Opinion

A Cover for Home-grown Terrorism

Netanyahu has made an art form of keeping mum on Jewish terror. This is all additional evidence of the power wielded by the far–right Kahanists in the cabinet and the public’s apathy over it

Protest outside the Prime Minister's residence over the detention of minors suspected of stoning a Palestinian woman to death
Emil Salman

Jewish terrorism is less of a concern to members of the cabinet than the rights of those detained for suspected involvement in it. The selective interest that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has shown in the rights of the teens suspected of killing a Palestinian woman, Aisha Rabi, in a stoning attack on her car is widely shared on the right, where there hasn't been concern about the rights of detainees since the Netanyahu family's former spokesman, Nir Hefetz, was taken into custody.

Silence in the face of home–grown Jewish terrorism is not new. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made an art form of keeping mum. This is all additional evidence of the power wielded by the far–right Kahanists in the cabinet and the public’s apathy over it.

This could all be viewed as just one more display of hypocrisy, bearing in mind what Shaked, her party colleague Naftali Bennett or Netanyahu said when Arab Knesset members met the families of terrorists. But hypocrisy is the least of our problems. The backing that members of the cabinet have given, either through their silence or in practice, to suspected murderers is either the result of ideology or the product of electoral considerations. Either of these possibilities should terrify every Israeli.

If the prime minister is silent about Jewish terrorism as a result of political calculations, it means that supporters of such acts have electoral power and that Netanyahu doesn't have even a shred of the morality required for him to do his job. That also goes for members of the government coalition who would rush to defend the right of a student at Hebrew University to come to class in uniform but who would never consider visiting the policeman who was stabbed in the evacuation of the West Bank outpost of Amona.

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On the other hand, there are those who, from the outset, wouldn't think Palestinian blood or Palestinian equal rights are worth a second thought. The list includes many people, among them Bennett and Habayit Hayehudi's Bezalel Smotrich and members of Likud. God gave them this land, and in the fulfillment of this eternal divine promise, they feel themselves entitled to demand perpetual tyranny over the Palestinians.

Smotrich has said in the past that there is no such thing as Jewish terrorism. His colleagues who are cabinet ministers wouldn't put it that way, but that’s the logic that drives them. You never hear them talk about the detention without trial of Palestinians or about the torture of Palestinian detainees, because they really don’t care. The Shin Bet security service has also understood that suspected murder is not shocking enough, so they released pictures showing a desecration of the Israeli flag. The flag made headlines in a way that the killing of a Palestinian mother, Rabi, never did. This is how continued military rule in the West Bank works, and the government is willing to pay this small price for a sliver of the Greater Land of Israel.

There are members of the public subscribing to this point of view whose most extreme leaders receive support from the system. They include Rabbi Dov Lior, who was one of the inciters against Yitzhak Rabin and who supported Baruch Goldstein, the perpetrator of the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians in Hebron. Lior also lent his support for the extremist tract "Torat Hamelech" and permitted his students to violate the Sabbath to brief some of the students allegedly linked to the attack on Rabi on how to deal with Shin Bet security agency interrogations.

This is possible because Lior enjoys de facto immunity from law enforcement agencies. That too is the meaning of political clout. That is why Rabbi Haim Druckman permitted himself to demand that the Shin Bet release the “tender young boys.” And this from someone who had previously received a security briefing from the head of the National Security Council, dispatched by the prime minister. Lior too is a security figure.

The responsibility for this lies not just with the religious Zionist camp, which provides cover for these characters, but with the wider public that accepts this situation — a public that accepts the fact that its representatives would sit with these political parties and with cabinet members who hold their silence in the face of Jewish terrorism. If that were not the case, this would not have happened.

It's worth following the hermetic bubble that is the prime minister’s Facebook page, where the world is as Netanyahu would like the public to view it. The page features strained condemnation of the attacks on the Shin Bet, but no mention of Jewish terrorism. There are conspiracy theories about the police, but no stones are thrown at them. There are important topics and less-important ones. After all, there is an election soon, and we mustn’t annoy spiritual leaders like Rabbi Lior. His friends, unlike the Palestinians, are voters.