An Israeli soldier walks as masked Jewish settlers hurl stones during clashes with Palestinians.
An Israeli soldier walks as masked Jewish settlers hurl stones during clashes with Palestinians. Photo by AP
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Hate crimes by Jews against Arabs have become routine in Israel — not only in the West Bank, where they are an integral part of the occupation and settlement policy. Last month 16 incidents targeting Arabs were recorded in the West Bank and Israel, compared with 17 in the first three months of the year and 48 in all of 2013. But these attacks, euphemistically called “price-tag incidents,” are still being treated as unrelated acts of violence by a small number of “wild weeds.”

In July, under pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the inner cabinet refrained from defining the perpetrators of price-tag incidents as members of a terror organization, settling for the lesser offense of “unauthorized assembly.” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch are now reeaxamining that decision.

From the legal perspective, the difference between the two definitions is insignificant; the police can arrest, question and prosecute the perpetrators under either category. The significance is the message the government sends to the public and the degree of its determination to stop crime motivated by bigotry and racism.

The first step in stamping out these crimes is to recognize the existence of Jewish terror, which is not different from other forms of terror and must be treated as such. Even if the perpetrators of hate crimes have no formal organization, they receive support from both the public and spiritual leaders. They openly conduct a dialogue of terror over the Internet and are nurtured by a racist and ultranationalist ideology that preaches violence.

Their actions have implications for national security, for people’s sense of personal security and Israel’s ability to claim that it protects the security of ethnic and religious minorities. Amid the rising frequency of these incidents, the question is when, not if, the perpetrators will take up arms and cause a disaster.

The battle against Jewish terrorists goes beyond enforcement and punishment. It’s a battle for the consciousness of the Israeli public, much of which views these terrorists as God’s messengers on a mission to carry out divine commandments. Netanyahu has a hand in shaping this attitude — in his efforts to increase Israel’s Jewish identity at the expense of other communities.

In this he has the support of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who views the country’s Arab minority as excess weight that should be transferred to a future Palestinian state. This ultranationalist spirit is the foundation of the price-tag acts. The prime minister is responsible for changing it.