Commentary Magazine


Topic: price tag attacks

No Moral Equivalence for Synagogue Terror

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem in which two Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews in a synagogue, the international media was forced to change, at least for a day or two, their consistent narrative about the Middle East conflict which centered on alleged Israeli misbehavior rather than the reality of Palestinian intransigence, incitement, and violence. But even under these egregious circumstances, mainstream journalists sought to establish a flimsy moral equivalence between this atrocity and what they sought to claim were comparable Israeli outrages conducted against Muslims. An example of this came in the analysis by the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren who asserted, “Jewish vandalism against mosques is a regular occurrence.” But while such regrettable instances have occurred, they are not “regular” and pale in comparison to the toll of Arab terrorism directed at Jewish targets.

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In the aftermath of Tuesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem in which two Palestinian terrorists slaughtered four Jews in a synagogue, the international media was forced to change, at least for a day or two, their consistent narrative about the Middle East conflict which centered on alleged Israeli misbehavior rather than the reality of Palestinian intransigence, incitement, and violence. But even under these egregious circumstances, mainstream journalists sought to establish a flimsy moral equivalence between this atrocity and what they sought to claim were comparable Israeli outrages conducted against Muslims. An example of this came in the analysis by the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren who asserted, “Jewish vandalism against mosques is a regular occurrence.” But while such regrettable instances have occurred, they are not “regular” and pale in comparison to the toll of Arab terrorism directed at Jewish targets.

While much is made in both the Israeli and international media about “price tag” attacks from Israelis, especially West Bank settlers, against Arabs, an Internet listing of all such attacks in the last seven years yields approximately 20 such vandalism incidents against mosques. While each one deserves condemnation and punishment for the perpetrators, an average of two or three a year hardly counts as an epidemic. That is especially true when the same vilified West Bank settlers suffer daily attacks on their persons and property including deadly instances of terrorism as well as mere graffiti or arson. These attacks are so common that they rarely merit news coverage even in Israel, let alone the foreign press.

Among the attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank was the burning of a historic Jewish synagogue in Jericho and the sack of the synagogue at the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus in 2000 at the start of the second intifada. During that assault a Muslim mob assisted by Palestinian Authority policemen desecrated sacred Jewish objects and then burned the building to the ground. Rudoren felt no need to mention these incidents in her attempt to provide historical context for this week’s terror attack.

Yet she did cite the 1994 murder of 29 Muslim worshippers by Baruch Goldstein as an example of how Jews have also committed terror. But that example actually tells us more about the lack of moral equivalence than anything else.

It should be remembered that Goldstein’s insane murder spree was condemned not only by the Israeli government but was widely condemned by a consensus of Israeli society. Goldstein’s act was considered a blot on the honor of the Jewish people by all but a few mad extremists on the far right. Just as important, it resulted in the banning by the Israeli government of Kach, the group of radical followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

By contrast, Palestinian society embraced the two synagogue murderers as heroes this week. Their act of barbarism was celebrated in the streets of Palestinian cities and endorsed by members of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party (though, forced by Secretary of State John Kerry, Abbas issued a condemnation) as well as their Hamas rivals. This is hardly surprising since Abbas had praised recent terror attacks on Jews by Palestinians and even said one who attempted to murder a Jewish activist was a “martyr” who went straight to heaven. Moreover, Goldstein’s murders still stand as one of the few examples of anti-Arab terrorism while attacks on Jews in the 20 years since his crime are almost too numerous to count.

The point here is not to excuse or rationalize any violence against Muslims, acts that are committed by only tiny minority and which almost all Israelis rightly condemn. It is to note that violence against Jews is considered praiseworthy by mainstream Palestinian culture. Seeking to treat such acts as if they are merely the other side of the coin from Jewish crimes isn’t merely a distortion of the facts, it is a willful attempt to obfuscate the truth about a conflict in which only one side is committed to the destruction of the other.

As I wrote yesterday, the cycle of violence in the Middle East is fed by a political culture that treats the war on Jews and Zionism as inextricably linked to Palestinian national identity. No amount of false moral equivalence by Rudoren or any other Western reporter can alter the fact that until that changes, we will continue to see more such attacks on Jews. Until the West and its media stops treating the Palestinian commitment to violence as somehow the fault of Israeli misbehavior or no different than isolated acts committed by Israelis, the Palestinians won’t get the message that this has to end if peace is to ever be achieved.

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The Price Tag of Palestinian Violence

Much attention has been focused on acts of vandalism and violence in Arab villages that have been perpetrated by Jews living in the West Bank. This is entirely appropriate. Any challenges to the rule of law by the tiny group of extremists who have attacked Palestinians in what they call “price tag” attacks to retaliate for Arab actions or Israeli government crackdowns, or who seek to resist the lawful efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to keep order, must be put down with determination. But as deplorable as their acts are, the reality of the situation in the West Bank is one in which Palestinian violence against Jews is a daily fact of life. That was brought home earlier this week with a roadside shooting near Hebron in which cars carrying an Israeli police officer and his family were riddled with bullets on the way to a Passover seder. The murder of Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrachi and the wounding of his wife and 9-year-old son was just one more example of a growing number of incidents in which Palestinian attacks on Israelis have escalated.

The international press and Western governments tend to shrug their shoulders about such crimes. This stems from either a belief that the Palestinians can’t be expected to restrain themselves from violence against Israelis or from a feeling that the Jews, by their presence in the disputed territory, have it coming. This is monstrous, but just as distressing is the fact that little effort is made to hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for the violence. As the Israeli government has attempted, with little success, to bring to the attention of the world, the Palestinian Authority incites violence against Jews and Israelis in its official print and broadcast media. Moreover, the fact that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas told a group of left-wing members of the Knesset that he wouldn’t officially condemn the murder until a “full investigation of the incident was concluded” spoke volumes about the inability of Israel’s peace partner to even make symbolic, let alone tangible, efforts to promote peace.

Should this affect the ongoing negotiations being promoted by the U.S. between Israel and the PA? The negotiators are right to say that terrorists should not be allowed to sabotage peace. But so long as the PA continues to pay salaries to those who commit such crimes, it is not possible to separate such incidents from the talks. Should they be caught, Mizrachi’s murderers will, as the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote today, be confident that the PA will not rest until they are freed. How can anyone seriously think peace is possible so long as we know that is true?

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Much attention has been focused on acts of vandalism and violence in Arab villages that have been perpetrated by Jews living in the West Bank. This is entirely appropriate. Any challenges to the rule of law by the tiny group of extremists who have attacked Palestinians in what they call “price tag” attacks to retaliate for Arab actions or Israeli government crackdowns, or who seek to resist the lawful efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to keep order, must be put down with determination. But as deplorable as their acts are, the reality of the situation in the West Bank is one in which Palestinian violence against Jews is a daily fact of life. That was brought home earlier this week with a roadside shooting near Hebron in which cars carrying an Israeli police officer and his family were riddled with bullets on the way to a Passover seder. The murder of Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrachi and the wounding of his wife and 9-year-old son was just one more example of a growing number of incidents in which Palestinian attacks on Israelis have escalated.

The international press and Western governments tend to shrug their shoulders about such crimes. This stems from either a belief that the Palestinians can’t be expected to restrain themselves from violence against Israelis or from a feeling that the Jews, by their presence in the disputed territory, have it coming. This is monstrous, but just as distressing is the fact that little effort is made to hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for the violence. As the Israeli government has attempted, with little success, to bring to the attention of the world, the Palestinian Authority incites violence against Jews and Israelis in its official print and broadcast media. Moreover, the fact that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas told a group of left-wing members of the Knesset that he wouldn’t officially condemn the murder until a “full investigation of the incident was concluded” spoke volumes about the inability of Israel’s peace partner to even make symbolic, let alone tangible, efforts to promote peace.

Should this affect the ongoing negotiations being promoted by the U.S. between Israel and the PA? The negotiators are right to say that terrorists should not be allowed to sabotage peace. But so long as the PA continues to pay salaries to those who commit such crimes, it is not possible to separate such incidents from the talks. Should they be caught, Mizrachi’s murderers will, as the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote today, be confident that the PA will not rest until they are freed. How can anyone seriously think peace is possible so long as we know that is true?

The PA reaction to Mizrahi’s murder mirrors virtually every other reaction of the PA to the thousands of violent incidents carried out against Jews since the Oslo Accords. PA officials make amorphous comments condemning violence when speaking to the Western press but never follow up with similar, official statements when talking to their people in PA media in Arabic. Meanwhile the government of the independent Palestinian state-in-all-but-name that already exists in Gaza cheered the murder when Hamas endorsed the attack.

The focus on the stalled peace negotiations and the Palestinian demand for defined borders for the state they hope to create on the West Bank tends to encourage a mindset that sees the conflict as one that is primarily about territory. But the PA’s encouragement of terrorism—both explicit and tacit—illustrates once again that Israeli demands for gestures that show Abbas’s commitment to end the conflict are fundamental to the creation of any lasting or even temporary peace. So long as the PA and their Hamas rivals legitimize attacks or rationalize them as an understandable reaction to the indignity of being forced to live alongside Jewish communities, there is little reason to believe that redrawing Israel’s borders will put an end to the violence.

While the Palestinians deserve the lion’s share of the criticism for this, some of the blame belongs to both the U.S. and Israel. Just as it did in the 1990s with regard to the reprehensible activities of Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat, U.S. attempts to whitewash Abbas make it unlikely that the PA will reconsider its actions. Similarly, as Horovitz notes, Israel’s willingness to engage in prisoner exchanges, which allow terrorists to think any prison sentences they get for their crimes are merely temporary inconveniences, also encourages violence.

While those who claim to constitute the “peace camp” both in Israel and the United States tend to regard any attention given to Palestinian crimes as a distraction from the more important work to negotiate an agreement, so long as the PA isn’t forced to pay a price for its misconduct, Secretary of State John Kerry’s already dim chances for success are reduced to zero. 

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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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