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Hate Crimes Are Unacceptable

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The epidemic of extremist vandalism against Arabs in Israel reached new heights the night before last when 28 cars were damaged and signs of hatred were spray-painted on the walls of a quiet street in the town of Abu Gosh just west of Jerusalem. Abu Gosh is an Israeli Arab town which is known to have good relations with the State of Israel. This outrageous act, done by people who go under the label "Tag Mechir" (Price Tag) elicited denunciations from the entire political spectrum of Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- who has finally discovered that these acts are not the Jewish way! -- and President Shimon Peres -- who is celebrating his 90th birthday with splashy parties and who declared these acts nothing less than "terrorism."

The political establishment of Israel may finally be waking up from its deep sleep regarding this disturbing phenomenon of hate crimes which has been going on for the past two years in Israel. But we must ask: are they serious? Or are they just giving lip service to this? Do they really intend to finally apprehend the culprits and put them behind bars? Or are they just saying things which will sound politically correct in the news today, but by tomorrow they will forget about it?

On the other hand, over 35 organizations -- including interreligious ones like the Interreligious Coordinating Council, which I direct, as well as Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jewish groups -- have been working together for the past two years to combat these hate crimes whenever and wherever they occur. We call ourselves "Tag Meir," a sign of Light, since we try to bring light and hope where there is darkness and fear.

Yesterday, we organized a solidarity demonstration in the village of Abu Gosh, in front of the homes and cars that were vandalized. About 100 Jews, including many from the surrounding kibbutzim and communities, gathered to say that this is not Judaism, and that these extremists do not represent us.

We were joined by some leading Members of Knesset (the Israeli Parliament). Knesset Member Ruby Rivlin, of the Likud party and a former speaker of the Knesset, was there to share his moral outrage at the incident and to appeal to the government of Israel (which is ruled by his political party!). He spoke in definitive terms about the problem and about what needs to be done:

I come as a neighbor. I know this village since I was a child... Tag Mechir (Price Tag) is terror that is destroying Israeli society. We have to stop it! I call upon the government of Israel not to sit silently any more. As a fan of the Jerusalem soccer team (Betar Jerusalem) I say: We all sit in the same stadium. Terror is terror. Enough already!

We were also joined by Knesset Member Amram Mitzna, of the new Tenuah party, who serves as Chairperson of the Education Committee of the Knesset, who also spoke forcefully and boldly:

Today, we are all citizens of Abu Gosh. All citizens of Israel are ashamed by these acts of vandalism. In reaction to the spray-painted sign on the wall, which says 'Arabs go home,' I say 'Terrorists should go to Jail'. It is time for the government of Israel to act! It is not enough to express outrage. It is time to do something about it!

Finally, some of our politicians are demanding action. It has taken a long time.

Many of us in Israel who are involved with trying to counter this wave of racism against individuals and institutions of other religions feel that these calls for action should have been heard a long time ago. During the past few years, we have felt there is just not enough will to get the job done on the part of the security establishment. If it was the other way around -- if Palestinians were attacking Jews and Jewish institutions -- the perpetrators would have been found, arrested and incarcerated a long time ago.

But the problem here goes much deeper than a lack of law enforcement. The problem essentially is an educational and social one. These acts of extremist vandalism are tolerated because there is no great groundswell against them. They are acceptable in many sectors of our society, the same sectors that gave legitimacy to a young "religious" Jew to assassinate a prime minister! It is part of the atmosphere of living in an ongoing conflict, we are told, after all, we live in an increasingly violent region -- just look at Syria or other places in the Arab world where the Arab Spring has become the Arab winter.

But beyond all these excuses, I feel that the problem is deeper. It is a religious problem, at base. The Jewish mainstream here (and abroad) does not seem to care enough about this. They are not enraged, as they should be. They are not shouting from the rooftops that this is not Judaism, that these racist acts are a distortion of basic Jewish values, which view every human being as created in the image of God, that this new form of xenophobia should be completely unacceptable in the Jewish state!

Our new coalition called Tag Meir (The Tag of Light) not only denounces these incidents in no uncertain terms but attempts to show empathy and solidarity with members of other religions in Israel who have been hurt by these attacks. We want them -- and you, our readers -- to know that mainstream Judaism does not support this, that these are acts of extremists who are far beyond the Jewish consensus and that Judaism is a religion that preaches and teaches love and respect for all human beings.

This is why we were in Abu Gosh yesterday. As representatives of sanity in a sometimes insane environment, we, as members of Tag Meir, will be there again if and when members of extreme religious groups in Israel, under the name of Tag Mechir, seek to present Judaism in a distorted image by desecrating the name of God via such unholy acts.