A young man from Tel Aviv who was injured in a road accident last week wrote on Facebook: “In the emergency room at Ichilov, on the bed next to mine, lay the waiter who was beaten by a mob because he is an Arab. He didn’t stop crying, and I wanted them to run me over again.”
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The waiter had fallen victim to an attack by a gang of revelers at a beach restaurant. His sin was that he cleared the mayonnaise from their table before they had finished eating. This happened just a few days after an Israeli Arab, this time a cleaning worker, suffered very serious head injuries in a nighttime lynch attempt. Here too the attackers were Jewish partiers, here too it happened on the shores of the first Hebrew city. In that same week a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem was attacked by a gang of male and female Jews. The windows of a car driven by a Jewish teacher who was taking an Arab friend with her to offer condolences to a colleague were shattered by stones hurled by yeshiva students.
The public figures who arose to condemn the series of attacks – Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino – represent the operational side of things. They deserve to be saluted. Their policemen were sent to bring the guilty parties to justice and in some of the cases they have already completed their work. This is the minimum expected of a state of law, but in Israel of 2013 it turns out it is also the maximum. And this is already a horrifying phenomenon, even more so than the attacks themselves. History has proven that the mob has no depth. It functions as a channel or as a tool. The mob is not the real story. The important questions are what atmosphere prepares the ground for its actions and how they are received.
It is not complicated to understand why Arabs are attacked in Israel. The young man in a daze at Ichilov Medical Center belongs to a minority. Most of the public sees Arabs as second-class citizens, if as citizens at all, potential traitors who don’t rise for the singing of "Hatikva." (“Without loyalty there is no citizenship,” said Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman). They don’t serve in the army (“equal sharing of the burden,” as the slogan goes) and therefore a wide variety of employment opportunities are closed to them, as is the right to live among Jews who seek a better standard of living (“acceptance committees” in rural communities). Their representatives are traditionally banned from being part of the government coalition (“Jewish majority”) and recently also from a bloc in parliament (“the Zouabis,” in the words of Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid, with whom he would never team up.)
This perception of superiority, this shameless racism, is increasing among parts of the religious and ultra-Orthodox public, where it is additionally validated by rabbinical rulings. Over the years this outlook has received legal encouragement from the state in the form of lenient treatment of Jews who harm Arabs. A case in point: the indictment for mere incitement which was filed against some of the participants in the lynch mob last year in Zion Square in Jerusalem. And beneath it all bubbles a national blood feud and the Israel Defense Forces' melting pot, which trains Israelis to see Arabs through the sights of a gun, and which beyond the Green Line – Israel's pre-1967 borders – initiates daily damage to the rights and dignity of Palestinians.
These basic givens could at least have been moderated a bit by means of displays of public leadership. Not clickings of the tongue, but rather, by means of simple a human action: visits to the people who were attacked. To ask how they are, to express regret and to send a sharp, clear message to the cameras and the microphones. But no one has stood up. Neither the president of Israel nor the prime minister. Neither the minister of education nor the minister of justice. Neither chairmen of political parties nor mayors.
This is the spirit of the times. It is manifested clearly in the words of the head of the Har Adar local council, Col. (res.) Aviram Cohen, who in reply to questions from Haaretz about a prohibition on movement by Palestinian workers in the community where they are building the houses, replied: “I don’t want there to be friction with Palestinians who are moving around freely. Incidentally, I also have a problem with feral dogs and I am also dealing with them. Not that I am comparing, heaven forefend.”