Last month, when we celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, we talked mostly about Israel’s
We were also celebrating 65 years of
“sovereignty,” meaning control of our political destiny, in the form of a modern
The Jewish return to sovereignty has been complicated. It
has come with a steep price tag due to the ongoing Arab repudiation of our
sovereignty. At the same time, a loud minority of Diaspora Jews preferring to
pick and choose their battles regret this Jewish return to history in all its
complexity and lament Israel’s wielding power. But when you are responsible you
cannot shirk your duties. You cannot choose to ignore Syria’s chemical weapons
or Iran’s rush to go nuclear, no matter how inconvenient those challenges might
Last week offered a complicated seminar on sovereignty’s blessings
and curses, as one family joined the nearly 30,000 families that have suffered
grievous losses since 1948, the Israeli government showed the world what having
sovereignty sometimes demands, and some Jewish renegades pretending to be
nationalists attacked Israel’s sovereignty in committing various “price tag”
The murder of Eviatar Borovsky, the 31-year-old father of five
young children, was heartbreaking. It was also outrageous. That a terrorist,
recently released from an Israeli jail, could be so motivated by hate to butcher
another human being is hard to fathom. Equally incomprehensible was the
terrorist’s father’s pride, calling committing such crimes “a duty for all
Moreover, the minimal coverage this crime received in the
mainstream Western media was depressing. Both The New York Times and The Wall
Street Journal preferred to emphasize Israel’s justified targeted killing of a
Gazan terrorist, who had killed and would kill again.
reflected the ongoing Middle East outrage gap, which finds Israeli defensive
moves more outrageous than Palestinian incitements.
as heartbreaking, outrageous, unfathomable and depressing was the “price tag”
response, which included clashes with Israeli soldiers, hostile graffiti written
in Beit Ilu near Ramallah and, most disgusting, the stoning of a bus carrying
Palestinian schoolchildren, which injured some schoolgirls. I write “almost,”
because I acknowledge the difference between hooliganism, which is at worst
attempted murder, and murder.
There is an important moral argument to
make against these costly “price tag” crimes. Even if you accept the literal
biblical reading of an “eye for an eye,” that harsh dictum applies to the actual
criminals, not their fellow tribe members or young girls of the same
nationality. If these criminals are “religious,” they should throw away their
kippot, cut their tzitzit (fringes), and violate the Sabbath, because their
desecrations are so profane they can no longer call themselves
These costly price tag crimes are politically foolish, not just
They backfire on Israel, in both the media and
On the media front, it is easier to grumble about “media
bias” without taking responsibility, but there are moves that we in the
pro-Israel camp can make, or not make, that make a difference.
battle of the news cycle, the best revenge after a murder would be for it to go
unavenged. Reporters should have been forced to focus on the family tragedy, on
the grieving widow, on the orphaned children.
Or, they should have been
embarrassed by their inaction, shown to be biased for overlooking this crime,
and treating the cold-blooded murder of a Jew as unexceptional or implicitly
Instead, “price tag” criminals gave reporters the gift of a
dramatic distraction, upstaging what should have been the story.
price tag sins undermine the fight against delegitimization too. The pro-Israel
community justifiably rejects the moral equivalence between a democracy
defending itself and terrorists targeting innocents. Terrorism is a political
crime targeting innocent civilians to spread fear and make a political point.
“Price tag” crimes are a form of terrorism. Just as a terrorist does not become
upgraded to a “militant” by targeting Jews, we cannot downgrade terrorism into a
“justified response” when the criminals are Jews.
The “price tag”
criminals should also burn their identity cards, because their illegal vigilante
actions target Israeli sovereignty, too. They risk making Israel look like a
banana republic rather than the Middle East’s only functioning democracy. Israel
has given Jews the gifts of representative government, police, and an army to
solve problems collectively and legitimately, not haphazardly and
A case in point is the implosion of Syria. Israel’s democratic
representatives are entrusted with the complicated burden of managing this
Once again, Israel is cast in the difficult situation
of being the Middle East’s “fixer.” A New York Times dispatch from last week was
characteristic in writing: “Israel aircraft bombed a target in Syria overnight
Thursday... as United States officials said they were considering military
options, including carrying out their own air strikes.”
has to act while the United States and others can dither.
years ago, Israel had to decide, as Egyptian war drums rattled, Arab cries to
drive “the Jews into the sea” mounted, and Gamel Abdul Nasser’s “United Arab
Republic” army illegally blockaded the international waterways, the Straits of
Tiran. Israel had to act – and did, destroying the Egyptian Air Force in a
pre-emptive strike, and ultimately, under bombardment from Jordan and after
warning King Hussein, fighting to reunite Jerusalem.
And so, on this Yom
Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, we should celebrate Israel’s sovereignty. We should
sympathize with Israel’s fallen soldiers and terror victims. We should empathize
with Israel’s leaders who faced and face difficult decisions. We must also
condemn the “price tag” criminals unequivocally, and take pride in successive
Israeli government’s historically high winning percentage, making far more good
calls – such as in 1967 and last week – than bad ones.The writer is
professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow
in Jerusalem. His latest book is Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against
Zionism as Racism.
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