It’s in how Israel and America, especially their respective leaders, react to these cops’ most outrageous crimes.
Israeli police are not the only ones with a habit of getting trigger happy when they come up against members of a feared and hated ethnic minority. While many Israeli cops (and soldiers) have a tendency toward overkill with Arabs, many American cops have the same tendency with blacks. But there’s a crucial difference – not necessarily between American and Israeli police, but between the way American and Israeli society, especially their leaders, react to such killings.
After police in Ferguson, Missouri killed teenager Michael Brown in August following a struggle, and “Ferguson” became a watchword for American police brutality and racism, Attorney General Eric Holder went to Brown’s family’s home to pay his condolences.
After a private security guard killed Trayvon Martin in July after a struggle, President Barack Obama said, “I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.” He went on to say, “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.”
When video showed Los Angeles police in 1991 beating Rodney King at length and without mercy after a high-speed chase, President George H.W. Bush said, “What you saw, what I saw on the TV videotape was revolting. I felt anger, I felt pain. I thought, ‘How can I explain this to my grandchildren?'”
Compare that to the reactions of Israel’s leaders after video showed Israeli police shooting Kheir Hamdan while he was running away, his back turned to them, after he stabbed at the windows of their police car, and how they dragged his body on the ground and threw it into the back seat, after which he died in the hospital.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rubbed in the insult by threatening Israeli Arabs: “We will not tolerate disturbances and rioting. We will act against those who throw stones, block roads and call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of the State of Israel. Whoever does not honor Israeli law will be punished with utmost severity. …
“I have instructed the interior minister to use all means, including evaluating the possibility of revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the rising power in Israeli politics: “A crazed Arab terrorist attacked our policemen’s vehicle with a knife in an attempt to murder them. A policeman shot him. That is what is expected from our security forces.”
Yesterday on TLV1 radio I interviewed Ze’ev Nir, the attorney for the policeman who killed Hamdan. I mentioned to him that his client was getting plenty of backing from the government, starting at the top. “We are very happy for that,” said Nir. I bet they are.
Meanwhile, the “liberals” said nothing about what they and everyone else saw in the video. Not a word was heard from Isaac Herzog, leader of the Labor Party and the opposition. Not a word was heard from Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Mr. Nice Guy Yair Lapid said, “A man was killed and the police are in trouble.” Noncommital, timid, a far cry from the truth, like Lapid always plays it, but compared to the reactions of others in the government and the Labor Party, this was a regular “J’Accuse.”
The only leader of a Zionist party who showed honesty and courage was, once again, Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On. “Not only should there be an investigation into the killing of the youth from Kafr Kanna at point-blank range by police,” she said, “but there should also be a probe into the responsibility borne by the public security minister [Yitzhak Aharonovitch], who just this week said that ‘a terrorist who harms civilians is worthy of death’ and who gave license to murder with an order that is patently illegal.”
The most conspicuous silence was that of President Reuven Rivlin, who is being lauded as the voice of Jewish-Arab equality and tolerance. He has not been heard from on the Kafr Kanna killing, and I have no doubt that the most he’ll do is urge calm. He will not dare raise the slightest doubt about the behavior of the cops in the video, even though the video is damning in the extreme, because Jewish Israel won’t stand for it. The president of Israel, no matter what he might like to say, cannot speak about Kheir Hamdan like presidents of the United States spoke about Travyon Martin and Rodney King, and a U.S. attorney general spoke about Michael Brown in person to the boy’s family.
America has plenty of racist, violent cops, but America has learned that racist violence is not acceptable. Israel hasn’t learned that at all, and is a long, long way from learning it.