January 18, 2019

Terror is not evenhanded

There are certain things I read that upset me but also put me right to sleep. One of them is any official statement that is mind-numbingly safe and politically correct. 

I came across an example last week from the Hillel at UC Irvine, regarding the precarious situation in Israel. Now, you would think that a statement from a Jewish organization would express some outrage at the horror of being stabbed in the back just because you’re Jewish, or at least show some empathy for an Israeli population in fear of walking the streets. 

A simple, “nothing justifies these kind of violent attacks against Jews or the lies and incitement behind these attacks” would have sufficed.

Instead, all we got was sleep-inducing mush. 

“Jewish and Arab civilians in the region have been subject to a sharp escalation of killings and violent encounters,” the statement reads. And what’s the explanation for this violence? Well, what do you know, it’s the “extremist incitement on both sides of the conflict.”


Now there’s a magic phrase that is guaranteed to keep you out of trouble — “on both sides of the conflict.” I guess as long as you appear evenhanded, no one can accuse you of being biased. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of attacks have been initiated by Arabs against Jews.

Sometimes I wonder whether the primary goal of these mushy statements is simply to avoid offending anyone — especially gentiles. After all, since Jews are so often accused of being tribal, how wonderful it would be to show the world that, even when Jews are directly targeted, they can still be universal.

But I think there’s yet another reason for this obsession with evenhandedness: It makes us feel civilized. It reaffirms the pleasant narrative that all societies and cultures are basically the same and morally equivalent. There’s good and bad everywhere — the real fight is between the extremists on all sides.

We need this cozy narrative because it gives us hope. It helps us sleep better at night. 

The problem is that when we’re confronted by ugly facts that intrude on that narrative, we tend to get defensive and cling even more closely to it. 

We’re seeing this drama play out right now with the “knife war” against Israel. It’s clear that the vast preponderance of evil acts connected to this current wave of violence — attacks on civilians, incitement to terror, lies about Israel’s intentions, lies about Israel’s responses, teaching of Jew-hatred, glorifying of terrorists, burning of a Jewish holy site, etc. —is coming from the Arab side. This is fact, not propaganda.

Trying to turn these facts into an evenhanded narrative is not just insulting to one’s intelligence, it lets evil off the hook. When we’re evenhanded about violence that is not evenhanded, when we confuse acts of aggression with acts of self-defense, when we pretend that everyone is equally guilty and equally responsible, we suck the air out of accountability.

When the media harps on Israeli mistakes just to appear evenhanded, all it does is camouflage the simple fact that the Arab sector is clearly responsible for this latest wave of terror.

It’s a fact that Palestinian leaders lied about Israel taking over and defiling the Temple Mount and “executing” a young Arab attacker, and have consistently denied any Jewish connection to Jerusalem. These explosive lies have triggered vicious attacks against Jews. There’s nothing evenhanded about that. As if that weren't bad enough, by not holding Palestinian leaders accountable for this incitement, we continue a longtime pattern that has strangled any hope for peace.

You can’t plant seeds of peace on a field of lies. For decades, we have failed to confront the biggest lie of all: the Palestinian narrative that Jews are land thieves who have no connection to the Holy Land and have no right to their own state, regardless of where the borders are drawn.

Even a prominent commentator who consistently rails against Israel’s disputed occupation of the West Bank, Jeffrey Goldberg, recently acknowledged in The Atlantic magazine what he says may be “the actual root cause of the Middle East conflict: the unwillingness of many Muslim Palestinians to accept the notion that Jews are a people who are indigenous to the land Palestinians believe to be exclusively their own.”

This latest wave of violence is yet another expression of the Palestinian rejection of the Zionist idea. As David Horovitz explained in Times of Israel, this is not the latest uprising against the occupation, it’s the latest uprising against Israel: “In bloody, unmistakable capital letters, the perpetrators of this new round of evil mayhem proclaim to Israelis: We don’t want to live alongside you. We want to kill you and force you out of here.”

So, when we agonize over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the many obstacles to peace, let’s not overlook the fraudulent Palestinian narrative that Zionism itself is a fraud. If I want to make peace with you, what bigger obstacle is there than the fact that you don’t think I should exist? That I have no right to any of this land?

This narrative is not just anti-peace, it’s pro-violence. Palestinian leaders who use lies to foster hatred and resentment are directly responsible for the poisoned atmosphere and violence these lies have spawned. 

Ignoring this truth and trying to appear evenhanded doesn’t just put readers to sleep. It wakes up the killers.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.