Terra Incognita: The Israeli blame-game of collective guilt

Ten years ago I attended the gay pride parade where a stabbing attack took place.

Riots close highway 458 (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Riots close highway 458
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Ten years ago I attended the gay pride parade where a stabbing attack took place. Last week the ambulances taking the victims away from the stabbing attack rushed past me on Jabotinsky Street in Jerusalem. One of those victims, 16-year-old Shira Banki, died yesterday. Two attacks, both by the same person: Yishai Schlissel. It is hard to know how to respond.
My initial feeling is anger at the perpetrator and the system of coddling injustice that allows people who commit hate crimes to walk free so easily and not be monitored. It seems a clear failure of the system.
The same day of the stabbing, another gang of murderers went to the Palestinian village of Duma and burned down a house, badly injuring a family and killing a baby. The assumption is that the murderers are Jewish extremists.
This was a disgusting act that should be met with the full force of the authorities.
“Terrorists” is what many have called them.
“Jewish terrorism” is the word the media wants to use. The same people who shy away from the term “Islamic terrorism” jump on the “Jewish terrorism” bandwagon. Most everyone in Israel and the Jewish community abroad is leaping over each other to find stronger ways to condemn these acts. Condemning is easy, and we live in a society in which declarative statements give people “street cred” as having “done something” against racism and hatred, burnishing their credentials as speaking out against intolerance.
But since basically no one justifies these acts, these condemnations are primarily for internal consumption. Beyond the condemnations are the renewed calls to treat “Jewish terrorism like Muslim terrorism.” That means, as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called for, putting “far-right extremists” in administrative detention. It means treating Palestinians and Jews equally in a sense, denying them both civil rights; disappearing them into the prisons for months on end to stop terrorism.
THE EASE of condemnation of Jewish terrorism gives birth to several strange trends in the discourse.
After the attack on the gay pride march, MK Itzik Shmuli spoke out. “Israeli society is wounded, it has been stabbed in the stomach. It is losing compassion for other people simply because they are different,” Shmuli wrote.
At major rallies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv a plethora of leaders came out to condemn the attacks in Duma and Jerusalem. Labor leader Isaac Herzog claimed that “the Jewish people are ashamed of the deeds committed by members of our people and we ask forgiveness in Israel and in the world.” Amir Peretz had a similar theme.
He attacked those who commit horrors in the “name of God, in the name of their people, in the name of their country... I saw that their people are not my people, their country is not my country, and their God is not my God.” Shimon Peres mentioned the Bar Noar shootings six years ago at a gay youth center, and claimed that Israeli society suffers a “profound clash between those with a conscience and those who lack a conscience.”
President Reuven Rivlin gave an “I am ashamed” speech as well, and made the point that “these flames [of hatred] cannot be extinguished with solidarity rallies... not with posts on Facebook and statements in the media.”
This is the constant cycle in Israel. Whenever a Jewish perpetrator commits a heinous crime there is this weird reaction that assumes somehow a) the crime “isn’t Jewish” and b) therefore the whole of the Jewish community is to blame for it. Dr. Samuel Lebens, an Orthodox rabbi, wrote that “we are to blame for the Jerusalem gay pride parade stabbing.” He said he was ashamed in an op-ed and that the “religious Jewish community has created a climate in which a ‘bad seed’ could come to think that murderous violence was a holy thing to do.” He claimed rhetoric and other aspects of culture paved the way to the crime. “My community has failed... to some extent we all sharpened the knife of this crazed extremist.”
A quiet deflection occurs in the condemnation of these attacks. It moves from being about the victims to being about Israel and Jewish society. “We protest against violence, not because of Palestinians but for our own sake,” one writer proposed. Rabbi Sharon Brous of the organization Ikar claimed that it was time for heshbon nefesh or “soul accounting.” She argued that “rabbis and community leaders fuel or simply excuse a growing violence and intolerance in Jewish and Israeli culture.” Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency, claimed that “as Jews we expect more of our own.”
Some choose a more limited view of collective guilt. Peace Now described its rally in Tel Aviv on Facebook as “demo against rightwing violence and incitement.” A rally prepared for Gush Etzion claimed that they were “pained and shocked by the heinous murder committed in the name of our people.” Did they mean Jewish people, or national religious people? Protesters in Tel Aviv held up bloodsoaked hands at the rally when Yuval Steinitz spoke, implying the government had blood on its hands.
Aeyal Gross, a commentator, linked the government to far-right extremism and called the condemnation of the gay pride attack hollow.
“His [Netanyahu’s] coalition is directly tied to the racism of organizations like Lehava,” said Gross. Others suggested the extreme-right organization, along with organized supporters of Beitar Yerushalayim should be declared “terrorist” organizations. Ron Ben-Yishai at Ynet went further, claiming that “they are no different than [Islamic State or IS]” and proposing methods to stop the Jewish terrorists.
“Crush the terrorists.” That is the motto.
They are at war with the state. “He who burns a Palestinian baby declares war on the State of Israel,” declared Yair Lapid. He spoke of the IDF going to war against the enemy “within us. They are a fifth column.”
THE FACT is that all these statements betray a weakness in Israeli society, a weakness to take seriously and pragmatically the threat of extremism and hate crimes.
A “war against the fifth columns”, “the enemies within,” and glorification of the army, are not going to help Israel. Expanding administrative detention and making numerous organizations illegal won’t stop Jewish terrorism. Labeling everyone on the Right as “responsible” won’t help stop Jewish terrorism. One radical-left writer even claimed “racist attacks stem from a Jewish principle,” which basically assumes anyone born Jewish is inclined toward hate. In fact, the decision by some to bash the entire haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Orthodox Jewish world as responsible, claiming “it wouldn’t have happened without ongoing vilification of homosexuals in the haredi world,” doesn’t help stop terrorism either.
How was the “haredi world” responsible for the attack on a gay pride parade by a man who spent the past 10 years in prison for the exact same crime? Did rabbis go into prison and make him more radical? No.
What stops Jewish terrorism? Police work.
It’s like what stops Islamist terrorism. If Jewish terrorists are “like Islamic State,” then how do you stop IS? Do you label all Muslims, or all religious Muslims, as “IS”? Do you claim that every Muslim country that has some radical imams or some religious right-wing leaders “fuels IS”? For some reason the response to Islamist terrorism is the diametric opposite of Israel’s hysterical and unhelpful response to Jewish terrorism.
The claims that the “Jewish people are ashamed” or that the crimes were carried out in the “name of our people” seek to shift the victimhood to Israeli society and the Jewish collective. The Jewish collective is blamed for the actions of a few, and then the discussion becomes about “soul searching.” How can soul searching stop the gay pride parade stabber who sat in prison for 10 years? What more could introspection have done to stop him? How about having the police keep track of a known anti-gay criminal who has just been released from prison and is threatening to go on a stabbing spree again? Would a pedophile be allowed back into a school? No. So why was the stabber allowed to walk freely to the parade? Why wasn’t he shot and killed the way Palestinian terrorists often are, ending this cycle once and for all? Schlissel will be out again in 10 years, and the incompetence of the justice system will let him do it again.
Stopping terrorism like his requires that he be monitored, not that an entire community be held responsible for his actions.
To claim that the attacks in Duma and Jerusalem were “against the state” is to pretend that the real victim is the state. The state is not the victim. The family of infant Ali Dawabsha are the victims. The self-righteous concept that we apologize “on behalf of all Jews” – who are presented as having committed a non-Jewish crime – because we expect more of our own - feeds a ridiculous sense of moral superiority, connected to false concepts that Jews are a “light unto the nations.” There is no crime that is “un-Jewish”; Jews are just as likely to be criminals and commit hate crimes as anyone, as evidenced by the history of Jewish terrorism in Israel.
“All Jews” are not responsible for these murders.
If you found out the killers in Duma were not Jewish, would you suddenly feel less angry over it? Less angry that the security services of Israel did not prevent it and have not found the murderers? By positing that the Jewish community is “ashamed” and asks forgiveness, the other side of the coin is that one isn’t ashamed so long as a Jew didn’t do it.
Oppose hate crimes by targeting hate criminals.
Oppose Jewish terrorism by quickly apprehending individuals and doing the utmost to prevent another occurrence. Don’t sweep up hundreds in “administrative detention,” or blame everyone who wears a kippa.
Israeli society needs less soul-searching and more actual searching for the killers; less pretending the state is a victim and greater focus on helping the Palestinians of Duma. Don’t expect more of Jewish people, simply expect Israeli citizens not to murder babies and stab people at gay pride parades.
Follow the author @Sfrantzman