Price Tag is Terrorism? — Highly Misplaced and Dangerous Moral Equivalency

Price tag actions constitute acts of terrorism?  Well, that is precisely what Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich would have us believe following their emergency meeting and press conference held yesterday, May 7.  They are not alone in making this claim as various Knesset members, security officials and pundits have been in a tizzy recently proclaiming price tag perpetrators should be treated under the law as terrorists in all respects.

Ministers Livni and Aharonovich will bring an initiative before the cabinet next week calling for changing the legal standing of such acts to that of terrorism.

Price tag incidents generally take the form of hateful graffiti and vandalism perpetrated against Arab communities both within and without the Green Line.  A mosque may be spray painted with abhorrent statements such as “Mohammed is a pig”, car tires are slashed, car windows broken, olive trees are cut down, etc.  On occasion arson has been committed and a car or a mosque is set on fire in the middle of the night.  To my knowledge, there has not been a single Arab casualty related to what are referred to as price tag actions.  If any such action does target breathing, living human beings or results in bodily injury, then by all means it should be considered a terrorist act.

The intention of this article is not to condone in any way such conduct.  Israeli authorities should maximize their efforts to crack down on these hoodlums and bring the fullness of the law to bear upon them.  These acts are obviously terribly destructive to efforts at creating peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews.  But such acts are correctly left defined as hate crimes.

Defacing or destroying property, as odious as it may be, is not the same as wanton killing and maiming, or the intent to do so.

For me then, the question is what drives the motivation to define these hate crimes, these acts of varying degrees of vandalism, as acts of terror?  After all, I do not recall a drive to define the countless Arab acts of vandalism targeting Jewish property (many if not most of which are left unreported by the media) as terrorism?

I would break it down to three categories, without claiming these are all inclusive:

1.  Hatred of Settlers and certain elements of the political right;

2.  A psychological need to find moral equivalency between “their” extremists” and “our extremists”; and

3.  The desire to make clear to the world how abhorrent these acts are to us and that “they” do not represent us.

With regard to No. 1, hatred of settlers, it is no secret that not a few elements within Israeli society have it out for the settlers.  In their minds, the settlers are religious fanatics who are to blame for our current state of unsolvable conflict with the Palestinians.  From their point of view, the settlements are the root of the conflict and thus the settlers are literally destroying our country.

Never mind that half the time price tag perpetrators are found to have no connection to settlers and are in fact unruly teenagers living within the Green Line.  Never mind that the root of the conflict is not the settlements, but the fact that Israel exists period.  This illogical and false moral equivalence between price tag acts and terror is driven by a hatred that overwhelms reason; by a need to vilify the object of the hatred, in this instance the settlers.

With regard to No. 2, a psychological need to find moral equivalency, many Jews can’t get over a sense of guilt that, in their mind, we are usurpers of other people’s land.  This sense of guilt leads to illogical and disproportionate self-flagellation and criticism.  All sense of proportion is lost leading to a moral confusion which fuels a need to believe that we are just as bad if not worse than our enemies.

Additionally, people who adhere to a universalist world view according to which our culture cannot be deemed to be more peace loving and peace seeking than Palestinian culture, need to believe in moral equivalency.  If this means convincing oneself that destroying property is morally equivalent to taking a life, so be it.

I believe that Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Aharonovich can most accurately be deemed as belonging to category No. 3, a desire to appease world opinion.  They are so concerned with how the world will view us that they go above and beyond to prove that the “bad Jews” of Israel do not represent Israel as a whole, and certainly not them.  Thus, for example, Livni’s quip that even if signing an agreement with the Palestinians will not lead to a real peace due to a lack of a credible partner, we would be at least be making peace with the world.

Press conferences are held and public statements are made in an attempt to prove to the world that we genuinely desire peace and seek to create a just society.  So even though I find it hard to believe Ministers Livni and Aharonovich truly believe there is a moral equivalence between price tag acts and terrorism, by proclaiming there is they foolishly believe we show the world how much we deplore our “bad” Jews; that “they” do not represent “us”.

The problem and great danger is that the actual effect of this misguided approach is in fact the opposite of that intended.  When the world hears and sees our leaders equating price tag vandalism with life threatening and life-ending terror, the reaction is not to think: “Wow, look at those Israelis, they are such moral people, struggling in an impossible situation to do the right thing.”  No!!  The reaction is to think: “Yes, price tag acts and terror are morally equivalent.  The settlers are just as bad as Hamas.  I’m not the one saying it, they, the Israelis say it.”

It’s time our leaders stop empowering our detractors in a vain attempt to prove that “honest to goodness, we really are good people.”  It’s time to wake up.

About the Author
Ran Zev Schijanovich was born in Israel in 1970 to an Argentinian father and American mother, lived in Argentina through age 11, and then moved to New York. He made aliyah in 2005 and served as a combat soldier in Golani from the ages of 36 to 38. Ran is graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.