When Words Kill

The settlers as a whole, or supporters of the settler movement, are not to blame for Yaakov Teitel's murderous deeds.

The exposure of Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, who is suspected of murdering two Palestinians and laying explosives, among other things, once again brings to the agenda (and certainly given its proximity to the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination) the question of the settler camp's responsibility for the political murderers who emerge from its midst. The people of the left have a natural political interest in claiming that such a responsibility exists, just as the people of the right have a natural interest in denying it.

Indeed, the leftists' claim regarding Teitel is reminiscent of a similar claim back in the day regarding Yigal Amir: The assassin cannot be discussed separately from the words of incitement in his camp. In any case, the following question is asked regarding both these claims: Is the entire camp to blame? And in another version: When can it be said that "words kill" - or at least have dangerous potential?

When the question is presented with such clarity, the answer is clear as well: "Words kill" when they identify objects of hatred - Arabs, leftists, homosexuals, messianic Jews and others. But no direct responsibility lies with a camp that expresses a positive and legitimate ideology if extremists in that camp take their worldview too far and commit acts of murder. However, anyone who says "Rabin is a traitor," "Leftists hate Israel," "Gays are sodomites," or incites against messianic Jews is indeed indirectly responsible for the deeds of Amir or Teitel.

Thus the settlers as a whole, or supporters of the settler movement, are not to blame for these murderers' deeds, just as supporters of the idea of a Palestinian state are not to blame for terror attacks carried out in the name of that idea. Before attacking the settler collective because of Teitel or Amir, it's worth remembering that even after enumerating their deeds and all the deeds perpetrated by Jewish terror in recent decades, the number of terror attacks carried out in the name of a Palestinian state is larger than the number of those carried out in the name of the Greater Land of Israel.

This comparison is relevant even if the attacks carried out in the name of the Palestinian state did not (as Gideon Levy reminded us this week) come from the Israeli left, but rather from Palestinian terror organizations, some of which eventually became our partners in peace talks.

Thus the demand to invalidate an ideology or an entire community if terror attacks are carried out in its name is liable to come back and hit the left and the Palestinians in the face. Moreover, if one is trying to link a political goal with acts of murder, such a link is closer for the Palestinian terrorists than for Teitel. The terrorists, after all, explicitly state that their murderous acts have a political goal; their declarations alongside their attacks detail their political demands. In the case of Teitel, however, his posters did not express any demands but rather hatred for those he attacked. For this reason it also seems he should not be designated by the somewhat sanitized term terrorist (used to describe murderers who have a political agenda), but rather simply called a murderer or serial killer.

This label will also remind us that ultimately Teitel's most abominable deeds were not the laying of explosives at Prof. Zeev Sternhell's house or on the Ortiz family's doorstep in Ariel - deeds that with all their seriousness did not, fortunately, take any lives. Teitel's most heinous deeds were the murders of two Palestinians.

Indeed, it is becoming clearer and clearer - judging by the nature of the headlines when it comes to the slight injuring of a Jewish intellectual as compared to the murder of a Palestinian - that not only the extreme right and the police but also the media are partners to this distorted hierarchy.