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Muhammad Abu Kheidr, of blessed memory, revenge and a perspective of Torah

L’Fi Dati: As I See It

A message from Rabbi Weintraub

Chaverei, dear friends,

I begin by expressing sincere condolences to the family of Muhammad Abu Kheidr, the sixteen year old Palestinian boy from Jerusalem who was tortured and killed, apparently by Jewish extremists in retaliation for the horrendous murders of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Sha’ar, Zichronam LIvracha. May Muhammad’s father and mother, and all his family, find consolation even in this devastating time.

The murders of Muhammad, Naftali, Eyal and Gilad are equally heinous. As Rachel Fraenkel, Naftali’s mother, said “Murder is murder, no matter the nationality”. I pray that the perpetrators of all these crimes will be brought to justice. “One Torah and one justice shall you have for you and for the stranger that resides in your midst” (Numbers 15:16).

While so far there are only suspects in the murder of Muhammad, not convicted killers, this murder did not take place in a vacuum. In the wake of the killing of the three Yeshiva students, furious anti-Arab demonstrations have occurred on the streets of Jerusalem, and venomous anti-Arab messages have multiplied on Israeli social media. In fact, for the last six years, according to Israeli police, Jewish extremists have launched hundreds of “price tag” revenge attacks on Israelis Arabs and Palestinians, as well as on Israeli security officers for what they see as encroachments on their settlement activities. According to an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) statement (May 23, 2014):

”These attacks, which have been labeled “price tag” incidents,” target mosques, churches, Arab and Jewish homes and property, Israeli military bases and vehicles, as well as other Israeli Jews. They involve the desecration of property with anti-Arab and anti-government slogans including the phrase “price tag”, often accompanied by hateful and racist slogans, the name of an illegal settlement, or a reference to an Israeli casualty of Palestinian terrorism, the implication being that the violent incident is the “cost” of Israeli government action on settlements or for anti-Israeli violence.”

The State of Israel rightfully defends itself against violence from Chamas, incarcerating its leaders and destroying its terrorist infrastructure. Now is the time to clamp down on the activities of Jewish extremists and the (sadly, often “religious”) “price tag” terrorists. Otherwise, we will see more revenge attacks and the violence will spiral out of control.

And what of the “price tag” leaders, those whose teachings justify and inspire these attacks? Rabbi Daniel Landes, an Orthodox Rabbi who directs the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, wrote recently in Ha’aretz:

“Rabbis who have been inculcating and preaching the virus of racist revenge need to spend their Daf Yomi [daily Talmud study] time in jail. Ah, but do we not actually owe them our cherished respect? My teacher, the great moral leader Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, often quoted the Talmudic phrase, bimkom hillul HaShem ein mechalkin kavod lerav, ‘in the place of profanation of God’s name (chillul Hashem) , we do not give honor to a Rav.’….There is no greater Hillul HaShem than a charred corpse of an innocent, murdered by ‘Torah inspiration.’ “

My commitment to Zionism, as my love of Judaism, is significantly because of one fundamental and world-changing insight first found in our Holy Torah. Inequality and oppression are not inevitable. Society can be transformed. From G-d’s challenge to Cain after he murders Abel, the Torah teaches that we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper, that we can feel the pain of another even if our interests conflict, that injustice does not have to engender more injustice, and that evil is not inevitable. Central to this optimistic and revolutionary understanding is the belief that every human life is equally precious.

May these brutal murders turn the hearts of Israelis and Palestinians towards each other. We cannot bring back those four precious lives, but we can struggle to overcome hatred, anti-Semitism and racism, and prevent more killing.

There is another story. It is not covered in the mainstream American press but you should hear it. In the wake of price tag (“Tag Mechir”) attacks, on Chanukah/December 2011, forty organizations in Israel formed the coalition Tag Meir, “Increasing the light”. Tag Meir demonstrates for and teaches tolerance, often at the sites of price tag violence. Over the past week it has organized anti-extremism demonstrations in Jerusalem, sponsored a co-existence tour of East Jerusalem, and with the cooperation of security officials and Muhammad’s family brought Jews to pay condolence calls to the Abu Kheidr family. This coming Saturday night at 9:15 P.M. Israel time, b’ezrat HaShem, with G-d’s help, there will be a major rally for co-existence in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

May the Khedir family know no more sorrow, and may the soul of Muhammad be bound up in their lives. May G-d grant us the hope, strength and wisdom to increase light in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, whose peoples and destinies are intertwined.

Amen

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