Israeli leaders were right to quickly condemn the arson at a West Bank mosque this week, presumed to be perpetrated by Jewish extremists seeking to derail the fledgling peace talks.
The Sunday-night incident — in which the Koran and prayer rugs were burned — was thought to be the latest so-called "price tag" operation aimed at pressuring the Israel government not to make concessions regarding settlement-building in the West Bank.
We cringe at the notion that Jews could be capable of such vicious acts. It's easier to turn a blind eye, comforted by the knowledge that those capable of committing such blasphemy represent only a tiny minority of Jewish thinking, even among those most vehemently opposed to the idea of a two-state solution.
Yet we also know from history that the acts of a few extremists can have long-term deleterious effects on the Jewish state and the Jewish psyche. Recall the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was gunned down by an Israeli extremist 15 years ago as Israel was engaged in an unprecedented, ultimately unsuccessful, effort to forge peace with the Palestinians.
Like then, the current climate in Israel and among international Jewry is fraught with angst.
But after decades of Jewish suffering from barbaric acts of Palestinian terrorism, Jewish terrorism cannot stand.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke for the bulk of the nation when he said: "Whoever did this is a terrorist in every sense of the word, and intended to hurt the chances for peace and dialogue with the Palestinians. This was a shameful act that besmirched the State of Israel and its values."
The talks may break down at any moment, but as long as they continue, it is critical that passionate — and legitimate — debate not pass into violence, that fear not morph into fire.
As Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and a leading Israeli thinker, wrote in a recent piece in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz: "One of the flaws in the current reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that there is no serious conversation among Israelis as to what we want, what we are willing to compromise, and what we believe are our core issues."
"The absence of a conversation and an attempt at reaching some form of a value consensus to shape our policies toward the Palestinians is generating the specter of a deep ideological divide within Israeli society," wrote the modern Orthodox Israeli educator.
That divide has torn apart Israeli society before as citizens of the Jewish state were confronted with painful decisions. But always, the vibrancy of its democracy prevailed, enabling moments of crisis to pass and society as a whole to flourish.
Reason — and not violence — must be the driving force for Israel's future.