August 6, 2015
Dear Friend of Israel,
Israel is often in the news – but recent events have drawn the world’s attention to Israel for reasons that have to do with extremism that has come from within the Jewish state, rather than outside of it.
Last Thursday, Yishai Shlissel, an Orthodox Jewish man, stabbed six people during Jerusalem’s annual gay pride parade. Sixteen-year-old Shira Banki, one of the six injured, later died from her injuries. Shortly thereafter, in Friday’s pre-dawn hours, Jewish extremists used Molotov cocktails to set fire to the home of the Dawabsha family in the Palestinian village of Duma. Members of this young Palestinian family were seriously injured, and Ali Dawabsha, an 18-month-old toddler and the youngest member of the family, was killed. Another fire set by Jewish extremists in June of this year caused significant damage to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes, injuring two people on this site where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.
Israel remains committed to bringing the perpetrators of these acts to justice. In the case of the arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication, two suspects have already been indicted. After the horrific attack on the Palestinian family, a grim and determined Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “When you stand next to the bed of this small child, and his infant brother had been so brutally murdered, we're shocked, we're outraged…There is zero tolerance for terrorism wherever it comes from, whatever side of the fence it comes from, we have to fight it and fight it together.”
After the cowardly attack on the parade in Jerusalem, the Prime Minister promised, “Justice will be dealt to whoever was responsible for this act.” In fact, even those who had been opposed to the parade spoke out. The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem went to the hospital where one victim was being treated, calling the attack “totally contrary to the Torah” and pleading to the nation for “a day for prayer for the injured and for unity…Differences of opinion and dispute are legitimate and will continue, but raising one’s hand against one’s fellow is forbidden.”
Israel’s reactions to these attacks illuminates an essential truth: It is not the existence of hateful extremists in a society that determines the health of that society. If that were the case, no society would measure up, since all have radical elements. The true measure is how it deals with those extremists. In its response, Israel, whatever its flaws, has proven as a nation that it is what the perpetrators of the attacks are not – civilized and fundamentally decent, seeking justice, and showing compassion to those who were harmed and the loved ones of those who were killed. Contrast this with what often happens in Arab countries or in the Palestinian territories when terrorist acts are committed against Israelis or against the West – the atrocities are celebrated, and in some cases streets, parks, and schools are named after the terrorist perpetrators.
Whatever our faith, political affiliation, or beliefs, certainly all people of good will who have an earnest desire for peace can agree that the wanton destruction of a house of worship, the burning to death of a baby, and the stabbing to death of a 16-year-old girl demand our unreserved condemnation. In the face of these acts of violence and intolerance, let us pray for the loved ones of those killed and for the recovery of those injured, and let us renew our pledge to be bridge builders and peacemakers – in some cases even, and perhaps especially, with those who we differ with most strongly.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President