What do you call it?

(This post originally appeared on www.BenjaminHartman.com on October 23, 2014)

It’s startling sometimes the difference an hour or two can make.

Wednesday went from a quiet morning with my infant daughter and not much happening in Israel, to a gunfight on the Egypt border between smugglers and IDF troops, and then, later in the day, a deadly attack in Jerusalem in which a Palestinian man rammed his car into passengers at a light rail stop, killing a 3-month-old girl and wounding 8 others.

From that point on a familiar scene played out in the press and on social media.

An AP headline read that “Israeli police shoot man in East Jerusalem” and later changed it to the still problematic “Car slams into east Jerusalem train station”. The AP later said that the headline was written shortly after the incident happened, when details were scarce, but was met with a righteous fury online, and were held up by many as confirming long held beliefs about the wire service’s bias.

It brought to mind an incident in March 2011, the morning after five members of the Fogel family of Itamar in the West Bank were stabbed to death in their home. CNN ran with a headline that had “terror attack” in quotes, leading to widespread criticism in Israel. Never mind that this was only the morning after, when no suspects had been arrested, and the possibility that it was a criminal act and not terrorism had not been ruled out, however unlikely. In that case, the headline was accurate, as was the AP, though both were problematic in their own ways.

Another familiar “what do you call it?” game played out in social media, including in a number of tweets sent directly to me (some with the asinine #JSIL hashtag, which means you know it’s gonna be great).

These were from people asking: “How do you know it was terrorism” followed by “why are you calling it terrorism,” and then “if that’s terrorism, then what do you call the settler who ran over a 5-year-old Palestinian girl on Sunday?”

In that final case, the settler drove directly to an Israeli police station after the accident, something that it seems highly unlikely he would’ve done just after committing a terror attack. Nonetheless, one can argue that away too. After all, you only know he went to the police because the police say he did. It could all be lies.

Either way, the argument then moved from whether or not it was a terror attack (the driver lost control of his car – an argument made after every “ramming attack” in Israel, of which there have been at least 3 in recent years) to saying that even if it was, it’s understandable in the context of occupation, humiliation, persecution of Palestinians, and so on.

Those wishing to make this point also made sure to highlight how the driver of the car was from Silwan, the Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem, to where dozens of Israeli settlers have recently moved.

The implication – I’m guessing – is that the recent influx of settlers is part of a toxic mix of repression that drove this man to his act, during which he veered onto the sidewalk and then – according to witnesses – sped up and hit a baby stroller head on. One could wonder if the Jewish Israeli baby had recently bought a house in Silwan, but that would be poor form and silly, much like pointing out that the man was from Silwan.

These rhetorical gymnastics remind me of what happens every time an Israeli commits an atrocity against Palestinians. In July, there was the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped in East Jerusalem by three Israeli extremists, taken to a forest in West Jerusalem, beaten and then burned alive.

In Israel, especially on the Right, there was very widespread belief that it must not have been done by Jews, and the rumor spread that Mohammed was murdered by relatives in an “honor killing” because he was gay (allegedly). Those who made this claim did so with no evidence, nor any consideration about the morality of accusing a bereaved family of having murdered their own son.

Finally, after it turned out that Jews had indeed killed Mohammed, two arguments became common – 1) the suspects are obviously not well, they’re insane; 2) even if Jews were behind the murder, and if it was a terror attack, you have to understand it in the context of Palestinian terrorism; why, just the night before, the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teens were found murdered in a field near Hebron.

These cases are just another way in which the anti-Israel far left and far right Zionists can so often be a mirror image of one another. Both will do cartwheels to avoid simply condemning the murder of innocents, including children, trying to find a way to explain it away or wash their hands of it no matter the cost. Yes, there is a difference between causation and justification, but these explanations too often seem a way to blame the atrocities your own side commits on the other, so that one must always remain a righteous victim.

It’s entirely predictable, and will happen the next time – probably before long – when another murder like this happens.