On Sunday night, there was a terrorist attack against the State of Israel. Anti-Zionists stoned a Israeli bus and set it on fire; they attacked the driver — an Israeli citizen; they also threw stones at Israeli police.
This violence was political violence against Israeli civilians, perpetrated by a non-state actor, in order to protest the Israeli government’s policies.
The army was not called in. Many of the perpetrators are still at large, with no massive manhunt underway.
I am referring to the protests on Sunday by members of the ultra-Orthodox community in the city of Bnei Brak.
There was massive condemnation of the protests when they happened, but nobody dared call them by their true name, and the outrage faded swiftly.
Where is the massive public outcry against these violent acts? Why aren’t they getting more attention from Israeli politicians and the media?
I think the answer lies in the Israeli political map: Over the past decade, the ultra-Orthodox political parties have become firm allies Zionist Right, and are considered part of their political camp. In Israeli discourse today, to be right-wing means to be Zionist, and to be left-wing means to be anti-Zionist. So if you are right-wing, you can attack Israeli police and the army -who are the literal embodiment of the Zionist state -and still be Zionist. But if you’re left-wing, if you verbally criticize the Israeli police or the army, you’re anti-Zionist.
This can be seen from a different set of protests that took place earlier in the month: In response to the death of Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed in a car that crashed while trying to escape police who were pursuing them for throwing stones at Palestinians, there were massive protests. Many of these protests involved throwing stones as Palestinians. Some of them included throwing stones as Israeli police and trying to beat up military personnel.
First of all, as happens too often with settler attacks against Palestinians, the stone-throwings against them almost completely flew beneath the media and political radar. There have been 25 settler attacks against Palestinians reported since the start of 2021 -and it’s only January. But most Israelis don’t even know that these attacks are happening.
But what about the attacks against the Israeli police and military? Shouldn’t those have upset Israeli citizens, since they constitute an attack against the Israeli state?
There was outcry from the Left, but the Center and the Right, i.e. the “mainstream” Israeli public and political leaders, were mostly silent. This is because even the extremist settlers who engage in violence are ultimately allied with the political Right. Therefore, according to contemporary Israeli discourse, they are, by definition, Zionist, even when they engage in attacks against the State of Israel.
Like the Ultra-Orthodox protests, the settler protests were also under-policed. And while I am not an advocate either of tear gas or of rubber bullets, it is worth noting that the IDF will use both at Palestinian protests that include stonings, but will not use either if it’s a Jewish Israeli protests that includes stonings.
There are both certain Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods within the Green Line, and certain settlement outposts beyond it, where Israeli police and army sometimes fear to tread.
The basic definition of a state, in its most basic form, is having police and military control over an area so it can prevent crimes from occurring. Once the Israeli state doesn’t have that, it has essentially ceded sovereignty over the territory.
Of course, Israel is familiar with having territory that it kind-of-but-doesn’t-exactly control: Area A of the West Bank. However, we have security checkpoints between Area A and Israeli territory within the Green Line. We don’t have security checkpoints between Bnei Brak and Tel Aviv — even though coronavirus has killed more Israelis this year than terrorist attacks.
Of course, having checkpoints between autonomous ultra-Orthodox areas and the rest of Israel would be incredibly ethically problematic.
But maybe it’s worth taking a moment to ask ourselves whether there might be ethical questions about checkpoints between Palestinian areas in the West Bank and Israel, as well.