Flames of hatred are spreading through Israel, threatening to destroy it, President Reuven Rivlin warned on Saturday.
A stabbing attack Thursday at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, and the firebombing Friday of a Palestinian home which killed a Palestinian toddler, need to serve as a much-needed “wake-up call” for the entire country, he said.
Rivlin was speaking at a Jerusalem rally against the violence and homophobia that led to the two separate attacks. He charged that “an atmosphere has been created here that has allowed leniency toward what is naively called ‘weeds.'”
“Every society has extremist fringes, but today we have to ask: what is it in the public atmosphere which allows extremism and extremists to walk in confidence, in broad daylight? What is it that has enabled these weeds to threaten the safety of the entire garden of flowers?” said Rivlin.
“Citizens of Israel, a Jewish and democratic Israel, democratic and Jewish Israel, needs a wake-up call today,” he urged.
The president was speaking two days after six people were wounded, one of them seriously, in a stabbing attack at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. It was carried out by Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who served 10 years for a similar attack in 2005. A day later, on Friday, 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha was burned to death when his family home was attacked by suspected Jewish terrorists armed with Molotov cocktails. His parents and four-year-old brother remain in life-threatening condition and are being treated in Israeli hospitals.
The president warned Saturday that the flames of hatred, violence and “false, distorted and twisted beliefs are spreading through the land,” and that Israel could no longer afford to continue dismissing these attacks.
“These flames, which are consuming all of us, cannot be extinguished with weak condemnations [by politicians]. These flames cannot be extinguished with solidarity rallies. Not even with this rally. These flames cannot be extinguished with posts on Facebook and statements in the media. These flames cannot be extinguished with repression, denial and disregard. Incitement, ridicule, frivolity, laxity and arrogance of the heart cannot extinguish the fire, but only allow it to burn stronger, with fervor, to spread in all directions, and permeate all walks of life,” Rivlin said.
“We must be thorough and clear; from the educational system, to those who enforce the law, through to the leadership of the people and the country. We must put out the flames, the incitement, before they destroy us all,” he warned.
“We will not be zealots. We will not be bullies. We will not become an anarchy,” he went on.
The president described his emotions during his visit Friday to the hospital beds of the seriously burned remaining members of the Dawabsha family, saying he was “ashamed [and] ridden with dread for the power of hatred.”
“[I was] ashamed that a country which has known the murder of Shalhevet Pass [killed in 2001 in Hebron by a Palestinian sniper], of the Fogel family [killed in their home in Itamar by two Palestinian attackers in March 2011], of Adele Biton [the toddler who died this year after suffering severe injuries sustained in a Palestinian firebomb attack in 2013], of Eyal, Gil-ad, Naftali [the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered last summer] and Muhammad Abu Khdeir [the Palestinian teenager kidnapped and burned alive by Jewish extremists in a reprisal attack for the three Israeli teens], there are still those who do not hesitate to ignite the flames, to burn the flesh of a baby, to increase the hatred and terror,” Rivlin said.
The president has received several threats online after a post Friday expressing shame that the killers [of the Dawabsha toddler] came from “my own people.”
Some of those who responded to the post said they wished the president would suffer a similar fate to the late Ariel Sharon and the slain Yitzhak Rabin.
Also Saturday evening, rallies were held elsewhere in Israel, including in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba.
Speaking at the Tel Aviv protest organized by Peace Now, former president Shimon Peres warned that “dark, extremist forces” are threatening to destroy the state of Israel, and called on all Israelis to confront and rebuff them.
Peres, who is also a former prime minister and Nobel Peace laureate, said Israel now has to fight “a war of liberation — to liberate the state of Israel from madness and madmen.”
“Those who incite against Arab citizens of Israel should not be surprised when mosques and churches are set alight or even when a baby is burned alive in the night,” Peres said.
“I came here with a heavy heart following the Jewish pogrom on Friday,” Herzog told the crowd. “Terrorists are terrorists whether they are Jewish or Muslim. The Jewish people are ashamed of the actions by some among us and we have come to ask forgiveness.”
“If I were the prime minister, I wouldn’t simply condemn [the firebomb attack], I would bang my fists on the table and tell our security forces to do everything they can to find [the perpetrators],” Herzog said at the rally.
“Those who know how to find the murderers of the three Israeli teenagers [abducted and killed last June by a Hamas-affiliated cell in the West Bank], also know how to find those who killed Ali Dawabsha,” he went.
Gal-on said the perpetrators were nothing short of a “Jewish Daesh,” an acronym used for the terror group the Islamic State which controls large swaths of land in Syria and Iraq.
“This is not how you fight Jewish terror,” she said, addressing Netanyahu and other right-wing politicians she blamed for creating an atmosphere of incitement against Arabs. “This is not how you fight a Jewish Daesh, with homophobia, with incitement, with racism. Facebook condemnations [of these actions] will not stop the violence.”
The uncle of the slain Palestinian toddler, Nasser Dawabsha, also spoke at the event, describing the harrowing moments when the family tried to escape their burning house. The uncle said the mother grabbed a blanket she believed contained her baby and only once she was outside did she realize he was not in it, but still inside.
“They burned a family that was sleeping quietly, a family that does not believe in violence. Netanyahu expressed his condolences but we ask for protection for Duma and for other Palestinian villages. Why was Ali killed? He was 18 months old, what did he do? What did he do to the settlers? We ask that this [incident] mark the end of the suffering of our people. Before this we had Muhammed Abu Khdeir [abducted and burned alive by Jewish extremists as a reprisal attack for the three murdered teens], now Ali, and we don’t know who will be next,” said Dawabsha.
— Anna Ahronheim (@AAhronheim) August 1, 2015