Israelis and Jews around the world are rightly outraged about an attack on Arab teenagers by a group of Israeli Jewish teenage thugs on Monday. The attack is being described as a lynching and the fact that one 15-year-old suspect said of a 17-year-old victim who remains unconscious and hospitalized, “For my part he can die, he’s an Arab” has shocked many Israelis and friends of the Jewish state. The incident, which took part in Jerusalem’s Zion Square and was reportedly witnessed by hundreds of onlookers who were apparently too afraid or too indifferent to intervene has garnered international press coverage and set off a round of soul searching by many who wonder how the seeds of hate could have infected Jewish youth in this manner.
Israelis do well to worry about such violence, just as they should be deeply concerned about so-called “price tag” attacks on Arabs by Jews living in the West Bank. But those who are now openly indulging in speculation about Israel’s lost soul or its descent to barbarism need to take a deep breath before jumping to such conclusions. The incident and any such occurrence in which Arabs are subjected to violence in Israel is deplorable and must be punished severely. But the outsized interest in the story has all the hallmarks of the traditional journalist’s dictum about what sells: man bites dog, not dog bites man. Arab violence against Israelis is so common that it takes a horrific mass slaughter or a dramatic attack involving borders and third parties (such as the recent terror attack that came from Egyptian-controlled Sinai) in order for anyone, even Israelis themselves, to take much notice. But the infrequent instances when Israelis succumb to the atmosphere of hatred with which they have been surrounded for a century are treated as not only a very big deal but also a cause for the entire Jewish people to take stock of their moral compass.
If you put it in the context of the one-hundred-year-old Arab war against Zionism and the culture of anti-Semitism and fomenting of hatred against Israel that is mainstream culture among Palestinians as well as other Arab countries like Egypt or Muslim lands like Iran, it is hardly surprising that a small minority of Israelis would wind up mirroring those deplorable sentiments.
Israelis are, after all, only human. When placed in terrible confrontations or difficult circumstances, it is only natural to lash out at violent enemies or to dehumanize the foe. If you think Americans are immune to such feelings, take a look at any popular American film produced during World War Two and see the way the Japanese are portrayed.
The real story here is not that a minority of Jews have fallen prey to the same sort of hatred that predominates the mainstream discourse among Arabs but that most have not.
Let’s also remember that violence against Jews in the West Bank is routine. Stone throwing at cars (which sometimes result in fatal crashes), shooting incidents and stabbing attacks are the stuff of everyday life there. Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem or Israeli Arab towns and villages are often no-go zones for Jews in a way that most Jewish cities and towns are not for Arabs.
To state these facts is to neither excuse nor rationalize the Jerusalem attack. Israeli schools already emphasize peace education but that message is often undermined by the knowledge that no such programs are being taught in the West Bank while the Arab media both in the Palestinian areas and in supposedly civilized countries like Egypt are drenched in anti-Semitism. Jews should do all they can to educate their kids to turn away from hate. But until their Arab neighbors emulate this practice, we shouldn’t be surprised when we discover that such efforts are not always successful.