In Plain Language: The murderers among us

Simon Wiesenthal, the late, great Nazi hunter, was once asked what motivated him to dedicate his life to exposing and prosecuting the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Simon Wiesenthal 311 (photo credit: Simon Wiesenthal Center/Bloomberg)
Simon Wiesenthal 311
(photo credit: Simon Wiesenthal Center/Bloomberg)
Simon Wiesenthal, the late, great Nazi hunter, was once asked what motivated him to dedicate his life to exposing and prosecuting the perpetrators of the Holocaust. He answered in three succinct words: “Justice, not revenge.”
The two concepts are often confused with one another; but while they may result in the same outcome, Western society ascribes to them a crucial difference: “Justice” is understood as the attempt to secure legal redress for crimes committed, while “revenge” is more about personal vendetta and succumbing to a baser, cruder law of the jungle.
Judaism, however, tends to see justice and revenge as a blend of both imperatives: Establishing a cohesive system of law and order, while seeing to it that, one way or another, evil is punished measure for measure.
In fact, revenge, in Jewish law and literature, is sometimes elevated to sacred status, as affirmed in the psalm recited each Wednesday at the end of morning prayers: “God of vengeance, oh God of vengeance, make yourself known!” I was in the United States when the massacre at the Boston Marathon took place.
My wife and I had traveled to America to speak on Remembrance Day and Independence Day, about terrorism, heroism and Israel’s ongoing battle against the forces of evil. We watched as the bombs went off, creating scenes of pain and panic not unfamiliar to us, and we then marveled at the allout effort made by the American government – local and national – to catch these criminals. The irony of this event occurring on the very day we remembered our own Israeli martyrs was not lost on us.
Now, some people in Israel might scoff at the decision to shut down Boston, effectively bringing life to a halt for more than a million people, as schools, public transportation and businesses were put on hold. They might look at this and say, “When terror attacks occur in Israel, we go on with our lives, rather than suspend them.” But I congratulate America. They marshaled all their forces in one, focused goal: Catch the culprits, and make them pay for what they did.
And the extraordinary effort of imposing this kind of mini-martial law paid off. Within 48 hours, the terrorist brothers were identified, located and attacked, with one killed and the other apprehended. I applaud the single-minded determination of America to have done whatever it took, at whatever cost, to defend itself against terrorism. And I am sad and ashamed that sometimes our own country, which has been the principal victim of terrorism over the last century, does not always show the same zeal and resolve when it comes to fighting the War on Terror.
THIS PAST week, a landmark decision was made in the New York courts. Judge Nina Gershon rejected the request by the Arab Bank for a summary judgment, a procedure that would have effectively ended the pending suit against them. The Arab Bank is being sued by the families of more than 120 American citizens – our own family among them – whose members have been killed by terrorists. The suit claims that a branch of the Arab Bank, in Ramallah, laundered money from Saudi Arabia and other sources, facilitating payments to terrorists and their families for acts committed against Americans.
After almost 10 years of legal wrangling, the case will now finally go to trial.
It is an important case, for three reasons.
Firstly, it has a good chance of succeeding, and resulting in actual payments to victims of terror. While there have been many, many judgments issued against state sponsors of terror – who frequently do not even bother showing up in court to challenge the charges – very, very few have resulted in the actual transfer of funds from perpetrators to victims. Collectability is extremely difficult.
In fact, even the US has been less than fully cooperative in this respect. Though it holds several billion dollars in frozen Iranian assets, it has only released those funds once – to grant a large settlement to the family of Alisa Flatow, murdered in 1995 by a Hamas bus bombing in Kfar Darom – preferring to hold the rest of the money in abeyance as an enticement to Iran to cease its sponsorship of terror and join the community of nations. Because the Arab Bank has a New York branch which, under the Anti-Terrorism Act, can also be sued, the money is sitting in an account, frozen by the US courts, waiting to be collected.
Secondly, this case has already had a chilling effect on other banks and businesses doing dirty dealings with terrorists.
Many of the so-called Islamic “charity funds” are nothing more than conduits of financial support for ongoing attacks against innocents. The knowledge that they may be held accountable for their activities will undoubtedly force them to cease, or at least greatly reduce the direct payments they make to terror groups. And make no mistake: money is the lifeblood of terrorism, even more so than ideology.
Terrorists know that they, or their families, will be paid well for the acts they commit against Jews, Americans and other “enemies of Islam.” And terrorist groups are encouraged to carry out their attacks by knowing that the more people they kill, the more money they will receive from Iran and other sponsors. Stop the money, and much of the terrorism will stop.
Finally, perhaps most importantly, this case will lift the hearts and spirits of the victims themselves, who deserve to see their attackers pay the price for having destroyed their lives. There is no greater bitterness or heartbreak than seeing one’s tormentor go free, while our pain continues unabated.
This insult added to injury has a terribly debilitating effect on the victims, while bringing the perpetrators to justice helps to restore our sense of fairness and morality.
Our desire for revenge – an emotion fully acknowledged by the Torah, as evidenced by its setting up of cities of refuge in ancient Israel – is significantly ameliorated when the criminals are finally brought before the bar of justice.
This case is long overdue, but it should not be the rare exception. We must do more, much more, to defend the victims and attack the terrorists. In fact, while the New York court agreed to bring the Arab Bank to trial, other recent decisions are quite worrisome in their implications. The US Supreme Court deflected the attempt to allow non- American citizens – including a large number of Israeli families – to sue the terrorists in American courts. This was despite pleas invoking the Alien Tort Statute, a 200-yearold measure originally used against piracy and re-invigorated after 9/11, which would have allowed these families to go after terrorists anywhere in the world for acts of violence committed against them. And the Second Circuit Court ruled against another suit, stating that “terrorism does not have a universal definition” and that acts of terror “do not necessarily violate the norms of international behavior.”
JONATHAN DAVID, a member of the legal team that filed the original action against the Arab Bank (“Linde vs Arab Bank”) is shocked by these decisions and fears that the American judicial branch may be at cross-purposes with its own government’s stated War on Terrorism. “How can anyone – especially someone who carries the title ‘Justice’ – say that blowing up patrons who are sitting, sipping coffee at a street-side cafe is anything but terrorism?” he demands.
The Israeli government, for its part, has often been less than helpful in assisting Israeli victims who wish to sue the Palestinian Authority for outrages it has committed, hindering attempts to see justice done, in a callous, misguided desire to “avoid conflict” with our so-called partners in peace. At the same time, it is outrageous – if not criminally insane – that certain Israeli politicians, like Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Amir Peretz, support the freeing of convicted mass-murderer Marwan Barghouti, who directed the slaughter of dozens of innocents, and whose popularity is directly proportionate to the number of Jews he murdered.
Wiesenthal relates that his passion for seeking justice was ignited when, while looking through the effects of a Jew killed by the Nazis, he came across a certain book. He read the desperate plea that the book’s owner had written on the first page, hopeful that someone would one day find it. It read: “The murderers are among us; they are coming and will soon be at my door. Remember me, and avenge my death.”
The fight against terrorism is not a sprint – it is, indeed, a marathon. The race will not be won by the fleetest of foot, but rather by those who are determined to go the distance.
As long as the murderers are still among us, we must do everything in our power to seek justice, avenge the victims and eradicate this scourge upon our planet. ■ The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana;,