Cabinet fails to call price tag attacks 'terrorism'

Security cabinet declares perpetrators "illegal associations"; official: cabinet fears "terror" label blurs line with likes of Hamas.

Tag Mehir Jordan Valley 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Israel Police)
Tag Mehir Jordan Valley 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Israel Police)
The security cabinet on Sunday night strengthened law enforcement’s ability to combat the growing phenomenon of “price-tag” attacks by declaring their perpetrators an “illegal association.”
But it failed to take the added step of legally classifying the attacks as acts of terror and those involved as terrorists.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the decision “significantly expands the investigative and judicial tools available to the security forces and law enforcement authorities against so-called ‘price-tag’ actions.”
The new measures include stiffer sentencing and lengthier prison terms, according to an Israeli official.
The PMO explained that the security cabinet “authorized Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to use his authority under defense regulations to declare ‘price-tag’ activists an illegal association.”
“This will significantly strengthen the ability to fight ‘price-tag’ phenomena,” it added.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni would continue to advance other legislation that would also deal with the issue, the PMO said.
Livni, along with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, have in the last few months advocated for classifying price-tag attacks as acts of terror.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein has said that there is no legal barrier to such a declaration, but he added that he believed better investigatory police work was needed, and not extra legislation.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has harshly condemned price-tag attacks, but he has not publicly declared his position with respect to legally classifying such attacks as acts of terror.
It is assumed that the cabinet did not take this step because Netanyahu opposed such a classification.
According to an Israeli official, the cabinet feared that classifying price-tag attacks as acts of terror would blur the lines between these extremists, on the one hand, and serious organized terror groups, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, on the other.
The official noted that such attacks have not led to fatalities, and so it would be incorrect to paint them with the same brushstroke as Hamas or Hezbollah.
Classifying price-attacks as acts of terror would also strengthen the hand of those in the international community who want to make such an equation, the official said.
The official noted that the cabinet decision would be reviewed in six months. If the severity of the attacks increases, the official said, the price-tag attacks would then automatically fall into the classification of acts of terror, the official said.
Some proponents of reclassification said they were satisfied with the cabinet’s decision, which they said gave law enforcement similar powers without the terrorist classification.
But MK Esawi Frej attacked the security cabinet’s decision, charging that it had caved to pressure from right-wing extremists.
“Equality before the law?” he asked. “Democracy? This is total capitulation to King Bibi. An illegal association? But we should declare price-tag terrorists as an unsympathetic youth movement.”
“Again, for the thousandth time, Bibi has shown that he is not working for the Israeli public but for extreme right-wing settlers,” Frej said.
What Netanyahu is really doing is sanctioning attacks against Arabs, he said.
“But when an Arab child throws a stone against a Jew, he is declared a terrorist and taken away for questioning in the middle of the night.
“We are talking about a disgraceful decision that affects every Israeli Arab citizen and every person who believes in equitable treatment,” Frej said.
“What is true for Ahmed has to be true for Moshe. This is something so simple that every child can understand it – except our prime minister.”
Retribution attacks against Palestinians, which mostly involved property damage such as arson and vandalism, were branded as price-tag attacks in the aftermath of the 2005 Gaza evacuation.
Its perpetrators often choose to damage innocent Palestinian targets such as mosques, cars or homes. In some extreme cases, the extremists have also physically targeted Palestinians.
The concept, however, has spread from the West Bank into areas of Israel within the pre- 1967 borders, including vandalism against Israeli Arabs and Christians.