Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israeli society

Peace Education Must Occur on Both Sides

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.

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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.

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Pinkwashing? Gay Rights Shows the Difference Between Israel and Palestinians

Some people don’t want to talk about gay rights in the Middle East. The left calls it “pinkwashing” and treats it as irrelevant to any analysis of the region. But it remains a fascinating window into two societies. As the Times of Israel reports, gay Palestinian Arabs are flocking to supposedly repressive Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza, they face persecution and death. In Israel, they find freedom.

Palestinian gays not only can’t come out at home. If they want to meet as a group, the only place they can go is Tel Aviv, where as the Times of Israel notes, a monthly gathering called the Palestinian Queer Party convenes. That’s because the repressive Muslim culture that predominates in the territories considers gays to be anathemas while Israel is a liberal democracy where, despite deep differences between various elements of society, people can live and do as they please. Though the “Israel is apartheid” crowd is at pains to stifle discussion of the gay angle to the Middle East conflict, it actually tells you all you need to know about the difference between the two societies and why hopes for peace need to wait until Palestinians embrace freedom for their own people as well as coexistence with Jews.

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Some people don’t want to talk about gay rights in the Middle East. The left calls it “pinkwashing” and treats it as irrelevant to any analysis of the region. But it remains a fascinating window into two societies. As the Times of Israel reports, gay Palestinian Arabs are flocking to supposedly repressive Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza, they face persecution and death. In Israel, they find freedom.

Palestinian gays not only can’t come out at home. If they want to meet as a group, the only place they can go is Tel Aviv, where as the Times of Israel notes, a monthly gathering called the Palestinian Queer Party convenes. That’s because the repressive Muslim culture that predominates in the territories considers gays to be anathemas while Israel is a liberal democracy where, despite deep differences between various elements of society, people can live and do as they please. Though the “Israel is apartheid” crowd is at pains to stifle discussion of the gay angle to the Middle East conflict, it actually tells you all you need to know about the difference between the two societies and why hopes for peace need to wait until Palestinians embrace freedom for their own people as well as coexistence with Jews.

The stories in the Times of Israel piece don’t speak to the national conflict between Arabs and Jews. But they do speak volumes about one of the main points Israel’s defenders harp on: the fact that it is the region’s only true democracy. What the Palestinians have created for themselves in their independent state in all but name in Gaza and their autonomous government in the West Bank are two more places on the globe where human rights are not respected and violence rules.

The connection between the violence the ruling Palestinian groups use on their own people is not unrelated to the violence they attempt to inflict on the Israelis. The absence of political freedom makes peace with Israel a difficult proposition under the best of circumstances. But the influence of radical Islamist ideology, even in the West Bank that is supposedly more liberal than Hamas-ruled Gaza, makes it even more unlikely. That’s why the ability of the Islamist clerics and their supporters to terrorize gays is an indicator of a lack of desire for peace.

Israel is a free country, something you wouldn’t know if your only view of the Jewish state was delivered to you by mainstream media coverage. The anti-Israel crowd can call mentions of gay rights “pinkwashing.” But all that means is that they don’t wish to acknowledge the difference between Israeli and Palestinian cultures.

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