The prime minister’s reaction — or lack thereof — to the arson attack against Jerusalem’s bilingual school reflects what can only be understood as contempt for Palestinian-Israeli partnership.
The arsonists who set fire to the Arab-Jewish bilingual school in Jerusalem Saturday night decided to pile up the first graders’ books and burn them in the middle of the classroom. Jews burned books. Belonging to six years olds. In Israel’s capital.
All Israeli citizens should feel they were targeted. A premeditated, intentional act aimed at instilling horror and fear into a small minority of Palestinians and Israelis whose only crime is an attempt at living in partnership and equality. An act of terror. It is reflective of nothing less than a national crisis.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not see fit to issue a special statement, nor did he find it necessary to visit the school. He sufficed with this condemnation at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday:
We are making great efforts to restore calm and tranquility to Jerusalem. Of course, we will not tolerate attacks from any quarter and we will not tolerate setting fire to a bilingual school as we saw last night. We condemn any such attempt and we will act as vigorously – and with as much unity – as possible to restore quiet and law and order in all parts of the city.
He couched his statement in the larger context of unrest in Jerusalem. Netanyahu does not see the burning of schoolchildren’s books and a first-grade classroom as a stand-alone incident worthy of independent mention. It is on the same level as Palestinians throwing stones at soldiers who control their movement from behind shields and walls and armored vehicles. Jewish citizens in the Jewish state burned Jewish books. He can’t blame this one on Mahmoud Abbas – so I guess he has nothing to say.
What is most striking about Netanyahu’s statement is that he doesn’t even make an attempt at expressing empathy. He does not directly address the children, whose safety and confidence have been shaken, or the parents and school staff, who must at once cope with their fears of a next time while assuring the kids that their way of life is a secure and acceptable.
How does the leader of a country not find it fitting to visit these kids? Or to at least address them directly? Maybe because such an act serves his own agenda of keeping Palestinians and Israelis as hateful and segregated as possible. Maybe because showing empathy for Palestinian-Israeli partnership challenges his sole achievement as prime minister over the past five years: preserving occupation, discrimination and violence.
In the current state of Israeli politics, the very existence of a community of Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem who seek to study, live and work together — rising above ethnic, religious and nationalist conflict — is the most subversive act imaginable. It undermines all the policies the government is pushing: most blatantly, the recent Jewish Nation-State bill, which seeks to codify the de facto reality of Jewish privilege over Palestinians.
Putting aside the attack on Arabs, the incident is an intra-Jewish national tragedy that reflects a real sickness in Israeli society. If, as Netanyahu recently said, it is critical to enshrine Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, isn’t it of utmost urgency that the people within that nation state learn to respect one another?