Friday, December 25, 2015

The Conversations We're Not Having: Racism and Rage

This week, a firestorm erupted in Israel surrounding a wedding celebration during which teenagers glorified the murder of an infant, dancing with knives, guns, mock Molotov cocktails, and most shockingly, mock-stabbing the picture of an Arab child killed along with her parents in a firebombing of the family home several months ago. (The government has not, as of yet, definitively proved who perpetrated this terrible crime.) These youths in Israel are known as נער הגבעות - "hilltop youth" - who advocate an extreme right-wing ideology devoted to ארץ ישראל השלמה - Jewish control over the entire Land of Israel.

With the release of the videos, political, government and religious leaders from every stream rushed to condemn this phenomenon. The left saw this as a golden opportunity to condemn the right - and specifically the religious community. But even right-wing rabbis and politicians have loudly proclaimed: "This isn't us! This doesn't represent our community!"

I attended a talk at my son's yeshiva during which the Rosh Yeshiva quoted an anonymous acquaintance who he described as "a leading, well-known right-wing rabbinic leader." He said that the rabbi said to him, "These kids don't even listen to me! You can't talk to them."

All of the rabbinic declarations seem hollow to me. Are we really to believe that this group of teenagers somehow created themselves? They made up their own ideology, without a leader or a teacher?  There's no talking to them, and they don't listen to us? I think that they're listening to their rabbis and their teachers, and getting a clear message. I'm not suggesting, God forbid, that any rabbi glorifies murder. But they are hearing a steady message that's very easy to misinterpret and translate into an extremist view that justifies horrible acts.

Take the following example from a video report of the wedding of the child of Rabbi Benjy Gopstein, a well-known leading right-wing rabbi. He told the reporter that there are no Arabs at his weddings - only Jewish employees. What if an Arab waiter came to serve food?

Let's just say that if there was an Arab waiter here,
he wouldn't serve the food.
When asked what he meant by this, he said:

It would seem to me that he would be looking
for the closest hospital.
Really? An Arab worker comes to serve food at the wedding, and the crowd of young people would beat him until he needed hospitalization?

This is an extreme example, but just one of the many ways that many rabbis preach racist values within the religious community. Hatred for the Arab population isn't something that's explicitly advocated. Rather, it's an insidious assumption and underlying value communicated in numerous ways. How many rabbis condemned Rabbi Gopstein for saying these and so other hateful comments? Can we then be surprised if the children who follow him translate his words into actions? Of course he would never advocate throwing a firebomb into a house. But would it be so difficult to imagine a teenager, hearing him advocate beating up an Arab waiter, then deciding to take action on his own?

"They're not listening to me?" Sorry rabbi, I think that they're hearing you loud and clear.

At the same time, these teens are expressing an emotion that's natural, normal and expected. Yesterday (Dec. 23, 2015), we read about three more attempted murders against innocent Jews. Two days ago, two men were murdered (one by multiple stabbings, and one in the crossfire) when two Arabs attacked them without provocation.
Another death. Another shiva. More posts of outrage on Facebook. 
Ho hum. 
It just makes you angry. Furious.
Where's the anger? Where is the rage? What are we doing about this? 
We have become so inured, so accustomed to the daily murder of Jews in Israel that we're not longer outraged. In fact, we no longer react with any emotion at all, because you simply cannot allow yourself to become upset and angry on a daily basis. It's just not healthy.
So we do nothing.
Teenagers, full of vitality, idealism and passion, don't understand. They're outraged! They're angry! And they're right! This situation is outrageous. The adults honestly don't know what to do about it. They see videos featuring thousands of Arabs dancing with knives, promoting the murder of men, women and children. They see a society that glorifies those murders, and encourages children to perpetrate more murder of innocents. And they wonder: why doesn't any do anything? Why doesn't anyone stop this madness? These are very good questions, to which we - the adults - don't have good answers.

Let leave the "hilltop youth" aside for a moment - even though they're all of our children. What about the rest of the kids: those growing up today in Yad Binyamin, or Jerusalem, or Petach Tikvah. They live with the ramifications of terrorism every day. It affects they way they take the bus to school; how they hang out at the mall; it's what their parents talk about around them all the time. It's easy to criticize "racist" Israelis (and settlers) from the comfort of the United States, or the relative security of Yad Binyamin (although truthfully, there's no way of really securing anywhere in Israel totally). How do you teach young people, who grow up experiencing hatred every day not to hate back? How do you combat hate when your experience tells you that you are hated - and hunted - and there are practically no voices from within the Arab world speaking out against that hatred?

Discussing the issue of why rabbis don't speak out against racism against Arabs (and all too often actively promote it), my wife asked me: "How do you know that most rabbis agree with you? Don't you think that deep down, they look at you as a liberal American, raised with your liberal values? Perhaps rabbis don't speak out against Benjy Gopstein because on some level, they agree with him?

I have no idea how to even begin to answer these questions.

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