The Death of Innocence

By Daniel Sokatch


I woke up on Tuesday in Boston to the terrible news from Jerusalem. The latest escalation in the cycle of incitement and violence: the terrorist murder of four Israelis praying Shacharit in synagogue in a peaceful Orthodox neighborhood, and of the Druze policeman who tried to rescue them. The manner of attack was shocking in itself and I am haunted by the photos from the scene.

We’ve been talking for a while about the disintegration of what comity there was between Jews and Arabs in Israel. From soccer games in the north to expropriation and vengeance in the heart of East Jerusalem, many question whether there is a road of return to the concept of a shared society. Israelis from all backgrounds – Jewish and Arab alike – are increasingly fearful for their personal safety.

Since the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last June and the revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager, we have known that what we are seeing is not just casual violence. Individual attacks on Jews may be just that, very few commentators are (yet) suggesting an organized intifada. Organized violence against Palestinians by extremist Jews is also not evident.

But after a summer of mobs roaming Jerusalem calling for “Death to Arabs” and the most vitriolic, incendiary incitement, some by Israeli politicians in the governing coalition calling for apartheid and some by Palestinian leaders and groups calling for murder, it is necessary to see the current situation as structural, not random.

Innocent Jews and Arabs are now paying the price for the growth of unbridled ultra-nationalism, racism and incitement, and religious extremism in Israel. Increasingly heavy-handed behavior by police towards Arabs is now held out as the answer, rather than as a spur to further violence. The threat to deprive Arab citizens of their citizenship if they non-violently oppose a state that seems to marginalize them more, year by year, will only exacerbate this crisis. Corrupting Israeli democracy and values to the reprehensible conduct of its worst enemies will not protect one Israeli citizen.

When Israeli leaders do behave responsibly — maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount, bringing charges against criminal behavior by police or standing up against racism, as President Rivlin has done –they are harshly attacked by the anti-democratic minority. And although Palestinian Authority President Abbas has decried this week’s attack, other Palestinians have celebrated the death of four older men praying quietly in a synagogue.

The New Israel Fund works in Israel and does not fund civil society in the territories. And so we focus on what we ourselves can do. We think that the continuing trend of appeasing Israel’s extreme right, including expropriating land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, endangers Israelis and Palestinians alike. We are investing in initiatives that will specifically attempt to help Israelis change that dynamic, empower those who are fighting the extremist narrative and its many mouthpieces and funders, and strengthen commitment to the core values of liberal democracy. This is necessary to return Israel to the vision of its founders.

President Rivlin recently stated that “the time has come to admit that Israel is a sick society, with an illness that demands treatment.” NIF is dedicated to supporting Israelis who are working for that cure. We will continue to support those calling for equity and justice in East Jerusalem and those chronicling the human rights situation in the West Bank. We will continue our role as the first and largest private funder of organizations dedicated to a truly shared society inside Israel. And we call on supporters of Israel worldwide to join with us in holding Israel to the standards it once set for itself: to be both a homeland for the Jewish people and also a liberal democracy that offers complete equality to all of its citizens.

Meanwhile, wherever you are, however you pray or whether you don’t, please join me in yearning for the peace of Jerusalem.

October 2014