Photo by Khader Abu-Seif
Around the world--whether in America, in Europe, or in the Middle East--there's an overwhelming desire to believe that religious extremism is a sickness that plagues other religions, not our own. After six people were stabbed at Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade and an 18-month-old Palestinian child was burned alive in his home, they are now forever united by one thing: They are all victims of terror. The distressing reality for liberal Jews like myself--as it must be for countless Muslims and Christians--is that there are people ready to resort to the most disgusting acts of terrorism in the name of something I find beautiful.
Like so many diaspora Jews, my relationship with Israel is complicated. The first time I landed in Tel Aviv, the first time I walked through streets with Hebrew names, where the language I'd only ever heard in synagogue filled the air, the sense of home I felt so keenly revealed how out of place I'd felt my whole life. Even growing up in New York, there were always occasions to be reminded that I was different, whether it be the lights that brightened every house in the neighborhood but ours at Christmas, or the surprise in strangers faces when they found out I wasn't celebrating Easter. With a name like mine, I've heard things said that I probably wouldn't have if I'd taken my mother's maiden name, something especially true when I moved to the United Kingdom for university. To be Jewish in today's Europe is frightening. Neo-Nazis sit in the European Parliament, synagogues in Paris are burned, people march through German streets calling for us to be sent to the gas chambers; we're attacked and killed in places we've lived for centuries. Knowing that Israel exists as a place where I can be comfortable in my identity is an important source of comfort. But Israel as it is today is not the country it should be.
The Orthodox make up less than 10% of Israel, of which those who subscribe to the violent bigotry that leave homes in ruin, protesters in hospitals, and children in graves are only a fraction. Yet we have all, both Israelis and members of the diaspora, allowed fear to foment a climate of hatred. We have allowed the extreme right to retain a stranglehold on daily life, people whose unbending attitudes towards religion enable terrorist groups like Lehava to grow. And as members of the gay community, we have allowed the illusion--for yesterday's attack shows it to be nothing more--of LGBT acceptance in Israel to silence our demands for equality, accountability, and peace. The oppressed have become the oppressors, not only in the Occupation, but among our own. Yesterday's violence laid bare the awful truth that Israel has much further to go than we thought. Out of the pain, however, I believe there is hope.
Condemnation has been swift, and it has come from all corners of Israeli society. Naftali Bennett, the right-wing Minister for Education, called an emergency session after the Jerusalem attack and quickly announced plans for a massive boost in educational efforts to combat homophobia. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described both attacks, in no uncertain terms, as act of terrorism. Itzik Shmuli, a member of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) came out last night, saying that the LGBT community can no longer remain silent in the face of such darkness. But the real hope, as we've seen in our own civil rights issues in the United States, such as marriage equality and the Confederate flag, lies in the people. And the people are angry.
Tomorrow night, massive rallies have been planned in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Attending will be Israel's former and current presidents (Shimon Peres and Reuven Rivlin), leaders of all the center-left parties (Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, and Zehava Galon), and MK Dov Khenin of the Joint Arab List. Jews in Jerusalem, Palestinians in the West Bank, we are all victims of Jewish extremism. Now is the time for Israelis and Palestinians to unite in anger and topple the brutal and intolerant hegemony of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox. And for those of us outside of Israel, now is the time to raise our voices in unison with those striving towards a more just future. The Jewish people have survived millennia of hardship and oppression, and yet now, when we finally have a state, when we have finally reclaimed our sovereignty, we are killing ourselves, and we are destroying our soul. Israel has the potential to be an example to the rest of the world, a place of true equality and acceptance, and it starts here, with all of us. Now is the time to rise above the discourse of division and make the world a better place. Now is the time to prove that we endured so much--persecution, slavery, and genocide--for a reason.