We in Israel know the scenario all too well. A beautiful day. A happy crowd. A little 8-year-old boy, beaming, delighted, flanked by his mother and sister. A young woman, enjoying the street party. An international student, experiencing our culture, our rituals which seem so exotic to her and so normal to us. Then, abruptly, evil intrudes with a boom, generating puffs of smoke. Normally benign ball bearings trigger a lethal shower of shrapnel, tearing the life force out of those three, severing others’ limbs, shredding muscle and tissue, maiming, traumatizing, destroying lives.
The Boston Marathon Massacre was in many ways an intensely local event, targeting this quintessentially Boston moment on a holiday, “Patriots Day,” peculiar to New England. You could hear the parochialism in the dropped “r”s of so many of the first “respondahs.” You could taste the different neighborhoods: trendy Boylston Street, immigrant Cambridge, working-class Watertown. You could feel it in the local pride as the legendary Boston medical centers performed lifesaving miracles, defying the original expectations that as many as twelve would perish that nightmarish Monday.
But as we in Israel knew long before the trail reached to Chechnya and Dagestan, this kind of terrorist crime is an intensely international event – and involves us directly. We are proud – and should be – that the Israeli fingerprints on this event were all positive: from the teams of Israeli experts who taught many Boston-area disaster teams trauma triage years ago, helping them function as well as they did when the sirens started blaring, to the individual Israeli doctors, on holiday or on fellowship, who, overcoming the basic human flight instinct, ran heroically toward the violence, along with so many others, doing some good to undo the evil that had been done. And we are appalled – and should be – that in Gaza, members of Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad danced in the streets and distributed celebratory candies – as they also did on 9/11.
It may not be politically correct to say it, but there is a moral difference between us and our enemies. I know of no Palestinians or anti-Zionists who denounced that despicable Gazan spectacle, when some of their bloodthirsty brothers delighted in the deaths of Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, and Lu Lingzi.
But Israel’s and the Jewish people’s involvement runs deeper. In explaining what prompted these two brothers to turn to terror, and why an Islamist terrorist in Jordan Mohammad al-Chalabi said he was “happy to see the horror in America,” we see how anti-Americanism festers in the same totalitarian swamps that breed today’s anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Among radical Leftists as well as Islamists, prejudice against Israel and the US seems to be the last legitimate bigotry, the only hatred acceptable to air in polite circles. Both anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism transcend anger at specific policies, which could dissipate. Instead, they express an enduring, irrational hatred, repudiating each country’s essence. The University of Virginia political scientist James Ceaser observes that anti-Americanism, with its “truly global reach,” is a central “organizing” idea in many elites’ worldviews. Similarly, the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy explains that, following Marxism’s collapse, anti-Zionist-anti-Semitism provides the conceptual glue to many Leftists’ ideologies, while uniting Leftists and Islamists in Europe’s unholy Red-Green alliance.
“Anti-Americanism is an emotion masquerading as an analysis….,” the Sixties activist turned Columbia University sociologist Todd Gitlin wrote after 9/11. “When hatred of foreign policies ignites into hatred of an entire people and their civilization, then thinking is dead and demonology lives. When complexity of thought devolves into caricature, intellect is close to reconciling itself to mass murder.” This analysis applies to Israel’s maltreatment too, linking the US and Israel, modernist democratic twins, as what the historian Andrei Markovits calls “the alleged perpetrators de jour.”
These overlapping hatreds provide the foundation to today’s totalitarianism, that absolutist dogma whose followers will sacrifice innocent children, truth, language, anything, to advance their nefarious goal. Many of these totalitarians embrace Jihadist Islamism, using terrorism as their tactic of choice. These totalitarian terrorists have bamboozled many on the Left, too many intellectuals, and a majority in the UN’s General Assembly, which enables the spread of Islamist terrorism by carving out exemptions to condemnations of terrorism for any act committed against what it called “colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes,” in its 1979 International Convention against the Taking of Hostages.
Yet, despite their successes in trendy salons, despite their UN victories, the world’s terrorists have little to show for their efforts besides piles of bodies and pools of blood. Perhaps the modern era’s most “successful” terrorist organization, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, has failed to establish a Palestinian state for decades, a record of futility no UN resolutions or international cheers can cover. In his 1995 book Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists, Benjamin Netanyahu explains that terrorism’s very randomness and promiscuity “is also its undoing in democratic societies. The effect of fear is offset by an equal and often more powerful effect of revulsion and anger from the citizenry.” Terrorists may blather on about human rights but their many human wrongs undermine their credibility and make them losers.
Ultimately, the terrorist totalitarians will fail. They think our love of life is our weakness when it actually is the secret to our continuing success. Their bombs can make ball bearings lethal but cannot pierce the democratic spirit. Our democracy will always trump their totalitarianism. Our love will always overcome their hate. And our societies will always emerge stronger after these kinds of incidents, bonded by shared fury, amazing altruism, and a sharpened sense distinguishing good from evil. Our citizen-heroes demonstrated that in Jerusalem during Yasir Arafat’s war, in New York after 9/11, and in Boston just last week.
Gil Troy is Professor of History, McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow. His latest book Moynihan''s Moment: America''s Fight Against Zionism as Racism was just published by Oxford University Press. Watch the new Moynihan''s Moment video!