Some countries, after a hate crime, are more prone to collective introspection than others. Israel certainly fits into that camp based on widespread reaction to the retaliatory killing of an Israeli Arab boy last week, allegedly by young Jews.
The brutal murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir seems to have been a senseless revenge attack in response to the murder of three teenage Jews in the West Bank last month. Yet the boy’s murder evoked strong moral calls among Israelis to live up to their ideals as a country, one founded in large part as a response to genocide.
A display of public guilt over the killing was evident in visits by top Israeli officials and others to the boy’s family. But the consoling was overshadowed by demands that Israel must now remove the beam from its own eye if it expects to effectively criticize the mote in the eyes of its many adversaries.
A pro-government tabloid, Israel Hayom, carried a headline that read “The Murder and the Shame.” An editorial in Haaretz stated that unless Israel undergoes a revolution of values, “the Jewish tribe will not be worthy of its own state.”
A Times of Israel newspaper commentator, Anshel Pfeffer, wrote, “We are all partners in this [crime], accomplices in complacency, if not in deed” because Israelis have become too used to casual racism and trying to control the lives of 2.5 million Palestinians in the occupied territories.
And Times founding editor David Horovitz suggests this remedy: “If we are to heal this nation, last Wednesday’s killing must rid us, once and for all, of the complacent illusion that we enjoy a distinctive moral superiority over our neighbors.”
Such collective contrition is rare in Israel because terrorist attacks on Arabs by Jews are rare compared with those on Jews. Yet when this national soul-searching occurs, it not only reminds Israelis to live up to a high standard, it serves as a lesson to other countries on the strength that can come from humbly looking at the social ills that push certain individuals into committing hate crimes.
Certain reforms are now expected within Israel. Antiracism teaching in schools will likely improve. Hate speech in Web forums will be better monitored. Violence-prone right-wing groups will be more closely watched.
Israel can be proud of its moral hand-wringing. The country is often held to a higher standard than its Arab enemies. That can be often unfair, but one reason for it is that Israel sets a standard on how to judge itself in those cases in which its civilians or soldiers cause harm to innocent Israeli Arabs or Palestinians. Meekness in the face of a human rights crime is a trait worth living up to, and noting.