I once heard Bennie Begin tell a joke that seems to fit the first week of the new year. When Begin, then a Likud lawmaker, was asked about his opinion of the Oslo Process, he likened it to the man who jumps out of a window of a 25-story building. As he passes the 17th floor, someone calls out “How do you feel?” and receives the reply “So far, so good.”
We’re all going to need some dark humor to get us through 2016, if the first week was anything to go by.
Of course, the fact that one of the biggest stories of 2015 was the massacre at the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo on January 7 meant I didn’t have great expectations at a global level last year either. And I wasn’t disappointed. After the attack at the Hyper Casher kosher supermarket in which four Jews were killed two days later, the perpetrators were described by President Barack Obama “as a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”
That set the tone for the rest of the year. Paris returned to the news in November, when the vicious bunch proved to be more organized, more violent – and more jihadist – than Obama was willing to admit.
The attacks on the Jews – which continued throughout Europe, throughout the year – got a lot less attention.
But the decision by many major cities to cancel or tone down their New Year festivities and fireworks for fear of terrorism says a lot.
I was thinking of the Hyper Casher victims as I was getting ready for Shabbat last week. After all, they had been doing their last-minute pre-Sabbath preparations when they were murdered.
The generally low-key Friday afternoon Israel Radio broadcasts were disturbed by the breaking news of the terrorist attack at a street cafe/bar in Tel Aviv. By the time I turned my radio off for Shabbat it was clear that two young Jewish men had been killed. (The terrorist later apparently also killed a Muslim taxi driver.) It was not “a random attack on a bunch of folks” celebrating a friend’s birthday party on New Year’s Day: It was an assault on the heart of Tel Aviv. Dizengoff Street, though not what it was in its heyday, remains a symbol of all that is considered cool and trendy in the City that Never Sleeps.
It reminded me of the way that the terrorists in the Paris attacks two months ago also shot at a street cafe, targeting the young and the carefree.
Paris and Brussels, where at least some of the terrorists lived, went into a lockdown.
Tel Aviv slowed down but didn’t come to a halt.
Many Jerusalemites watched with sympathy mixed with surprise.
In the capital, we take constant criticism for the way police, security forces and armed citizens swiftly respond to attacks: First aiming to put the perpetrator out of action and if that fails or isn’t feasible, shooting to kill.
Jerusalem schools held a mini-strike until the number of hours guards were present was increased. Many Tel Avivians kept their children at home altogether.
Tel Aviv, understandably, worried that there was an armed mass murderer on the loose. Jerusalem, sadly, assumes that there’s always someone out there who wants to kill and maim and destroy our way of life.
Jerusalemites months ago launched the Eati-fada, a campaign to encourage people to eat out especially during the terror wave, to help local businesses; Tel Avivians called to each other this week to carry on having coffee out as normal.
On Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to the site of the Tel Aviv attack and, next to the memorial candles for Shimon (Shimi) Ruime and Alon Bakal, gave a speech addressing, mainly, the Israeli-Arab community. By that point, the father of the shooter had identified his son who was still on the run and the whole country knew that the wanted attacker was 31-year-old Nashat Milhem, a resident of the Arab town of Arara.
“There are many among Muslim-Israeli citizens who have come out against the violence and are crying out for full law enforcement in their towns. At the same time, we all know that there is wild incitement by radical Islam against the State of Israel in the Arab sector.
Incitement in mosques, in the education system, on social media,” the prime minister said, announcing a crackdown on illegal arms.
“We will demand loyalty to the laws of the state from everyone,” he continued. “One cannot say ‘I am Israeli in my rights and Palestinian in my responsibilities.’ Whoever wants to be Israeli, must be Israeli all the way, with rights and responsibilities, and the first and foremost responsibility is to follow the laws of the state.”
Netanyahu praised Israeli Arabs who enlist in the IDF or do civilian national service, and called “on all Israeli citizens, and especially Muslim-Israeli citizens, to follow this path, a path of integration, coexistence and peace, and not a path of incitement, hatred and zealotry.
“We are all citizens of the State,” he said.
Predictably, his opponents – and they are many – jumped at his choice of words and accused him of marking a whole sector.
I was struck, not for the first time, by the similarity of his speech to that of British Prime Minister David Cameron. (Both got into hot water last year for different comments: Cameron’s referring to migrants as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life’’; Netanyahu saying on election day that the Arab voters were “heading to the polling stations in droves.” Cameron managed to live the comments down; Netanyahu is still constantly reminded of his unfortunate phrasing.) In his New Year speech, Cameron said, “When our national security is threatened by a seething hatred of the West, one that turns people against their country and can even turn them into murderous extremists, I want us to be very clear: You will not defeat us. And we will not just confront the violence and the terror.
“We will take on their underlying, poisonous narrative of grievance and resentment. We will come down hard on those who create the conditions for that narrative to flourish. And we will have greater confidence in – indeed, we will revel in – our way of life.
“Because if you walk our streets, learn in our schools, benefit from our society, you sign up to our values: freedom; tolerance; responsibility; loyalty.”
Cameron also got flak from his political rivals, but the speech was not instantly shared and tweeted around the world as an example of racism.
Only Israel’s prime minister is considered racist when he tries to tackle terrorism at the source.
It was similar to the reaction to Israel’s proposed legislation requiring nonprofit organizations (Left or Right, by the way) to clearly declare funding they receive from foreign governments in all public communications and contacts with Israeli government officials and to wear a special badge when attending Knesset meetings.
A colleague this week shared a Washington Post editorial titled “A Danger to Israeli Democracy” (January 2) casually dropping a mention of similarities to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and legislation in China.
“Israel should not allow itself to be lumped with these regimes,” opined the editorial.
I agree. We should not be lumped together with these regimes. As the editorial itself noted, “Israel’s democracy has been a pillar of strength through years of siege.”
And, while not perfect, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s proposals don’t remind me of either of those regimes (which strangely are not singled out by the BDS movement as targets for boycott, divestment and sanctions).
It reminds me of America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act whose purpose, according to the FAQs on its own website, “is to insure that the US Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence US public opinion, policy and laws.”
More double standards in a dangerous world.
Channel 10’s Tzinur show this week reported that the British Parliament had discussed Israel some 350 times in 2015: That’s approximately 50 more discussions and parliamentary questions than it held on ISIS last year. The figure seemed so high, I double-checked.
Unfortunately, it’s correct. The British Parliament was more concerned with Israel’s “evils” than with those of Islamic State.
Back to Paris: Another double take.
According to an Israel Radio report, protesters wearing keffiyehs and carrying Palestinian flags and anti-Israel placards managed to get into the performance by the Israeli Bat Sheva Dance Company on January 5 (so much for the French concept of heightened security) ahead of a performance of “Three” by superb choreographer Ohad Naharin.
The pro-Palestinians at the Opera de Paris shouted messages such as “One doesn’t dance with apartheid” and called Israelis “murderers” and “colonizers,” particularly in Gaza.
Similar slogans are frequently sounded by similar demonstrators in other European capitals and cities.
It makes me wonder where these people live.
This week, Israel coped with lethal and non-lethal terror attacks (not just in Tel Aviv) and Hezbollah operated a large bomb aimed at IDF soldiers on the Israel-Lebanon border. And Israelis are very aware that Islamist terrorists in Gaza occupy themselves by sporadically firing rockets on Israeli communities.
Meanwhile, the bloodbath – Muslim against Muslim – continues in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere (with the biggest question being who’s been using chemical weapons).
The Sunni-Shi’a divide turned into a gaping chasm as both Saudi Arabia and Iran did what they do best – the former executing a Shi’a cleric, the latter storming the Saudi Embassy. The tremors from the widening split were felt in places far away such as Sudan and Yemen.
Talking of tremors, the world is engaged in a guessing game over what exactly North Korea (Iran’s ally) is playing at with its missile testing. No, I don’t think all’s well with the world at the start of 2016. But as I’ve said before, singling out Israel for double standards and special treatment is not the answer.
Terrorism in Tel Aviv is not about “the settlements” any more than terror attacks in Paris are about poverty.