Breaking our silence

Breaking our silence

The images are shocking. Celebrants at a Jewish wedding in Jerusalem dance to a rock band while brandishing assault rifles, guns, knives and a fake Molotov cocktail, and repeatedly stab a photograph of Ali Dawabsheh, the 18-month-old Palestinian toddler who was murdered along with his parents by Jewish terrorists in the West Bank village of Duma five months ago. (Two alleged perpetrators were indicted on Jan. 3.)

The song to which the revelers were dancing is a well-known “revenge song,” “Zachreni Na,” based on Samson’s final words: “Remember me … let me take one vengeance for my two eyes on the Philistines.” In Hebrew, Philistine and Palestinian derive from the same root and are essentially the same word. This song is played regularly at bar mitzvahs and weddings in the religious Zionist community, so it cannot be dismissed as some sort of extremist anthem, and its playing unfortunately cannot be viewed as an aberration.

The video, taped on a wedding guest’s smartphone, originally aired on Israeli TV news Channel 10 last week and has since gone viral. Israeli leaders across the political spectrum have strongly condemned the “wedding of hate.” Yet Ayelet Shaked, a star in Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party and current justice minister, told Israeli Army Radio a day after the video first aired that she “regretted” that the video was released because it “hurts the State of Israel.”

Actually, Minister Shaked, what is hurting the State of Israel is the atmosphere in which this kind of blood lust — something we are used to seeing with the Islamic State, even with Palestinians celebrating the deaths of terrorist martyrs, but not from fellow Jews — finds expression in one of the holiest of Jewish life cycle events, a wedding. It should be noted that the bride and groom belong to an extremist group, The Rebellion, whose aim is to topple the Israeli government and replace it with a monarchy, and expel all non-Jewish inhabitants in the process. The newlyweds are friends with the two settler youths who are being held as suspects in the murder of the Dawabsheh family. Though the groom claimed to be unaware of the hateful demonstration taking place at his own wedding, the guests included the lawyer for the suspects, Itamar Ben Gvir, and Bentzi Gopstein, leader of the virulently anti-Arab group Lehava. Even the rabbi who officiated at the wedding, Rabbi Daniel Stavsky, has weighed in by stating that the Duma killings were perpetrated by the Shin Bet and Arabs.

As Anshel Pfeffer wrote recently in Haaretz, “This is what a climate of tolerance and acceptance of violence, hatred and racism looks like.” For too long, it appears that the security services did not act aggressively enough to staunch the growing Jewish terror underground movement by investigating its crimes, such as church and mosque burnings, “price tag” actions, illegal outposts established by the “hilltop youth,” and so on. Former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon, who headed the security services when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, has described the threat to Israel by the far-right Jewish terrorist underground as even greater than that which existed during the period leading up to Rabin’s murder at the hand of a Jewish extremist. In chilling reminders of that time, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been depicted recently in social media in Nazi and Arab garb, just as Rabin once was vilified.

Clearly, these extremists do not represent the vast majority of Israelis, and all countries, including our own, have to contend with intolerant, racist, violent elements in our midst. But the suggestion of Shaked that the video should not have been publicized is naïve and absurd in the extreme in this day and age when every smartphone is now a potential TV camera. Moreover, “keeping it in the family” or out of the international public view is merely an ill-conceived (and completely ineffectual) attempt to counter efforts to defame and delegitimize Israel through the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. When we witness the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, whose members are Israeli army reservists, being criticized and marginalized by Israeli public officials for publicizing experiences during army service in the West Bank and Gaza, we must ask ourselves who is protecting whom and from what. Sunshine is still the best disinfectant.

Israelis have good reason to feel beleaguered — the instability of the region, the threats from Iran, Hezbollah and the Islamic State, and, of course, the latest wave of violence against innocent civilians that shows no sign of abating. But the idea of keeping Israel’s challenges and less than positive aspects “in the family” is beyond antiquated; it harms Israel’s own interests. I sometimes get the feeling that Israeli officials are surprised that American Jews follow developments in Israel as closely as many of us do. But we have access to Israeli print and television news in Hebrew and in English and in real time, so this should come as no surprise. The days of characterizing Diaspora Jews as disloyal to the State of Israel for expressing our concerns about societal trends in Israel are over, and those of us who still believe in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state need to speak up and support those in Israel who share a deep distress about a growing atmosphere of intolerance and hatred that leads to scenes like the “wedding of hate.” After all, we’re still family, and it’s time to break our own silence.

Susie Gelman is a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.