Last Tuesday’s terror attack at a Jerusalem synagogue, which killed four innocent men and one police officer, was a serious blow to all Israelis. It plunged a knife into our national soul and awoke deep-seated memories, as attacks on synagogues were precisely what the creation of the State of Israel was meant to prevent.
The history of the Jewish people is marked by both great sadness and joy. We have overcome generations of persecution to build a civilization based on morality, the pursuit of knowledge and the celebration of life. In the land of Israel, we have created a modern, multicultural country with a vibrant economy and colourful culture. As we have done in the past, we will bond together as a people and as a nation.
I am heartened by the support of Canadians, of all faiths, regions, backgrounds and political perspectives, who have personally expressed their deep condolences. I am also grateful for the strong words of condemnation made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.
Words are powerful. In the face of an expected rise in public animosity, Israeli President Reuben Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been unequivocal in their statements against any thoughts of retribution or discrimination against Israeli Arabs. Their words have helped to foster an atmosphere of reconciliation.
Israel’s position is based on lessons learned from Jewish history. Jews intimately appreciate the link between rhetoric and action. We have seen, first-hand, how words can kill. We know that the Holocaust, one of the darkest periods in our history, did not happen overnight. Rather, it began with virulent rhetoric that slowly grew into a culture of hatred.
Today, we see a rise in anti-Semitism, but this time it is targeted at Israel. The attack on the Jerusalem synagogue was not just a random act by “lone wolves.” It was perpetrated in the context of a culture of hatred and religious incitement.
This vicious rhetoric is not only spewed by Hamas, but, unfortunately, also by the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas. I invite everyone to look at the Palestinian education system, media and national symbols. History textbooks that distort reality and public squares named after terrorists are but a few examples of this culture.
The incitement also includes false claims and outright lies about sensitive religious issues, such as the Temple Mount. While Israel acted to restore calm and reaffirm its commitment to open access for Muslims to pray at, and other religions to visit, this holy site, the Palestinian Authority’s state-owned media called for a “Day of Rage.”
Instead of restoring calm, Abbas exploited the tensions by blaming Jews for a Palestinian bus driver found hanging in his bus, even though the suicide was corroborated by a Palestinian coroner. In the official Palestinian newspaper, Abbas called the suicide “an abominable crime” and labelled the bus driver “a martyr.”
There is no doubt that Palestinian incitement led to the terror attack. While Abbas was quick to condemn it in the international media, his communication in the Arab media and through social media channels was much different. His political party, Fatah, openly praised the terrorists who attacked the synagogue. In fact, one of his Fatah advisers, Sultan Abu Al-Einein, even called it a “heroic” act on Facebook.
It is the responsibility of political leaders to steer public opinion during tense moments. While Abbas inflames religious animosities, Israel’s President and Prime Minister stand up to diffuse the situation.
The root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not, and has never been, about religion. It is a political dispute that requires difficult compromises on both sides and should not be diverted by religious incitement. Unfortunately, the words of Palestinian leaders threaten to shift this long-standing paradigm, which does nothing to achieve a lasting peace that both Israelis and Palestinians so rightfully deserve.