The unfortunate reaction of some Israelis to the suspected involvement of Jewish youth in the despicable Duma fire-bombing is reflected in Martin Sherman’s recent article – Efraim Cohen, The Jerusalem Post, January 3
My last two columns, “Duma, dirty dancing & deeply disturbing detentions” (December 31) and “Presumptions of guilt” (January 7), dealt with the issue of Jewish “terror” in the wake of growing public controversy over the use of administrative detention of suspects (including minors) allegedly involved in the lethal arson in Duma last July.
To recap briefly
In them I urged against attempts to draw any equivalence between Arab terrorism and the terrorist organizations that promote/perpetrate/ propagate it, and the groups of Jewish radical religious renegades – and the detrimental consequences such misplaced parallels entail for Israel. After all, how can Israel hope to invoke international sympathy/solidarity in its struggle against Arab/Muslim terrorism – and international understanding for the policies it requires to contend with it – if it itself is guilty of harboring equivalent malfeasance? Moreover, I argued that state use of draconian extra-judicial powers – such as administrative detention without charge, holding detainees incommunicado for months and the denial of “due process” – may well be appropriate/ justified when dealing with threats involving state/quasi-state/state-backed foes.
This, however, is certainly not the case when the alleged menace emanates from minuscule groups of youngsters in their teens (or barely out of them), marginal and marginalized not only in Israeli society at large, but in much of their closer societal environs (the much-maligned “settlers”) as well, with no international reach and only the most meager of resources at their disposal.
The columns generated a significant wave of brisk response (mainly in social media), much highly supportive, some sharply critical.
Critics and critiques
Two such critiques appeared in The Jerusalem Post, the one,
“There are none so blind as those who will not see,”
by Efraim Cohen, a retired US diplomat; the other,
“A master of reinforcing fear and loathing,”
by Mark Lavie, a longstanding Mideast correspondent.
I have chosen to respond to these critical appraisals of the positions articulated in my last two columns, not so much as to redress the ad hominem attacks on myself (“I never read Sherman I know what to expect”), but to underscore just how confused the discussion on so-called Jewish “terror” has become, and the dysfunctional depths to which the discourse has descended.
For the two critiques reflect the sloppy and shallow attempt at analysis by those who seek to:
• blur the substantive distinction between the nature, scale and scope of the Arab terrorist organizations ranged against Israel, and those of the alleged Jewish “terror”;
• obscure the qualitative difference in the dimensions of the respective threats they pose; and hence,
• deny any differentiation in the policies that ought to be adopted in countering them.
As I have argued elsewhere, such allegations of equivalence are both “substantively wrong and strategically detrimental… playing right into the hands of Israel’s most vehement detractors.”
Equating cutting tires with cutting throats
In attempting to establish this alleged equivalence, my detractors resort to the questionable tactic of contrived semantic gymnastics by pointing out that they share certain commonalities – which potentially would permit us to claim that tables and elephants are indistinguishable, because they both have four legs.
Thus, astonishingly, Cohen equates Jews slashing Arab tires with Arabs slaughtering Jews. He thus unabashedly declares:
“Non-lethal price-tag attacks fit the definition of terrorism no less than bus bombings. Both are violent acts aimed at civilian targets.”
This of course makes as much sense as claiming that, since man-eating Bengal tigers and stray tabby cats “fit the definition” of “striped, undomesticated, quadrupedal feline carnivores,” they are not only equivalent, but they pose comparable threats to anyone who encounters them – and accordingly, similar measures should be adopted to contend with them.
True, he does magnanimously concede: “Killers deserve much harsher sentences than those who slash tires.” Thus, although he does acknowledge that different punishments might be called for, he nevertheless seems to endorse the use by the state of similarly draconian methods of investigation/interrogation for both, adding, “Both are terrorists.”
So Cohen, regrettably, appears to be completely comfortable with the use of means such as the denial of due process, administrative detention without evidence, extended incarceration without charge or access to legal counsel, and the use of “harsh physical measures” against minors suspected of ideologically motivated vandalism.
Cancer treatment for a common cold?
So, inconceivable as it may seem that anyone would equate cutting someone’s tires with cutting off someone’s head, this seems to be Cohen’s position – somewhat like prescribing that both a common cold and advanced cancer tumors should be treated with aggressive radiation simply because they “fit the definition” of “physical ailment.” After all, a common cold could develop into life-threating pneumonia.
It would be intriguing to know how Cohen would relate to the case of 18-year-old Mordechai Meyer, who on the very day his article was published, was released without charge after being held for five months in administrative detention since, according to Shin Bet, he had posed “a danger to the public.” (Haaretz, January 5) Yet, subsequently the intelligence, on which he was arrested, was found to be “false.”
Sadly, in his endeavor at moralistic evenhandedness, Cohen gravely misrepresents or at least misreads my position:
“Sherman…assume[s] that the detained youth are innocent of all crimes because they have remained silent, even as [he] assumes that Israeli authorities have acted improperly despite consistent denials of any wrongdoing.”
Anyone who read my columns with a smidgen of attention will know that this contention is entirely unfounded.
Putting words in my mouth
At no stage did I assume “the detained youth are innocent of all crimes,” and certainly not “because they have remained silent.”
Indeed, all I called for was to refrain from a presumption of guilt until it can be definitively proven. I specifically stated,
“I have no idea who set the [Duma] home ablaze” (December 31) and “I have no idea who committed…the lethal arson… I cannot discount the possibility that [the indicted suspect] may… be the perpetrator…” (January 7).
“If this can be proven persuasively, he… should be punished severely, to the full extent of the law.”
“There is no proof that the Shin Bet used improper methods to obtain information and confessions. Most recently, Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri said that claims that the Duma suspects were tortured during interrogation were ‘ridiculous and baseless.’”
Of course, I never claimed that Shin Bet used torture but numerous mainstream media sources – not known for their empathy with the hill top/price-tag youth – did. I merely cited them.
Disturbingly these reports – not me – claimed that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein approved the use of torture “due to lack of progress in interrogations of Duma terror suspects.” (i24News, December 31; Haaretz, January 1) The visit by Nizri, Weinstein’s deputy (!!), who dismissed the allegations of torture, was excoriated by defense lawyers as gravely inappropriate, complaining – with significant justification – that he, as part of the prosecution, has spoken to the detainees, while they were denied access.
Why ‘lone wolf’ attacks ARE terror
Cohen alleges: “It has been argued mistakenly that Arab and Jewish terrorists are entirely different because the former are supported…by outside organizations, while the latter are private individuals.”
This understates the distinction. Actually, the difference is that Arab terrorism is supported by foreign sovereign powers, has international reach, quasi-state capabilities and multi-million budgets, while Jewish “terror” has none of these. The presence/absence of such factors would seem to me to be a powerful differentiating criterion. Or is that just me? Cohen proceeds: “… many of the recent attacks on Israeli civilians seem to have been committed by Palestinian ‘lone wolves.’ If outside support is determinative, we would have to conclude that these murderers are not terrorists.”
The current “lone wolf” attacks are the product of ongoing, institutionalized incitement by quasi-state entities, warmly endorsed by their mobilized societal environment (recent polls show almost 70 percent of the Palestinian public support these attacks).
Accordingly, the perpetrators are merely the “tools” of these entities.
In his recent analysis of “lone wolf” terrorism, Prof. Boaz Ganor, head of the Herzliya International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, describes the “institutional incitement and training” underpinning the phenomenon: “The Palestinian terrorist organizations led by Hamas stepped up their incitement on the Web and published instructions on how the attackers could be more effective.”
“Lone wolves” & Myth of ‘Inciting Rabbis’”
Ganor adds: “The instructions are usually accompanied by video clips with recommendations on the kind of knives to use, where to stab the victims, from which angle to attack and so on. In some instances, the terrorist organizations suggest attacking… in larger groups, seizing rifles from prospective military victims and opening fire in all directions.”
Where is there anything remotely similar with regard to Jewish “terror”? For those who might attempt to invoke “radical rabbis” as a parallel source of “institutionalized incitement” for Jewish “terror,” may I suggest a piece in, yes, Haaretz: “Jewish Terror Doesn’t Happen Because of Radical Rabbis, but in Spite of Them” (December 27), which asserts categorically: “Today’s Jewish terror doesn’t happen because of the rabbis. It is a protest against the rabbis, staged by young Jewish extremists…
They regard the rabbis as too moderate….
They consider rabbis Dov Lior and Yitzchak Ginsburgh – whose names are whispered in the television studios as the arch-terrorists of our generation – as moderates because they don’t back violence.”
Need I add more?
So when Cohen declares that “There are none so blind as those who will not see,” could it not be that he is afflicted not only by precisely the same sight defect he attributes to me but by an additional one that makes “mountains” appear where there are only “molehills”?
And now for Mark Lavie.
In contrast to Cohen, whose criticism, however unfounded, does, at least, have a semblance of coherence, the same cannot be said for Lavie.
All he does is provide a disjointed diatribe, generously peppered with non sequiturs, glaring self-contradictions and unmerited self-congratulatory compliments, leaving the reader totally perplexed as to what point he is trying to make – if at all – beside a Neanderthal “Me, good – Sherman, bad.”
He begins in a decidedly dismissive tone, informing readers:
“I’ve avoided reading Martin Sherman’s articles for years, knowing what to expect,”
then launching haughtily into attack:
“Sherman and I have opposite methods of research and writing. He starts with a premise, and then finds, distorts or invents facts to support it, while ignoring facts that don’t. I start with discovering facts, and experience and knowledge, and they lead me to a conclusion.”
This of course immediately alerts us as to precisely how “meticulous” Lavie is in marshaling the facts before forming an opinion – not to mention how open-minded, and logically consistent.
For if he has, indeed, avoided reading my writing for years, how, one might wonder, would he know what to expect? By means of rumor? As for his purported methodological rigor, if anything, he adopts precisely the opposite of his claim. Indeed, in the words of one of the few talkbacks (StanleyTeel) to his article, “Lavie goes on – at length – to demonstrate that he has done exactly what he accuses Sherman of doing. He starts with the premise that everything Sherman writes MUST be wrong… and then he finds ‘facts’ to support this premise, while ignoring anything that might argue against his position.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Playing dirty by citing ‘Haaretz’
Rather than refute the claims made by the sources I use, Lavie complains that I play dirty because I cite decidedly left-wing media, which he cannot readily impugn. But of course, if I had used sources usually identified as right-wing, he would have dismissed them as unreliably partisan and chosen purposely to reinforce my allegedly predetermined prejudices.
So according to Lavie, I am damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.
Lavie distorts some of the facts and ignores others.
He claims to present the facts, yet provides nothing that remotely indicates the identity of the perpetrators in Duma, much less, of the accused – apart from the Hebrew graffiti.
And as we all know, no Arab knows how to spray-paint Hebrew letters.
He scoffs, asking
“what is [Sherman’s] counter-evidence based on? Reports by the two papers from the scene of the attack, quoting Palestinian witnesses. Some… say they saw two masked attackers, some say they saw four.”
Actually, I quoted four papers in the column, but there were many more that dealt with the discrepancy. Significantly, none of the papers mentions a lone perpetrator – which is what the current indictment stipulates.
He puts words in my mouth and then proceeds to disprove his own contrivances. Likewise, he assumes I have a hidden agenda in every point I raise. Thus he surmises:
“It appears… that Sherman’s goal is to question the evidence in the case.”
But that’s the whole point. Mark. There was no evidence – hence Weinstein’s “green-lighting” of torture.
One cogent point
Lavie does make one cogent point:
I agree, but am at a loss to understand how this advances his case – if he has one.
Apparently, Lavie sees my column as a fiendishly cunning ploy, and even pays me a backhanded compliment:
“His article is a skillfully crafted piece… that could be studied in the classroom for its structure and content.”
I wish I could say the same for Lavie’s piece – but, alas, journalistic integrity precludes that.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategic- israel.org).