An uncomfortable question
Can Jews be terrorists? Apparently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t think so; at least, not last week when, in response to recent attacks on Israeli soldiers by settlers on the West Bank, he approved a series of measures to crack down on extremists there.
But, according to Israel’s daily Haaretz, he rejected a recommendation by Israel’s security forces to define the extremists as terrorists.
“Whoever lays a hand on IDF soldiers or Israeli policemen will be harshly punished,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying. “These people are a small group that does not represent those living in Judea and Samaria — people loyal to the state and its laws and who condemn such behavior.”
We agree. Despite the heinous acts of violence by West Bank extremists, including last week’s infiltration of an IDF base and the assault of a senior army officer at a nearby settlement outpost, we, too, believe that most settlers prefer to settle their differences with the government within the limits of the law.
But what about those who do resort to violence, who do attack military outposts, who assault Israeli soldiers?
Do these Jews deserve to be called terrorists?
Netanyahu just couldn’t go that far, but why?
Maybe it’s because the word “terrorist” is politically charged in the Jewish lexicon, a word that refers exclusively to the enemies of Jews and Israel (and Israel’s friends), the kind of evil doers who take hostages, kill babies in their cribs, fly jets into skyscrapers and detonate themselves on crowded buses.
Yes, those are certainly terrorists, but where is the line drawn between terrorism and extremism? Can’t some violent crimes be less heinous than others, yet their perpetrators still be terrorists? And can’t a terrorist be a Jew?
To answer yes is not a popular thing to do in our community. Still, we know some Jews have done shocking things, like Baruch Goldstein, who opened fire on Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs Feb. 25, 1994, killing 29 and injuring 125 before being killed himself. Baruch Goldstein was a terrorist.
There are American terrorists, too, such as Timothy McVeigh, who detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 800. Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist.
But here’s the point: Baruch Goldstein didn’t represent the Jews or Jewish values, and Timothy McVeigh didn’t represent the Americans or American values. So we shouldn’t be afraid to use the word terrorism when it fits the crime.
We happen to believe an attack on an IDF base by anyone who is not in the uniform of a declared enemy nation is an act of terrorism. It doesn’t matter if the attackers are of the same people as the IDF defenders.
As Haaretz reported, many of the new measures the prime minister announced to curb these attacks didn’t give the authorities any powers they don’t already have. And the attacks happened anyway.
Perhaps the threat of being branded a terrorist for raising one’s hand against Israel — be you a Jew or not — is just the deterrent Israel’s defenders need.