Jewish Terrorism in Israel

Jewish Terrorism in Israel

Update from AIJAC

August 7, 2015
Number 08/15 #01

Israel has been discussing and struggling with two major issues this week – what appears to be a Jewish firebombing terror attack on homes in the West Bank Palestinian town of Duma,  which left Ali Saad Dawabsha, an 18-month-old child, dead, and members of his family fighting for their lives, plus a stabbing attack on Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade, which led to the death of a 16-year-old girl and injuries to five other people. Statements on the attacks from Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders are summarised here. 

We lead with a good comprehensive look from Israeli journalist and blogger Shmuel Rosner at how Israel has reacted – focusing especially on problematic responses coming from elements of both the right and the left. While making it clear that almost all Israelis have been outraged, as they properly should be by these events, he takes to task those on the right who refuse to recognise that it is primarily their responsibility to confront the extreme right fringe, and that rhetoric from some right-wingers has been unhelpful and provocative. And then he takes to task the tendency among some on the left to argue that the whole Israeli right is directly responsible for inciting this violence and that holding or expressing any right-of-centre views is in itself tantamount to calling for or being complicit in racist violence. For Rosner’s thoughtful, knowledgeable and morally serious view, CLICK HERE.

Next up is veteran Israeli columnist Evelyn Gordon who corrects some misconceptions about the perpetrators of the Duma attack. She notes that according to Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, this is a tiny group of “anarchist anti-Zionists” whose goal is to overthrow the State of Israel itself and replace it with a religious “kingdom” – and they are largely isolated from and do not listen to even rabbis and politicians on the far right of the Israeli spectrum. She then goes on to discuss evidence that, contrary to claims racists and extremists are gaining ground in Israeli society, Israel is doing more than ever before to integrate and include Arabs in the Israeli mainstream. For this corrective to some assumptions both about the perpetrators of this attack and about the overall trends within Israel, CLICK HERE. Also exploring the realities of the very small and isolated  group behind the Duma attack is well-known Israeli journalist Ben Caspit.

Finally, Palestinian writer Bassam Tawil makes an enlightening comparison of the Israeli government and society’s response to the Duma terror attack and that from the Palestinian Authority (PA) to terror attacks against Israelis. He notes that Israeli PM Netanyahu expressed “shock” and “outrage” at the attack and Israeli President Rivlin said he was “ashamed” and “in pain”, while thousands of Israelis rallied in the streets to condemn the murder. He contrasts this with evidence of Palestinian public support for terror attacks on Israelis, and the often half-hearted condemnations from the PA, explained domestically as necessary in a “diplomatic context”. He criticises Palestinian society for failing “to educate our people on the principles of tolerance and peace” and continuing “to condone and applaud terrorism.” For Tawil’s plea for Palestinians to learn from the Israeli response to the attack. CLICK HERE. More on the contrasting Israeli and Palestinian approaches to terror attacks comes from American writer Shoshana Bryen. 

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Fighting Jewish terrorism is the burden of the right

by Shmuel Rosner

Jewish Journal, August3


Any decent person -– any decent Israeli –- any decent supporter of Israel –- must respond with horror to the two violent events that occurred in Israel last week. Any decent person should be disgusted by the brutal murder of a Palestinian infant in what seems to be an attack by Jewish terrorists. Any decent person should be disgusted by the attack at the gay pride parade in Jerusalem, an attack in which a Jewish extremist murdered a 16-year-old girl and injured five other gay Israelis. 

But give Israelis credit for being decent: most of them were shocked and dismayed by the attacks. Like Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog, many of them followed the news with “a heavy heart”. Their political leaders responded swiftly and without equivocation. “I am shocked by this horrific, heinous act”, said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu following the death of Ali Saad Dawabsha, the Palestinian 8-month-old child from the village of Duma. The child died – burned – in an arson attack. “This is a terror attack in every respect. The State of Israel deals forcefully with terror, regardless of who the perpetrators are”, said Netanyahu. President Reuven Rivlin took an unusual step and issued a statement in both Arabic and Hebrew. “I feel a sense of shame, and moreover a sense of pain”, Rivlin said, “pain that from my people there are those who have chosen the path of terrorism, and have lost their humanity”.

Shock and shame, condemnation and dismay, are all important if they lead to action. And clearly, Israel is not doing well enough at battling Jewish terrorism and extremism. A year ago, when Jewish extremists murdered an Arab youth in Jerusalem, I wrote an article under the headline “Does the Murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir Make You Doubt Israel? It Should”. Today, you should once again doubt Israel. Not its sincerity in condemning violence, not its dismay and disgust following the above mentioned events, not its shock and shame. You should question its ability to respond properly to these events – you should question its persistence in fighting back.

There are four basic claims that Israel’s leaders – specifically its right-wing leadership – have to deal with as they ponder the next steps aimed at curbing Jewish violence:

That the operational mechanism put together by these leaders to deal with Jewish extremism and terrorism is lacking in manpower, resources, legal means, tactics, intelligence.

That the rhetoric of these leaders, and the actions encouraged by these leaders, lead to violence.

That the views of these leaders lead to violence.

That Israel’s overall policies lead to violence.


The first claim is professional in nature. Israel has to have priorities, and has to properly invest resources to solve urgent problems such as this one. As far as I can tell – after speaking to several professionals about this matter – the lack of resources might be a problem, but it does not emanate from a decision by the political leadership not to invest in stopping Jewish terrorism. It emanates from the understandable state of mind that puts the fight against Arab terrorism before the fight against Jewish terrorism. It is reasonable to argue that some recalibration of this balance should take place to make more resources available for those tasked with finding and stopping Jewish murderers.

Israel is fighting Jewish terrorism. Recent events are still fresh, they are painful, they are frustrating. But one has to insist on getting a full picture, of both the failures and the successes of Israel’s battle against Jewish extremists. Just days ago an Israeli court jailed two Jewish brothers that were found guilty in an arson attack on a Jerusalem Jewish-Arab school. These two terrorists were found, arrested and tried promptly. Israel also found, arrested, and charged two Israelis following the arson attack on the Church of Loaves and Fishes. Another arrest connected to that attack occurred last week.

These arrests prove that Israel is not letting Jewish terrorists operate without interruption and punishment. These attacks, and other attacks that happened in recent months, also prove that Israel ought to do more, that the problem of Jewish extremism leading to Jewish violent attacks is becoming more serious, that it now demands more attention and more resources.


The second claim – concerning rhetoric and actions – has merit.

The attacks were naturally followed by political commentary. Some of it worthy, a lot of it misleading and distracting. It is true that the attacks come from Israel’s right – the leaders of that camp should not deny such an obvious fact. It is also true that most of the attackers in recent violent incidents are religiously pious – Orthodox leaders should not deny such an obvious fact either.

Right-wing leaders find it hard to admit it, but also find it hard to keep their mouths shut and behave as they should – like leaders of a country. It is a problem that was in full display last week, when leaders of the right went to verbal war against a decision of the High Court in language that is impossible to justify. It is a problem I wrote about many times in the past (obviously, without having much impact). Here is what I said not long after Israel’s latest election: “watching the right-wing camp in action clarifies that its leaders and voters alike refuse to accept their new status as a potential majority. The right has maintained – for close to forty years – a mentality of a struggling minority that has to keep battling resistant forces, true or imaginary. It battles against the courts, and against a hostile media, and against the elites, and academia. Indeed, right-wing complaints against these establishments often have merit. And yet, battling them with the zealotry of a persecuted minority, when the right has been effectively in power for the last forty years, is strange and disturbing. It is a testimony to the fact that the ‘right’ is also not ready to assume the role of a majority, and the responsibilities that come with it”.

So no, the leaders of the right that protested the destruction of two houses in a settlement last week did not invite Jewish terrorism by criticizing the High Court. But they did contribute to an atmosphere that makes violence more likely. And while they are correct to argue that the left also uses harsh rhetoric, they are incorrect to make the comparison between them and the leaders of the left for a simple reason: they are in power, the left is in the opposition. Power means responsibility. Responsibility means restraint. Restraint means, among other things, no calls for the High Court to be “bulldozed” (as one MK of Habait Hayehudi proposed). It also means that the right-religious coalition has to lead the fight against terrorism that is perpetrated by right-religious elements.


The third claim, that says that the views of these leaders lead to violence, is problematic. This is where leaders of the right and of the Orthodox community begin to feel delegitimized. The leaders of the right have a point when they protest against the attempt to use the abhorrent attacks to delegitimize their political views. And the rabbis have a point when they argue that a deranged interpretation of Orthodox Judaism should not be used to smear the beliefs and the views of rabbis and activists.

We have seen this blame game cycle many times before, especially so following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Israel’s left points to the right and insists that all of it is responsible for the abhorrent act. Israel’s right responds with fury and self-defense. Israel’s left feels threatened by the violence emanating from the right. Israel’s right feels silenced and delegitimized by the left. The result is hardly useful to anyone. The blamers bask in righteousness but have no power to make the accused admit their supposed sin. The accused bask in self-pity and self-defense, and find refuge in these from making necessary amendments to their conduct.

It isn’t that complicated to differentiate right from wrong in this context: An Orthodox rabbi should feel comfortable to be opposed to homosexual behavior without him being blamed for the attempted murder of gay parade attendees. A religious minister – in this case Naftali Bennet – should not be unwelcome in a rally against the violence at the gay parade, only because he would not sign a petition that calls for gay marriage. Supporters of gays should not exclude an important part of the population from a protest that aims to better the security of gays over policy differences. They should let Bennet be on their side against violence, even if he cannot be on their side on marriage.

Similarly, a settlement movement leader should feel free to defend his political views without him being blamed for the brutal murder of an infant in a Palestinian village. That is, of course, if the leader is careful to make sure he does not encourage violent behavior, and if he is willing to help the authorities identify the violent elements in their midst.


So it isn’t complicated -– but politics makes it difficult, politicians make it difficult, activists make it difficult. All these people would like to utilize the abhorrent crimes to further their own political agenda, to further their policies. This brings us to the fourth claim: that Israel’s policies lead to violence.

Novelist David Grossman (writing for Haaretz) wants Israel to end the occupation; a gay activist demands gay marriage now, as the only way to stop violence; a party wants all settlers removed; a leader wants Netanyahu to soften his terms for peace negotiations; a pundit wants the rabbinate dismantled; another one wants Haredis to stop legislating religious laws.

These are all worthy causes – if you happen to believe in them. They are not worthy causes if you think that dismantling settlements erodes Israel’s standing, or that dismantling the rabbinate, weakens Israel’s national ethos. These are all distractions from the cause a vast majority of Israelis – Jewish and non-Jewish – strongly agree with. The state has to curb brutal behavior, identify violent elements and tame them, uproot terrorism, Jewish and non-Jewish, and prevent extremists from stabbing homosexuals at a parade, or setting a house of innocent people ablaze.

In other words: many of the people who claim to expose the “true causes” of Jewish terrorism are not helping the battle against Jewish terrorism, they are an obstacle, a disruption to that battle. To fight such a battle a country needs unity of purpose and broad agreement. By politicizing the battle people who have the best of intentions weaken the ability of the government to do what’s necessary – what Rivlin and Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yaalon and many other officials know is necessary.


Four more comments on things that I heard people say in the past few days:

1. “We will not be zealots. We will not be bullies. We will not become a state of anarchy”.

These are the words of President Rivlin. I agree with him. And I think that oftentimes people tend to focus on the “zealot” rather than on the “anarchy” argument. That is to say: a true conservative Israeli right should be leading the fight for law and order and against anarchy.

2. Why not treat Jewish terrorists the way Israel treats Arab terrorists?

The fight against terrorism is not about revenge, or satisfaction, or equality – it is about effectiveness. If demolishing the house of a Jewish terrorist could be a deterrent to other terrorists – by all means, demolish. If it cannot – there is no point in doing it. (And as for Arabs: ask the same question, get the answer, and act accordingly.)

3. If you say that Arabs are going to the polls “in droves”, you end up with murder.

No – that is not true. Netanyahu’s rhetoric on election day was not pretty, but it was not a call for violence. On the other hand, even for Israelis who support many of Netanyahu’s views and policies, it is hard to deny that the Prime Minister has not always contributed to an atmosphere of civil discussion and mutual respect among Israelis. It is also hard to deny that he has too often left room for suspicion that grave matters of state – such as dealing with Jewish extremism in the West Bank – are subjected to the politics of (his) convenience.

4. Why is it always religious people that turn to violence?

Short answer: it is because of many things. For example: because they have stronger beliefs and are often more willing to sacrifice for these beliefs. Is that a bad thing? When the result is violence it is a bad thing. When the result is a society of social justice and care for the needy it is a good thing. In other words: religion, like all things, is not one dimensional.

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Mainstream Israel Promotes Integration Despite the Lunatic Fringe

These few dozen hardcore terrorists, the Shin Bet security service told Haaretz, heed neither rabbis nor politicians; they are “anarchist anti-Zionists” who consider even “extremist” rabbis too moderate. Moreover, their goal isn’t to promote Jewish settlement or stop territorial withdrawals or any other goal shared by the “extremist” rabbis and politicians; rather, it’s to overthrow the State of Israel itself and replace it with a religious “kingdom.” In this, they differ fundamentally even from the “price-tag” vandals, whose goal was limited to deterring house demolitions in the settlements and whose tactics – albeit completely unacceptable – were generally confined to vandalism, “with no clear intention to cause bodily harm.”

In other words, these terrorists don’t reflect a widespread “sickness” in Israeli society, as Rivlin likes to say; they are no more representative of mainstream Israel than neo-Nazi fringe groups are of mainstream modern Germany – and perhaps even less.

So how racist and extremist is mainstream Israeli society? Well, consider the following collection of news items from the last few days alone:

  • The OECD just issued a report praising Israel’s efforts to increase Arab employment, though noting that much remains to be done.
  • Israeli government figures show a sharp rise in the workforce participation rate among Arab women over the last 20 years, from 19 percent to 32.5 percent.
  • The Economy Ministry just inaugurated special scholarships for Bedouin engineering students, the latest in a series of affirmative action programs for the Arab community. Under another program, the government funds 85 percent of research at Arab high-tech startups, compared to only 50 percent at Jewish startups.
  • The government recently started investing in tourism development in Arab communities; inter alia, it sponsored Ramadan events in various Arab towns this year and ran a nationwide campaign encouraging Jews to visit them. As Ron Gerlitz, co-executive director of Sikkuy – the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, noted, this doesn’t erase past discrimination, but “On the symbolic plane, this represents a significant step forward in government policy.”
  • The Druze Arab town of Beit Jann had the highest pass rate in the country on the 2013-14 matriculation exams.
  • Salah Hasarma just became the first Arab coach of a Jewish soccer team in Israel’s top league.
  • While a few Israeli Arabs have joined Islamic State, they aren’t flocking to do so at the same rate as Arabs from other Western countries. This, argues Prof. Hillel Frisch of Bar-Ilan University, indicates that Israeli Arabs are less dissatisfied with their lives than Arabs in many European countries – or at least, more aware of how lucky they are not to be living in the chaotic hell across the border.

To understand why the above news items are so important, consider a Biblical analogy I heard from rabbi and journalist Yishai Fleisher last week. When the king of Moab wants the prophet Balaam to curse the Jewish people, he deliberately takes him to a place where “you will not see them all, but only the outskirts of their camp” (Numbers 23:13). Why? Because when you focus exclusively on one tiny fringe element of Israel, it’s easy to curse it. But when you see the whole of Israel in all its complexity, it’s much harder.

In this case, the tiny fringe is perpetrating horrific attacks on Arabs in an effort to overthrow the state. But the state it seeks to overthrow is investing heavily in trying to better integrate its Arab citizens and rectify past discrimination against them.

And if you’re going to choose a single part of Israel’s mosaic to represent the whole, the mainstream that promotes integration is surely a more representative piece than a lunatic fringe trying to overthrow the state.

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Palestinians: The Difference between Us and Them

  • We Palestinians have failed to educate our people on the principles of tolerance and peace. Instead, we condone and applaud terrorism, especially when it is directed against Jews. We want the world to condemn terrorism only when it claims the lives of Palestinians.
  • Abbas’s ambiguous, half-hearted condemnations of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis are only intended for public consumption and are primarily aimed at appeasing Western donors so that they will continue channeling funds to the Palestinian Authority. In addition, his condemnations seek to blame Israel for Palestinian terror attacks.

  • Netanyahu’s strong and clear condemnation left me and other Palestinians wondering when was the last time we heard similar statements from our leaders. I cannot remember Abbas or any other Palestinian leader ever expressing shock and outrage over the killing of a Jew in a Palestinian terror attack, nor the last time a Palestinian official visited the Israeli victims of a Palestinian terror attack.

  • Each time Abbas reluctantly condemns a Palestinian terror attack, he faces a wave of criticism from many Palestinians. Unlike the Israeli public, many Palestinians often rush to justify, and even welcome, terror attacks against Jews. Has there ever been a Palestinian activist who dared to hold a rally in a Palestinian city to condemn suicide bombings or the murder of an entire Jewish family? The Israeli president has good reason to feel ashamed for the murder of the baby. But when will we Palestinians ever have a sense of shame over the way we react to the murder of Jews?

I cannot count the number of times that I heard from Israeli Jews the phrases “I’m ashamed” and “I’m sorry” in response to the horrific crime that claimed the life of Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabsha in the West Bank village of Duma last week.

The strong response of the Israeli public and leaders to the arson attack is, truthfully, somewhat comforting. The wall-to-wall Israeli condemnation of this crime has left me and other Palestinians not only ashamed, but also embarrassed — because this is not how we Palestinians have been reacting to terror attacks against Jews — even the despicable murder of Jewish children.

Our response has, in fact, brought feelings of disgrace and dishonor. While the Israeli prime minister, president and other officials were quick strongly to condemn the murder of Dawabsha, our leaders rarely denounce terror attacks against Jews. And when a Palestinian leader such as Mahmoud Abbas does issue a condemnation, it is often vague and equivocal.

Take, for example, what happened after last year’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinians in the West Bank. It not only took President Abbas four days to issue a statement condemning the terror attack, but even then, the condemnation was at best a tentative: “The Palestinian presidency… condemns the series of events that happened last week, beginning with the kidnapping of three Israeli youths.” Abbas then went on to denounce Israel for arresting dozens of Hamas members after the abduction and murder of the three youths.

Later in 2014, when Abbas did condemn a Palestinian terror attack that killed five Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue, Fatah official Najat Abu Baker, a few days later, explained that Abbas’s condemnation was made “within a diplomatic context… [he] is forced to speak this way to the world.”

Abbas’s condemnation of the attack at the synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood apparently came only under pressure from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who telephoned the Palestinian leader twice to demand that he speak out against the killings. Abbas’s statement said that the Palestinian leadership condemns the “killing of worshippers in a synagogue and all acts of violence, regardless of their source.” His statement then also called for an end to “incursions and provocations by settlers against the Aqsa Mosque.”

Abbas’s ambiguous, half-hearted condemnations of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis are only intended for public consumption and are primarily aimed at appeasing Western donors, so that they will continue channeling funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA). In addition, his condemnations almost always seek to blame Israel for the Palestinian terror attacks — presumably an attempt to justify the killing of Jews at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.

In contrast, Israeli leaders who condemned the murder of the Palestinian toddler sound firm and unambiguous. Here is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said after visiting the murdered baby’s parents and brother, who were wounded in the arson attack and are receiving medical treatment in Israeli hospitals: “When you stand next to the bed of this small child, and his infant brother has been so brutally murdered, we are shocked, we are outraged. We condemn this. There is zero tolerance for terrorism wherever it comes from, whatever side of the fence it comes from.”

Netanyahu’s strong and clear condemnation left me and other Palestinians wondering when was the last time we heard similar statements from our leaders. I cannot remember ever hearing Abbas or any other Palestinian leader express shock and outrage over the killing of a Jew in a Palestinian terror attack. Nor can I remember the last time we heard of a Palestinian official visiting the Israeli victims of a Palestinian terror attack.

The Israeli leaders’ condemnation of the baby’s murder is a sincere voice that reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public. In contrast, the Palestinian leaders’ denunciations of terror attacks do not reflect the general feeling on the Palestinian street. Each time Abbas reluctantly condemns a Palestinian terror attack, he faces a wave of criticism from many Palestinians.

Unlike the Israeli public, many Palestinians often rush to justify, and even welcome, terror attacks against Jews. This was the situation just a few weeks ago, when an Israeli man was shot dead near Ramallah. Several Palestinian factions and military groups applauded the murder, calling it a “natural response to Israeli crimes.”

This is the huge difference between the way Israelis and Palestinians react to terrorism. The murder of Dawabsha saw thousands of Israelis hold anti-violence rallies to condemn the horrible crime. But has anyone ever heard of a similar rally on the Palestinian side whenever terrorists kill innocent Jewish civilians? Is there one top Palestinian official or prominent figure who dares to speak out in public against the murder of Jews, at a rally in the center of Ramallah or Gaza City? Has there ever been a Palestinian activist who dared to hold a rally in a Palestinian city to condemn suicide bombings or the murder of an entire Jewish family?

While Israelis have been holding rallies to condemn terror attacks against our people, we have been celebrating the killing of Jews. How many times have we taken to the streets to hand out sweets and candies in jubilation over the killing of Jews? Such sickening scenes of men and women celebrating terror attacks against Jews on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have never been condemned by our leaders. These scenes have become commonplace each time Palestinian terrorists carry out an attack against Jews.

These scenes stand in sharp contrast to the public statements and rallies in Israel in response to terror attacks against Palestinians. Our leaders need to learn from Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, who said he was “ashamed” and “in pain” for the murder of the Palestinian toddler. When was the last time a Palestinian leader used such rhetoric to condemn the murder of Jews? The laconic statements issued by Abbas’s office in response to anti-Jewish terror attacks never talked about shame or pain.

We have failed to educate our people on the principles of tolerance and peace. Instead, we continue to condone and applaud terrorism, especially when it is directed against Jews. We want the whole world to condemn terrorism only when it claims the lives of Palestinians. We have reached a point where many of us are either afraid to speak out against terrorism or simply accept it when it claims the lives of Jews.

The Israeli president has good reason to be ashamed for the murder of the baby. But when will we Palestinians ever have a sense of shame over the way we are reacting to the murder of Jews? When will we stop glorifying terrorists, and naming streets and public squares after them, instead of strongly denouncing them and expelling them from our society? We still have a lot to learn from Israeli leaders and the Israeli public.

Bassam Tawil is based in the Middle East.

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