by Sagi Melamed
More than the rocket attacks on Israel. More than the tragic murder of the three Jewish teenagers by Arabs. More than the hideous murder of the Arab teen by Jews. More than roads made dangerous and impassable by Israeli Arabs rioting. What horrified me more than all these latest traumatic events was the violent attack on Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett by participants at a peace conference held this week.
Almost 20 years ago, I attended an economic peace conference in Jerusalem, which followed on the tail of the Oslo Accords and the signing of the peace agreement with Jordan. During the speech given by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, I was horrified when some opponents of the Rabin-led peace process interrupted him with insults and jeers, curses and threats. I was also surprised how easily they managed to come into physical contact with the prime minister. Exactly one week after this conference, Rabin was murdered by a Jewish assassin.
This week's peace conference, organized by the newspaper Haaretz, under the auspices of Israeli and international peace groups, was held on July 8. Given the current events in Gaza and the upheavals in the wider Middle East, one can argue whether the timing was courageous and visionary or delusional and presumptuous. But it is difficult to argue about the hate, resentment and intensity of negative emotions that assailed Bennett at an event that supposedly represented peace and tolerance. It was as if all the frustration and disappointment at receding hopes for peace and the deterioration of Israel's security and political situation were focused on Bennett and spewed out over him like lava bursting from a volcano. "Inciter!" "Murderer!" Those were just some of the epithets hurled at him. As I watched Bennett's security guards bundle him out of the conference room at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, pursued by some who continued to curse him, my mind returned to Rabin in 1995.
At an event with, I estimate, over 1,000 participants, there were very few Arabs and only a handful kippah-wearers. An Arab expression says, "One hand cannot clap by itself." It was not at all clear who was supposed to make peace and with whom. Shortly after Bennett came MK Ahmad Tibi, who spoke harshly and unambiguously. That is his prerogative. But when the audience at a peace conference enthusiastically applauded Tibi as he accused the prime minister of Israel of responsibility for the murder and burning of the Arab teen from Shuafat, I had to remind myself that I was sitting in Tel Aviv and not in Ramallah.
Later, I approached the young man who led the chorus of shouting and curses at Bennett. He was about 30, taller than me by a head. A Jew, of course. An Arab would not have dared. Served in the Israel Defense Forces but not in a combat unit. Single. I told him about the days leading up to the murder of Rabin and the frightening similarities between then and now. He had difficulty grasping what I was saying, and presented his world view to me: "Bennett is a danger to Israel. We must stop him." I was even more horrified. The exact same rhetoric as two decades ago.
Throughout the last 20 years, I have participated in more than a few peace conferences and left most of them feeling encouraged and empowered. This last one was utterly dispiriting. When the singer David Broza took to the stage with a children's choir from the Jerusalem YMCA, I wondered whether he too thinks longingly of his timeless song "Yihiyeh Tov" ("It Will be Good"), which became the unofficial anthem of my generation on the brink of our military service:
"People live under pressure
Seeking a reason to breath
And in between hate and murder
They talk of peace."
"Those who ravaged and ruined you shall come from you," said the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 49:17). The violence of those who define themselves as peace activists terrified me. If peace activists can behave with such messianic bullying, then what are we liable to see from war activists?
Sagi Melamed is vice president of external affairs at Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and chief instructor of the Hoshaya Karate Club. He received a master's degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies, with a specialty in conflict resolution. His book "Son of My Land" was published in 2013.
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