Before I begin this post I want to make clear that I in no way justify the horrible violence perpetrated at Merkaz Harav by the Palestinian gunman who took eight Israeli lives this past week. But it is instructive to note the reception accorded Ehud Olmert and his education minister, Yuli Tamir, when they attempted to pay a condolence visit at the school. Tamir actually had the courage to face the music and visited before her entourage was assaulted and she had to flee. Olmert never made the attempt because he was told he was not wanted:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was told on Sunday that he is not welcome to visit the Mercaz Harav religious school in Jerusalem, where eight students were killed Thursday when a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a crowded library.
The yeshiva informed Olmert of its decision in response to the prime minister’s request to visit the school in the wake of the attack.
In its message, the yeshiva said its decision was not final, but emphasized that their wish was “to save him and us the embarrassment.”
I find this extraordinary. Think of it. You’ve just suffered a devastating terror attack and the leader of your nation asks to pay a condolence call and you tell him essentially to go f— himself. Lest any people doubt what Merkaz Harav is and believe it is pure house of learning, such effrontery gives the lie to this. The institution is the ideological nursing grounds for the settler movement. And clearly not just any part of the movement but the more extreme elements.
The treatment accorded Tamir was even more distressing than the insult to Olmert:
Education Minister Yuli Tamir was ejected from the Mercaz Harav religious school during her visit on Sunday, after students called her a “murderer” and “Oslo criminal.”
Tamir first visited the middle school, where students outside shouted at her to leave. The school’s head rabbis asked that Tamir discontinue her tour, but she insisted on visiting the yeshiva high school as well.
…Some students protested Tamir’s [being invited], calling it “sycophancy.”
During the meeting, dozens of students gathered outside the yeshiva to protest her presence, saying she consistently “harasses the religious sector.” A plastic bottle thrown towards the education minister hit one of her security guards in the back. Tamir was escorted safely back to her vehicle by police.
The head of the middle school, Rabbi Yerachmiel Weiss, told Haaretz after the incident that “many students find the government’s political prospects – be it the division of Jerusalem or evacuating outposts, which for some means being driven out of their homes – very distressing. While there were some who slammed her visit, we told them everyone has the right to hold their own worldview, and we were pleased that the minister came.”
Tamir said Sunday evening that “outside the library people gathered. They shouted, behaved inappropriately and ruined the atmosphere of grief. Sadly, some people cannot distinguish between politics and bereavement.”
“When I was invited, I didn’t hesitate for a moment,” Tamir added. “Unfortunately, I feel that some people, hopefully only a handful, cannot transcend their propensity for incitement, even in times of mourning.”
What does it mean when you call a government minister a “murderer?” It means you’ve called an elected leader of your government an ally of terrorists and of your nation’s enemy. And surely you’ve just announced open season on all such “traitors.” You might as well have painted a cross hair on her back.
Such behavior certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t grieve over their loss. But it does force us to open our eyes to what is happening in Israeli society. With the news that the dean of the Yeshiva University rabbinical school told his Israelis students they shouldn’t serve in the IDF if it pursues immoral policies like removing settlers from settlements and that they should “shoot” the prime minister if he “gives away” Jerusalem, the well of hatred in Israel’s extreme nationalist-religious movement is uncovered for all to see.
Some might argue that in the aftermath of such horror there are bound to be angry emotions and words. Yes, I understand. But given Israel’s bloody history in which a prime minister has already been assassinated, one has to ask what role the settlers and their enablers are playing. Is their aim to turn Israel into a chaotic mess if they don’t get their way politically? If they are willing to call the country’s elected leaders “murderers” and advocate their assassination, what should their fellow Israelis think of them? That they want what is best for all Israel? That they honor democratic norms?
Gideon Levy goes far deeper into the yeshiva’s history as the cradle of the extremist settler movement in this Haaretz article.