Omer Bar-Lev, a courageous warrior who once commanded Sayeret Matkal, the general staff’s elite special-operations force, has been transformed by social media into a “traitor,” a “murderer” and a “terrorist.” Among his detractors, some of whom declared: “Jewish blood is on your hands,” were mayors and other public figures.
To them, his unforgivable sin was to tell the truth. In a meeting with a visiting U.S. diplomat, the public security minister used a term that reflects an existing situation: “settler violence.” The vituperation he endured as a result shows that the lesson of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder has not been learned. Even after the Shin Bet security service assigned a security detail to Bar-Lev in the wake of threats, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked adds fuel to the fire, continuing to accuse him falsely and in so doing to defend violent settlers.
Bar-Lev’s critics are quick to expand the definition of “terror” when the perpetrators of violence are Palestinian. When Palestinians attack Israeli soldiers serving in the West Bank, it’s “terror,” but when Jews attack innocent Palestinians, it’s “politically motivated crime,” “price-tag action” or “hilltop youth violence.” The refusal to call Jewish terror by name and the use of euphemisms allow the self-righteous among us to wash their hands of the matter and ignore the serious implications of Jewish terror, which challenges the institutions of government and threatens the future of the state. Nevertheless, quite a few Knesset members and cabinet ministers ignore the danger, seeing it as marginal, even justified behavior in the face of Palestinian violence.
It must be clearly stated: There is Jewish terror! Terror is what led to Rabin’s assassination and the firebombing of the home of the Dawabsheh family, killing a toddler and his parents. It is terror that led to the burning alive of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, and terror that led to the murder and serious injury of additional innocent Palestinians by Jews. The destruction of Palestinian property, such as olive trees, water sources and fields of crops, and the vandalism of homes and vehicles, are also criminal acts of terror. It must be said in no uncertain terms: A terror act is any action intended to achieve political goals by intentionally harming civilians; damage to life, limb and property without reference to the identity of the perpetrators, be they Palestinian or Jewish.
It should therefore be explained to Shaked, to Religious Services Minister Matan Kanaha and lawmakers who openly defend Jewish terror: Bar-Lev is not mistaken. He understands well the danger to the state of violence by those rampagers who see themselves as the successors to the “Jewish underground” and Rabbi Meir Kahane; who identify with Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs and who cherish Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir.
The lesson that Bar-Lev has learned and his critics have not is that this handful of violent activists is only the tip of the iceberg. Rabin was murdered by Amir, who saw himself as a public emissary, and who would not have acted had certain other conditions had not prevailed: a close social group supporting the idea, religious leaders who shape ideology that changes the rules of morality and legitimizes murder and political leaders who disregard calls for murder – disregard that the terror activists perceive as support.
Rabin’s murder taught us that words kill. Jewish lawbreakers interpret “Nazi,” “traitor,” “criminal with Jewish blood on his hands” as license to kill. People who say they are only a handful – a few hundred at most – are correct, and most settlers are law-abiding folk who consider themselves the successors to the pioneers. But those who remain silent and sometimes even forgive the Jewish terror activists are very wrong. In not clearly denouncing the Jewish terrorists and not calling them by their name, they give them a metaphorical tailwind.
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Bar-Lev fought terror as a soldier and a commander for years, and he continues to bear this burden as public security minister. To meet this challenge, we must courageously adhere to the truth. Unlike his detractors, Bar-Lev stands firm in the face of these demanding tests.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Ami Ayalon is a former director of the Shin Bet security service.