Whenever the UK media covers the Israel/Palestine conflict I worry about bias and misrepresentation of the facts.
This fear is based on experience over many years.
When the BBC broadcast a special programme about the Mavi Marmara incident last year I and many others were very surprised that the programme came out largely on the side of Israel in terms of who was telling the truth. It was rather less surprising that the BBC should be vilified for it, after all, Israel is always wrong, don’t you know.
On Monday this week, which also happened to be the first day of the Jewish New Year, when most Jews would not be watching TV, the same BBC programme and the same reporter, Jane Corbin, covered the Price Tag phenomenon in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Given the fact that the BBC decided to cover the issue, it was lucky Jane Corbin covered it. I thought it was largely fair. However, the Palestinians came out as squeaky clean pacifists despite mention of Arab terrorism.
The Price Tag movement is an extremist, religious settler movement which attacks mainly Arab, but also Israeli targets as a ‘Price Tag’ for any action the Israeli government takes against settlements, such as dismantling those even the Israelis deem illegal.
The aim of the Price Tag movement is to make the government pay in terms of embarrassment and also international disgrace for the actions of its citizens. The objective is to further populate the West Bank / Judea-Samaria which the Price Taggers believe to be their god-given land. According to their beliefs, no Jew has any right to remove Jews from Eretz Israel.
The programme labelled them ‘terrorist’. The term ‘terrorist’ has been applied by the Israeli government itself. These despicable people are a disgrace to Israel and the Jewish people and there is no justification for their actions. However, the Price Tag people have killed no-one, not yet anyway. Graffiti, torching empty vehicles, setting small fires in mosques, insulting the Prophet and generally behaving like vandals in any other culture is barely terrorism. Compared with the real thing it seemed at times an almost laughable comparison as not all incidents were serious ones. Daubing graffiti is not terrorism. But the language of the Middle East has become so degraded that even Israelis are prepared to use it, probably as a linguistic way of registering their dismay and disapproval.
Most of the acts of ‘terrorism’ secretly filmed, or even with the connivance of the perpetrators, were carried out at night and amounted to very little beyond incitement. Setting fire to mosques or daubing churches is another matter. These are acts of outrageous desecration which are very serious sins according to Jewish religious teachings, let alone contrary to any norm of human behaviour or basic law.
Calling them all ‘terrorists’ creates a moral, or should that be immoral, equivalence between setting a fire in a mosque (and note this isn’t even a fire-bombing. No mosque has been destroyed as far as I know, the worst damage is smoke, burned carpets and Korans) and blowing up a bus full of schoolchildren or a restaurant full of diners.
I do not wish in anyway to diminish the seriousness of the crime. What I find a little hard to accept is the debasement of language which is an attempt, ultimately, to diminish full-blooded terrorism. Calling these people terrorists lets real terrorists off the hook. One incident where people were seriously burned in their car is a hate crime and could, justifiably, be considered ‘terrorism’.
Unfortunately, Israel is not doing enough, in my opinion, to stop this. Any ‘settler’ found guilty of these crimes should be given exemplary punishments. It is not an easy crime to prevent. Nevertheless, it must be stamped on, and very hard.
The programme shape-shifted somewhat. It seamlessly morphed from a programme about Price Tag to an examination of settlements, especially illegal ones (even under Israel law) and the tensions between settlers and Palestinians.
I felt genuinely sorry for some of the Arab victims of settler vandalism and intimidation who seemed to be entirely innocent people just trying to get on with their lives. This impression of mine was surely shared by any decent person who watched the programme. But that impression was not really examined; very little time was given to Arab incitement, Arab terrorism, Arab vandalism. It appeared that the Arabs were completely innocent victims if you didn’t listen or want to listen to the odd allusion to attacks and murders of children.
Whatever the Arabs do can never excuse the behaviour of the Price Taggers or indiscriminate settler violence which is actually targeting the Israeli government and deliberately trying to provoke Arab reaction – the Price Tag.
The context of settlements was addressed in the program in standard terms – occupation, illegal, land grab, god-given land etc. It was made clear, however, that these people were extremists but their atypical behaviour (if you take Israel as a whole) and beliefs were not really stressed. For someone ready to believe the worst about Israel, the programme provided ample evidence. For those with a more nuanced and balanced approach, it would have been clear that these criminals are considered such in Israel and under Israeli law. This is in stark contrast, of course, to Arab terrorists who are national heroes and richly rewarded for actually murdering people. That comparison was never made.
But, I have to say, the program could have been a lot more hostile and damaging. It will reinforce the prejudices of those already convinced of evil Israel. It will embarrass people like me, but only because unless Israel is perfect, it is irredeemably evil and this is the narrative we confront daily. We are always being forced to be defensive because Israelis are just like everyone else, not perfected paragons of virtue that the world demands they be.
On Sunday a mosque in the Bedouin village of Tuba Zangharia was attacked by unknown, but presumably Jewish assailants.
The Mosque was severely damaged. It appears highly likely that this attack was another in a series of attacks cynically labelled ‘Price Tag’ by Jewish Right Wing extremists.
Their avowed motivation is to make the Israeli government ‘pay’ for any actions this self-appointed group deems to be against the interests of settlers in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) or which this groups believes to be even the hint of a settlement freeze or preparation for eventual withdrawal.
Mainly religiously motivated, this group believes that Judea-Samaria is a God-given land which the Jewish people are not just entitled to settle but are duty-bound to do so.
The village of Tuba Zangharia is in Israel. An attack on any religious place of worship by Jews is extremely rare in Israel itself.
The Bedouin have a long tradition of support for the State of Israel, serving in the IDF. There is no logical reason, let alone justification for this attack.
Let me make this quite clear. This attack and all the others, wherever they may be, are shameful. I have written before about ‘ashamed Jews’ whose distorted view of Israel leads them to supports its enemies. I am a proud Jew and proud of Israel.
But I am ashamed of this action and those that have gone before.
Immediately that the attack became known the Israeli government and a consensus of MK’s across the political and religious spectrum condemned it utterly.
President Peres went with both of Israel’s Chief Rabbis and leaders of the Muslim and Christian faiths to the village.
This is what he said:
At the start of my remarks I wanted to express my profound shock from the horrible attack on the Mosque in Tuba Zangria which took place today.
It is unconscionable that a Jew would harm something that is holy to another religion. This act is not-Jewish, illegal, immoral, and brings upon us heavy shame. I strongly condemn this horrible act in every language. This is not only a difficult day for the residents of Tuba Zangria, it is a difficult day for all Israeli society. As the President of Israel, during these days of introspection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I call upon all to denounce these terrible acts. These acts, destroy relations between us and our neighbors, and between the various religions in Israel.
We will not allow extremists and criminals to undercut the need to live together equally in equality and mutual respect. Arabs and Jews as one. I am sure that the Israeli police and security forces will apprehend these criminals and bring them to justice.
We must all stand behind them in an effort to preserve human dignity and respect for the law.
Both Chief Rabbis stressed that such actions are in direct violation of Jewish Law let alone human decency. It is actually one of the worst offences a Jew can commit. To damage a holy site of any faith is an offence against God.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar said, “The perpetrators have wounded the heart of us all.”
This is what Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said:
I came here to express my revulsion at this wretched act of burning a place holy to the Muslim people…
Seventy years ago the Holocaust, the biggest tragedy in our history, began with the torching of synagogues during Kristallnacht.
We are still living this trauma. And in the state of Israel, we will not allow a Jew to do something like this to Muslims.
And this is where I have an issue with comparisons to Nazis.
There is a superficial connection to Kristallnacht when thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses were burned.
But on that night in 1938 hundreds of brownshirts as an instrument of government policy caused, death and destruction, nationwide, on a huge scale on a host of trumped up charges against the entire Jewish community. Kristallnacht was the prelude to the Shoah and the one event that led to thousands attempting to flee and sending their children on kindertransports.
The series of events in Israel aimes almost exclusively at mosques is not government sanctioned policy and has been condemned in the strongest terms.
For any Israeli, let alone a Chief Rabbi, to compare these acts to Nazi crimes is very dangerous. Firstly it is not true. It is not true because however reprehensible this is, it does not compare in scale or intent to Nazism. Those responsible are a small minority. Germans in 1938 were not ashamed of Kristallnacht; they thought the Jews had it coming.
The denizens of Rosh Pina came out on a solidarity march to protest the arson attack. There was no equivalent to Rosh Pina in Nazi Germany.
Rabbi Metzger certainly did not intend to be helpful to antisemites, anti-Zionists and the extreme Left in Israel by using language they would approve of and use themselves.
What Rabbi Metzger did was to find the most extreme way to express how he felt about such an enormity, and so he drew from the Jewish experience to relate that feeling of empathy.
I believe he was wrong to use Kristallnacht. We have seen enough debasement of language by Jew-haters: apartheid, Nazi, genocide, holocaust, massacre, racism. All these terms are debased when the people who use them are often the chief practitioners and most egregious criminals such as Ahmadinejad, Hamas and Hizbullah. Their hyperbole debases these words and renders them useless. Just as Durban I, II and III debases the concept of Human Rights.
And the way the language is debased is to use the most extreme terms for each and every act which, mainly Israel, carries out to protect itself from the aggression of these same language-debasers.
I understand what Rabbi Metzger tried to convey but I believe he was wrong.
The government, police and army are determined to bring the perpetrators to justice. It is vital they do so and give them exemplary sentences. If they are let off lightly, as has previously happened, this will be morally obnoxious and damage Israel’s democracy.
In the JPost article cites below “Analysis: Jewish terrorism gaining steam’ Yaakov Katz, despite an idiomatically infelicitous headline, expresses his fear that the Far Right is gaining ground and their target is not always mosques but also olive trees and even on Left Wing activists.
The Israeli government and its people must act swiftly.
Yet again, I cannot agree with Katz’s use of ‘terrorism’. These people are politically motivated vicious vandals. They are not terrorists. When synagogues in the UK are smashed and daubed, this is called an anti-Semitic attack; it is not terrorism.
No-one has died and no-one has been directly attacked. This is about property. It’s an attempt to foment inter-communal violence. It is not terrorism. At least not yet. To call it such debases real terrorism and hands the usual suspects an open goal in which to justify their demonisation of all Israeli Jews.
It is sad, but predictable, that some members of the Bedouin village saw fit to degrade themselves to the level of the mosque attackers by torching public buildings in their own town. They fell into the trap laid by the arsonists.
In their natural eagerness to express their moral indignation, politicians, clerics and journalists must avoid confirming and validating the animus of those already minded to hate Israel and Jews.