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Washington, D.C., July 3, 2014: In response to unrest in Israel following the murders of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach, and reports of a possible revenge killing of a Palestinian teen, Muhammed Hussein Abu Khedeir, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
In the face of social media and on-the-street expressions of racial hatred after the tragic murders of four young boys, we commend today the Israeli and Palestinian political, civic and religious voices calling for calm and moderation and who have condemned the violence that has flared. We particularly lift up, among many others, the voices of the parents of two of the boys recently murdered -- Naftali Fraenkel, and Muhammed Hussein Abu Khedeir – Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Justice Minister Tzipi Livini, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, and our own Reform Jewish Movement’s leadership, most particularly our Israel Religious Action Center. We welcome too Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement after Abu Khedeir’s murder, calling for “investigators to act as quickly as possible to find out who stands behind this despicable murder.” The firm and constant leadership of Israeli political, civic, cultural, educational, and religious figures is essential to delegitimizing intolerant and violent views and actions that have no place in a Jewish state.
We join these voices in condemning the calls for and the acts of violence against individuals and property in Israel committed in the name of vengeance and racial hatred. In demonstrations and on social media, such expressions were heard and seen widely. We recognize they are, to a degree, rooted in collective despair at the senseless despicable murders of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach – and yesterday, of Muhammed Hussein Abu Khedeir -- whose deaths all people of conscience mourn. Racism, riots and violence are inexcusable responses, whatever their motivation, and do nothing to bring about a peaceful future in which no child worries about being targeted because of his or her nationality or religion.
We look to the Palestinian Authority to do everything in its power to address expressions of hatred in Palestinian society, schools, media, and religious life. Yet we recognize as well, that the events of the past days have dramatized the problem of racism in Israeli society, which has growingly festered for too long, despite laws that make clear its illegality and the moral abhorrence in which it is held. In the face of public expressions over the past years of hatred and incitement from religious and civic leaders, such laws have, unfortunately, been too weakly enforced, threatening to erode the ideals of democracy, tolerance, and equal rights that Israel values. We urge Israeli leaders to model in their own words and actions positions that foster calm and advance the rule of law, rather than inciting hatred or inflaming tensions.
We commend the work of our Israel Religious Action Center and our Reform Jewish Movement in Israel (the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism) in lifting up this issue over the past years. IRAC’s reports on incitement and its efforts to organize a response both legally and in public life was seen again yesterday as it helped convene a gathering of so many Israelis committed to a more peaceful future. We are deeply troubled that this gathering was itself met by harassment from anti-Arab protestors on the streets, espousing messages of hatred and violence. We applaud IRAC’s current effort to focus Knesset attention on legislation to address racist incitement.
We call on Israeli authorities to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice as quickly as possible. We also turn to all leaders in Israel and Palestine do everything they can to urge restraint and compassion among all people at this difficult time.