Fundamentally Freund: Politicians, prisoners and perfidy

Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners this week proved to be breathtakingly scandalous, disturbing.

Protest against prisoner release 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Protest against prisoner release 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Even for an electorate that has grown accustomed to profound political hypocrisy, the Israeli government’s release of Palestinian prisoners this week proved to be breathtakingly scandalous and disturbing.
Consider the following: among the 26 Palestinian thugs, murderers and terrorists set free was Kassem Hazem Shabir, who picked up an axe and struck Yitzhak Rotenberg, a 67-yearold Holocaust survivor, in the back of the head, smashing his skull and killing him together with an accomplice in March 1994.
Rotenberg, a Polish Jew, had survived the horrors of the Sobibor death camp where most of his family was murdered before escaping to join the anti-Nazi resistance. After the war, he was interred by the British for attempting to move to the Land of Israel, but later managed to join the Israeli army and take part in the 1948 War of Independence.
And that is what makes this story so bitterly and painfully ironic.
After all, Rotenberg heroically survived the persecution of the German SS, the anti-Semitism of his fellow partisans, the cruelty of the British Mandatory authorities and even the battle against invading Arab armies.
But once Kassem Hazem Shabir chose to end Rotenberg’s life prematurely, the government of the Jewish state that he had fought so valiantly to defend could not even muster the courage to lock his killer up and throw away the key.
And just why, exactly, has Rotenberg’s killer been let go? So that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni can continue to sip coffee with Saeb Erekat and try to convince him to take parts of the Land of Israel away from us.
Let’s be clear: the crass immorality of this prisoner release and the brazen disregard for justice that it represents should evoke repugnance and revulsion among us all.
Adding to the anguish is the audacious temerity of the premier in deciding to let these 26 fiends go free.
Just six years ago, he was singing a very different tune when then-prime minister Ehud Olmert met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Sharm e-Sheikh in June 2007. During a joint press conference, Olmert announced that “as a gesture of goodwill to the Palestinians” he had agreed to release 250 Fatah prisoners “without blood on their hands.”
In response, Binyamin Netanyahu, then head of the opposition, had this to say: “Releasing their prisoners is a big mistake... for us, releasing prisoners would be crossing a red line. We must remember there are prices we can pay and prices we cannot afford to pay” (Jerusalem Post, June 25, 2007).
Several months later, on November 20, 2007, the Olmert government voted to approve the release of 411 Palestinian prisoners prior to the start of the ill-fated Annapolis peace parley.
Once again, Netanyahu reacted with scorn, saying that, “The release of prisoners before the conference is not the path to peace, it is the path to terror.”
“The Olmert government,” he declared, “is repeating the mistakes of the Barak government at Camp David – then they gave everything, and all we received in return was terrorism.”
Furthermore, he added, “The government decided today to free more terrorists without even getting recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The Israeli public wants a sane peace not a hallucinatory peace” (cited by Ynet, July 22, 2013).
And then, in August 2008, after still another cabinet decision to free 199 Palestinian prisoners, the Knesset called a special summer session to discuss “the release of terrorists and murderers.” Addressing the plenum, Netanyahu made statements that in retrospect one can only wish that he himself would heed.
“The government has decided to release prisoners, and I ask why? For what? What did we receive? This crossing of a line, this release of murderers, is a dangerous move in the war on terror,” he said.
“This weakens Israel,” Netanyahu insisted, “and strengthens the terror elements. Most of the public – a huge part of the public – understands that this is faulty and reflects weakness and loss of way” (Ynet, August 20, 2008).
If everything Netanyahu said five and six years ago on this subject was true, and I believe it was, then why on earth is he now pursuing the very same policy that he previously decried with such forcefulness? This is not strategy or diplomacy at work. It is perfidy and iniquity, plain and simple.
Setting Palestinian terrorists free is a betrayal of common sense, a trampling of Jewish values and an abhorrent display of moral infirmity.
Shame on every government minister who approved of this move.
And shame on us for tolerating it.