After the Horror, a Test for Both Left and Right

When Jews are murdered, doves must shout their outrage. Hawks must direct their outrage toward the right target.

Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart
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Scene of the terror attack in Har Nof synagogue, Jerusalem, November 18, 2014.
Scene of the terror attack in Har Nof synagogue, Jerusalem, November 18, 2014.Credit: Emil Salman
Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart

On Tuesday mornings I usually daven shacharit with my son’s class. This Tuesday I instead went on television to discuss the Jews murdered while davening shacharit in Har Nof. When I said the prayers in my office afterwards, I kept wondering what point in the liturgy the dead had reached when the killers burst in. What had they been saying to God in the final moments before they joined those countless ancestors who, like them, died for being Jews?

In moments like these, both Jewish doves and Jewish hawks face a dangerous temptation. Among doves, the temptation is to muffle our outrage. When left-leaning Jews hear about innocent Palestinians being killed, we raise our voices because we feel that otherwise the Jewish world with either ignore or rationalize the offense. When innocent Jews are killed, by contrast, the Jewish world explodes in fury, and some of that fury fuels ugly countermeasures like the bulldozing of accused terrorists’ homes. As a result, some Jews on the left feel either that their own outrage is superfluous or that by expressing it they become complicit in repression.

That’s a mistake. Being part of a people means joining that people when they mourn. When I ask rabbis who criticize Israeli policy how they have kept their jobs, they often say that congregants forgive a rabbi’s political transgressions when he or she helps them through moments of trauma and grief. It’s the same for the larger Jewish people. If left-leaning Jews want to be accepted by the organized Jewish community, we must show that while we disagree with that community’s views, we share its pain.

If the left’s challenge is to avoid silence, the right’s is to avoid exploitation. Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett don’t like Mahmoud Abbas. They don’t like him because Abbas has tried to establish a unity government supported by Hamas. They don’t like him because Abbas keeps trying to get the United Nations to pressure Israel into accepting a Palestinian state. And they don’t like him because Abbas condemns Israel in harsh, sometimes unfair, ways.

As a result, Israel’s leaders have seized on the synagogue attack as an opportunity to weaken their foe. “This is the direct result of the incitement led by Hamas and Abu Mazen (Abbas),” declared Netanyahu after the murders. It was Abbas’ “anti-Semitic statements,” claimed Lieberman, “which lead to terrible acts of slaughter like the one at the synagogue this morning.” Bennett insisted that “Mahmoud Abbas, one of the greatest terrorists to come from the Palestinian people, is directly responsible for the spilled blood of Jews wearing tallit and tefillin.”

It’s true that in recent weeks Abbas has walked up to the edge of justifying Palestinian violence. After Israeli police killed Muataz Hijazi, a Palestinian accused of shooting right-wing activist Yehuda Glick, Abbas wrote his family a letter saying Hijazi “rose to heaven as a casualty in the fight for the Palestinian people’s rights and for the holy sites.” Abbas also recently called for Palestinians to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque from Israeli incursions by “all means.”

But calling Abbas the primary cause of Palestinian terrorism is nuts. For one thing, East Jerusalem - from whence the synagogue attackers came - is under Israel’s control, not Abbas’. And in the West Bank, where Abbas wields some authority, his security cooperation with Israel is a key reason there’s been so much less Palestinian terrorism than there was during the Arafat years.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the Israeli security officials who are actually charged with preventing Palestinian terrorism. Soon after Netanyahu accused Abbas of inciting terrorism, Yoram Cohen, the head of Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, told legislators it wasn’t true: Abbas wasn’t advocating violence. (Although Cohen acknowledged that some Palestinians might misconstrue his words). Cohen’s remarks echo those of former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, who in July said Abbas “is against terror and is brave enough to say so," and who in 2013 condemned Bibi for undermining his Palestinian counterpart. Just last week, columnist Ben Caspit reported that “The Israeli diplomatic echelon (guided by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) view Abbas as ‘worse than Arafat’ and someone who incites to terror and undermines stability. But the IDF, on the other hand, views him as the chief stabilizing force in the area.

The Netanyahu/Lieberman/Bennett campaign against Abbas says more about them than him. That’s because for Israeli leaders, Abbas is a Rorschach test. The Israelis who actually want a two state solution think Abbas does too. That’s why Shimon Peres in June called Abbas “the best partner that Israel has and the best we have hadWe shouldn’t miss an opportunity to make peace with him.” And why Ehud Olmert has warned that “Israel will not always find itself sitting across the table from Palestinian leaders like Mr. Abbas.who object to terrorism and want peace.”

Netanyahu, Lieberman and Bennett, on the other hand, who have little interest in a two state solution themselves, are convinced that Abbas does not want one either. After all, if you make the test of whether a Palestinian leader wants peace his willingness to accept permanent Israeli military control of the West Bank, anyone will look like a rejectionist.

Abbas said Tuesday’s attacks “violate all religious principles and do not serve the common interest we are trying to promote – establishing a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.” Hamas, by contrasted, called the attack “an appropriate and functional response to the crimes of the occupation.”

A decent hawk should be able to tell the difference between these two statements. A decent dove should be able to denounce the latter for the abomination that it is.



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