Israel's 'Sober Realist' Approach to Terror Describes Nothing but Yesterday's World

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Policemen operate at the site of a terror attack at Sarona Market in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, June 8, 2016.
Policemen operate at the site of a terror attack at Sarona Market in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, June 8, 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod

A story is told about automobile magnate Henry Ford, who in 1929 – just before the stock market crashed – received a tip from the elevator boy in the building where he lived. The employee told Ford that a friend had advised him to buy stock in three particular companies. “You’re a man with a lot of money; you ought to exploit this opportunity,” the young fellow advised.

Ford thanked him, promptly called his broker and ordered him, “Sell everything.” Later he explained that if an elevator boy recommends buying, that means the time has come to sell.

By analogy, one could say that if Israeli “elevator boys” – in academe, politics and the media – are advising the U.S. president to buy “sober realism” cheaply (and to call a spade a spade, that is, to call terror by its Islamic name), this means it’s long past time to get rid of it. The world is already in a completely different place, and this “sober realism” describes nothing but yesterday’s world.

The attack in Orlando was laden with signs that the paradigms and terminology used to describe terror are past their sell-by date. Even before the sexual identity of the terrorist who perpetrated the massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub, had become clear, and even before his tendency to hang out at that very same club had emerged, the choice of target and the identity of the victims were already enough to undermine the narrow interpretation of the incident as another case of Islamist terror.

On Channel 10’s program “The Day That Was,” Guy Zohar and Shir Reuven sensitively formulated an important question: Whose identity defines an attack – the assailant’s, or the victim’s? This question has become critical in multicultural Western environments, in the United States, France, England, Germany and many other places in Europe whose residents have complex identities.

Anyone who wants to understand the spread of terrorism, and certainly anyone who wants to fight it, cannot ignore the importance of the fact that the terrorist chose to slaughter his own sexual reference group – that this was first of all a crime of self-hatred. It’s enough to imagine this same terrorist, Omar Mateen, slaughtering worshippers in a mosque: Would we rush to assert that this, too, was an act of Islamic terror just because the terrorist was a Muslim?

Haaretz columnist Amira Hass frequently analyzes the lone-wolf Palestinian uprising that has characterized the latest wave of violence. From her columns, a gloomy picture arises: In many cases, it seems that for young people in the West Bank, a terror attack is only a means of committing suicide.

The attacks in Europe and the United States, which are perpetrated by Muslim European or Muslim American citizens, and not at the command of a terrorist organization, must also be interpreted in a completely different context than “classic” terror, in which the act serves an ideology. In lone-wolf terror, the opposite occurs – the ideology serves the violent act.

President Obama’s refusal to use the term “radical Islam” is the result of a conscious decision – as he explained in his speech Tuesday – not to play into the hands of the terrorists, who want to drag the world into an all-out war between the West and Islam. At the same time, it was evident that the president was refusing to describe the world in this language because he senses that it reflects the (ostensible) “truth” that Israelis, and the global right, are seeking to buy cheaply.

Instead of bestowing advice that is relevant to yesterday, Israel’s “elevator boys,” whether in academe or in government, would do better to listen to Obama. Unlike Israel, he is actually leading an international campaign against the Islamic State.

But until that happens, we are fated to lower our eyes in shame when, of all the people in the world, it was Benjamin Netanyahu who volunteered to defend Donald Trump’s “doctrine” in English and to “prove” what Obama refrains from saying only due to political correctness. Israel, too, is trying to force the world to adopt the language and action of a clash of civilizations, without any respect for the language and actions that a comprehensive outlook would require Israel to adopt.

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