Only a few weeks ago on a trip to Israel, I was struck both by the outward sense of safety and peace and by the tensions beneath the surface. Now, that surface has been shattered. First, there was the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenage boys in the West Bank, almost certainly linked to Hamas militants, and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager for which six Jewish extremists have been arrested, re-sparking the cycle of violence.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to punish the killers of the Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, he also drew a stark contrast between the two sides: "I know that in our society, the society of Israel, there is no place for such murderers. And that's the difference between us and our neighbors. They consider murderers to be heroes . . . We condemn them, and we put them on trial, and we'll put them in prison."
Other Israel supporters echo this view. They point to reports that many Gaza residents openly rejoiced in the kidnapping of the three Israeli boys -- Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach -- and to a disturbing social media campaign on the pro-Palestinian side celebrating the abduction with photos of a three-finger salute (sometimes displayed by small children). They point out that the Palestinian Authority has been reluctant to cooperate with the Israeli government in finding the teenagers' killers and that Hamas, which advocates kidnappings, has condemned such cooperation. Israelis, meanwhile, have overwhelmingly reacted to Khdeir's brutal slaying with shock, outrage and disbelief.
Is this a valid argument -- or, as Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles has written in Los Angeles Jewish Journal, unseemly bragging? Rabbi Wolpe argues that to use one's contrition and soul-searching "as a stick to beat our enemies" makes a mockery of contrition. True enough; and yet Israelis are justly frustrated by the double standards of international opinion. Many feel that sympathy for Palestinians results in skewed news. The recent stabbing death of a 19-year-old Israeli woman, Shelly Dadon, to which an Israeli-Arab taxi driver has confessed and which Israeli authorities believe to have been another hate crime, has received virtually no media coverage.
Jeffrey Goldberg, a columnist for The Atlantic who served in the Israel Defense Force, has written an eloquent column about accountability for Israeli wrongs -- not only Khdeir's death but the beating of his cousin by the police during a protest. He acknowledges that Israel is often judged by a standard that is not just double but "quadruple" -- higher than developing countries, Europe, or the United States -- and often impossible. But he also argues that Israelis should hold themselves to a higher standard as the nation that gave birth to "ethical monotheism."
Goldberg correctly insists Israel must confront extremism among its own and brutality by its soldiers and police. But if we are to move forward, there must be a parallel soul-searching in Arab and Muslim communities in the Middle East, where the propaganda of hate is ubiquitous. To hold them to lower standards of ethics would be a form of soft bigotry.
Amid the violence, there are tiny signs of hope. Yishai Fraenkel, uncle of one of the dead Israeli teens, has told The Washington Post that he has received many condolence calls from Palestinians and has spoken on the phone to Mohammed Abu Khdeir's father to express his sympathy and to say that "all murderers need to be caught and punished."
The cycle of violence seems to have no end in sight. But sympathy and accountability are, at least, a beginning.