On ‘Jewish Terrorism’

The recent immolation of an Arab infant and the injury, even fatal, of other members of his family when their house was set alight by Jewish “price taggers” venting their grievances against other parties, is deplorable. The fact that it took place in the same week as the monstrous Samir Kuntar was reportedly assassinated by the Israeli Air Force infuses the symbolism of the episode with even greater poignancy.

However, the commentary on the attack — and the responses have been multitudinous in number but uniform in substance — has been illuminating. Contrast the reaction to this incident with those typically engendered by Arab terrorism, and a rank, if also comic, hypocrisy is evident. For one thing, this attack was universally designated as Jewish terrorism. Muslim terrorism, by contrast, is never so described, for the motivation is never Muslim, but a “distortion of Islam” and it is never terrorism, but, at best, “militancy”. One might ask why this attack is not excused as a “distortion of Judaism” and mere “militancy” too.

Behind the diminution from terrorism to militancy is a tacit acceptance of the legitimacy of the act. So, whereas the response to this attack is untempered condemnation, by contrast in the case of Arab terrorism the condemnation is mitigated; the common response is: “We condemn these acts in the strongest terms, but we also have to look beyond the attacks to ask why the perpetrators felt the need to carry them out.”

Looking beyond means looking to justify. How, then, is Arab terror justified? Either American/Western or Israeli foreign policy is blamed, with Arabs being portrayed as having legitimate gripes and, without recourse to conventional armaments and warfare, understandably resort to “militancy” to try to force a change. Or economic factors are blamed, the argument being that if only the murderers and suicide bombers had greater economic and employment opportunities, they would not be so desperate as to commit such heinous acts. Obviously these purported rationales are absurd: the first adds nothing to the debate over the acceptability of terrorism in principle and the second is patently unfounded (Osama bin Laden and Yasser Arafat could be accused of many things, but pauperism is not among them).

Yet when it comes to price tagging, nobody is interested in asking similar questions. One might suggest, if flippantly, that adverse American/Western and at times even Israeli foreign policy toward the settlements is the reason this small number of settlers feels the need to resort to violence — indeed, the settlers in general are undoubtedly the most vilified demographic in the world. Or perhaps one might argue that the rising boycott movement, ostensibly focused on the settlements, is making economic life there difficult, hence a few settlers are predictably lashing out. These arguments are, of course, no less and no more spurious in this case as when applied to Arab transgressions. But it remains remarkable, if unsurprising, that whereas so many hurry to the defence of Arab murderers, conjuring rationalisations however preposterous, Jewish murderers are not granted the same indulgence.

More seriously, whereas Arab terrorists are rarely taken to represent the broader population, even though the reaction of the Arab street (and sometimes even Arab governments) to their endeavours is overwhelmingly positive and supportive, price tagging is always deemed to represent the entire settler community, despite the perpetrators being a miniscule and rather ostracized minority among them.

Speaking of vilifying the many for the actions of a few, this is where the abominable murder at the gay pride parade in Jerusalem comes in. Every commentator who has addressed the price tag has linked the two events, believing them both to be manifestations of greater evils in Israeli society. The conventional assessment of the parade stabbing is that it represents a pattern of homophobic activity in Israel, a symptom of some grotesque sentiment of which Israeli society must purge itself. But to add a little context, it is the second such attack in ten years (in a country that is not even seventy years old) and was committed by the same person as the previous one. Therefore, pace those who have used this murder as an excuse to defame the whole religious community or its ultra-Orthodox members specifically, this crime in fact cannot plausibly be said to represent much at all beyond itself. Any fault further to that accruing to the perpetrator himself surely lies not with any particular community but with the judicial system and law enforcement, since, given the murderer’s record and his recent statements, his recidivism was highly predictable.

The real connection between the two events is therefore a rottenness not in Israeli society but in the commentariat, which persists in pretending that Arab violence represents nothing but isolated whim and that Jewish violence by lone individuals or tiny groups is demonstrative of some elemental malevolence in the Jewish State. If these commentators were honest, they would find that the bigotry they see in the attacks is no less present in their reactions.

About the Author
Jonathan Neumann writes on religion and politics.