The attack on Sarona was horrific. The people who carried it out knew only to hate. They embraced the nihilist culture of death. We must defend ourselves against them any way we can. This was an act by our enemies against a soft target. The perpetrators sought to kill as many Israelis as possible and, in seeking to provoke a security response from Israel, demonstrated a callous disregard for their own people, many of whom were looking forward to an easing of their situation for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
While I'm appalled by this attack and all too many like it, I'm not troubled by it, by which I mean I don't lie awake at night searching my Jewish conscience.
A story that I read last night, however, in the immediate aftermath of reading news of the Sarona terrorist attacks, did trouble me deeply, because it reported on a problem which points to a deeper malaise in Israeli society. The source of the story was the Catholic News Agency, not on my regular reading list, and it was headlined: Stone-throwing attack on Catholics in Israel shows a "culture of contempt".
The story related how, while attending Mass on May 28 in the courtyard of the small chapel of the Community of St Therese of Lisieux in Rehovot, the congregation were attacked by a group of Jewish boys of about 14 years old, hurling stones. The Catholic community in Rehovot is mainly composed of migrant workers from Africa, India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, as well as university students.
Bishop William Hanna Shomali, an auxiliary Bishop of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem was quoted as saying: "It is sad that people in prayer, for [the] most part, women working in Rehovot Jewish homes, were the victims of a hail of stones."
The Bishop went on to express his anguish at the attack and his solidarity with the victims, and said there is a need for a concerted effort to educate youth to help them grow in mutual respect for others' traditions and to understand the beliefs of other faiths. He added:
"Once again, we draw attention to the culture of contempt for others that exists in some Israeli circles, and the need to find solutions to cure society of radicalism and intolerance," and noted that while the youths were only 14 years old, "adults and teachers" who influence them should take responsibility for their formation.
I've looked up the good Bishop and read that he has had harsh words to say about Talmudic Judaism, which I would take odds with. However, taking at face value the words attributed to him above, I couldn't agree more. We have a problem.
This isn't the first such incident. A year ago, an arson attack at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the Sea of Galilee left one Catholic monk hospitalised and caused nearly $1.8 million in damage. Two young Jewish extremists were charged, and a third man accused of planning and inciting the attack. There have been other incidents, too, Dir Rafaat monastery, near Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, was vandalised in 2014 and there were alleged attempts to interfere with Pope Francis's visit to Israel the same year.
These criminal acts and the mind-set that lead 14 year olds to stone worshippers makes a mockery of the aspiration of Israel's founders that it should be a "light unto the nations". It flies in the face of the teachings of the Torah and the Ethics of the Fathers. It is a cancer that erodes Israel's democratic and pluralistic credentials and is all the more shocking coming from people whose co-religionists in the diaspora are so frequently on the receiving end of such vile behaviour. What has gone wrong? What action can be taken to remedy the situation?
Unlike the Sarona attackers, we own this problem. It is of our making whether through moral neglect or the malign influence of twisted people and is something that needs to be given the highest priority. Clearly, there is something missing in the education of these young people. The aforementioned values taught in the Torah and Ethics of the Fathers either haven't been instilled or haven't penetrated. They must.
There are far too many young Jewish Israelis that never encounter non-Jewish people in a meaningful way. Do Israeli schools not promote the sort of reciprocal visits by Jewish-school pupils to Christian and Muslim faith schools that we in the UK are now accustomed to? If not, they must.
And are the peddlers of hate being dealt with using the full force of the law? Are Israeli law enforcers devoting adequate resources to tackling the malign influence of these people? I ask because I don't know the answers but it seems self-evident that whatever is being done is wholly inadequate.
Israel is without a competent defence minister in part because Moshe Yaalon stood by the Israel Defence Forces deputy chief, Yair Golan, who had compared some traits in Israeli society to Europe in the 1930s in a controversial speech. While I would agree that Golan was very clumsy in his choice of words (he later said any comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany "was absurd "and he had "no intention whatsoever to draw any sort of parallel"), I believe that the core of his message expresses precisely the issue I find so troubling. Here is what Golan said:
"After all, there is nothing simpler and easier than hating the foreigner, there is nothing easier and simpler than arousing fears and intimidating, there is nothing easier and simpler than becoming bestial, foregoing principles and becoming smug."
Something is going very wrong in Israeli society if the bearer of such a message is pilloried instead of heeded. If no one in a position of authority has the courage to deal with the underlying problem then I fear greatly for the future soul of Israel.