Some Reflections on Jewish Terrorism

I have been struggling with how to respond to the horrific terror attacks that rocked Israel last week. I speak of course not about the 60 attacks on Jews by Palestinian terrorists that continues to be the norm, but of the attacks that took the lives of 16-year-old Shira Banki at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade and 18-month-old Baby Ali Dawabsha who burnt to death in his home in an apparent attack Jewish terrorists. It is easy to respond to these horrors when they are committed by your enemies, but incredibly difficult to come to terms with when they are committed by members of your own community. So forgive me if this post feels a little disjointed.

Before I get into the attacks themselves, I want to remind Israelis, Jews and our supporters that when it comes to condemning terrorism there is no room for “buts.” “This is horrible but…” or “this was tragic but…” are not acceptable responses to terror attacks regardless of the attackers or victims. Sure the way the international media picked up these stories while ignoring the dozens of attacks on Jews each week is hypocritically offensive to the victims who were ignored but that doesn’t change what happened. A family lost their little girl last week. Another family was destroyed as their baby boy went up in flames while they continue to sit in the hospital with burns covering most of their bodies. One of those families is Jewish and the other is Arab but they were both the victims of Jewish terrorism. (Yes, we haven’t yet caught those who burnt the Dawabsha’s home, but I’m uninterested in conspiracy theories saying this was a Palestinian false flag. Sadly I have little doubt as the investigation continues, it will turn out this was in fact done by radical Jews.)

There can be no “buts” when condemning terrorism.

As news of the attack on the Gay Pride Parade got more detailed and it became clear the attacker had done the exact same thing 10 years ago and that he was released from prison just 3 weeks earlier, fear and shock turned into anger. Was there no way to keep him in jail for an additional 3 weeks? Failing that, why was he not barred from Jerusalem? Given that he was completely unrepentant for his first attack, why was his sentence commuted from 12 to 10 years at all? Someone needs to be held accountable for such horrible failures to protect its citizens from a known security threat. Yes, someone needs to be fired, but such actions will give little solace to the Banki family or the five other families with kids in the hospital, but maybe it can save other families from a future calamity.

Before we even had time to begin to reflect on this tragedy, Israel was struck by yet another attack, this one also allegedly by extremist Jews. My first thought on hearing about the attack and Baby Ali was for my own son of nearly the same age, just as I did when Chaya Zissel Braun was murdered last October. I pray that I never truly understand the pain these families have suffered. The murder of Baby Ali has rightly been the impetus behind much soul-searching in Israel. Many of those who previously made excuses for “price-tag” attacks saying they were merely vandalism have now seen where tolerance of hatred leads. Moreover, it might even turn out that this attack was not the result of “mainstream price-tag” supporters but of an even more radical, anarchist anti-Zionist religious fringe that seeks to overthrow the government and replace it with a Jewish Kingdom and wants to start by getting rid of all the non-Jews. A Jewish Hamas may have just made its first strike.

This brings me to another very important point: By and large, Israelis and Jews have refrained from the typical response we hear from many in the Muslim community following such attacks that “since this attack contravenes Jewish/Muslim values, therefore the attacker was not a Jew/Muslim so the larger Jewish/Muslim community has no special responsibility to condemn the attack or investigate how one if its members carried it out.” Such excuses are made by people who don’t want to confront the reality that their community has a problem with extremism. But it is also an incredibly tempting thing to do. The normally thoughtful and deliberate Avi Mayer saw himself fall into this thinking shortly after news of Shira’s death surfaced:

As much as we would like to be able to say “this action contradicts my Judaism, therefore the attacker isn’t Jewish,” doing so is wrong for many reasons. It isn’t our place to decide who is Jewish and who isn’t (at least in regards to people who were born Jewish and practice Judaism, not interested into getting into a debate about conversion) based on their actions. If that were the case, then the Gay Pride attacker could also say that the marchers weren’t Jews since their actions contradict his understanding of Judaism. But if we allow ourselves to simply write this murderer off as a non-Jew, we are essentially saying his extremism is not our problem; we are denying that his form of Judaism exists and has followers and, worst of all, this lets us off the hook at a time when we must redouble our efforts to show other Jews who think like he does that his Judaism is wrong, goes against Torah-values and cannot be an acceptable expression of Judaism no matter how long his peyos are.

Thankfully, most of Israel gets this and, given his history, I think Mayer does as well but was merely caught up in grief. It is up to us to make sure this soul-searching yields results and a change in policy. We must do this first and foremost for ourselves, as Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Arther Lenk stated:

It is in times of crisis that character is tested and we must ensure Israel passes this test; not because of how it will look to the rest of the world should we fail, but because we need to be able to look our children in the eyes and tell them we succeeded. Israel was built on a dream and, like any dream, it has fallen short in an imperfect world, but we must not allow the nitty gritty of reality prevent us from forever striving to achieve our dream. If we fail to pursue our just cause through just means, then it will all be for naught.

I am not worried. Israelis and Jews have never allowed extremists to go mainstream and have always shown that even in the most difficult of times, we are unwilling to overlook injustice. I am reminded of “the March of 400,000,” the largest public demonstration in Israeli history in which roughly 400,000 Israelis gathered in what would later become Rabin Square to demand the government investigate Israel’s role in the Sabra and Shatilla massacre. This unprecedented event took place just 9 days after the massacre began and within a week of it coming to public attention. While it was organized by the left-wing Peace Now, it brought together Israelis of all stripes, from Labor, Likud, NRP and more, eventually bringing out a full 10% of the country’s population. Israeli anger and revulsion at violence in our name has not changed since, with the vast majority vocally opposing the few deadly acts of terror committed by Israeli Jews.

Our leaders, Left Right and Center, have all been consistent and clear in condemning these terror attacks. Here are some from last week:

Netanyahu:

Ya’alon:

“We intend to fight Jewish terror with determination and without compromises… [Israel will] hit back at the Jewish terrorists, bring them to justice and protect Israeli democracy and Israeli citizens.”

Herzog:

“After we have condemned and condemned again, we cannot — again – return to daily events as though nothing happened. [We must take action] that meets the threat to Israel’s security posed by Jewish terrorists, who endanger us exactly like their brothers – Islamist terrorists.”

Bennett:

“We are not talking about hatred, and not about a ‘price tag.’ This is murder. Arson against a house in Duma and the murder of a baby is a disgusting act of terror that we cannot permit. I urge the security forces to act with determination in order to punish the murderers to the full extent of the law.”

The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Stern, visited the victims of the Gay Pride Parade stabbings saying:

“The person that committed this sinful act is a criminal in every way, and his intention to kill Jews is something that is terrifying. Differences of opinion and dispute are legitimate and will continue, but raising one’s hand against one’s fellow is forbidden,”

I am sticking to my no “buts” rule. All of these reactions are justified and as they should have been. Since this is the type of reaction that is required, let’s just look at how the Palestinian leadership reacted to the murder of 3 month-old Chaya Zissel Braun:

Saeb Erekat:

“We regret all loss of life. At the same time we reiterate that the Israeli occupation of Palestine remains the main source of violence and instability in the region,”

Sultan Abu-Einen, Member of Fatah’s Central Committee:

“The heroic Martyr (Shahid) Abd Al-Rahman Idris Al-Shaloudi (23)… The picture below [shows] the final moments before his death as a Martyr, after he was shot at point-blank range. He was murdered in cold blood.”

The Terrorist’s Mother:

During the funeral, Shaludi’s mother said she was proud of her son who gave honor to the family when he became a “shahid” (martyr), adding repeatedly “praise to Allah.”

This image adorned the Fatah Facebook Page:

Shaloudi

It reads:

“The Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah) - Silwan branch accompanies to his wedding the heroic martyr Abdelrahman Shaludi, who carried out the Jerusalem operation, in which settlers in the occupied city of Jerusalem were run over,”

There was no condemnation of the attack by President Mahmoud Abbas and Erekat’s expression of “regret” is very instructive. First he refuses to condemn this incident specifically in which a 3 month-old baby was murdered. Then he says that Israel is to blame since Palestinians can’t be held responsible for their own actions due to the occupation. How convenient.

All “condemnations” of terror by Palestinian leaders are either only done to lay the blame at Israel’s feet (as seen with Erekat) or are brought about by American pressure, like Abbas’s phony statement “against” the attack on the Har Nof Synagogue last November where four rabbis were hacked to death with axes and a Druze policeman was murder while trying to save them. Here’s what Abbas was forced to say after many Fatah leaders and organizations praised the attack:

“We condemn the incident that took place at a synagogue in Jerusalem and which resulted in the killing of a number of Israelis. And while we condemn this act, we also condemn the assault on the Noble Sanctuary [Temple Mount] and all holy sites and the torching of mosques and churches.”

How nice of him to condemn that “incident” where “a number” of faceless and nameless Israelis died before switching the story back to his imagined assaults on al-Aqsa. Never mind that many of these terrorists cite these “assaults” as the reason for their attacks and that these “assaults” occur only in the mind and statements of Abbas, really Israel is to blame for it all.

There were dozens of pro-peace and anti-violence rallies across Israel this weekend. Not only have Palestinians never held similar rallies for dead Jewish victims of terror or against terrorism in general, but even when Israelis invite them to join ours, barely any are willing to show up. Instead Palestinian leaders encourage attacks by making up stories about Jewish attacks on al-Aqsa and then paying those who attack Jews as a result.

Let’s be clear, none of this justifies the horrible attacks of last week or let’s Israel off the hook for doing its part in bringing those responsible to justice and preventing future attacks. No ifs ands or buts.

It is just important to remember that as much as Israel does, it cannot end this scourge by itself. As long as the Palestinian leadership and society continues to only condemn terrorism when the perpetrators are Jewish peace will continue to be impossible.