Tackling ideological dissent

The method for dealing with delinquents should not be to lock them in jail.

Price tag offenders 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Price tag offenders 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Following the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, then-prime minister Tony Blair attributed the terrorist attacks to "home-grown criminals" but still defended his policy of multiculturalism. He vowed to hold the perpetrators accountable and to let things return to normal.

In December 2011, following the attacks on Israeli soldiers by hilltop youth, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the shaken nation of Israel.. and dubbed the perpetrators as a local, "marginal group" that he pledged to punish accordingly. However, Netanyahu failed to make mention of the crooked system that allowed the emergence of the hilltop youth in the first place, or the atmosphere of tolerance afforded  the scandalous "price tag" phenomenon to prevail.

Both prime ministers chose the “fireman” recourse; extinguishing the fires of violence just enough to appease their respective nations and to ensure their own reelections. Such a policy addresses only the symptoms and not the cause and does not allow for bolder acts to be implemented that are necessary in addressing the root causes of the violence.. Only in his last speech in Parliament did Blair finally relinquish his defense of multiculturalism and insist that it should be replaced instead with a national culture that integrates dissident trends.   Pursuant to this speech, Blair resigned. For his part, Netanyahu has yet to express similar sentiments.

By lumping together ideological dissent with garden-variety criminality, and further, by prescribing  identical remedies to both, both leaders got it very wrong. Whereas criminals ultimately seek material gain—which serves to justify any  risks involved in felony—the same cannot be said of fundamentalists. The common link between terrorists in Israel or London - and indeed, between the religious Israeli youth of the hills of Samaria - is that they do not seek any ostensible material gain. On the contrary, they often dismiss any economic bonuses that may result from attacks, and their ideological goals always take center stage.

When “normal” criminals are brought to justice, society protects itself from their evil by incarcerating them. The goal is to rehabilitate them,  thereby allowing them to return to society in a more productive capacity. Of course, when addressing ideological criminality, these tactics are of no effect whatsoever. . The majority of these inmates revert to criminal acts the moment they are free, as was the case many times in the past when prisoners affiliated with Hamas were released.

For this brand of fanatic crime, three different remedies must be pursued: punishment, education and incentives.

In terms of punishment, there is little that can be done to deter an ideological criminal.  However, more drastic measures, such as revoking one’s citizenship, may have a stronger effect on making fanatics think twice before committing acts of terror., As it stands right now, Israeli citizenship is either inherited or accorded automatically by the Law of Return. The government should consider making citizenship conditional, basing it on a range of prerequisites that could include Israeli national and Zionist schooling, military or national service, and proficiency in Hebrew. Becoming an Israeli citizen will thus be a privilege, and not simply a default status.

Education should not automatically be financed by the state unless it operates as a national centralized system that imparts the same basic values to all students: secular and religious; Jews and Arabs; urban and rural. Independent haredi schools and Arabs schools should be eliminated, or at least not receive any public funding.

For that to happen, the government must establish regional schools where all children are integrated and taught to love and serve their state and learn its culture and values. Acquiring citizenship should be contingent on graduating from such schools. Children who are educated with other values cannot be expected to practice common national holidays and respect the same national symbols.

The government should limit incentives like education and health and national insurance to citizens, or to those who are working towards achieving such a status. Israeli citizens who refuse to serve the nation, or who act against the country’s interests in any form, should not be allowed to benefit from governmental grants, pensions and services.

In the case of the hilltop youth, the chain of cause-and-effect that led to their acts of violence is pretty clear. Israel’s foolish withdrawal from Gaza five years ago—in which families were mercilessly uprooted from their homes for no other gain than the showers of missiles flying into the country—pitted young religious Jews against their government and contributed to their growing malaise and reluctance to accept authority.

Whatever the justifications or rationalisms are, what is certain is that putting these delinquents are in jail will never provide the remedy.

The writer is a professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Chinese history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the steering committee of the Ariel Center for Policy Research.