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Writing on the Wall: Arson and Racist Graffiti in Jerusalem

Writing on the Wall: Arson and Racist Graffiti in Jerusalem

Disaster struck Saturday night at a school building in Jerusalem. Four firefighter teams were called in to extinguish a blaze that destroyed a first-grade classroom. The larger tragedy is that the fire seems to have been an act of premeditated arson, the school targeted for being a model of Jewish-Arab community building. The torched building housed a Hebrew-Arab bilingual school, The Hand in Hand Jerusalem School, where Jewish and Arab parents send their children to play and learn side by side.

For some, it seems, this cannot be tolerated. Extremists broke into the classroom, amassed a pile of children’s books and art projects, and set the room ablaze, leaving behind vicious graffiti: “No to assimilation!” “Death to Arabs!” “There is no coexisting with cancer!”

This is not the first time the school has drawn fire. In 2006, the Israel Religious Action Center filed a complaint with Israel’s attorney general against the state-funded neighborhood rabbi, who publicly opposed the opening of this very school by comparing Arabs to beasts: “The Arabs are a donkey people…The opening of such a school is an impure act of abomination. We cannot mix the pure and impure together.”

If agitators like this rabbi had been held accountable for their inciteful speech, the sparks of hate leading up to yesterday’s arson might have been extinguished before they engulfed a first-grade classroom.

President Reuven Rivlin has offered to host the classroom in his own residence until it is rebuilt, and we applaud him for his leadership and the strong stance he has been taking against racism in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefly mentioned Saturday’s arson at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting before moving on to talk about his new bill to detain and expel refugees. Last week, his cabinet passed a divisive Jewish nation-state bill that would legalize the second-class status of Israel’s non-Jewish population. Prime Minister Netanyahu knows how to raise his voice and pound the table when the circumstances warrant it. He does it when talking about Iran, ISIS, and Hamas - and we at IRAC believe he should do so again now, condemning racist speech and violence directed against Israel’s Arab citizens. He should do so with the same uncompromising passion, determination and call-for-action that he unleashes for causes affecting Israel’s Jews.

While we wait for him to raise his voice, we will continue to raise ours.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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