Commentary Magazine


Topic: Beit El

Price Tags and the Bigotry of Low Palestinian Expectations

Earlier this week, a mosque in the West Bank was vandalized. This reprehensible attack is believed to be the work of radical Jews who wished to make it plain to Israeli authorities — and not as probably most Westerners think — the Palestinians, that the removal of settlers from housing that was not legally purchased or constructed with the permission of the state will carry with it a “price tag.” These so-called “price tag” attacks have grown in recent years, even though the overwhelming majority of settlers, not to mention the Israeli people, deplore them. But though any such attack on a religious institution is a stain on the honor of the Jewish people and inevitably generates negative coverage of Israel such as this feature published in the New York Times on Tuesday, the bottom line is that in a democracy thugs do not get their way. As the Times reported that same day, the Israeli government has secured agreement from the few inhabitants of Ulpana to leave their homes that were ruled by a court to be built on private Palestinian property in the vicinity of the existing and quite legal Beit El settlement. In doing so, the rule of law has been vindicated.

But amid the general condemnation of the behavior of the extremist settlers that for some calls into question the legitimacy of the entire Zionist enterprise, it is worth noting an element of the story generally missing from most accounts in the Western press of the “price tag” attacks as well as allegations of settler violence toward local Arabs. However wrong the extremists are–and they are dead wrong–their behavior has not occurred in a vacuum. To focus only on settler misbehavior ignores a context in which attacks on Jews in the West Bank is a regular occurrence. And that includes Arab attacks on synagogues. The problem is that the foreign press gives the Jewish violence the sort of “man bites dog” treatment that makes it worthy of notice, whereas Palestinian misbehavior is simply taken for granted. This bigotry of low expectations is at the heart of the problem.

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Earlier this week, a mosque in the West Bank was vandalized. This reprehensible attack is believed to be the work of radical Jews who wished to make it plain to Israeli authorities — and not as probably most Westerners think — the Palestinians, that the removal of settlers from housing that was not legally purchased or constructed with the permission of the state will carry with it a “price tag.” These so-called “price tag” attacks have grown in recent years, even though the overwhelming majority of settlers, not to mention the Israeli people, deplore them. But though any such attack on a religious institution is a stain on the honor of the Jewish people and inevitably generates negative coverage of Israel such as this feature published in the New York Times on Tuesday, the bottom line is that in a democracy thugs do not get their way. As the Times reported that same day, the Israeli government has secured agreement from the few inhabitants of Ulpana to leave their homes that were ruled by a court to be built on private Palestinian property in the vicinity of the existing and quite legal Beit El settlement. In doing so, the rule of law has been vindicated.

But amid the general condemnation of the behavior of the extremist settlers that for some calls into question the legitimacy of the entire Zionist enterprise, it is worth noting an element of the story generally missing from most accounts in the Western press of the “price tag” attacks as well as allegations of settler violence toward local Arabs. However wrong the extremists are–and they are dead wrong–their behavior has not occurred in a vacuum. To focus only on settler misbehavior ignores a context in which attacks on Jews in the West Bank is a regular occurrence. And that includes Arab attacks on synagogues. The problem is that the foreign press gives the Jewish violence the sort of “man bites dog” treatment that makes it worthy of notice, whereas Palestinian misbehavior is simply taken for granted. This bigotry of low expectations is at the heart of the problem.

If one reads the Israeli press, you know that a synagogue on a moshav in central Israel was vandalized with Muslim graffiti this week, but you missed it if all you see is the New York Times. Nor was that the first such attack on a synagogue. Similarly, tucked into some but by no means all of the stories about the dismantling of Ulpana is the fact that the houses were built there as a response to the murder 12 years ago of a Jewish mother and child by Arab terrorists.

Mentioning this does not rationalize settler violence, let alone excuse it. But doing so does spoil the prevailing narrative of the West Bank morality play that Israel’s critics promote which portrays the settlers as evil and the Palestinians the innocents. The situation in the West Bank is complex. The Arabs who live there have a right to have their property rights respected and to go about their lives without fear of violence. But the same should apply to the Jews who live nearby. But unfortunately, not only do the Palestinians not respect the right of Jews to live on this land, they also do not respect their right to do so in safety. This position is granted legitimacy of a sort by a foreign press that implicitly accepts the frame of reference that regards all Jews in the West Bank as usurpers or thieves, even if the land they live on is indisputably owned by Jews.

Those who believe Jews have no right to live anywhere in the West Bank or in the parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 can only do so by effectively negating the historic and legal rights of the Jewish people. But even those who hold this position must acknowledge that a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict cannot be built on the sort of anti-Jewish violence that is so routine it barely rates any coverage in the West.

More to the point, until Arab violence is treated as being as reprehensible as most Israelis consider the “price tag” attacks, the Palestinians will go on laboring under the misapprehension they can force the Jews out. That bigotry of low expectations directed at the Palestinians is a far greater obstacle to peace than any settlement.

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End-of-Days Fallacies

A left-wing professor and a right-wing rabbi have finally found something they agree on. In Israel’s fractured reality, that would normally be great news — were their point of agreement not one of the most counterproductive fallacies afflicting the Jewish world today: that an alliance between Jews and evangelical Christians is a bad idea because their short-term common interests are outweighed by irreconcilable long-term goals.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post this week, Prof. David Newman approvingly cited a commentary published last Friday by Shlomo Aviner, a leading religious Zionist rabbi from the settlement of Beit El. Aviner wrote that he refuses to accept money from evangelicals, because their ultimate aim is to convert the Jews to Christianity, and their end-of-days vision is of a world where Christianity has vanquished all other religions. Newman concurred. “No short-term gains in cultivating artificial relationships can hide the long-term objectives and contrasting religious ideologies as espoused by the Evangelical movements which, if implemented, which would lead to head-on confrontation,” he wrote.

If you ignore the context, both men have a valid argument. A short-term alliance with someone who is certain to prove a bitter foe down the road can indeed be dangerous, and history is full of grim examples: for instance, the Hitler-Stalin pact.

But in this case, the eventual conflict is a trumped-up bogeyman that has no chance of ever occurring in reality — because according to evangelical theology, it is due to take place only at the end of days. There are only two possible scenarios for what this end of days can look like, and contrary to the doomsday crowd, neither leads to Jewish-Christian conflict.

The first scenario is that the Jews are right and Jesus is not the Messiah. In that case, there will be no second coming, so the end-of-days demand that the Jews convert will never arrive, and fruitful cooperation between Jews and evangelicals can continue for all eternity.

The second is that the Christians are right, and Jesus is the Messiah. In that case, when he comes again, the Jews should all convert. After all, if they’re right, they’re right.

Needless to say, I believe the first, and my evangelical friends believe the second. But as long we can agree to disagree until the end of days arrives to settle the question, there is no conflict, and no potential for one.

Clearly, that would not be true if evangelicals wanted to forcibly convert the Jews before the end of days arrives. But so far, not even their harshest critics have found any grounds for suspecting them of that.

Even if Israel were awash with allies, it would be foolish to spurn friends as loyal as the evangelicals have proved to be over a trumped-up conflict that will never actually materialize. But to do so when Israel is besieged on all sides, with supporters few and far between, is nothing short of suicidal insanity. Israelis ought to have better sense — and so should their American Jewish supporters.

A left-wing professor and a right-wing rabbi have finally found something they agree on. In Israel’s fractured reality, that would normally be great news — were their point of agreement not one of the most counterproductive fallacies afflicting the Jewish world today: that an alliance between Jews and evangelical Christians is a bad idea because their short-term common interests are outweighed by irreconcilable long-term goals.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post this week, Prof. David Newman approvingly cited a commentary published last Friday by Shlomo Aviner, a leading religious Zionist rabbi from the settlement of Beit El. Aviner wrote that he refuses to accept money from evangelicals, because their ultimate aim is to convert the Jews to Christianity, and their end-of-days vision is of a world where Christianity has vanquished all other religions. Newman concurred. “No short-term gains in cultivating artificial relationships can hide the long-term objectives and contrasting religious ideologies as espoused by the Evangelical movements which, if implemented, which would lead to head-on confrontation,” he wrote.

If you ignore the context, both men have a valid argument. A short-term alliance with someone who is certain to prove a bitter foe down the road can indeed be dangerous, and history is full of grim examples: for instance, the Hitler-Stalin pact.

But in this case, the eventual conflict is a trumped-up bogeyman that has no chance of ever occurring in reality — because according to evangelical theology, it is due to take place only at the end of days. There are only two possible scenarios for what this end of days can look like, and contrary to the doomsday crowd, neither leads to Jewish-Christian conflict.

The first scenario is that the Jews are right and Jesus is not the Messiah. In that case, there will be no second coming, so the end-of-days demand that the Jews convert will never arrive, and fruitful cooperation between Jews and evangelicals can continue for all eternity.

The second is that the Christians are right, and Jesus is the Messiah. In that case, when he comes again, the Jews should all convert. After all, if they’re right, they’re right.

Needless to say, I believe the first, and my evangelical friends believe the second. But as long we can agree to disagree until the end of days arrives to settle the question, there is no conflict, and no potential for one.

Clearly, that would not be true if evangelicals wanted to forcibly convert the Jews before the end of days arrives. But so far, not even their harshest critics have found any grounds for suspecting them of that.

Even if Israel were awash with allies, it would be foolish to spurn friends as loyal as the evangelicals have proved to be over a trumped-up conflict that will never actually materialize. But to do so when Israel is besieged on all sides, with supporters few and far between, is nothing short of suicidal insanity. Israelis ought to have better sense — and so should their American Jewish supporters.

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