During these ten days of repentance, when Jews should reflect on past sins to avoid future ones, some extremist hooligans chose instead to sin anew. “Price tag” terrorists burned a mosque in the northern Israeli village of Tuba Zangria, graffiting the messages “price tag” and “revenge” nearby. I am proud that members of the special police task force recently formed to fight these extremists reportedly arrested some suspects already. I am also proud that a furious Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and an equally indignant President Shimon Peres, condemned the attack. We all must combat these Price Tag Terrorists, repelling them from our midst, shunning them socially, repudiating them ideologically, while insisting the government hunt down and punish these felons, to stop this madness immediately.
Price Tag Terrorists -- and they fit the definition of terrorists, making political points by violently attacking civilian and symbolic targets -- have struck before, targeting other mosques, vandalizing army jeeps, and harassing leftwing activists. In condemning these crooks, we must reject the culture of lawlessness festering in the West Bank. Too frequently, political crimes Israeli Jews commit there are overlooked or under-investigated. Such crimes of intimidation and the double legal standards must end.
There is no wiggle room morally here. These price tag assaults are an affront to humanity, democracy, Judaism, Zionism, and Jewish history. The perpetrators are not heroes. Their actions are not legitimate, explainable, or defensible. Too many of us have fought too hard against terrorism – demanding moral clarity from the PA, the UN, the EU, and other terrorist enablers -- to pussyfoot. Just as we enumerate our sins in plural on Yom Kippur, taking responsibility communally, we are all particularly diminished, we are multiply ashamed, we are additionally demeaned because these madmen believe they are acting in our name – and enablers encourage that delusion.
Burning a mosque – or any religious institution – is a particularly inhumane act. Houses of worship traditionally have been places of refuge, neutral sites, benefiting everyone. We need sacred spaces and shared sanctuaries, common areas of respect. I want synagogues to be specially protected. I gladly respect mosques and churches in return.
Price tag vigilantes assail the core democratic values consecrated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. These thugs violate Israel’s commitment to equal rights and mutual respect for all religions, while ignoring the people’s voice. Taking the law into their own hands, these outlaws bypass democracy, defy the government, insult voting citizens and civil society, acting like traitors not patriots.
These hooligans may as well eat pork on Yom Kippur while driving in their cars and blasting the radio – they have already flouted Judaism so flagrantly, why put on a show of piety? Rather than dressing in white on Yom Kippur they should dress in ash black and blood red, representing the destruction they have brought upon innocents and the shame they bring upon as all. If they call themselves “religious,” their rabbis should renounce these heinous acts and twisted souls.
Moreover, we who cherish tradition must emphasize that ethics come before ritual, personal morality trumps public piety, to stop the masquerade of criminals hiding terrorist acts – or other crimes –behind yarmulkes and kosher food, prayer books and Bibles. Our rabbis must remind us – and we, alas, occasionally must remind them – that you cannot be a good Jew –by any interpretation or denomination – without being a good person first. During these ten days of repentance, we must reconcile with other people before reconciling with God.
Jewish history teaches that those in the majority must limit their power and respect minority rights, avoiding abuses like these Price Tag crimes. We should be proud that despite centuries of provocations, even under hellish circumstances, Jews usually maintained their moral compasses. Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 movie “Inglorious Basterds” was so offensive because he missed that essential historical lesson. In depicting Jews during Hitler’s era as vengeful mass murderers themselves, he posited a moral equivalence between victimizer and victim. Historically, we resisted that temptation – and have chided Palestinians and their supporters who claim their grievances forced them to become suicide bombers. Today, we should continue following our ancestors’ glorious example not Tarantino or Palestinian perversity.
We are all moral actors, we all have moral choice. Palestinian terrorists choose to commit mass murder – justifiably earning moral opprobrium. Vigilante Price Tag Terrorists choose to commit their crimes – also earning contempt, although their milder crimes of arson, graffiti, and harassment are not comparable to murder. Many of us have long wanted the Palestinian masses to condemn crimes committed in their names. We must do the same, as Israelis are doing, refusing to be blinded by false communal solidarity or shoddy self-pitying logic. Rabbis and right-wingers should take the lead, given that previous suspects emerged from their communities.
We should help rebuild that mosque – and embrace the traumatized citizens of Tuba Zangria. We should protect the political activists who were harassed. And we should demand that the same laws against violence apply to all under Israel’s jurisdiction, ending this outrage wherein Price Tag Terrorists overlook the price we all pay for their crimes.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his most recent book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” [email protected]