Israeli leaders’ obscene reaction to the Brussels murders

Netanyahu, Bennett and Liberman used the most horrible sort of anti-Jewish attack as a shield against criticism of their anti-Palestinian policies.

Right-wing Israeli leaders get away with such shameless political exploitation of Jewish tragedies, and no one calls them on it. Their use of the Holocaust is of course an old story; the new one is the way they’ve capitalized on the murders of four people, including a Tel Aviv couple, at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on Saturday.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said the killings were caused by “ceaseless incitement against Jews and their state. On European soil, tales and falsehoods against the State of Israel continue to be heard …”

Far-right religious party leader Naftali Bennett made roughly the same point on his Facebook page: “In this generation anti-Semitism has disguised itself as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist. Why are there people who hate the Jews? That is just the way it is. Why are there people who hate Israel? That is just the way it is.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman singled out the BDS movement for blame. “It’s the result on the ground of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement, among other things in calls to boycott Israel and Israeli products, in anti-Israel activities in international forums and in an automatic, one-sided anti-Israel position.”

Every decent, intelligent person can see what this is: Israel’s leaders are using the most horrible sort of anti-Jewish attack as a shield against criticism of their anti-Palestinian policies. And every decent person has to be appalled by this. Yet you won’t hear any criticism of Netanyahu, Liberman or Bennett from mainstream Jews and certainly not from European gentiles. They’re intimidated, they’re being emotionally blackmailed – the Jews by their fear of being accused of Jewish self-hatred, or treason, or collaboration, or whatever; the gentiles by their fear of being called anti-Semites.

So Israel’s right-wing leaders get away with this, and with everybody else remaining silent, their views are considered the “official” Jewish position, and maybe even the accepted “truth” of the Brussels murders.

This is depressing. As with so much having to do with contemporary Israel, it brings to mind the line from Yeats’ “The Second Coming”: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

The murders in Brussels were most likely committed by a Toulouse-style jihadist or a Kansas City-style neo-Nazi – and neither of those two lethal strains of anti-Semitism have anything to do with the BDS, anti-Zionist or anti-occupation movements, the last of which counts basically the whole non-Israeli/non-Republican world as fellow travelers. I have some familiarity with the international anti-Zionist left, and while I have seen a thin streak of anti-Semitism there, it is nothing compared to the broad swath of Islamophobia that runs through the Israeli and pro-Israeli right.

In his statement on the murders during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu included critics of settlement construction and of the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement among the villains in the piece.

There are elements in Europe that rush to condemn the construction of a flat in Jerusalem but do not rush to condemn – or offer only weak condemnations of – the murder of Jews here or in Europe itself and, even worse, welcome unity with a terrorist element such as Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. We oppose such hypocrisy, we protest against it.”

First of all, this is false; the Brussels murders were widely condemned as a matter of course in Europe (here and here) and so are fatal terror attacks in Israel (while Israel’s leaders approve of every IDF killing of Palestinians and pay lip service at best to stopping settler attacks against them). But more importantly, no one, least of all the prime minister of Israel, should use a quadruple anti-Semitic murder to score points against European critics of settlement expansion and proponents of the Fatah-Hamas pact. Yet go explain that to the prime minister of Israel and the others who sit around the cabinet table.

If Netanyahu, Bennett and Liberman had blamed the murders on the true, indisputable sources of violent Jew-hatred today – jihadism and neo-Nazism – they would have been telling the truth, which is always a public service, and also would have shown respect for the victims. But by using the murders as an opportunity to strengthen their unholy cause by slandering its opponents, by blaming those opponents for the murders, they’ve done something obscene.

And with nobody of influence objecting, they’ve gotten away with it again.