Speaking before a Knesset committee yesterday, Israel’s Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen pushed back on Netanyahu’s angry assertion that Mahmoud Abbas was to blame for inciting the horrific attack:
No one among the Palestinian leadership is calling for violence, Cohen said, noting that Abbas has reiterated that the path of intifada should be rejected. “ Abu Mazen [Abbas] is not interested in terror,” he explained, “and is not leading [his people] to terror. Nor is he doing so ‘under the table.’” At the same time, however, Cohen admitted that, “There are people in the Palestinian community who are liable to see Abu Mazen’s words of criticism as legitimization for taking action.”
J.J. Goldberg comments on why Cohen’s remarks are significant:
Cohen’s frontal attack on the prime minister’s stance toward Abbas is particularly shocking because the Shin Bet chief, appointed by Netanyahu in 2011, has been considered Netanyahu’s one reliable ally within the Israeli intelligence community. The heads of the Mossad and IDF military intelligence consistently take less alarmist views of Arab and Iranian intentions, repeatedly blunting the prime minister’s efforts to depict Israel’s enemies as unequivocally committed to Israel’s destruction.
Just last week Cohen was at the center of a media firestorm (as I described here) after senior Shin Bet officials appeared with his permission on a television newsmagazine to claim that the security service had warned the IDF last January of Hamas plans to launch a war in July, but the military had overlooked the warning.
Yishai Schwartz is convinced that the attack was motivated by hatred of Jews, rather than anger with Israel:
There is irony in the latest attack. The synagogue was in Har Nof, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in West Jerusalem. The worshippers lived in internationally recognized Israel and almost certainly never served in the army. They would never approach the Temple Mount, the holy site where recent visits by Jews have supposedly triggered the latest wave of Palestinian violence, because they believe that God’s law forbids it. In other words, these worshippers should be among the least offensive to Palestinians.
This is not to say that, for instance, last week’s murder of 26-year-old Dalia Lemkus was less obscene because it happened near a West Bank settlement. But the senselessness and brutality of the synagogue assault, and the otherworldliness of the victims, lays bare the inadequacy of rational political explanations for terror. No doubt the murderers had their grievances (and some perhaps were reasonable), but the butchery in Har Nof shows that any sense of strategy has been overwhelmed by hate. The murder of non-Zionist Torah scholars is an attack on Jews more than Israel, and explaining it requires an understanding of hatred, not of politics.
The attackers were members of the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist-Leninist militant group that hasn’t been heard from in a while. Ishaan Tharoor provides some background on the PFLP:
The group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and other Western countries, but its ideology has very little in common with Hamas, whose jihad against Israel has blown hot and cold over the past two decades. Its legacy is a reminder of the older, secular nature of Palestinian militancy against Israel and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since the 1960s.
The PFLP was founded in 1967 by George Habash, a Palestinian Orthodox Christian animated by the pan-Arabism of then Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser and the insurgent socialism that inflamed anti-colonial struggles in many parts of the world at the time. At its peak, the PFLP was one of the leading factions within the Palestinian Liberation Organization, alongside the Fateh party of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, the beleaguered current president of the Palestinian Authority.
Freddie deBoer detects a double standard in the American media, wherein Palestinians are blamed collectively for such acts of violence while Israelis face no such censure for atrocities carried out by their government:
That the Israeli people are not responsible for the murderous, cruel, and illegal occupation of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government is a matter of media consensus. And, indeed, it’s true– despite the fact that Israeli government is an elected government, despite the fact that Israel’s democratic polity is in the main vociferously committed to the greatest crime of this young century, no individuals deserve to bear the blame for the sins of their government or their military. That is as clear a lesson as any the 20th century taught to us: the notion of collective blame is the first step on the staircase to genocide. And yet when it comes to the actions of two desperate madmen, there is no similar consensus, for the simple, plain, unavoidable fact that to the American media, Palestinians don’t deserve human rights because Palestinians are not human.
Jonathan Tobin, unsurprisingly, sees it differently:
[W]hile it is true that a minority of Jews would like to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount to make it place where both faiths can be freely observed (Jews currently may not pray on the Mount, a stand endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu), the hate and incitement that leads inevitably to the kind of bloody slaughter witnessed in a Har Nof synagogue where five Jews were murdered yesterday is not a function of a few isolated zealots or a twisted interpretation of Islam. Rather it is a product of mainstream Palestinian political culture in which religious symbols such as the imagined peril to the mosques on the Mount have been employed by generations of Palestinian leaders to whip up hatred for Jews. The purpose is not to defend the mosques or Arab claims to Jerusalem but to deny the right of Jews to life, sovereignty, or self-defense in any part of the country.
Chemi Shalev loses hope:
The Israelis who routinely ride roughshod over Palestinian sensitivities stirred up a hornet’s nest at the Temple Mount while hate-infested Palestinians massacred Orthodox Jews as they were praying: It’s unprecedented, it’s true, though we’ve seen it all before.
No, there is no moral equivalence, but there is more than enough responsibility and recklessness to pass all around. The leaders of both sides are too busy maligning each other, after all, as they resign themselves and their constituents to constant struggle and eternal strife and the incorrigible otherness of their enemies. It’s hard to imagine anyone who could inspire less confidence than Abbas and Netanyahu to lead us out of the morass, but given the mutual hatred and racism coursing through their constituents, the odds are that their successors will fare even worse.
(Photo: Israeli police officers stand next to the flag wrapped coffin of Druze Israeli police officer Zidan Sif during his funeral on November 19, 2014 in Yanuh-Jat, Israel. Sif, 30, died of his wounds on November 18, after two Palestinian cousins armed with meat cleavers and a gun stormed a Jerusalem synagogue during morning prayers, killing four rabbis. By Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)