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The us-them politics of baby-burning and teen-stabbing

Left and Right have taken terrible leaps of illogic in turning horrific murders into partisan issues

“It is sad that a demonstration calling for tolerance is blanketed in great darkness and basic intolerance towards anyone who thinks a little differently.” So wrote Minister of Culture Miri Regev on her Facebook feed. Regev’s complaint was about a protest rally in Tel Aviv’s Meir Park, at which the Likud Minister of Energy, Yuval Steinitz, was booed and to which the Jewish Home Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, was asked not to come. The rally had originally been planned to mark the sixth anniversary of the murder of two teens in an LGBTQ youth center in Tel Aviv; it was hastily expanded into a vigil for the six who were stabbed at the Gay Pride March in Jerusalem, and the baby who was murdered when his West Bank home was firebombed, and his 4-year-old brother and parents who were injured in the attack.

Regev’s point was that leftist Tel Aviv protesters’ calls for toleration were tainted by their own bigotry against the Right. A great many of Regev’s followers posted their agreement. “A bunch of hypocrites,” a woman named Yael Maimon wrote, “Where were their protests against terror and violence when our elderly, our women and our kids were murdered???? It is sad to see these traitors among my people. Aside from goading the other side into more attacks, they do nothing.” For Regev and countless others on the Right, the message of last week’s murders is, above all, that a heartless and intolerant left will exploit any tragedy to advance their aims.

Leftist leaders found in the tragedies an opposite moral. Speaking at the demonstration, Meretz leader Zahava Galon said:

Enough already with those statements about extremists on both sides. Stop saying already that this is not a political matter. In Israel there is a camp of racist conservatives who, through intimidation and incitement, encourage violence and are not ashamed to do so in the name of Judaism. And there are those who came here tonight, who propose a different Judaism, a different Israel, a different politics, a politics of acceptance of the other, a politics of love for people whomever they are, for justice, brotherhood, equality. There is a struggle here between two worldviews. And we will win.

Galon’s point is that the Left and Right are binaries: the Left embraces justice, the Right injustice; the Left embraces social solidarity, the Right discord; the Left embraces equality, the Right inequality, the Left embraces humanity, the Right racism; the Left embraces peace, the Right embraces violence. Unsaid but implied was that the Left abhors the burning of a Palestinian baby and the stabbing of a teen, while the Right endorses these actions, sometimes outright, and sometimes tacitly. At the Peace Now rally in Rabin Square, speaker after speaker said similar things.

Behind these statements is a political theory with some merit. Galon and many others on the Left believe that right-wing government policies have created the context in which violence flourishes. Almost fifty years of occupation have accustomed generations of Israelis to view Palestinians as both threats to our security and people of lesser consequence. Decades of exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from the State curriculum have allowed them to produce – alongside scholars – some citizens of incomparable ignorance, and great fear of the vast reaches of what is unknown to them. Galon and many others on the Left believe that if the country were run differently, last week’s murders may not have occurred, and maybe they are right about that.

But it is a terrible leap of illogic to conclude from this that the Right is somehow responsible for the murders, just as it is a terrible leap of illogic for Regev to conclude that the Left has manufactured its horror and rage over the murders in a hypocritical effort to slander the Right.

To say this is not to say that the events of the past week are not political. It is instead to say that while they are political, and desperately important, they do not divide us into left and right. Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party wrote on her feed that “a small boy, a few months old, was burned to death. I think about his last moments, about his parents who tried to save him from the flames, from the inferno.” Shaked is as alive to the tragedy of Ali Sa’ad al-Dawabsheh as any politician on the Left, and as I am. In this, we are on the same side. No chasm divides us, with me standing on one side with the murdered, and her on the other with the murderers.

That we managed so quickly and effortlessly, on both sides, to turn last week’s attacks into a matter of us-versus-them, left-versus-right, is a sign that something is desperately wrong with our political discourse. It is a sign that our partisanism is becoming an unquestioned first principle. We have developed an awesome and frightful talent for turning even those things that might unite us into things that divide us. The tragedies of last week could spur an inquiry, in which Zahava Galon and Ayelet Shaked both take part, into whether we are growing coarser and more violent, and if so, why and what can be done about it. But it won’t, because the tragedies have already been assimilated into the politics of mutual recrimination that has reigned for so long.

It was while writing these words that I learned that Shira Banki, the 16-year-old kid knifed at the Pride Parade in Jerusalem, died. The family’s statement began, “Our magical Shira was murdered because she was a happy 16-year-old – full of life and love – who came to express her support for her friends’ rights to live as they choose.” This tragedy is one in which we are all implicated. It is a tragedy in which we all share.

About the Author
Noah Efron hosts TLV1's "The Promised Podcast" (http://tlv1.fm/content/full-show/promised-podcast/). On the side, he teaches history & philosophy of science at Bar Ilan University, and has served on the City Council of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. You can lavish him with praise or scorn at noahjefron@gmail.com
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