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Murdering Israelis of Color

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avatar by Gil Troy

Opinion

Tadasa Tashume Ben Ma’ada of Jerusalem, top left corner, died on Nov. 26 of wounds sustained during a bombing in Jerusalem on Nov. 23, 2022. Photos: Courtesy/Reuters-Ronen Zvulun

This week, we in Israel buried yet another victim of the broad-based Palestinian refusal to accept any Jews anywhere in the ancestral Jewish homeland.

Tadese Tashume Ben Ma’ada was a 50-year-old father of six. He fought valiantly, painfully, for his life for days after Wednesday November 23. That morning, a package Palestinian terrorists packed with nail bombs exploded — riddling his and other bodies with shrapnel. Ben Ma’ada’s tragedy, alas, has been mostly ignored. His story does not fit the current news cycle. His life and death refute the stereotyped stories about Israel’s supposed sins.

The evil murder of Tadese Tashume Ben Ma’ada spotlights the Palestinian violence, which started decades ago and is surging once again — even if the Western media ignores it. Ben Ma’ada’s is the 31st terrorist-imposed grave in Israel this year. And the brutally-compressed life story of Ben Ma’ada highlights two annoyingly magnificent truths about Israel. First, Israel is not a white or racist oppressor, but a democratic Jewish state with people of varying races, colors, creeds, and backgrounds thriving together. And second, despite Wednesday’s UN vote creating a Palestinian “Nakba” Day, deeming Israel’s very existence a “catastrophe,” Israeli society remains remarkably humane, welcoming, immigrant-friendly, free, and vital.

I keep repeating Tadese Tashume Ben Ma’ada’s name because all these latest victims seem to be invisible — not just to the international media, but to most American Jews too. Know the name — and mourn the loss of Ben Ma’ada, along with the 15-year-old Israeli-Canadian Aryeh Shtuspak, who was murdered instantly in a vicious attack on Jerusalem commuters. And take the time to learn about other victims, including Noam Raz, Ido Baruch, and Noa Lazar. You’ll find that some were Arabs, like Amir Khoury. Some were Ukrainian workers, like Dmitri Mitrik and Victor Sorokopot. Others were Haredi, religious, or secular. They represented a cross-section of Israeli society. All were innocent and should be breathing today.

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I am tired of hearing all these lamentations for Israel’s soul — by people who overlook the daily assault on Israeli bodies. Could we have a little less outrage about what so many people fear this new government might do, and a little more about what so many Palestinians are actually doing? Moreover, before the The Washington Post and others run yet another article rejecting Israel’s recent democratic elections and predicting that terrorism will intensify in response, note that this bloody jump occurred months before Benjamin Netanyahu’s election — and that this won many votes for Itamar Ben Gvir.

Claiming that any one or two Cabinet members can destroy a country is simplistic. Ignoring just how often Palestinian terrorism increased under left-wing or centrist Israeli governments is ahistorical. And somehow treating these nihilistic murderers as thoughtful pundits reacting to Israeli policy — or reflecting American Jewish disapproval of Israeli actions — is obscene.

Tadasa Tashume Ben Ma’ada immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia 21 years ago. No non-African country had ever happily absorbed an African immigration. That disproves the claims that Israel is either racist or colonialist. The skin color of Ethiopians like Ben Ma’ada did not stop Israel’s government from arranging a cease-fire during the Ethiopian civil war. Racial differences did not stop Israel’s army from airlifting tens of thousands of Ethiopians to freedom. And these minor biological variations did not stop Israelis from welcoming the immigrants enthusiastically and generously, albeit imperfectly, over the decades.

Moreover, the reason why Ben Ma’ada and nearly 100,000 Ethiopian Jews turned to Israel was because the Jewish roots in the Promised Land are deep, enduring, and organic. In moving to Israel, Ethiopian Jews were not embarking on some colonialist adventure to a foreign land; they were correcting historical mistakes, and returning home.

Ben Ma’ada worked as a jeweler in Megemeria, a school offering a free 12-month course in jewelry design, which also produces jewelry for sale. Established in 2010, this philanthropic project trains Ethiopian immigrants as jewelry designers, artisans, and entrepreneurs. It is the brainchild of Orna and Isaac Levy. This husband-wife team founded YVEL — Levy spelled backward — a jewelry empire featured in 650 retail stores worldwide.

In the outside world, YVEL is most famous for producing exquisite pieces worn by celebrities including Rihanna, Scarlett Johansson, Katy Perry, and Bette Midler. YVEL also produced the world’s most expensive COVID mask — a $1.5 million gem commissioned by a buyer who wanted to help cover the salaries of YVEL’s employees.

Within Israel, YVEL is also famous for its social conscience. More than 90 percent of its employees are immigrants from 22 countries — including Isaac Levy, who came to Israel from Argentina in 1963. His wife Orna Eliav Levy is a great-granddaughter of a rabbi and pearl merchant from Bukhara who arrive in Jerusalem in the late 1800s — showing the many different paths different Jews of different colors and ethnicities followed home.

YVEL, therefore, shows modern Israel’s two sides. It proves that more and more Israelis are fulfilling the “American dream,” working their way up from rags to riches, having found their way home. And it illustrates how more and more Israelis and Israeli companies, be they religious or secular, are guided by Jewish values, giving back to others in many creative ways.

Such prosperity and generosity, internally and externally, fulfills Theodor Herzl’s founding Zionist vision. As a good liberal democratic nationalist, Herzl foresaw that returning to the Jewish homeland would free the Jews to build a model old-new society. And his vision including helping Africans particularly, once Jews started solving their own problems.

We all know how often in Israel’s 75 year history, fair-weather friends have said the mourners’ kaddish over Israel’s body — and its soul. The Zionist response instead is to fix problems that exist not complain about problems that might occur. And the Jewish response, the human response, is to say mourners’ kaddish over real victims of terror, rather than overlooking the beautiful way they lived, the unjust way they died, and the monsters who delight in their deaths.

Gil Troy is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American History and four books on Zionism. He is the editor of the new three-volume set, “Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings,” the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People (www.theljp.org).

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