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What Israel can learn from wave of global terror

What’s happening in the world is far from the antiquated ‘the world vs the Jews’ paradigm. ‘Us’ and ‘them’ doesn’t work anymore. We – Jews, Christians, Muslims and every other grouping of peaceful persons – need new categories to understand the violence.

A man at a vigil in Paris after the terrorist attack, November 13, 2015. (Frederic Legrand - COMEO /

A man at a vigil in Paris after the terrorist attack, November 13, 2015. (Frederic Legrand – COMEO /

Beheadings in the desert, terror in major cities of the East and the West, racial and police shootings, mass shootings, an ax rampage in Germany and perhaps one thing – only – is clear: no part of the world is safe.

The New York Times wrote that Israelis can teach France a few things about getting used to terror. But it’s Israel and the Jews who must now confront a radical new truth: The unique existential threat against Jews in the past is gone. Crazies hate us, but they hate everybody else too. In the past the world betrayed Jews; in the present, governments and cultural norms support them. It is dishonoring the dead of Orlando, Istanbul, Nice and Baghdad to claim that Jews are more targeted than anyone else right now.

Ironically, Israeli leaders regularly help Jews realize this. Prime Minister Netanyahu loves to conflate ISIS with Palestinian terror, to justify why Israel must occupy Palestinians in perpetuity. But ISIS aims at everyone. If we’re all in the same crosshairs, Jewish persecution does not make us chosen.

This will be a terrible blow for some people. Many Israelis and Jews are steeped in the notion that violence against them is unique. It’s understandable given our past but it does no favors to our understanding of the present. I have heard Jews refer to the Hyper-Cacher anti-Jewish attack in Paris as if there was no massacre of French journalists two days before. Israelis count every body lost to the conflict, but far more Palestinians are killed daily and in each new war. Jewish self-perception is clouding Jewish vision.

What’s happening in the world at present is far from both the parochial old “Islam against the Jews” and “the world against the Jews.” The empty fallacy of Islam against the West can be laid to rest as well. Terror in the name of “Islam” kills far more co-religionists than non-Muslim Westerners: most terror attacks take place in Muslim and Arab countries, and the victims of ISIS-related violence in Iraq alone and the Muslim victims of al-Qaeda before that dwarf those groups’ attacks on Westerners. And as Amira Hass of Haaretz points out, based on an article by Ben-Gurion University’s Nimrod Hurwitz, the vast majority of Muslims are repulsed by ISIS.

The old “us” and “them” paradigms don’t work. We – Jews, Christians, Muslims and every other grouping of peaceful persons – need new categories to understand the violence. I can imagine a few such divisions.

There’s the visceral divide between cosmopolitan communities who embrace diversity and tribalists clinging to social homogeneity (whatever that means). The murder of Jo Cox was nothing short of terrorism in the name of the latter.

Next is the terrifying lone attacker against the world. He is almost invariably male. Sociologist Liah Greenfeld wrote in the New York Times that many share a history of mental instability, domestic violence and lower-level crime. The Nice attacker, Anders Breivik in Oslo and Aurora shooter James Holmes all count, along with an Arab Israeli, Nashat Milhem, who shot and killed civilians in Tel Aviv on New Year’s Day. Probably Omar Mateen, the Orlando killer, was another disturbed individual before anything else. Greenfeld argues society must work on solutions for mental illness to prevent these attacks.

Israeli police at the scene of a shooting attack at the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv, where two Palestinian men shot and killed four people, June 8, 2016. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Israeli police at the scene of a shooting attack at the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv, where two Palestinian men shot and killed four people, June 8, 2016. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

ISIS and al-Qaeda represent another category. They cultivate a collective religious ideology and aim to achieve apocalyptic rather than empirical or material goals. Their violence, therefore, is just a nihilistic outlet for bloodthirsty, or perhaps tragically lost individuals. The shooters in Tel Aviv’s Sarona market in June confessed to police that they had researched ISIS, according to Israeli news. They described blob-like goals of contributing to an Islamic heavenly kingdom on earth by shooting Jews sipping coffee, sparing a waitress who spoke to them in Arabic (who could have been Christian, Muslim or Jewish). It’s doubtful that the would-be ax murderer in Germany had any better explanation. The truth is that we don’t yet know how to stop this type.

Organized Palestinian violence against Jewish Israelis is yet a different category. Both the PLO and Hamas adopted a rational (morally and legally reprehensible) premise that terror attacks on civilians would achieve a Palestinian state – in this world, not the next. These organizations have also calculated when to stop: the PLO formally renounced political violence in 1988. Hamas has both held and broken ceasefires of bombings and rockets, based on shifting political calculations.

Young Palestinian stabbers are one more type. My Palestinian friends say they lack hope, political or family authority, and horizons. Israeli leaders say they are the product of incitement. But occupation clearly creates fertile ground for incitement to work.

Maybe these groupings aren’t as sexy, demagogic, or discrete as the old “West against Islam” or “the world against the Jews.” But they are a step to diagnosing the range of causes for violence –  both to demystify it and eventually to develop more effective medicine to prevent it.

Back to Israel/Palestine. What else can Israel learn from the bleeding capitals of the world? The Israeli Left can once and for all drop the argument that peace will bring security for good. What security can anyone promise?

By the very same logic, the Israeli Right must surrender the notion that this one country can be safer than any other place on earth. One of those myriad causes of violence will always stick around. Demanding that no stone, rocket or knife ever appear between the river and the sea is nothing more than a big lie someone invented in order to avoid ever ending the occupation.

Israel does have the power to change one of those causes of violence. If only one life is saved, Israeli or Palestinian, Judaism says it’s worth it.

Correction: The name of the person who committed the attacks in Oslo in 2011 is Anders Breivik, not Andrey Brevik as originally written. 

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    1. Lewis from Afula

      Well, its simple. Crazy Arabs and Muslims are killing everybody in the name of Allah. Yes, there is a minority of Muslims that are liberal, democratic and free-thinking but they are threatened by the crazy majorities.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      The man from Afula, who longs for the day “when Feiglin comes to power,” lectures us on who is liberal, democratic and free thinking, and who is not.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Lewis from Afula

      Ben -What will do if Geert Wilders becomes PM in Netherlands? This guy was polling 35% of the vote even before Nice and the 4 separate terrorist attacks in Germany.

      I predict within 5 years, most of Western Europe will be in a state of major civil unrest & societal chaos. Apart from the “Muslim Problem” there is the issue of the European & North American (but NOT Israeli) banks as well as Central Banks. Most are irreversibly insolvent and this time it will be 10 times worst than 2008.

      Given this scenario, do you think anyone will anyone give a toss about the fate of 2 Million Arabs in Yesha?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Johnny White

      Excellent article, too true. Thank you for it.

      Reply to Comment
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