The horrific kidnapping and murder of Arab teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a resident of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, apparently at the hands of Jewish teen terrorists, has shaken Israel to its core. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu immediately and unequivocally condemned the murder.
Netanyahu said, “I pledge that the perpetrators of this horrific crime will face the full weight of the law. I know that in our society, the society of Israel, there is no place for such murderers.... I do not distinguish between terrorism and terrorism.”
As might be expected of Israel, the unequivocal, across-the-board public condemnation; speedy capture of the prime suspects; visits to the victim’s home by senior Israeli ministers; and government assistance to the victim’s family all bespeak both national anguish and at the same time, the proper moral response of a free, democratic society to a moment of domestic crisis.
While the murder’s political motive renders it terrorism, the heart-wrenching public anguish in its wake is reminiscent of that which followed the 2012 New Town, Connecticut, school massacres and the Denver movie theater shootings.
Even Rachel Fraenkel, mother of Naftali Fraenkel, one of three Israeli teens recently kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists, in the midst of her own mourning period condemned the apparent revenge attack, saying, “Even in the depths of the mourning over our son, it is hard for me to describe how distressed we were over the outrage that happened in Jerusalem – the shedding of innocent blood is against morality, it is against the Torah and Judaism, it is against the basis of our life in this country.”
Israel’s response to this tragedy notwithstanding, a new moral equivalence between Israel and Fatah and Hamas is being explicitly or implicitly suggested by Western media and other observers. This parity of legitimacy between terrorist groups or terrorism-supporting organizations and democratic states such as Israel that struggle against them is more dangerous than the hundreds of rockets and mortars that Hamas is firing indiscriminately into civilian neighborhoods in Israel’s southern towns and cities.
The New York Times, for example, characterized these recent events as Israel and the Palestinians “descending into a spiral of personal vendettas and bloodletting” in a July 6 report. The Washington Post called it “spiraling violence could be the spark that ignites a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against the Israeli occupation.”
Such characterizations are misleading. The latest terrorist acts committed by Hamas in Judea and Samaria, and in Jerusalem allegedly by Jewish teens, would seem to defy categorization as manifestations of “personal vendettas.” Instead, they illustrate the vast differences between the character of radical terrorist groups and that of Israel as a free society that is battling both radical Islamic terrorism and domestic terrorism.
Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, an ideological precursor to al-Qaida. It is a major driver of the current reconciliation government with the Palestinian Authority, and publicly calls for the kidnapping and murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel as a matter of ideology, theology and policy. Hamas, as reflected in its 2006 victory in the Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections in its ongoing bid to take over the PA, enjoys broad Palestinian public support.
Americans and Israelis remember that the streets of Gaza were filled with candy on 9/11, and with tears when the United States killed Osama bin Laden.
The Hamas leadership in Gaza and the West Bank are in a marathon race for local public opinion, which largely supported the Hamas terrorist attack against Israeli children as an effective strategy to free Palestinian terrorists incarcerated in Israeli jails. The “outgoing” Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, publicly called for the kidnapping of Israelis during his “goodbye” address to the Palestinian public on the eve of the recent swearing in of the Palestinian reconciliation government. Hamas and Fatah both embrace and nurture a culture of incitement to murder Israelis, name streets, boulevards, schools, camps and public spaces after terrorists, and educate and train children to embrace jihad.
In Israel, unlike in some other Western countries, incitement to murder and violence is not protected free speech. It’s punishable by law. While enforcement has been lax in many cases, Israel has already punished soldiers and prosecuted others who have called for revenge against Hamas.
The Israeli teen terrorists who are accused of carrying out the Abu Khdeir murder represent no one, are identified with no political party, religious sect or social movement. As Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to Washington noted, “They will not be hailed as heroes and no public squares will be named in their honor.” Instead they have earned the condemnation of the nation state of the Jewish people, as well as of the media, shapers of public opinion and public representatives. These deranged kids (some under 16) have banished themselves far beyond the outer fringes of Israeli society.
That’s why suggesting a moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas and Fatah via the “cycle of violence” news narrative is dangerous. It may make for neat news packaging, but does a disservice to Israel and other liberal democracies battling jihad and radical Islamic terror while striving to strengthen the moral fabric of their own societies.
The author is a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism. From 2011 to 2013 he served as secretary general of the World Jewish Congress.