Israel Must Confront its “Racist Demon”

December 1, 2014

We are profoundly outraged and saddened by the weekend arson attack on the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School for Bilingual Education in West Jerusalem. The Hand in Hand program is a beacon for tolerance and understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims in Israeli society, where co-existence is now under extreme duress.

Many of us in the J Street family have personal connections to the school where 600 students–Jews and Arabs–study together in Hebrew and Arabic, learn about each other’s cultures and become friends. Jewish extremists are strongly suspected to be behind the attack. Although there were many security cameras on the site, police have yet to make any arrests.

The details of the attack bear witness to the degree of hatred that has clearly infected a segment of Israeli society. If this was not clear last summer when Israeli extremists tortured and murdered 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in revenge for the kidnapping and murder of three Israelis, it cannot be denied now. Truly, as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said, a “racist demon” has emerged in Israel. If not confronted, it will eventually eat away at the country’s democracy from within.

The arsonists piled up Hebrew and Arabic schoolbooks in two first-grade classrooms, poured flammable liquid on them and set them alight. They used children’s crayons and drawings as kindling for the blaze and scrawled racist graffiti on the walls of the building. One of the classrooms was completely destroyed.

What kind of minds would do such a thing? What kind of education produced those minds? It is hard to think of any action more out of keeping with Jewish values than to burn books in a school. Those who committed this cowardly act were literally attempting to burn prospects for peaceful co-existence in Israel.

We admire and applaud the parents and students who showed up for school on Sunday and have refused to be intimidated. But they cannot win this battle alone. All the resources of the State of Israel – police, judicial, education and social – must be brought to bear to fight this phenomenon, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

In fact, the entirety of the Jewish people – in Israel and abroad – needs to stand as one to convey clearly that there must be no place for racism in the homeland of a people who have suffered its effects so horribly throughout history.

This attack should be seen against the background of a series of violent incidents in Jerusalem, including the heinous attack last month on a synagogue in which two Palestinians murdered four worshippers and a police officer. The ever-escalating tensions are being fanned by a constant stream of statements by Israeli and Palestinian leaders designed to whip up nationalist feelings instead of calming them.

It is time for all who care about Israel to sound the alarm. The country risks becoming engulfed in hatred.

J Street is committed to supporting Hand in Hand and all brave Israelis fighting for a better future through tolerance, understanding and peace.

We are inviting J Street members to share personal statements, experiences, feelings and solidarity for the school, its administrators, teachers, students and parents.

We are setting up a web page where we will post the most meaningful excerpts from those statements, and we will pass them all on to the school.

Thank you for your support as we continue to stand up for the values and principles in which we believe so deeply.