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The Dangers of Extremism

August 4, 2015

This is a very difficult time in Israel.  Two children, a 2-year old baby and a 16 year old girl were murdered over the weekend.  The baby was an Arab child and he was killed Thursday night when terrorists burned down his family home, killing the baby and seriously injuring other family members.  The teen-ager was stabbed to death during the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Israel is no stranger to terrorism and we have mourned the tragic deaths of children before.  But this time is different.  In both cases, the terrorists this time are Jews.  It was a Jewish man, recently released from prison after serving a sentence for attacking protestors at a Gay Pride Parade several years ago, who attacked the 16 year old girl as she marched for gay rights.  The terrorists who burned down the home of the Arab baby have not yet been caught, but the graffiti left at the scene has led investigators to believe that here, too, the terrorist was a Jew.  The assumption is that it is a young extremist, perhaps frustrated by the recent destruction of a structure in Bet El.

There is a major difference between the atmosphere in Israel surrounding these terrible tragedies and the atmosphere in Arab society when Arab terrorists murder Jews.  We have long witnessed celebrations, handing out sweets and other expressions of joy when Arabs kill Jews.  In Israel, there is a terrible feeling of loss and anger that Jews would do such a thing.  “What sort of animal would kill a baby?” is a common refrain. We cannot get over the fact that one of our own, a member of our own Jewish people, would stoop to such immoral and despicable behavior to murder a fellow human being in cold blood.

The issue of ideological terrorism is an issue that we must all deal with.  Extremism is a very dangerous phenomenon, but where do we draw the line between extreme commitment to an ideal, which can usually be admired, and extremism which crosses the line?

When the Right to Life movement first began, there were enormously intense passions on the subject of abortion, and I remember well the attacks on abortion clinics by extremists.  Doctors who performed abortions were attacked in a brutal way and, as a result, many people who were not sure how they felt about abortion ended up supporting abortion as a result of their disgust from the violence carried out in the name of a religious or moral value.

There is a similar dynamic that lies behind the Jewish terrorism.  The man who murdered the 16 year old is ultra-Orthodox and is deeply disturbed by the growing legitimacy of homosexual relations.  He believes homosexuality is an abomination, in light of Scripture.

We can disagree on these issues, we can argue and debate, but we must remain respectful of those who do not agree with us.  And we must never, ever resort to violence in order to enforce our views on others.  This goes to the fundamentals of democracy, the freedom of religion and expression that are so precious to us.  Our freedom must encompass the freedom of our fellow man as well.  We can each express our opinions and we must each be protected in the expression of our opinions.

Extremists can only see their own convictions.  They are so single-minded in their determination that everyone subscribe to their ideologies that they seek to force the issue — to act violently or aggressively to impose their opinion rather than trying to convince and persuade.

In the case of the Arab baby who was burned to death, I can only assume that the perpetrators see themselves as soldiers in the ongoing war between Arabs and Jews.  They are frustrated that there is so much opposition to the continued growth of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, that Arab terrorism rears its head from time to time and Jews are killed, and that the Israeli government and the Israeli courts are not always supportive of Jewish settlement.  Or perhaps, as was the case in the murder of Prime Minister Rabin, the murderer sees himself as a savior, the crusader who fights for G-d.

But what these murderers and all religious extremists forget is that G-d gave us the 10 Commandments and a key commandment is Thou Shalt not Murder!  That when G-d first selected Abraham and began the chain of events that culminated in the selection of the Nation of Israel as  G-d’s first-born, He sets forth the standard of behavior that is expected of Abraham’s children: “to observe the path of G-d by doing righteousness and justice.”

All human beings are created in G-d’s image and all deserve the same respect and honor.  If a human being sins against society, then society has the vehicle, through the courts and the police, to judge and punish that sin.  But if a human being sins against G-d, without hurting another human being, then it is up to G-d to judge that person.

As religious people, it is often difficult to educate our children about the absolute values that we believe in — family values, belief in G-d, the destiny of the Jewish people and the sanctity of the Land of Israel—and at the same time, to moderate these values with the need to respect the views and beliefs of others.  But there is no other way to sustain a just society.  There is no other way to balance absolute values against another vital value — the love for a fellow human being.  And when in doubt, we need to let love win out.




Sondra Baras
Director, Israel