In Israel, It’s Idiocy That Gives the Conflict a Religious Tailwind

Whether from Israeli newspapers or the Jordanian parliament, extremist positions filter down to the masses. They will lead the country to a dead end.

Ilan Assayag

Extremist Islamic groups, some of them in Israel, hope the conflict will move from the political to the religious. Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch, doesn’t care about the struggle for Palestinian rights. He’s only interested in the “terrible danger facing Al-Aqsa.”

Wise Palestinians have stressed the national conflict. They take stands that are unacceptable to many Israelis, but they reiterate: a national conflict can be resolved, a religious conflict can’t. And yet Israeli idiocy gives the religious argument a tailwind. The masses that shout “death to Arabs,” “a good Arab is a dead Arab” and “Mohammed is dead” put all the Arabs into one racist package, while insulting the prophet and thus every Muslim.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands that the fire on the Temple Mount must be put out, so he quickly went to meet with the king of Jordan. The meeting accomplished nothing; after it the Jordanian parliament officially identified with the Har Nof murderers, while the prime minister sent condolences to the killers’ families.

This never happened in the past, but this time the murder was perceived in a religious context – as a response to the Israeli “threat” on Al-Aqsa. If we could categorize the people fanning the flames, we would find that alongside strife-seeking Islamists are Knesset members with their frenzied vision.

I am choosing my words carefully because there is no decisive truth here, but rather events that lead to sad conclusions. In a well-known free daily newspaper I came across an article headlined: “We are in a struggle over God’s promise.” According to the piece, “When will the preachers on the left understand that the root of the struggle between us is religious? It is a struggle for the divine promise to Abraham our father.”

That is, the religious right’s message is that the fight is not over a political solution that will end the conflict, but over religion, over the Temple. That’s not why we came to our country; that’s not why the political Zionism of Herzl, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion and even Jabotinsky was founded.

On television I saw the burning hatred of the fans of the Bnei Yehuda soccer team for Bnei Lod’s Arab players. My traditional fondness for Bnei Yehuda has been replaced by increasing affinity to the Arab players so unjustly treated. The Bnei Yehuda fans with their expletives have pushed the conflict into religion, where it has no resolution.

The Jordanian position toward recent events and the Israeli newspaper articles on religious war filter down to the masses, to the soccer field. They will lead Israel to a dead end vis-a-vis a portion of its citizens and the international community. This goes against the Israeli interest.

In turn, it's the unmediated encounter between Arabs and Jews that is most enriching. Nur, who works in a supermarket in Umm al-Fahm, and Abed the Arab greengrocer are well liked and appreciated in our neighborhood because of their gentleness and devotion. There the image of the Arab is not the one painted by the Israeli rabble-rousers. But my good friend Talal, an Israeli in every sense of the word, tells me that even he is beginning to feel his confidence in a shared future  faltering.

In the face of those crazed by a religious conflict, which is leading us all to an apocalypse syndrome, we must think how we can lower the flame and return to more normal relations, their tensions notwithstanding.

The trend is clear: Hatred for Arabs is driving people insane. But a determined group must stand up to it, a group that doesn’t want to lose Israel to a messianic cult or Israel’s Arabs to the demagoguery of invective and ignorance.