Opinion

Activist Assault in Tel Aviv Should Serve as Wake-up Call

Jonathan Pollak after being released from prison in 2011.
Daniel Bar-On

Left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak was assaulted Sunday by two men when he was on his way to lunch. They knew where to lie in wait for him, they followed him and then struck him, pushed him to the ground and kicked him. When he managed to get back on his feet, one of them pulled out a knife and cut him in the face.

The cuts weren’t deep but were close to his left eye. “I got the impression that he himself got scared once the knife made a cut,” Pollak said of the main assailant, adding that his attackers shouted something like “maniac leftist, anarchist son of a bitch.” As Pollak put it, “They looked like ordinary people.”

Is this a newsworthy incident?

Jonathan Pollak shows his injuries on Sunday.
Twitter/Sarit Michael

Yes – if only because of the continuum that lies behind it; that is, the comments to a May 29 Facebook post by the right-wing group Ad Kan titled “Help us find Jonathan Pollak.” For example, a man who identified himself as Bari Buskila wrote: “Maybe he’s already in the cemetery.” One Eran Gueta wrote: “Why not take him down?” And Aviad Dayani preached: “In a properly run country they execute people for treason. I wish our country were properly run.”

Others whose comments adorned the Ad Kan post sufficed with calling for a prison sentence or deportation for Pollak. The more modest ones simply cursed him.

At the same time, by reporting on and giving special treatment to the assault on a Jewish left-winger, we could become partners to normalizing violence against Palestinians. Jews, with faces masked or exposed, attack or threaten Palestinians on a regular basis. Including in Jerusalem. Including in Hebron. Including drivers of Israeli buses.

These assaults, resulting in varying degrees of physical injury and material damage, have been happening for decades and have increased in number over the past two decades. This is happening in part because the Israeli authorities don’t really look for the Jewish assailants or don’t bother prosecuting them – even when they’re caught on camera and even though it’s easy to track them down.

That’s the reason Pollak didn’t file a police complaint. He doesn’t want to receive special treatment just because he’s Jewish.

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And let’s be realistic. Even if he did file a complaint, can we believe that the police would bother looking for unknown assailants who attacked a leftist anarchist like him? To the police and the army – and not only to the right wing – a Jew who resists the occupation is almost as bad as a Palestinian. As recently as the beginning of last week a police officer attacked another leftist – on camera (Guy Butavia, a member of the rights group Ta’ayush) who was protesting with Palestinians and Jews against driving people out of their homes in Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood.

The phenomenon of Jews assaulting Palestinians isn’t stopping, because it’s an inseparable part of state violence – soldiers’ violence with a state license. Both serve the goal of taking over what has remained for the Palestinians. Only a small number of assaults are reported in the Israeli media. And even when they are reported, we’re not shocked.

The assault of Pollak is more interesting because he’s a Jew and was attacked in Tel Aviv. And so the special reporting on him subverts the essence of his work against Israeli violence whose target is the Palestinians.

But yes, it is newsworthy, because we must continue believing that other ordinary people are reading what we write, people who are not yet speaking out. Maybe something about the gradual nature of the violence rings a bell with them: First they came for the socialists, then they came for the Jews, but we weren’t those things, so we remained silent. Then came the turn for the others, and we continued to be silent. And when thugs attacked us, there was no one left to protect us.

To report the news means to reject the inevitability of a repetition of history. To report means to want to believe that ordinary people will come to their senses and realize that Pollak’s assailants and those who persecute the left are dangerous for everyone. To report means calling ordinary people to action against the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland, in their homeland.