Weeds do not grow in a vacuum. At a minimum they need a reasonable temperature and minimum amounts of water and oxygen. Given proper conditions, they will of course flourish, and without attention, can take over a garden. The first few attacks on Muslim and Christian institutions were attributed to “weeds” – every group has its fringes, it was said, this doesn’t come from the mainstream, we’re not responsible for these extremists, there’s nothing to be done. But as with weed-growth, the seemingly ever-growing number of attacks against Arab property and Christian and Muslim places of worship does not take place in a vacuum. And our garden needs weeding.
There are several approaches to maintaining a weed-free garden. One approach to keeping your garden weed-free is to watch closely and pull out the weeds as they appear, before they have a chance to seed. The police and security forces could be watching like hawks, swooping on every vandal and attacker of Palestinian property and ensuring that due justice is served. Enormous resources are poured into protecting Jews from Palestinian terrorists – both in intelligence and in enforcement. If we paid even a fraction as much attention to our Jewish terrorists and potential terrorists, we might be able to control our weed problem through weeding.
Another possibility is to use mulch to deprive potential weeds of air and light. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “The vilest deeds like poison weeds /Bloom well in poison air” (The Ballad of Reading Gaol). If the words and actions of our leaders and politicians and the tone of our public discourse did not feed the attacks on non-Jews, perhaps they would cease. Our Prime Minister and other leading politicians troop out their periodic condemnations of the attacks, but do not seem to realize that it is their job to put a stop to them. Yesterday Netanyahu announced his latest plan to ensure the Jewish nature of the state – enshrining it in a Basic Law. It’s not that I think there’s an inherent contradiction between being a Jewish state and a democracy. But it seems that our leaders don’t notice that making the Jewish nature of the state an obsession, at the exclusion of everything (and everyone) else, provides fertile ground for the growth of weeds. When our stray weeds hear, day after day, the message that Israel is a Jewish state, that we won’t continue peace talks until the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, that we are enshrining the Jewish nature of the state in our constitution – as if the Declaration of Independence, made 66 years ago this week, is not enough – what they hear is that non-Jews have no place here – providing the oxygen and light they need for their hatred to flourish.
Our non-Jewish citizens probably hear much the same thing – Israel is a Jewish state, therefore you have no place here. One particularly such disturbing letter was sent to Bishop Marcuzzo this week, suggesting that all members of the Christian communities must leave the country immediately, under threat of death. Even if that letter turns out to have been written by someone suffering from mental illness, the messages regularly written on Mosque, Church and Monastery walls is clear: Get out, you’re not wanted here, you don’t belong because you’re not Jewish.
Another way of preventing the spreading of weeds is to maintain healthy soil. Our young must be educated to respect the Other and to celebrate diversity. The presence of different religious communities in this part of the world is part of its blessing. Our government should insist that all children, in all streams of education, encounter each other, learn to tolerate difference and overcome the fear that stems from isolation. We can only maintain healthy soil through education – but the current thinking is to pour more and more resources into Jewish and nationalist education, failing to fund significant, nation-wide education about respect for the Other or encounters with the Other.
Now, as my mother knows, I’m not much of a gardener. But even I know that a garden needs weeding. Let’s weed our garden before the weeds smother all the beautiful flowers that have been planted, nourished and harvested with so much pain and love.