We should all be aware of and concerned about two violent and tragic incidents that took place in Israel last week. The first of these incidents took place a week ago at Jerusalem’s annual Gay Pride Parade. In a region where gay rights are unheard of and where tyrannical leaders openly deny the existence of homosexual people living in their countries, Israel is a beacon of tolerance, freedom and inclusion. Despite the fact that the city’s ultra-orthodox Jews deem homosexuality to be forbidden by Jewish law (as do many mainstream Orthodox Jews around the world), Judaism’s holiest city holds an annual Gay Pride parade. At this year’s parade, a deranged man, Yisshai Schlissel, stabbed a 16-year old girl, Shira Banki, who was marching in the parade. She later died of her wounds. Making the incident even more outrageous, Schlissel had just been released from prison where he served a 10-year sentence for assault on another gay person (an investigation is now underway as to why Schlissel was released only two weeks prior to this year’s parade, apparently setting in motion another act of assault).
The second incident, perpetrated by Jewish extremists affiliated with a group known as “Tag Mechir” (Hebrew for “price tag” and referring to the “price” to be imposed after a Palestinian act of terror is committed against Israelis), involved someone firebombing a Palestinian home in Duma, near Nablus. This horrendous act of violence caused the death of an 18-month old baby asleep in the home, and serious injuries to the baby’s 4-year old brother and parents. Spray painted on the home was the Hebrew word “Nekama” (revenge), signaling the attitude and intentions of these cowardly criminals.
The two incidents are not identical, for one was committed by a person who is surely deranged (he is now being examined to see if he is fit to stand trial). What they have in common is that, in both cases, the perpetrators believed they were upholding the teachings and values of Judaism.
In the aftermath of these two horrifying incidents, Israeli officials are slowly turning their attention to the ugly phenomenon of Jewish terrorists. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon approved detention without trial for an individual being questioned about the incident, and Isaac Herzog, head of Machane Tzioni (the Labor Party), posted on his Facebook page that Jewish terrorists should suffer the same fate as Arab terrorists, including home demolitions and long prison terms. These gestures are reasonable and appropriate, though they are viewed by many in Israel as too little, too late. Israel has long overlooked the problem of Jewish terrorists and now has to act quickly to defeat those who act violently in the name of Judaism. Indeed, anyone who is a Zionist, wherever they may live, must denounce these horrible acts as cowardly and unbecoming the values of the State of Israel.
But these acts are more than unbecoming the values of the State of Israel. They are entirely un-Jewish. The people who firebombed the home of a Palestinian family, killing an infant and endangering the lives of his parents and brother, did what they did not only because they are extremists who wanted to rid the land of Palestinians and punish innocent people with a sick act of revenge. They are supposedly religious Jews, people who pray regularly, who think they are following God’s commandments, people who keep Shabbat and the holidays, who study in Yeshivot and learn Torah.
I can say, indeed we all can say, that these people are utterly unrecognizable as Jews. This wasn’t an instance of someone committing a sin for which repentance is required in the hope of forgiveness (though what was done was surely sinful). Their acts represented a Jew distorting the teachings of Judaism in order to justify violence and murder in the name of Judaism.
We must recognize that there are Jewish terrorists living in the State of Israel who believe that acts of violence are appropriate and even justified by the Torah. We must denounce such acts of violence, and prosecute those who commit them to the fullest extent of the law. And we who cherish Judaism, who respect its teachings and who love the Torah, must stand up to say that no one, ever, may commit an act of violence for the sake of revenge and call that act Jewish. For there is nothing about such an act that is even remotely akin to the Judaism that we know and love.