Photo Credit:
Eli Verschleiser

If you had to list the reasons why Israel should exist as a haven for the Jewish people, freedom from the burning of holy Torah scrolls would have to rank pretty high on the list.

This act of hate is closely associated with the Holocaust, when the psychotic Nazis would relish the destruction of Jewish sacred books and objects. On occasion, we’ve seen it happen elsewhere, such as in New York shuls desecrated by hateful vandals or in modern-day Europe at the hands of neo-Nazis.


Torah scrolls under Israeli control should theoretically be safe. But several weeks ago, vandals believed to be Palestinian entered a synagogue in the Jewish community of Karmei Tsur, piled the Torah scrolls together and set them afire.

If you missed the international condemnation of that act of hate, it’s not because you weren’t paying attention. It was nonexistent.

Media coverage wasn’t very heavy, either. From what I can find there was only an AP dispatch and some Jewish media coverage. The New York Times covered Jewish attacks in the area on Arabs, but didn’t notice the burning Torahs.

Yes, I know. In the eyes of most of the world Jews don’t belong in the territory the world calls the West Bank (and in the eyes of some, anywhere in the Middle East), and so, whatever happens to them, they had it coming; let them count their blessings that no person was hurt in this particular incident (even as countless stabbings and other murders terrorize Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel).

It would be encouraging to hear statements along the lines of “Regardless of how you feel about the politics of Israel’s control of territory, violent attacks and desecration of holy places are somewhat polarizing and must be stopped and condemned in the highest levels of the Palestinian government.”

Israeli leaders never seem to have a problem condemning the bad behavior of right-wing Jews. And yet we’ve heard little on the Torah-burning aside from an expression of outrage from the Anti-Defamation League and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s vow to find the perpetrators.

“I expect the international community to condemn the desecration of a synagogue, an act that is the result of incessant Palestinian incitement,” Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post.

Compare the silence to President Obama’s denunciation when a U.S. pastor burned the Koran in April 2011.

“The destruction of any holy text including the Koran is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry,” the president said, according to CNN.

Tony Blair, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, declared that the act of burning the Koran is “disrespectful, wrong and will be widely condemned by people of all faiths and none.”

And the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, notoriously nonchalant about attacks on Jews, said burning the Koran “contradict[s] the efforts of the United Nations and others to promote tolerance, intercultural understanding and mutual respect between cultures and religions.”

“Abhorrent and simply wrong,” said Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Is not the desecration of Torahs an equally intolerant and bigoted act, abhorrent, and antithetical to tolerance with the potential to inspire more extremist violence? It doesn’t seem to take much at all to say something like that.

It’s important for world leaders to take a more consistent position when it comes to public statements on the Middle East. Just because Israel is the more powerful side of the dispute with the Palestinians does not mean it is always wrong or that hateful acts against Jews are, contrary to Ban Ki-moon’s recent justifications, understandable if not inevitable.

Acts of hatred call out for condemnation because silence implies consent.

Vandalism of construction equipment or power lines or other infrastructure might suggest a protest against the building of settlements on land the Palestinians claim as their own (despite never having had sovereign control over it, and Jordan losing it in a war.)

The burning of a Torah, though, is something different entirely – an attack on Judaism itself, on what makes the Jews a people, on the very document that attaches us to the land.

It is the steadfast refusal of Palestinians for over a century (not just since 1967) to acknowledge the ancestral Jewish claim to the holy land of Israel that is the biggest stumbling block to peace.

Progress will come only when responsible leaders assert not only that Israel has a generic “right to exist” but that it is the land of the Torah, and deserves to be protected as such. This would go a long way toward encouraging the enemies of the Jewish people to give up their dream of chasing us away.


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Eli Verschleiser is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate. He serves on the board of trustees of the American Jewish Congress and is co-founder of and president of OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth. Follow him on Twitter: @E_Verschleiser.
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