On the eve of Simhat Torah, hundreds of Jewish worshippers stormed Palestinian shops near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Five Palestinians were lightly injured.
This ugly phenomenon has emerged in recent years as part of the Simhat Torah holiday’s “customs” in the capital. “Every year on this evening there are problems; we’re the victims of your holiday,” said Iyyad Kastro, a business owner in the area. “On our Feast of the Sacrifice there are goats, and on your holiday the victims are the Palestinians.”
A few days before, dozens of Jews attacked four Palestinian students at Train Track Park in the capital; one student was assaulted with a Taser and was beaten until he lost consciousness.
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin, who is running for Jerusalem mayor, likes to say that the city is Israel’s “laboratory for the future” – that demographic, social and political phenomena in the capital will typify all Israel in a few years. If that’s true, then Jerusalem’s racism against Arabs can be expected to wash over the entire country. This dangerous prospect should worry our national leaders, but Israeli politicians have yet to condemn the attacks.
Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood on the podium of the UN General Assembly and dismissed the racism attributed to Zionism in general and the nation-state law in particular. But it’s very difficult to sever the hate crimes in Jerusalem from the bad spirit wafting from the right-wing government that profits on Election Day from anti-Arab incitement and has established Jewish supremacy in law.
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Unlike Israel’s shameful leadership, some people act differently. On Monday night, Maya Zinshtein’s film “Forever Pure,” which was broadcast on U.S. public broadcaster PBS, won an Emmy Award. The film depicts the effort by hard-line members of the Beitar Jerusalem fan club, La Familia, to prevent two Muslim players from joining the team in 2013.
Moshe Hogeg, who acquired the club in August, has decided to break the taboo on Muslim players and has striven in recent weeks to weaken the club’s racist components. He launched a campaign with the slogan “Beitar Jerusalem, embarking on a new path,” and in the last game against Sakhnin, Beitar players wore shirts that said “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Jerusalem police have also changed for the better; a vigorous investigation led to the arrest of five suspects in the attack at Train Track Park, with the victims reporting that the police treated them well.
These outbursts of racist violence are the result of incitement by rabbis and politicians, as well as the attackers’ sense that they are powerful and protected. Police investigations and significant punitive action by the State Prosecutor’s Office are essential, but until the government takes the side of those who fight racism, rather than those who stoke it, it will be impossible to uproot.