J.J. Goldberg

Jewsh Terrorism: 'You Can't Blame an Entire (Religious) Community' — 'Yes We Can'

By J.J. Goldberg

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There’s an interesting debate unfolding in the opinion section of Ynet, Yediot Ahronot’s Web site, over the role of religion and settler ideology in the alleged crimes of accused West Bank Jewish terrorist Jack Teitel. Some of it appears in translation on their English site, and some of it doesn’t, either by coincidence or because someone thinks it’s Not for Public Consumption.

Background: The announcement of Teitel’s arraignment on November 1 set off an immediate round of defensive statements from settler movement spokespersons that their community abhors murder and violence and can’t be blamed for one person’s deranged actions. The mantra, repeated whenever there’s another incident of settler violence, is: Don’t blame an entire community (tzibur shalem) for the actions of a wayward individual.

The day after Teitel’s arraignment, November 2, Ynet published a column (here’s the English version) by Yair Borochov, a frequent Ynet contributor and editor of a Lubavitch Web site, Shturem.net (and relative of Ber Borochov? Dunno), with a quirky take on the issue. He argues that journalists have a habit of assigning catchy nicknames to celebrity bad guys, but only when they’re Orthodox. Examples: The Abusing Rabbi (an Israeli cult leader accused of serial sexual molestation). The Starving Mother (doesn’t translate well — she’s a Hasidic woman accused of starving her toddler son, and we would probably dub her Munchausen Mom). And now, the Jewish Terrorist.

By contrast, Borochov writes, non-religious criminals don’t get these catchy nicknames. He offers two examples of recent headliners, Michael Fischer and Asaf Goldring, both accused of killing their own children, both known in the press simply by their names.

He may have a point. Here in America, nicknames like that are routine for sensational crimes. Think of the Boston Strangler, the Zodiac Killer or the Mayflower Madam. But I can’t think of any parallel examples from Israel that would disprove Borochov’s thesis. Maybe I’m blanking out.

Borochov is arguing a larger case, however, and here’s where he’s wrong.

The identity of the victims is irrelevant; regardless of whether they are Jewish or Arab, a murderer is a murderer, and if a person who murdered his wife and three children does not fit the “terrorist” category, I see no reason to do so when the victims are members of a different ethnicity or in case the murderer is religious.

In fact, he doesn’t really believe that the identity of the victim is irrelevant. Chabad, and much of the rest of the Jewish world, finds particularly deep meaning in the deaths of Jewish victims because of their identity and never hesitates to mention it. It’s called dying Al Kiddush Hashem, for the Sanctification of the Name. For that matter, I doubt whether Borochov objects to terms like Islamic terrorist or Shi’ite insurgent. Or Colombian drug kingpin. Or Nazi murderer. The monikers tell an essential part of the story, namely the motive and the political significance that makes the act more than a simple crime.

A telling counterpoint appeared that evening, in a column by Ariana Melamed, a Tel Aviv writer and literary critic, with the provocative title, “Yes, blame an entire community.” This one doesn’t appear in English for, um, some reason. So I’ll give you the thrust:

Melamed isn’t responding directly to Borochov, but rather to Orthodox spokesmen flooding the media with defensive arguments that you can’t blame an entire community — and that they shouldn’t be expected to condemn Teitel or others like him, when after all Tel Aviv liberals aren’t pressured to condemn the likes of Goldring.

Melamed makes two key arguments. First, spokesmen for Tel Aviv liberals, if there are such things, aren’t expected to condemn a Goldring because revulsion toward a parent killing his own child is automatic and universal—and there’s ideology that could be interpreted as justifying it. Moreover, a baby-killer like Goldring doesn’t attract an army of admirers who rally to his cause (while condemning his unforgiveable behavior, of course) and donate to defense funds.

Second, a community can be known by the leaders it chooses, in this case the religious nationalist rabbis of the Gush Emunim settler movement. She points to several of the most prominent and respected. “Take, for example, Dov Lior,” the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba, “who called Baruch Goldstein ‘a martyr like the martyrs of the Holocaust’.” Or Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, “who expressed revulsion at the act of murder but didn’t condemn it, in a remarkable rhetorical exercise that recalls his response to Baruch Goldstein. Goldstein’s act, the rabbi said, was forbidden because he didn’t consult with ‘the nation’ [meaning rabbinical authorities – JJG] before committing his massacre—and nonetheless he [Goldstein] is a martyr.” (Rabbi Aviner, it must be noted, has a gutsy liberal side to him that we’ll take up another day.)

One more essential read on the new Jewish Terrorist affair is this column (in English) by Alex Fishman, Yediot Ahronot’s masterful military analyst. His point is that Teitel was able to walk around freely for 12 years, even after he began to raise suspicions nearly a decade ago, because the police and the Shin Bet security service don’t put the same energy and determination into tracking the Jewish far-right that they put into stopping Palestinian terrorists. It might seem like a natural response—after all, Jewish rightists aren’t considered a strategic national-security threat intent on destroying the state of Israel. But they are a strategic threat to Israel’s security, and putting them on a lower priority makes them believe they can get away with it. Here’s Fishman’s conclusion:

The State of Israel is facing tough tests vis-à-vis the far Right. Should we face an accelerated diplomatic process or a need to evacuate more communities, we shall see bitter clashes. The Teitel affair shows us that not only do the mad individuals and marginal groups exist, they’re also not scared.

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esthermiriam Thu. Nov 5, 2009

Web Editor of The Forward says, "...Our role in fostering free speech is ensuring that our publication — in print and online — is a place where writers feel safe to take on uncomfortable issues and where dialogue is informed, passionate and civil..."

Since comments here seem passionate, perhaps, but neither imformed nor civil, maybe some moderating in order?

esthermiriam Sat. Nov 7, 2009

Thanks. That my comment may now seem a bit odd is a price worth paying.

Mark Tue. Nov 10, 2009

So it's fair to say that we can blame all the Muslims who attended the mosques where Nidal Malik Hasan prayed

Joe Feld Thu. Nov 12, 2009

What interests me is that Haaretz, J Post, J C and Forward all label a terrorist just that -- a terrorist. We don't go in for the 'BBC speak' of calling a terrorist a 'militant'! None of us would ever try to justify Teitel's criminal acts or glorify him as some Palestinian groups glorify suicide bombers and mass murderers.

Miriam Chartier Tue. Dec 8, 2009

Every person ---all of mankind is extrememy imortant, and our actions have powerful conquences for the good of all mankind.

Miriam Chartier Wed. Dec 9, 2009

One sin brought down death to all mankind....not just Jewish people.

And like the sin in the Garden, the sin of the golden calf again caused death for the whole world.

The Tent, of the appointed -----time----, that has now been blemished, thereby interrupting the Union of above and below with the Spirit of G-D that would lived in us.

Israel left Egypt they traveled with the mixed multitude.

The World was their! not just the people that now call them selves Jews. G-D gathered the mixed multitude into Egypt, for his hand to lead them out....to be their dwelling place, we were to be the tent covered with skin, that embraced the two sided tablets, and with the do the will of G-D that desire He has for us, would of written the law on our inward parts. (Ps.51 read)

Recognized that the mixture had to come to inquire of Him our G-D. So what was happening here...?

G-D called them all out...come, holy children, come the King's beloved, come my beloved, come those that are beloved by each other.

You act like G-D only wanted one group of people. think!

All the firends during the days loved each other, soul and spirit. therefore in those generations, the secrets of the Torah were unveiled. All the firends that do not love each other cause themselves to deviate from the straight path. Also, they blemish it, the Torah, because the Torah has in it love, friendship, and truth.

Abraham loved Isaac and Isaac loved abraham, so thy embraced each other. The friends must like them, and not cause a blemish in them.

For if they lack love, they cause a blemish in their counterpart above, as well as below, if thy walk in unity with G-D. Sin can not be taken on the walk!

Think! Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which are the secret of Chesed, Gvurah, and Tiferet.

Moses, and the mixture, down to this generation they exchanged their glory, fo what.....for the likeness of an ox.

For it is written...."Thus they exchanged their glory with the likeness of an ox that eats grass."

The meaning of this is grass....it does not have the essence of bread and seven species of grain. With out the breath of the Almighty in the holy union of the Spirit of G-D that made us flesh, mankind, are just humans and beast.

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes but spirit to Spirit.

Job 33....The Spirit of G-D made me( flesh, below, death) and the breath of the Allmighty gives me life.(above, spirit, everlasting life)

One sin.... Man was united with the Tree of Life before he sinned, so were the mixture of the children G-D lead out by the hand, they stood before Mount Sinai. And I will say it again....like the sin in the Garden, the sin of the golden calf again caused death for the whole world....Yes and the sins now....can bring death to the world!

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