'Lynching' in Zion Square

Are We Responsible, Too?

Obscenity: A gate in Hebron on which settlers have painted the Hebrew words, ‘Death to Arabs’ in 2005.
Getty Images
Obscenity: A gate in Hebron on which settlers have painted the Hebrew words, ‘Death to Arabs’ in 2005.

By Jill Jacobs

Published August 21, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

On August 17, a mob of several dozen Israeli Jewish teenagers — some reports say as many as 50 — assaulted four Palestinian youths in the center of Jerusalem in an attack that the Jerusalem police have labeled an attempted “lynching.” The young people shouted “death to Arabs” as they chased down and beat the Palestinians. One of the four victims remains in critical condition after being resuscitated.

Some of the alleged perpetrators have already been arrested. As the indictments and trials proceed, it is likely that a story will emerge of a few “bad apples” who don’t represent Jewish youth as a whole. But this incident holds up a mirror to the faces of those of us who consider ourselves part of the global Jewish community.

Over the past few years, we have become accustomed to “Price Tag attacks” — violence or vandalism carried out by settlers, primarily against Palestinians, as retribution for Israeli government policies perceived to threaten the settlement enterprise. It can be easy to write off these incidents as the work of a few radical settlers who do not represent the Israeli populace, and certainly do not represent the American Jewish community.

But this assault was different. It took place in Zion Square, in the heart of downtown Jerusalem, where every tourist to the city has stopped to eat a falafel or to browse displays of tallitot and goofy T-shirts. According to some eyewitnesses, as many as 100 people — presumably ordinary Jerusalemites and tourists — watched without lifting a finger to stop the violence. This attack was also not a one-time event. It comes just a few months after a group of Beitar soccer fans, mostly teenagers, stormed the Malha Mall — the major mall in Jerusalem — yelling racist epithets and attacking Arab workers and shoppers.

What does this have to do with American Jews? A century ago, the lynching of Leo Frank, a Southern Jewish businessman, forced the American Jewish community to face the reality of anti-Semitism and to take a more public role in combating bigotry. The lynchings of African Americans, from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era, galvanized many young American Jews to join freedom rides and marches. In both of these cases, the Jewish community recognized that lynchings are not the work of a few “bad apples,” but rather reflect deeper undercurrents of racism and violence in the broader society.

Will these attempted lynchings in Zion Square and Malha Mall prompt the same level of soul-searching? The same level of activism?

The worldwide Jewish community complains often about anti-Semitism within Palestinian communities. And we are right to do so. It is frightening and infuriating to see old anti-Semitic tropes re-emerge in the context of contemporary political struggles. The Palestinians have their own unfortunate culture of violence that has produced brutal attacks against Jews.

But we also have to take a hard look at how we ourselves talk about Palestinians. Within the Jewish community, I regularly hear descriptions of Palestinians as a group that would be condemned as virulent anti-Semitism if one were to substitute the word “Jew.” I hear questions about whether they love their children. I have seen offensive caricatures of Palestinians hanging in synagogues. I often hear dismissals of Palestinian identity claims and casual disregard for their history. I have heard racist jokes told by rabbis and other Jewish leaders. No wonder some children have gotten the memo that hatred toward Palestinians and Arabs is acceptable.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.