeli television and radio extolling the deeds of the killers.”
For a free society however, as Tobin recognizes, “they are worse” is not an excuse for complacency. This is not about the depredations of others. Rather it is about the kind of society Israel claims to be and aspires to be. To wound or kill in faith’s name is a kind of homicidal idolatry — you worship your own passions more than the God you claim to serve. As its leaders have said, all Israel must join hands against hate, without and within.