The Right Way to Refer to Jewish Terrorists Isn't 'Jewish Terrorists'

A terrorist is someone who fights for a cause that is not accepted by the ruling authorities, and is willing to sacrifice innocent civilians as well as himself. Only one of these elements applies to the Jewish terrorists

Relative holds a photo of a baby killed in a 2015 arson attack by Jewish terrorists in Douma, along with his parents.

The term “Jewish terrorist” is commonly used in Israel to refer to right-wing extremists who commit attacks against Palestinian civilians, people who take the law into their own hands to make up for what they perceive as the government’s weakness or fecklessness.

“Terrorist” is considered an terrible insult among the far right as well as a much broader part of the population, which take a somewhat forgiving attitude toward “Jewish terror.”

They’d prefer terms “mitzvah emissaries,” “holy warriors” or maybe just “macho men.”

The left fights for the right to call them terrorists in the full sense of the word, not dreaming that the word “terrorist” may even be taken as a great compliment by generations of these Jewish criminals, from Yehuda Etzion and his comrades in the Jewish underground to the murderers of teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

In the book “Philosophy in a Time of Terror,” Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida discuss possible definitions of the word “terror,” and they are quite broad. Derrida argues that every war entails terror, because civilians are threatened. It is thus implied, though he does not say so explicitly, that every army is a terror organization.

I don’t wish to expand the meaning of the term but rather to limit it, and to say that the right-wingers are right: The Jewish terrorists don’t deserve the name terrorists. A terrorist is someone who fights for a cause that is not accepted by the ruling authorities, and is willing to sacrifice innocent civilians as well as himself. Of these three elements, only one applies to the Jewish terrorists: the willingness to sacrifice innocents.

The goal of the Jewish terrorists — strengthening the Jewish state and expanding its sovereignty —is certainly accepted by Israel’s ruling authorities and a majority of the population, but for pragmatic reasons is not so crudely enforced.

Self-sacrifice doesn’t exist for the Jewish terrorists. Successive generations of Jewish terrorists have at most risked a violent interrogation by the Shin Bet security service (while being defended by lawyers, some establishment figures and public opinion) and the loss of personal freedom for a few years. They don’t risk their own lives or that of their families, nor their homes and property.

Four year-old Ahmed Dawabsha in hospital with burns after a firebomb attack by Jewish terrorists that killed his parents and brother at their home in 2015.
Ahmad Gharabli/AFP

They don’t risk their dignity or even the chance to earn quite a good living in the future, along with respect from the same government they acted against. (Hagai Segal, for example, a talented writer with the charisma of a kohlrabi, was given a regular hosting job on Channel 99. Why not on prime time on Keshet?). This is nothing compared to the risk a Palestinian terrorist takes on.

Terrorism usual arises from blind faith and extreme despair that push a person to a total loss of his humanity, and thus of human qualities like fear and compassion. That person becomes ready to sacrifice everything — including himself, his family, his property and his chance of ever having a good life. Terrorism is despicable, it’s a terrible crime, but the boldness of it lends it a heroic aspect.

There is nothing heroic about the despicable acts of the Jewish terrorists. We need to find another name for them. How about “cowards”?