The late-night deliberations of the inner cabinet on the proper response to Hamas could mistakenly suggest that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is overseeing a decision-making process that is considered, professional and businesslike. But there’s a big gap between moderating a debate and controlling events.
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Only a few hours after the funerals of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel on Monday evening, the police received a report of the abduction of an Arab teenager from Jerusalem’s Shoafat neighborhood. Several hours later, the body of a teenager was found in the Jerusalem Forest. The suspicion is that the abduction and murder were carried out by Jews avenging the murder of the three Israeli teenagers. The hope is that this suspicion will be disproved wrong, but the events followed reports of an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to kidnap and strangle a 6-year-old Palestinian boy.
Concurrently, large numbers of angry Jews affiliated with the right took to the Jerusalem streets to pursue Arabs. Chanting “Death to Arabs” and “A Jew is a soul, an Arab is a son a of a bitch,” the thugs attacked Arab passersby and tried to reach Mahaneh Yehuda, where many Arabs work. The police blocked access to the open-air market and stopped light-rail traffic to the area of Beit Hanina, an Arab neighborhood of the city, but all this appears to be only the beginning of a dangerous, threatening private vendetta.
Bullies and right-wingers who take it upon themselves to “punish” innocent Arabs make a mockery of the effort to conduct a focused battle against terror operatives while also insulting the families of the murdered Israeli teens and the public that shares their grief. The biggest concern is that these gangs will dictate the government’s mood and pressure it into taking extreme and showy measures to satisfy their desire for revenge. From there it’s but a short road to widespread outbreaks of violence and a total loss of control.
Netanyahu on Tuesday compared Jews to Arabs, saying, “a deep and wide moral chasm separates us from our enemies: They sanctify death, and we, life; they sanctify cruelty, while we [sanctify] mercy.” If it turns out that the kidnapping and murder of the Arab teen was carried out by Jews, this false and sweeping comparison will be crushed. But if Netanyahu truly believes this comparison, he must prove it with action. The investigation into the Shoafat kidnapping and murder must be concluded swiftly, efficiently and above all, transparently. “Price tag” hooligans must be found and tried, as must the “Arab-hunters” in Jerusalem. That is the only way to prevent violence in the streets.