Sure, Oppose Murder, but What About the Atmosphere That Leads to Murder?

A fellow Haaretz opinion writer chastises rabbis for not warning about the ticking bomb that led to the Duma murders. But that’s not enough.

Screenshot from wedding video shows men burning a photo of Ali Dawabsheh, a Palestinian baby killed with his mother Reham and father Saad in the arson attack on the family home in Duma.
Courtesy of Channel 2

Late last month, Haaretz columnist Israel Harel made some incisive remarks about the rabbinical establishment’s attitude toward “price tag” attacks. This is the phenomenon that morphed before our eyes from racist vandalism to terror when the perpetrators began setting fire to inhabited homes, leading inevitably to the murder of the Dawabsheh family in Duma.

His remarks don’t refer to rabbis from the radical right who, directly or indirectly, justify the murder of Arabs, but to the much broader circle of mainstream, right-wing rabbis. They can argue that they have always objected to violence.

But despite the formal validity of this alibi, its moral value, as Harel admits, is limited. While there were people on the religious right who clearly and unequivocally condemned right-wing violence, “The rabbinical establishment, whose influence is far greater than that of elected public officials, uttered a feeble, sometimes sanctimonious denunciation,” Harel writes. “Rabbis, when they care, know how to get what they want. But no rabbinical body put up a real fight against the ticking bomb.”

There is no room for sweeping accusations against the religious right on this issue, nor are they necessary. Harel’s words say it all. It’s likely they also help explain the security authorities’ failure to handle the price tag phenomenon; they didn’t feel they had enough public support to take decisive and controversial measures.

We should not underestimate the fact that Harel, a senior figure on the religious-Zionist right, is willing to bitingly criticize the rabbinical establishment on this matter publicly. Nor should we underestimate the importance of other strong voices that are heard from this camp these days (including rabbis) on Jewish terror and its supporters, including the voice of Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

These comments form a basis for dialogue. This dialogue isn’t meant to blur the fateful disagreement, both political and ethical, over the partition of the land, the occupation and the settlements. As part of this dialogue there is room to discuss, for example, the vulgar, shameless, criminal racism that does not amount to permitting murder but is part of the atmosphere of lawlessness that can lead to murder.

One example of this is the despicable ruling by Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu that allows the theft of olives from Arabs on the grounds that their lands are “in most cases” stolen. According to another version, also supported by Eliyahu, one is permitted to steal olives from Arabs because the whole Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, so Arab ownership of land in Israel is by definition theft.

This man is a municipal rabbi, a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council. If I as a secular Jew am ashamed that such things were uttered by a rabbi, and as an Israeli that they were published without a strong response by the government, the establishment and society, I would think Harel must be at least as ashamed and fight this with no less resolve.

Nowadays, if someone tries to bring such people to justice, we can safely bet that this someone is from the center-left camp. In a certain sense, this situation is comfortable for that camp, but it must be changed.

If someone supports the “whole Land of Israel” concept, does it mean he or she should tolerate an interpretation of this concept permitting the theft of the fruits of an Arab farmer’s labor? We have some very deep disagreements, but we must be able to agree on more than just objecting to the burning of families to death in their homes.