Thursday, December 24, 2015

When Extremism Isn’t Mainstream. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

When Extremism Isn’t Mainstream. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, December 24, 2015.

The dance of death. By David Horovitz. The Times of Israel, December 24, 2015.


One of the standard memes of press coverage of the Middle East is the conviction that extremists on both sides of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians are mirror images of each other. In this formulation, often articulated by the Jewish left, Israel’s center-right government is somehow the moral equivalent of Palestinian terrorists. This is a false argument but it has been given credence by the reluctance of the Obama administration to acknowledge that the primary obstacle to a two-state solution has not been Israeli settlements but the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. Despite the slander about Israeli intransigence, Netanyahu and his predecessors have all offered the Palestinians statehood but have been turned down every time. Yet even if we leave aside arguments about blame for failed negotiations, the most obvious difference between the two sides is in its attitude toward terrorism.

Recent events have made this even more easily understood.

In the last three months, the Palestinian Authority has done its best to incite and then to encourage the continuation of the so-called “stabbing intifada.” PA leader Mahmoud Abbas helped foment the unrest by repeating lies about Israel planning to harm the mosques on the Temple Mount. Having played the same card that led to anti-Jewish pogroms in the 1920s and 30s by speaking of preventing “stinking Jewish feet” from polluting holy places sacred to all three monotheistic religions, Abbas and the rest of the PA have praised those who acted on his suggestions and sought to murder Jews as “martyrs” and condemned the attempts by Israeli police and civilians to defend the victims as “extrajudicial executions” — a disingenuous slander that has been taken up by some gullible or malicious foreign governments. Hamas goes even further and not only endorses terror but is actively plotting mass murder on its own in order to undermine the rule of the PA and to harm Israelis.

But it is also true that there are instances of violence against Arabs by Jews. Most outrageously, an Arab family was murdered last summer in an arson attack on the West Bank village of Duma. Extremist Jews are believed to be behind the attack. This incident has been given enormous coverage throughout the world, especially in comparison to the often-paltry attention to the daily attacks on Jews.

But rather than illustrate the moral equivalence between the two sides, this sad chapter actually demonstrates just the opposite.

From the moment the attack on Duma became known, this atrocity was unequivocally condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu and every element of Israeli society and from right to left on the political spectrum. Though indictments have not yet been handed down, suspects were arrested and subjected to the same harsh terms — including being held without charges and initially being deprived of legal counsel — that are given Palestinian terrorists. Indeed, lawyers for those accused of complicity in these “price tag” attacks now claim, like the Palestinians that they have been tortured. I mention this not necessarily to praise measures that would be illegal in the United States but to point out that in Israel, there truly is equality before the law for terror suspects of all kinds.

More to the point, even those on the political right in Israeli, like Education Minister Naphtali Bennett, who is labeled an extremist by foreigners, has not merely condemned the Duma attack but also the extremist fringe that supports such behavior. There is no denying that there is a tiny fraction of Jewish settlers in the West Bank who believe in such violence. But even as we join in the condemnations of their disgusting actions — such as the video now circulating of a group of these extremists actually celebrating the deaths of the Duma victims — it is important to remember that even the most nationalist rabbis in the settlements share our anger about this crime and those few who cheer it.

The existence of such extremists is deplorable not just because it is shameful that a tiny minority of Jews should be terrorists but also because these elements constitute a threat to the Jewish state. Unlike ordinary dissenters on the left or the right, anyone who is willing to use violence or go outside the law to obtain their objectives is at war with democracy and the rule of law. That’s why no one who cares about Israel should be sympathetic to these people or listen to their protests about the way the police or the army treats them. Nor does Arab terrorism which happens on a daily basis excuse their violence and hate.

But as troubling as they are, they do remind us of the stark difference between Israeli and Palestinians society. Those Palestinians that support terror against Jews are not a minority. They not only have the support of Palestinian leaders but also reflect mainstream public opinion among their people. Even the most right-wing Israeli leaders condemn Jewish terrorists.

That this is so is nothing for Jews to celebrate, as it is merely what we should expect of a decent society. Until a sea change in Palestinian culture leads them to treat their terrorists in the same way, peace is nowhere in sight.


Every society has its fringe groups, but the youths seen at a Jerusalem wedding celebrating murder have the potential to bring ruin down upon us all.

The sight is nauseating, unthinkable. And, it turns out, not entirely new.

On its nightly news Wednesday, Channel 10 broadcast footage of dozens of young, ostensibly Orthodox Israeli Jews dancing at a wedding. Rather than celebrating the union of two young people as they set out to build a life together, this clip shows a frenzied celebration of death: the killings of the Dawabsha family — 18-month-old Ali, and his parents Riham and Saad — who were murdered when assailants firebombed their home in the West Bank village of Duma on July 31.

The Israeli far right has sought to deny the investigating authorities’ contention that the Dawabsha killings were an act of Jewish terrorism. The lawyers for several Jewish suspects in the case have sought to blacken the name of the Shin Bet security agency for allegedly torturing them. Several Knesset members have lent a degree of support to this campaign. Hundreds have demonstrated on the suspects’ behalf.

But the scenes from this wedding this month in Jerusalem tell an awful, unmistakable story. For here, gathered together in wild revelry, are dozens of young Israeli Jews delighting in the deaths of the Dawabsha family.

Described variously in reports Wednesday and Thursday as members of the extreme far-right and the “Hilltop Youth,” with one or both of the happy couple reportedly “known” to the security authorities, they chant a song that hails “revenge” against the Palestinians. One celebrant holds a Molotov cocktail in homage to the killers’ means of murder. Others wave machine guns and knives. At the height of the festivities, a photograph of baby Ali Dawabsha is “stabbed.”

Condemnation of the youths has rolled in over the past few hours from pretty much the entire political spectrum. There have been innumerable professions of horror and shock.

And yet the owner of the venue told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that there are “dozens of weddings like this every month,” and that the Israeli authorities are well aware of them. He said that after the older folks have gone home, the youths dance like this, and sometimes some of them get arrested.

Another interviewee, in the same newspaper, spoke of going to such weddings “for years,” adding, however, that the brandishing of weapons and the “stabbing” of a photograph of the murdered baby “really mark the crossing of a red line.”

Now, perhaps, we better understand why President Reuven Rivlin, on the morning after the Duma killings, lamented that “we have been lax in our treatment of the manifestations of Jewish terrorism. Perhaps we did not internalize that we are faced with a determined and dangerous ideological group,” he said, “which aims to destroy the fragile bridges which we work so tirelessly to build.” And why, at a rally the next day, Rivlin elaborated: The flames of hatred, violence and “false, distorted and twisted beliefs are spreading through the land… These flames, which are consuming all of us, cannot be extinguished with weak condemnations [by politicians],” Rivlin said. “From the educational system, to those who enforce the law, through to the leadership of the people and the country: We must put out the flames, the incitement, before they destroy us all.”

Now, perhaps, we better understand the description, given to this reporter by security officials a month after the Duma murders, of a Jewish extremist fringe that has become so radical as to lie beyond the influence of even the most hawkish rabbinical leadership. Its members heed no authority, I was told. Some are prepared to kill, to go to jail for life, and to be killed if necessary, in support of a coldly deranged championing of land and perceived religious imperative over life.

Now, perhaps, we better understand the warnings, including from Education Minister Naftali Bennett, that these shameful Jewish youths threaten the very existence of the State of Israel. “There are a few dozen people whose goal is not murder; murder is just their means to undermine the foundations of the state,” said Bennett this week.

Rabbi Eli Sadan, founder of the pre-army yeshiva academy at Eli in the West Bank, said sadly on Army Radio Thursday that all societies have their fringe youth, their violent dropouts. That they do. But in our ultra-combustible reality, a fringe like this, as the Duma killings and their violent aftermath underline, has the potential to set the entire enterprise aflame.

Bennett, who heads the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home — the Knesset party most clearly identified with the settlement movement — said Thursday that he has tried in the past to reason with the so-called “Hilltop Youth” extremists, from whose ranks perpetrators of dozens of church-burnings, tire-slashings and other hate crimes are alleged to have sprung, and from whose ranks the Duma killers, too, are said to have emerged. But they paid no heed to him, he said, and called him a “traitor.” Where the suspects in the Duma case are concerned, he observed, it was now too late for education.

But it is not too late for education where the dozens who participated in that inhumane wedding dance of death are concerned. It is not too late for political leaders and rabbis and parents and siblings and friends to pull these deranged youths back from the brink. It is not too late for the State of Israel to reassert its insistence on upholding the core Jewish values that these young people have lost — and chiefly, of course, the fundamental respect for the divine gift of human life.

Otherwise, these dancing youths, derangedly and delightedly celebrating the death of innocents, will bring down ruin upon us all.