Israel’s New Plan for Dealing With Jewish Terrorists Is All Wrong

When there’s so much hatred in the air, terrorism – whether it be Jewish or Palestinian – will always prevail.

Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter
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A Palestinian man inspects a house after it was torched, in Duma, near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 31, 2015.
A Palestinian man inspects a house after it was torched, in Duma, near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 31, 2015.Credit: AP
Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter

Eradicating Jewish terror seems to be all the rage these days.

Israeli leaders on both the left and right have vowed to fight Jewish terrorism following last week’s two horrific attacks: The stabbing of six people at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade by an ultra-Orthodox man, which led to the death of 16-year-old Shira Banki, and the murder of Palestinian infant Ali Saad Dawabsheh, burned alive during what was most likely an arson attack by Jewish settlers in the West Bank village of Duma.

Israel will now detain Jewish terror suspects without trial, thereby applying a policy applied to Palestinian terror suspects to Jewish terrorists as well. The move, announced in response to the attacks, is meant to show Israel’s resolve to do away with Jewish terror by any means necessary, even if that means giving Jewish extremists the same treatment Palestinians have been receiving for decades.

The problem is that Israel has promised to curb Jewish terrorism for decades, at least since the members of the Jewish underground were arrested after attempting to blow up Palestinian buses in East Jerusalem in 1984. So far, little has happened. In fact, most members of the Jewish underground were welcomed back into society after serving light sentences and settler violence increased.

In the past few years, attacks on Palestinians and Palestinian establishments by young settlers have become a fixture of life in the West Bank. According to a recent report published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA,) there were 333 settler-related violent incidents in the West Bank in 2014, an average of six assaults per week. Israel’s efforts in curbing settler violence have been so ineffectual that United States President Barack Obama mentioned it in his address to the people of Israel in 2013.

It remains to be seen whether administrative detention will in fact help the government increase pressure on Jewish terrorists, but the effort will ultimately come up short. The main reason (among many) is that it attempts to neutralize the terrorists, but does nothing to change the culture of hate in which they develop.

A case in point: Shortly after last week’s murders, right-wing MKs and ministers went right back to spouting the same hate rhetoric that contributed to the killings in the first place – days and in some cases only hours after condemning the violence and feigning outrage and shock.

Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, who organized an anti-gay rally in 2006 that he called “The Beast Parade,” condemned the attack on the gay pride parade in Jerusalem but continued to call it “the abomination parade”. Literally hours after the attack in Duma Smotrich was ranting against “screwed-up leftists” on Twitter.

Indeed, many right-wing politicians twisted the conversation to focus on those who they believe are the greatest victims: themselves. In the days after the killings, a growing choir of right wing activists, pundits and politicians, including Smotrich, Culture Minister Miri Regev, Habayit Hayehudi MK Yinon Magal and Israel Beitenu MK Sharon Gal, spoke of a “witch hunt” against settlers and right-wingers – similar to the one they claim took place after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin (which, of course, had nothing to do with the Israeli right.) Many spent far more words condemning this alleged leftist “witch hunt” than they did the murders themselves.

It is a tactic the Israeli right used to great effect after Rabin’s murder: Casting themselves as the victim, instead of acknowledging their own faults and the dangerous rhetoric that led to the violence. That way, they don’t have to take responsibility for their role in creating a climate of hate.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the alleged anti-right “witch hunt,” President Reuven Rivlin had to lodge a complaint with the police after his harsh denunciation of Jewish terror and his aclnowledgement that Israel had been lax in dealing with Jewish terrorists resulted in a deluge of online death threats.

In the span of one weekend, Rivlin was called “traitor,” “insane” and “Ahmed Rivlin.” A photoshopped picture of him in a keffiyeh, similar to the ones that appeared before the assassination of Rabin, was shared on social media. A YouTube video placed him in Nazi uniform. The chair of a local branch of Likud (Rivlin’s own party,) called for his arrest.

“We have created an atmosphere that allows forgiveness for what is credulously called ‘a few rotten apples,’” Rivlin said in an anti-hate rally in Jerusalem on Saturday. “Every society has its extremist fringes. But today we have to ask: What is it about our public atmosphere that allowed extremists and extremism to walk confidently within the mainstream?”

He was right: extremism and hate have been met with leniency in Israel. Hate and incitement are the language of the land. One of the reasons Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister right now is because he relied on a tactic of inciting against Arab voters in order to frighten Jewish voters into voting for him. The reason he has a coalition right now is because enough people voted for parties whose members are known for racist and intolerant tirades against Palestinians, leftists, asylum seekers and gays.

In order to truly eradicate Jewish terror, Israel has to do a lot more than administrative detentions. It has to challenge the very core of its current political system; to eradicate the intolerance that prevails within its government and parliament.

The problem is there are too many people in Israel’s political system whose only political merchandise is hatred toward other groups. Will the right-wing MKs who called for the destruction of Gaza and the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians last year, who launched campaigns in favor of force-feeding and death penalties, who took pictures with Kahane thugs in full racist regalia, who promised to deny LGBT couples equal rights, who instigated attacks against leftists and Arabs, who called African migrants “cancer”, who attempted to censor and to bully those that don’t think like them – will all those change their behavior and learn to speak in an entirely new language? Probably not.

And that’s the problem: Without uprooting hatred and prejudice from the Israeli mainstream, it is impossible to uproot hatred from its extremist fringes.

But the Israeli hate train, it seems, stops for no one – not even infants and teenagers. And it won’t stop, as long as haters feels they can act with impunity. When there’s so much hatred in the air, terrorism – whether it be Jewish or Palestinian – will always prevail.

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