Jewish hooliganism, popularly known as “price tag” attacks, is in the public spotlight again after a spate of incidents in Yokene’am and other places across the nation.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced the phenomenon, as he has in the past, calling it “against our values.” Last month, in a meeting with Arab, Beduin, Druse and Circassian Likud Party activists, the prime minister referred to vandalism at a mosque in Fureidis as “outrageous.”
Numerous political leaders from across the political spectrum have spoken out against “price tag” attacks.
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett called them “immoral and unjust,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called them “ugly deeds perpetrated by hooligans.”
There is scarcely a lawmaker, minister or political leader who has not denounced categorically the slashing tires, the spray-painting of houses of worship – Muslim and Christian – or other acts of destruction against Arab and Palestinian property.
And rightly so. The logic of “price tag” attacks is warped. It goes something like this: When the IDF of police take action to enforce the law by demolishing an illegally built outpost somewhere in Judea and Samaria or by arresting a Jewish activist suspected of engaging in illegal activities, a fringe group of vigilantes within Israeli society takes the law into its hands and destroys or defaces the property of an innocent and vulnerable third party.
Sometimes the victims are Arab or Palestinian Christians whose churches are spray-painted. Sometimes the target is an Arab construction worker whose car tires are punctured. Sometimes a mosque is targeted.
These despicable attacks must be stopped. Our law enforcement officials have an obligation to bring to justice these Jewish vigilantes.
It is important, however, to maintain proper proportions.
The call by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, during an emergency meeting this week, to classify “price tag” attacks as terrorism seems an overreaction.
Admittedly, terrorism is a vague, unclear term. Occasionally, full-fledged states use terrorist methods to defeat their enemies. The freedom fighters of today were often the terrorists of yesterday. (Nelsen Mandela was on a US Defense Department list of terrorists until the mid- 1980s.) Still, while “price tag” attacks are undoubtedly abhorrent acts of violence, they cannot be compared to the sorts of tactics used by organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Spray-painting graffiti on houses of worship and slashing the tires of innocent Arab and Palestinians are worthy of condemnation and those who perpetrated such crimes should be prosecuted with the full force of the law. But they must not be confused with suicide bombings and Kassam missiles fired at civilian population centers that aim to kill, tactics used by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other real terrorist groups.
Graffiti and the slashing of tires cannot even be compared to stone-throwing, which can, and has, caused deaths, not to speak of fire bombs. This sort of violence is, by the way, regularly perpetrated by Palestinians in the West Bank against Jews.
What’s more, when Arabs commit their own “price tag” attacks, such as the one this week against the ancient tomb of Rabbi Halafta near Karmiel, no Israeli politician recommends defining it as terrorism. And rightly so. The spray-painted swastika on the tomb is disgusting. But it is a far cry from terrorism.
Nearly every politician across the political spectrum, from the prime minister down, has denounced “price tag” attacks. And there is not a single public figure who has voiced support for the practice, including rabbis and settlement leaders of all ideological stripes.
There is absolutely no public support for “price tag” attacks in Israeli society. Those who engage in these acts of hooliganism are fringe elements. Indeed, the difficulty that law enforcement authorities have had in arresting these vandals is most likely due to the fact that there is no organizational infrastructure that connects them.
Every effort must be made to stop this reprehensible phenomenon. But equating “price tag” attacks with terrorism is not the way.