While visiting Israel this week, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide grudgingly admitted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to Israeli-Palestinian talks “sounds increasingly credible.” As proof, he cited Israel’s release of 26 Palestinian murderers earlier this month. But he immediately downplayed the move’s significance: While it was a “first sign,” he said, it “wasn’t an especially big sacrifice.”
This echoes Norwegian and Swedish reactions two weeks ago after Israel’s ambassador to Sweden compared Israel’s feelings about freeing those killers to how Norwegians would feel about freeing Anders Breivik, whose 2011 shooting spree killed 69 Norwegians, mostly teenagers. Outraged Scandinavians lined up to denounce the comparison, asserting that while Breivik was a mass murderer, the Palestinians were freedom fighters. As Jonathan wrote at the time, the general sentiment seemed to be that killers of Norwegians deserve punishment, but killers of Israelis “should be released and honored.” And that seems to be Eide’s view as well: Releasing cold-blooded killers who murdered elderly Holocaust survivors or old men sitting on park benches isn’t “an especially big sacrifice,” certainly nothing like releasing Breivik would be.
But while I agree with Jonathan that this double standard is anti-Semitic, I don’t think the Scandinavians are solely to blame. If much of the world has concluded that (Jewish) Israelis’ blood is cheap, and that their killers don’t deserve the same punishment as those who kill, say, Norwegians, a large share of the blame belongs to successive Israeli governments. For by repeatedly releasing Palestinian murderers under circumstances no other government would contemplate, Israeli governments have shown that they hold the blood of Israeli citizens cheaply. And if even Israel’s government doesn’t view murdering Israelis as a crime that deserves life imprisonment, why should anyone else?
I’m not talking here about lopsided exchanges like the 1,027 Palestinian terrorists Israel freed to ransom kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Though I have consistently opposed such swaps on other grounds, they don’t treat Israeli life cheaply; on the contrary, they reflect just how far Israel will go to save even one life.
But the same doesn’t hold for other prisoner releases. In 2008, for instance, Israel traded five live terrorists–including a particularly vicious killer, Samir Kuntar, whose murders included smashing a 4-year-old’s skull against a rock with a rifle butt–for two dead bodies. What other country would treat the murder of its citizens so cheaply that it would release their killers in exchange for corpses?
Israel has also freed thousands of prisoners over the years as “goodwill gestures” toward the Palestinian Authority, and though most weren’t actually murderers, they generally were involved in anti-Israel terror. Other countries free terrorists only under formal peace agreements, not as mere “goodwill gestures” to facilitate talks; thus again, this teaches the world that Israeli governments don’t consider anti-Israel terror so terrible.
But the nadir was Netanyahu’s agreement to release 104 Palestinians, almost all of them vicious killers, in four stages (the 26 freed this month were the first), solely to get Palestinian negotiators to talk with their Israeli counterparts. What other country would free murderers who killed hundreds of its citizens just to bribe another party into talks whose sole aim is to give them the land and sovereignty they claim to want?
Norway assuredly wouldn’t release Breivik under such circumstances. And that’s precisely why Norwegians view any comparison of Breivik to Palestinian killers as ridiculous: If Israelis really considered the freed Palestinians’ crimes on a par with Breivik’s, they think, then Israel wouldn’t release them, either.
Thus while there are many reasons to oppose Netanyahu’s decision, this may be the weightiest of all: By freeing those killers, Israel has once again taught the world to view Jewish blood as cheap.