Has election fever silenced right-wing condemnation of Jewish terrorism?

In the four days since, not a single Israeli right-wing politician or leading National-Religious rabbi has specifically condemned the attack.

Police raid the Pri Haaretz Yeshiva in Rechalim (photo credit: ELISHUV HAR SHALOM)
Police raid the Pri Haaretz Yeshiva in Rechalim
(photo credit: ELISHUV HAR SHALOM)
How does the death of Aysha Rabi – the Palestinian mother of nine who was killed in a stoning attack allegedly committed by Israeli-Jewish extremists – pass silently in a nation that prides itself on moral conduct and insists on global condemnation of terrorism?
The only ones to speak up in the immediate aftermath of her death in October, aside from the Palestinians, were the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov and US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt.
At the time, it was presumed that the silence was due to the lack of information with regard to the identity of those responsible for throwing stones at the Rabi family, as they drove their car on a road in the Samaria region of the West Bank.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revelation Sunday, however, that it was holding five Israeli-Jewish minors in connection with the attack, did not generate any response from the Right. The five suspects are students at the Pri Ha'aretz Yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Rehalim, located near the site of the attack.
In the four days since, not a single Israeli right-wing politician or leading National-Religious rabbi has specifically condemned the attack.
Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud), when pressed on Army Radio about the lack of condemnations, said she opposes all violence.
There was a moment on Tuesday when it seemed like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin might take the moral high road.
They did speak in defense of the Shin Bet and its significance in ensuring Israeli security, but without mentioning Jewish terror or condemning Rabi’s death.
The attack was hardly the only incident of Jewish violence or acts of terror against Palestinians.
Shin Bet data shows a 49% spike in Israeli-Jewish attacks against Palestinians from 2017 to 2018. The agency is also investigating five incidents that have been raised to the level of terror attacks, including Rabi’s death.
Last year it recorded four Jewish terrorist incidents, but has given details on none of the terrorist attacks.
Jewish extremist attacks have not been limited to Palestinians. Just last week, right-wing Jewish activists threw stones at soldiers on the Amona hilltop, but were lauded as heroes by their community.
After the arrest of the five teens from Pri Haaretz, the pro-settlement community stood at their side. On Saturday night, the allied settler leaders held a rally outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence demanding the release of the youths.
Rabbi Haim Druckman, a leading national religious rabbinical figure, delivered a video message in which he said that the teens “are not terrorists” and should not be treated as such.
Although he spoke just prior to news that the Shin Bet had linked the arrest of the teens to Rabi’s death, he has not made another statement or condemned the attack since then.
Rabbi Dov Lior, a senior arbiter of Jewish law, ruled that it was permissible to violate Shabbat to assist terror suspects, such as the five teens, in enduring a Shin Bet interrogation. He did so in support of the activists from Yitzhar who drove to the Pri Ha'aretz Yeshiva on Shabbat to help two of the teens prior to their arrest.
The rabbis’ statements are logical in light of reports about harsh Shin Bet interrogation methods and the possibility that the teens are innocent.
In a press conference after the arrests, one of the parents spoke of the harsh treatment her son had received. “Yesterday, we heard from the judge during the hearing that [our son] complained he had been abused, touched and spit on in the face,” she said. Another mother said her son had been healthy when he was arrested but that now he needed medication.
But use of these arrests by settler leaders and leading rabbis to push for more just treatment of suspects – without similarly condoning the terrorist attack – gives the appearance of condoning such violence.
As does the silence on the part of right-wing politicians. For some, at the heart of the issue is the frustration that Palestinian violence against settlers has not been taken seriously. Security forces, they believe, have overly focused on Israeli attacks against Palestinians, while ignoring the safety of their own.
“Every day stones are thrown at vehicles in Judea and Samaria, and if you wonder why you did not hear about them, [it’s] because they are Palestinians throwing stones at Jews,” tweeted Likud politician Nava Boker.
“But when Jewish boys are suspected of throwing stones, they suddenly encounter interrogation methods by the KGB. It is preferable that the Shin Bet security service deal with the prevention of murderous Palestinian terrorism and not with the torture of Jewish youths,” she wrote.
They feel this way even though, according to the IDF, there was a 66% drop in stoning incidents from 6,090 in 2015 to 2,057 in 2018.
But the settler community and the national-religious rabbinical community have never excelled at condemning Jewish violence against Palestinians.
But while right-wing anger at their lack of security is understandable, does it justify murder?
This week, Rabi’s husband, Ya’kub, described to the Israeli media what happens when a stone hit its target. He spoke in Hebrew of the October incidents in which he said, three or four people threw stones at his car.
Rabi, who was sitting next to her husband in the passenger seat while their eight-year-old daughter sat in the back, was fatally hit in the head.
Aysha died without a word, falling silently the moment the stone hit her head, with blood flowing from her ears and nose as if it was water from tap, Ya’kub said.
His words so far have hit dead ears. But flash back to three years ago, in a non-election moment, and the response to a Palestinian death at Jewish hands could not have been more different.
In 2015, Jewish extremists torched a Palestinian home in Duma, killing Sa’ad Dawabshe, his wife Riham and their 18-month-old son Ali.
Two Israeli-Jews are on trial for their deaths. But in the immediate aftermath of the attack, even before making arrests, the Shin Bet linked it to Jewish terrorism.
And the responses were immediate. Netanyahu, Rivlin, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein all condemned such acts of terrorism.
More significantly, the security cabinet took steps to bolster the ability of the security services to crack down on Jewish extremism.
Netanyahu stated: “This is a terror attack. Israel deals harshly with terrorism, no matter who the perpetrators are.”
But in 2018, the identity of the perpetrator does seem to make a difference.
Has Israeli society become more immune to Palestinian pain in the last three years? Has the level of denial risen? Or are politicians afraid to rile the pro-settler community in an election year?