In a rare display of unity, Israeli politicians from across the spectrum — from Islamist Arab to far-right Jew — expressed shock and condemnation of the paroxysms of internal Jewish-Arab violence that erupted across the country in recent days.
Israel on Wednesday experienced its worst night of internal Jewish-Arab chaos for many years, amid the ongoing armed conflict with Gaza, as scenes of unrest, rioting, hate rallies and growing social chaos spread throughout numerous cities, some of which were once seen as symbols of coexistence.
Violent confrontations erupted in Lod, Acre, Jerusalem, Haifa, Bat Yam, Tiberias and many other locations, with multiple people injured, some of them seriously, leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce he was looking at deploying the military inside towns to restore order.
Perhaps the most shocking scene of the night, and one that elicited expressions of disbelief and horror from Israeli leaders, was footage of hundreds of Jewish extremists in Bat Yam vandalizing Arab property and then assaulting an Arab driver in his car, dragging him out of the vehicle and beating him savagely.
The well-documented incident in Bat Yam brought on expressions of disgust from politicians, from the prime minister to far-right Knesset members. In a video from his office, Netanyahu told the public that such incidents were “intolerable.”
“I don’t care if your blood is boiling. So it’s boiling. It’s irrelevant. You can’t take the law into your own hands,” he thundered. “You can’t come to an Arab civilian and try to lynch him, just as we can’t see Arab citizens do so to Jewish citizens. This will not stand.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid decried the “total loss of control.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that Israeli internal divisions were “no less dangerous than Hamas.”
Yamina chief Naftali Bennett called the scenes in Bat Yam “un-Jewish, immoral, inhuman.” His No. 2 Ayelet Shaked decried the “moral bankruptcy” of such an attack.
New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar warned the country could be sliding toward civil war.
סירנות ועימותים באום אל פאחם, בתוך השטח הפלסטיני הכבוש
صافرات الإنذار والمواجهات في أم الفحم بالداخل الفلسطيني المحتل pic.twitter.com/KOOLc9Zklq
— مجلة آية (@magazine_aya) May 12, 2021
In an uncustomary phone interview with Channel 12, President Reuven Rivlin implored Israelis of all ethnicities and religions to stop the “madness” unfolding on the streets of Jewish-Arab cities.
“I am very worried,” he said, adding that he was “crying out” for internal peace.
“I call on and beg of all local leaders, religious leaders, on citizens, on parents. Do all you can to stop this terrible thing that is happening before our eyes,” he said. “We are dealing with a civil war between us without any reason. Please stop this madness… I beg of you. This country belongs to all of us. Desist.”
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef put out a statement imploring Jews not to turn violent against Arab citizens.
“Innocent Israeli civilians are attacked by terror organizations, the blood runs hot and our hearts are outraged, the scenes are difficult to watch. But we mustn’t be dragged to provocations and to hurting people or harming property,” he said.
He added that the Torah does not permit one to take the law into one’s own hands. “The work of restoring order must be left to police,” he said. “We must be a light unto the nations, and not, God forbid, the opposite.”
The far-right leader of the Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, long accused of stoking racial and religious tensions, said he was “shocked and ashamed to the bottom of my soul” by the attack on the Arab man. “We are in difficult days, under attack, frustrated… but damn it, how can Jews be so cruel?! Terrible,” he tweeted.
Even Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who has come under heavy criticism during the ongoing violence between Arabs and Jews across the country, both for his lack of action and his silence, issued his first statement on the situation.
“The attacks by Arabs against Jews, security forces, the symbols of Judaism and institutions of government are heartbreaking,” he said.
“This cannot be accepted and there is nothing to justify it — just as there is no, and will not be any, justification for the terrible violence and the [Jewish] mob assault this evening [of an Arab bystander],” said the minister responsible for the police.
“Violence mixed with hatred should be condemned outright,” he said, calling on all Israelis to return home. “We have no other country. We must live here together.”
“No one has the authority to take the law into their own hands,” he concluded.
Arab leaders also condemned the violence, also noting violent attacks by Arabs on Jews.
Joint List chair Ayman Odeh and Ra’am chief Masour Abbas both condemned the violence on Arabic-language radio, while asking Arabs not to leave their homes so as not to be attacked by Jewish mobs.
The two Arab Israeli political leaders also stressed the need for Arab youth not to respond with violence against people or property.
Odeh also attacked Ohana, who he accused of giving support to Jewish rioters in “taking the law into their own hands” after he spoke in support of Jews suspected of shooting Arab rioters earlier this week, and said “civilians carrying weapons are helpful to authorities in immediately neutralizing threats or dangers.”
“The madness must be stopped,” Odeh said.
Abbas also called for an end to the violence.
“I call on all politicians, leaders, mayors and clerics — Arabs and Jews — to put all disputes aside and take responsibility for our society as a whole and do everything in their power to stop the current wave of violence and madness across the country,” he says.
“Please take responsibility for people’s lives. This is a moment when the humanity within each and every one of us needs to be revealed and transcend beyond any difference, conflict or controversy of any kind.”
At TV studios, anchors and pundits were despondent, with many describing the night’s events as unlike anything they’d ever experienced, and as signifying a breakdown of social cohesion that could take years to mend.
Only around midnight did police state that they had managed to bring most hotspots under control, with at least some 400 people arrested, among them several who were suspected in the Bat Yam attack. Police said 36 cops were hurt during events.