Just over a week ago a Palestinian baby was murdered in the village of Duma with a fire-bomb, hurled almost certainly by a Jewish right-wing fanatic into a room in which his family was sleeping, and a Jewish teenager was stabbed to death by a Jewish religious fanatic at the Jerusalem gay pride parade. The Palestinian baby’s father died on Saturday.
What sets these events apart from previous firebombings by Jews of Palestinian property and physical attacks against participants in pride parades is that this time they ended with three fatalities, and consequently the shocked and anguished reactions were much harsher than ever before, and came from most sections of Jewish society, including the two chief rabbis.
Whether these events will bring about a real change in the way various radical right-wing/religious fanatics – including the “hilltop youth,” the Lehava organization and the “La Familia” Beitar Jerusalem fans – and their spiritual leaders are treated, and a real effort to eradicate all manifestations of Jewish terrorism, depends on a whole series of factors and conditions.
The first is that authorities must act fast. We can learn from the example of the Public Committee on New Rules of Ethics for MKs, established as a result of the double voting event in the Knesset in 2003, that if one tries to be too thorough, and fails to “strike while the iron is hot,” the opportunity for significant change will be missed.
One thing that has happened fast is the compliance of the State Attorney with the requests of the security authorities to be allowed to treat suspected Jewish terrorists exactly as Palestinian terrorists are treated, namely to be placed in administrative detention if the evidence against them is not sufficiently solid to put them on trial.
The security authorities would also like to be permitted to use interrogation tactics that will get around the practice of detained suspected Jewish terrorists to remain silent when investigated. One of the problems with this is that these tactics do not tally with fundamental human rights.
In fact, it is largely (but not exclusively) advocates of human rights who have been placing difficulties on the Knesset passing a new and more effective law for fighting terrorism (to replace pre-state legislation), which the justice minister submitted to the Knesset in 2011 and which got stuck after passing the first reading.
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The question is whether the urgent need to fight Jewish terrorists more effectively will convince the human rights organizations and their supporters to be more flexible. To a certain extent the human rights advocates are, on this issue, in the same position as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is with regard to the nuclear agreement with Iran – they do not really have an effective alternative to offer.
But the battle against Jewish terrorism cannot be fought exclusively on formal, legal grounds. There is also the level of public opinion and education. And here the issue is much more complicated.
I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel today oppose the use of outright terrorism to achieve religious, ideological and political goals. The problem is that while historically the use of terrorism was not limited to particular ideologies, political ends, or political groups, in current-day Israel the goals for the achievement of which some individuals are willing to use terrorist means all appear to be associated with the right-wing and religious side of the Jewish society.
Of course, this in no way means that right-wingers and religious people are all potential terrorists, or should be held directly responsible for what the radical right-wing religious terrorists do.
However, the absolute refusal of many right-wing and religious figures to accept even indirect responsibility for the recent events, and to ask themselves why in Israel in the past 20 years it is only right-wing/religious persons who have opted for terrorist acts (including the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin) is problematic.
I believe the answer to the question why today it is exclusively religious right-wingers who turn to terrorism has to do with the fact that the intolerance for those who are not right-wingers and religious in right-wing religious circles has reached such extreme dimensions, and the delegitimization of anyone who is left-wing, right-wing liberal (including President Reuven Rivlin), non-Jewish in general and Arab in particular, or gay, is so widespread in these circles that those inclined to extremism find a degree of tolerance and even sympathy among many who are rightwing and religious, even if they do not condone the use of extreme violence and terrorist tactics.
What I am saying is that there must be a concerted effort to eradicate, or at least limit intolerance and the delegitimization of “others” in all parts of the Israeli society, but at the same time there must be zero tolerance and legitimization for anyone who is willing to use terrorist tactics to further their own views, beliefs and way of life, even if they claim that the Jewish religious law condones their activities.
All this is, of course, easier said than done. Especially disconcerting, in this context, are the views expressed by MK Miki Zohar (LIkud) in several interviews he gave and talk-shows he participated in last week. While Zohar condemned the recent murders, he argued that whoever was responsible for the murder of the Palestinian baby was stupid and misguided, but certainly does not believe in the murder of babies as part of his ideology. He said this without knowing the identity of the murderer (at the moment no one except the murderer himself and his accomplices knows his identity), merely because in his opinion no Jew is capable of including the murder of babies in his ideology, even if he believes that it is OK to hurl a firebomb into a room in which a whole family, including babies, is sleeping.
Zohar – who is not religious, and holds an MA degree in law from Bar-Ilan University – added insult to injury when in answer to the argument that today’s Jewish terrorists in Israel are exclusively right-wing and religious he argued that the members of the left-wing human rights organizations B’tselem and Breaking the Silence are, in his opinion, in the same category as the right-wing religious “wild thorns,” since they too cause harm to the Jewish people and the State of Israel in the name of their ideology.
How many people in Israel agree with Zohar? I do not know, but I am inclined to believe that we are not talking of a handful.
Back in 1985 the only way the Left managed to block Meir Kahane’s future election to the Knesset on grounds of racism by means of an amendment to Basic Law: the Knesset, was by agreeing that the law should also prohibit anyone who advocates Israel ceasing to be a Jewish or democratic state should also be barred from running in the elections.
I sincerely hope that the agreement of the right-wing and religious parties to harsher measures to be used against the “wild thorns” from their own camps, will not be conditioned on the left-wing secular parties agreeing to curtail the activities of Israel’s human rights organizations.
I also hope that the recent events will help convince our education minister, Naftali Bennett, that strengthening the Jewish consciousness in Israel’s non-religious Jewish school system without strengthening the inculcation of liberal and human rights values in the whole of the education system will fail to strengthen Israel’s moral fortitude as a Jewish state, and to cure the maladies of intolerance and violence that have spread in the Israeli society.
The writer is a political scientist
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