Edward Rettig, David Rosen
Ynetnews (Opinion)
October 10, 2011 - 12:00am

A burned house of worship, in this case a mosque in the Israeli Arab town of Tuba Zangaria, and a desecrated Arab cemetery in Jaffa, were together an ominous opening to the New Year. To be sure, the responses from the local authorities on up to the prime minister and president Israel have been exemplary.

But in the face of what appears to be a political assault on a mosque and either anti-Arab political violence or sheer hooliganism expressed in the appalling slogans written on grave markers in Jaffa, much more is needed. Whether it is fair to demand more is not the question. Rather, the urgent question is what will be effective in preventing further outbreaks of violent religious and ethnic bigotry.

Over the last decade incidents of incitement, even by central religious figures with state-funded positions, and hooliganism on a religious/ethnic basis (in this country they are usually hard to separate), have become all too common. The immutable test of outcomes now shows that police, security services, prosecutors, courts and educators have not adequately met the challenge. Sadly, efforts to deal with bigoted incitement against Arabs, Muslims, Christians, and non-Orthodox Jews have simply failed.

Eternal vigilance
Let us make no mistake. The burning of a mosque will be a turning point. Either those responsible for the public safety will awaken to fully meet the challenge, or it will mark, God forbid, the opening round in internal civil strife whose catastrophic results none can foresee.

The security services must shift gears to meet the priority of ensuring the ability of every citizen to worship freely, or to refrain from such worship, as they see fit. The judicial and educational systems must mobilize to reclaim the centrality of tolerance as promised in Israel's Declaration of Independence and in keeping with Judaism's teaching regarding the dignity of every human being. And, political leadership must unite to confront this menace that threatens the very fabric of Israeli society.

The defense of Freedom of Religion has always been a central concern of American Jewry and we have taken justified pride in Israel’s achievements in this area over the years. President Thomas Jefferson is credited with the observation that “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” If there is a lesson from the most recent outrageous assaults on a minority, it is that we Israelis are challenged to exercise that vigilance. It is one that we dare not fail to meet.

Dr. Edward Rettig is Director of AJC-Jerusalem
Rabbi David Rosen is AJC's International Director of Interreligious Affairs


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