Israel’s deputy defense minister, Eli Ben-Dahan of the religious Zionist Bayit Yehudi party, refused to classify the deadly arson attack which claimed the lives of three Palestinians in the West Bank village of Duma as an act of terrorism.
In an interview with Israel Radio on Friday, Ben-Dahan was asked point-blank by his host, Chico Menashe, whether he agreed with the near-consensus view among Israel’s political class that the attack against the Dawabshe family, which authorities believe was committed by extreme right-wing Jewish operatives, constituted terrorism.
Ben-Dahan would only allow that the Duma attack “met certain criteria” that determines whether an act of violence is tantamount to terrorism.
In response, Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri – who once headed the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) – blasted Ben-Dahan, calling his stance “absolute insanity.”
Peri’s criticism prompted Ben-Dahan to post a response on his Facebook account in which he accused the former Shin Bet director of being “consumed with hatred toward Bayit Yehudi.”
“He is disseminating this hatred in every direction and at every opportunity in an attempt to tar all of us with the stain of Duma,” Ben-Dahan wrote.
In the next line, Dahan wrote, “Duma is terror.”
The deputy defense minister decried what he called “attempts by those on the left side of the political spectrum to paint [the religious Zionist community] with a brush and make all of us guilty.”
Ben-Dahan’s noncommittal position on the Duma arson is at odds with statements made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and the head of his own party, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, all of whom have denounced the attack as “terrorism.”
The religious Zionist leadership has been placed in a politically sensitive position due to allegations of torture against suspects rounded up for questioning by the Shin Bet.
Earlier this week, three settler leaders urged Netanyahu on Monday to investigate claims that the Shin Bet tortured the Duma arson suspects in its custody.
“Mr. Prime Minister, you must stop the madness,” they wrote in a letter to Netanyahu.
The document was signed by Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, Gush Etzion Regional Council head Davidi Perl and South Hebron Hills Regional Council head Yochai Damari.
“You must immediately investigate the serious charges that minors have been tortured, which constitutes a grave violation of human rights,” they said.
Investigators in Israel should not become the judges and executioners, they said.
The settler leaders acknowledged that Israel was under growing international pressure to find the perpetrators of the July 2 incident in the West Bank village of Duma in which suspected Jewish extremists firebombed a home in the middle of the night killing Sa’ad Dawabshe, 31, his wife, Reham, 27 and their 18-month-old son, Ali.
The Duma attack continues to be a main theme of Israel’s political discourse, particularly due to the recently leaked video of far-right extremists praising the arson while celebrating at a wedding in Jerusalem.
Police are investigating the actions of Jewish extremists who are seen in the video brandishing guns and knives while cheering the murder of the Dawabshe family in Duma and calling for more killings.
Judea and Samaria district police said on Thursday that the investigation into the “many serious crimes” at that wedding had already been under way for a number of days, when a video from the wedding was aired on Channel 10.
A police spokesman added that police are working with the state prosecution on the investigation, which includes incitement to violence charges.
The minute-long footage that drew a shocked reaction from Israeli politicians showed young men wearing white skullcaps and shirts, dancing while holding knives and guns.
One of the dancers stabbed a photograph of slain Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabshe. Another young man was held aloft as he clutched a firebomb in one hand and a knife in the other.
Netanyahu said on Thursday that the dancers in the video represent a fringe group of extremists.
“That is not the proud religious Zionism that contributes to the state, and whose sons serve in the elite units in the army,” he said.
“This fringe group does not represent the Right, it is not the Right that I know,” he said.
“Israel is a land of the rule of law. We will not tolerate a situation where a particular group refuses to accept the laws of the state, and carries out acts of murder,” he said.
He was among the first to condemn the actions on the video late Wednesday night.
“The shocking pictures that were broadcast this evening show the true face of a group that constitutes a danger to Israeli society and to the security of Israel. The pictures underscore how important a strong Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] is to the security of us all,” Netanyahu said.
Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot instructed the Military Police to investigate the origin of the weapons seen in the video and whether any IDF soldiers participated in the event.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said the wedding video was not surprising to anyone who is familiar with “the dangerous and extreme types who act at the broad margins of the [Right],” but added that “this wild and dangerous mindset must be denounced and uprooted immediately.”
“They go against Jewish and human morals and can bring a tragedy to the settlement enterprise,” Edelstein warned.