Tel Aviv Diary: Violent Outrages by Jews Rock Israelis

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People detain after disarming an Orthodox Jewish assailant after he stabbed and injured six participants of an annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem on July 30. Amir Cohen/Reuters

The news here in the last few days has been devastating. On the morning of July 31, Israel woke up to the news that Jewish terrorists had firebombed a Palestinian house, burning a baby to death and seriously injuring others in the family.

These crimes came after last night's stabbing attack by an ultra-Orthodox Jew of people participating in Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade. The stabbings were allegedly perpetrated by the same person who attacked the Gay Pride March 10 years ago. Sadly, the accused had been released from jail just three weeks ago, after serving nearly a decade in jail.

These followed the events of July 28 and 29 at the settlement of Beit El, in which soldiers were assaulted by settlers when they came to dismantle two buildings, operating under the direct orders of Israel's Supreme Court.

To make matters worse, in reaction to the Supreme Court's decision, one of the members of the Knesset from HaBayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home) Party stated that the Supreme Court should be dismantled. Others have asserted that the "Leftist Court" needs to be replaced.

All of these developments took place in the same week that the police released the identity of those who set the fire in the Church of Loaves and Fishes near the Sea of Galilee. Those assailants were young religious extremists who declared their hatred of Christianity.

These abominable events, and other similar episodes, continue to put a chill through many Israelis. One young officer I know in the Israeli Defense Force said to me this afternoon, "Are we sure this state is worth fighting for?"

The sheer hideous nature of today's terror attack forced leading members of the government to speak out forcibly against what occurred. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called today's burning attack "an act of terrorism."

After last night's stabbings, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing religious HaBayit Hayehudi Party, announced an increase in funding for LGBT youth groups. Today, Bennett called on his supporters to engage in serious "soul searching" to understand how we reached this point.

The questions that all of us are asking is: How have these kids been educated? How different are our own Jewish ultra-Orthodox extremists from some of the extremists in the Muslim world?

We used to be able to say that at least our extremists do not resort to violence. It is impossible to make that claim now. The idea that Jews would burn a down a church, physically attack Israeli soldiers, burn down a house with its Palestinian residents asleep inside or stab marchers in a parade is hard for the average Israeli to fathom.

Some are saying that condemnation is not enough. One opposition leader, MK Stav Shaffir, has called for specific and direct actions to be taken, including the firing of all the teachers who have incited hatred; cutting off all funding to groups that support hatred; and more, including the immediate removal of illegal settlements, whose very existence, she states, undermines the rule of law.

To many in Israel, the concerns go deeper. There is a fear that the very fundamentals of democracy are under siege by politicians who seem to have missed what American students would call Civics 101. Everyone agrees that the call to destroy the Supreme Court was out of line—even Member of Knesset Moti Yogev (who uttered the contentious comment against the Court) took his words back, claiming he was "just speaking metaphorically."

However, many are concerned that the power of the court itself is under attack, simply for protecting civil rights. In a recent conversation with former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, she told me the potential weakening of the Supreme Court was her greatest concern. Justice Dorner feared that the basic laws, those laws accepted by consensus as part and parcel of Israel's legal system, might be overturned. One of the imperfections of the Israeli system is the fact that it does not have a Constitution and maintains a series of basic laws instead, which are considered more binding than regular laws—and require 61 votes, as opposed to a simple majority to pass. (There are 120 members in the Israeli Knesset.)

The threshold to pass, change, or repeal a basic law is not high, i.e. every government coalition has a majority of at least 61 supporters. According to Dorner, until now there has been a gentlemen's agreement not to touch any of the basic laws. She is concerned, sadly, that that respect might be fading.

Earlier this week, in the last moments of its first session, the current Knesset passed a number of last-minute laws. For someone like me, who has written about the U.S. Constitutional Convention, passage of what is called "the Norwegian Law" (allowing a minister to resign from the Knesset, and be replaced by another candidate and then return if they stop being a minister) was most disconcerting.

Without going into whether this is a good or bad law (I do not know enough about it to pass such judgment), the fact that what is considered a "basic law" was passed in a matter of three days, with the second and the third readings in the Knesset taking place overnight, seems patently absurd.

Here, the Israeli political system was changed without any serious debate, public discussion or consultations. This change is both breathtaking and frightening.

Last night, President Reuven Rivlin stated, "We must have no illusions. Intolerance will lead us to disaster. We cannot accept these types of crimes." This morning we stepped ever closer to the precipice. It will take a major change in direction to bring us back.

Marc Schulman is the editor of historycentral.com.

Tel Aviv Diary: Violent Outrages by Jews Rock Israelis | Opinion