Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to the firebombing of a Palestinian home that killed a toddler and severely burned his brother and parents was swift, sincere and strong.
Right after visiting the survivors in the intensive care ward and ordering an intensified search for those responsible, he declared his government had “zero tolerance” for such attacks, widely believed to be the work of Jewish extremists. “We are determined to vigorously fight manifestations of hate, fanaticism and terrorism from whatever side.”
That’s a promising beginning, but will the prime minister give the nation a sustained crackdown on those extremists who ripped at Israel’s social fabric or will he celebrate the arrest of the child killers and then hang out a “mission accomplished” banner and go back to business as usual?
And if past is prologue, business as usual includes wooing for purely political reasons those haredi and nationalist extremists who have nurtured a climate of intolerance and hatred that is anathema to most Israelis.
Is he ready to apply the law equally and treat Jewish terror groups with the same firm hand his forces use against Arab terror? Will the radical rabbis and their other enablers, many in his own government, be held accountable? And even if he wants to, will his narrow right wing coalition allow it?
Netanyahu’s use of the word “terrorism” may be a positive sign in light of his refusal to do so on earlier occasions when he ignored the advice of his internal security and justice ministers as well as the Shin Bet, the IDF, police and the state prosecutor’s office.
In the face of intense national outrage across the political spectrum, Netanyahu’s security cabinet Sunday quickly approved the use of preventive detention – holding without charging — for Jewish terrorists, something largely reserved for Arabs. In fact, there are thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails being held without charges, but few if any Jewish Israelis.
One extremist leader – a grandson of the late rabidly racist rabbi Meir Kahane – has been detained but not yet charged in connection with the firebombing.
Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, said Israel is at war and the enemy comes from within.
There’s no shortage of condemnations across Israel and throughout the Diaspora; now it is time for the prime minister to lead, and that means full enforcement of the law and equal justice for all, not one standard for Jews and another for everyone else.
The danger posed by these extremists may be even greater than the one Netanyahu sees coming out of Iran because it threatens to rip the Jewish state apart from the inside.