Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Following attacks, Israeli leaders vow to stamp out racism

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Israeli leaders have responded with outrage at a pair of unrelated, racially-motivated attacks against Arabs last Thursday. Calls for swift justice, soul-searching and a new co-existence education campaign were voiced within the government, opposition and Israeli media commentators. Police responded with numerous arrests.

In the first attack, a Palestinian taxi was firebombed while driving in the Gush Etzion area. A Palestinian family and their driver were injured with first and second-degree burns and treated at Hadassah Hospital in nearby Ein Kerem.

On Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and vowed Israel would find the assailants in the attack, which has been dubbed by police an act of Jewish terror by right-wing extremists. 

In the second attack - which shocked the Israeli public even more than the first due to the location and number of individuals involved - three Arab youths were set upon by a mob of dozens Jewish youth in Jerusalem's downtown area. Following a short dispersal that occurred when police were notified, the mob regrouped, caught up to one of the Arab youths, Jamal Julani, and beat him nearly to death.

As of Thursday, eight youths between the ages of 17 and 13 had been arrested for that heinous attack, with the investigation continuing.

On Tuesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said he was "ashamed" of the attacks, while Netanyahu said the kind of racism and hatred that fuelled the attack is anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli and intolerable.

"In the State of Israel we aren't willing to tolerate racism and we aren't willing to tolerate the combination of racism and violence," Netanyahu said. "This is something that we cannot accept - neither as Jews nor as Israelis. This is not our way; this is opposed to our ways; and we condemn it in word and deed. We will quickly bring to justice those responsible for this reprehensible incident."

Netanyahu's statement came two days after Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon condemnation of the two attacks, calling them acts of "terror that goes against Jewish values and morals and displays an educational and moral failure."

On Thursday, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin visited the injured youth in the hospital. During the visit, Rivlin voiced a heartfelt apology on behalf of the Knesset.

"It is hard to see you lying in the hospital because of an unimaginable, outrageous act," Rivlin told Julani, who was released from the hospital Thursday evening. "I came here in the name of the State of Israel, in order to apologize and express anger over what happened."
Rivlin called for schools to discuss the attack in the beginning of the school year.
"We have reached the point where we are not educating our children that all of us, Jews and Arabs, live together," he said. "Events like this could happen again. We are in an environment in which conflict creates the impression that violence is allowed, as opposed to argument and use of democratic tools."

Rivlin's call for the need to work harder to educate Jewish youth in Israel against racism echoed that of many officials.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar issued a directive to schools that they should hold classes and discussions about the Jerusalem mob attack when children return to class at the conclusion of Summer recess next week, the Jerusalem Post reported.

"This is a very serious event, both in terms of violence and racism. The high number of teenagers that participated in the incident adds to that concern."
"The education system must and will put out an educational and ethical statement on the subject, which will be sharp and clear," Sa'ar asserted.

Meanwhile, Israeli commentators and columnists found some hopeful and encouraging signs in the otherwise distressing saga.

The Jerusalem Post's Greer Fay Cashman interviewed Hatzalah Emergency Medical Service volunteer Gavy Friedson, who, together with fellow Hatzalah volunteer Danny Ben-David, were first responders to the Jerusalem attack and tried to resuscitate the hapless youth until a Magen David Adom team arrived.

While they were trying to revive Julani, bystanders asked why they were bothering to save an Arab when an Arab would not do the same for a Jew. Friedson was shocked. There are quite a lot of Arabs working as volunteers with Hatzalah, and Friedson has sometimes worked with them in life-saving situations.
"We're not interested in someone's religion, color or politics," he says. "All we care about is that a human being needs our help."

Cashman added:

Friedson subsequently visited him in hospital and met his parents, who could not contain their emotions as they thanked him for saving their son's life...
Friedson intends to visit Julani at home soon after his release from hospital.

Some commentators warned against the media using the attacks to over exaggerate the level of anti-Arab extremism in Israel. Some also saw the rise of such hatred as, in part, an unfortunate response to relentless Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism.

On the Commentary website on Thursday, Jonathan Tobin wrote that, while such examples of Jewish hatred for Arabs are unjustifiable and unacceptable, it is important to acknowledge the context where such sentiments originate.

To illustrate his point, he directed readers to an interview of freed terrorist Ahlam Tamimi on Gazan television. In the clip, which was translated by MEMRI, the accomplice to the Sbarro bombing that killed 15 people (including teenaged Australian olah Malki Roth) proudly and enthusiastically recounted the bombing, and afterwards, when she boarded an Arab bus. She claimed the deaths of innocent Jews, many of them children, were greeted by Arab passengers with joy.

Wrote Tobin:

 

Arab hatred does not justify Jewish misbehavior. But those lamenting a disturbing trend among Jews to mirror the hatred of the Palestinians need to look at the environment in which Jews are living and ponder how it is that so few Israelis have succumbed to the virus of hate.

Ahron Shapiro