Responding to Terrorism With Flawed Analogies
The horrific slaughter last week of four rabbis at prayer in their Jerusalem synagogue sparked a wide range of responses. Shock and mourning aside, there was predictably obscene celebration in Arab and Moslem precincts. Punctuating reactions to the gruesome tragedy was the curious embrace of ostensible historical analogies.
Israel Hayom entitled its report: “The 1929 massacres – redux.” It quoted Rabbi Yitzhak Rubin, chief rabbi of the Har Nof synagogue where the massacre occurred, who drew two analogies that revealed the stunning impact of the murders.”It was like the Holocaust,” he declared, “when Jews were taken away and butchered while wearing prayer shawls and tefillin.” Then, choosing a traumatic memory closer to the site of the rampage than Poland, he added: “This is our 1929 riots.”
On Tisha b’Av in August 1929 thousands of Jews arrived at the Western Wall to protest British prayer restrictions at their ancient holy site. Infuriated, the Mufti of Jerusalem (Haj Amin-al-Husseini) incited his followers to violently defend the al-Aqsa Mosque, astride the Temple Mount, from Jewish “usurpation.” (Sound familiar?) Inflamed Arabs rampaged through Jerusalem, killing forty-seven Jews.
Violent riots spread throughout Palestine, reaching their horrific climax in Hebron, the most ancient Jewish holy city. Arabs poured through the streets and into Jewish homes, slashing throats, cutting off hands, and raping young girls. Sixty-seven Jews, including twenty-three yeshiva students, were brutally slaughtered. British soldiers evacuated the traumatized survivors, leaving Hebron Judenrein until Israelis returned after the Six-Day War.
The rabbi’s analogy to the 1929 pogrom (to say nothing of the Holocaust) may have been a historical stretch even when measured by current Arab murders and Jewish victims. But it revealed the understandable depths of horror that the vicious killing of his four rabbinical friends had tapped.
Among Palestinians/Arabs/Moslems, there was predictable public celebration of the slaughter of Jews and mourning for the death of their brutal killers. Palestinian Authority President Abbas bracketed the murder of rabbis with concocted Jewish “attacks” on the al-Aqsa mosque. Other Arab leaders were less restrained. One called the synagogue a “prayer settlement” and “command center” for planning attacks against Palestinians. Another identified “Zionist rabbis” as “the greatest terrorists” in the “racist” Jewish state, deserving of their fate. A Qatari columnist described the attack as a fitting response “to those who bake cookies with Palestinian blood.” Indeed, declared Jordan’s former Minister of Information, “this act of heroism healed many wounds and gladdened the hearts of many.” Surely it did.
Among national leaders who might have known better, but applied the rhetoric of (im)moral equivalence between Palestinian murderers and their innocent Jewish victims, President Obama ranked high. After condemning “outrageous acts” against the rabbis, he immediately retreated to familiar tropes. “Too many Israelis have died, too many Palestinians have died,” he proclaimed, without any distinction between killers and victims. With the arrogant posturing for which he has become notorious, the President opined: “We have to remind ourselves that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis overwhelmingly want peace.” In 2014, as Daniel Greenfield has noted, Palestinian terrorists have killed more Americans than ISIS: three of the four rabbis and the 3-month-old girl rammed to death by a deranged Palestinian driver several weeks earlier. But illegal immigrants at home are far worthier of Obama’s moral preening than the fate of American Jews in Israel.
The Jerusalem attack was the first known shooting in a house of worship in Israel since 1994 when American-born doctor Baruch Goldstein, a resident of the Hebron suburb of Kiryat Arba, opened fire in the Machpelah enclosure, killing 29 Palestinian worshippers and wounding 125 others. In their responses, Jeffrey Goldberg (Atlantic) and Yossi Klein Halevi (Wall Street Journal), among others (including the Voice of America), favorably compared the virtually unanimous Israeli denunciation of Goldstein’s rampage with the nauseating Palestinian celebrations after the rabbinical slaughter.
The contrast was obvious but it offered a curious example of moral preening. Any civilized person would condemn Goldstein’s action. But an informed person would also know that Goldstein, the emergency medical doctor in Kiryat Arba/Hebron, had repeatedly struggled (often in vain) to save the lives of friends and neighbors who were victims of Palestinian terrorists. He also was among a group of community leaders forewarned by Israeli military and security officers that another Palestinian terrorist attack in Hebron was imminent. Goldstein’s horrific actions cannot be condoned, even though driven by his determination to protect his community. But those who are spared the terrorist horrors that Hebron Jews confronted need not compare moral Israelis who condemned him with morally deficient Palestinians who currently wallow in Jewish blood. That is a very low standard indeed.
If the history of terrorism in the Holy Land teaches anything, it is not to expect less from Jews. Nor, sadly, more from merciless Palestinian zealots whose terror war, now as always, is waged against rabbis, babies and other innocent civilians.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of eleven books, including Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel (2009)