When Israelis murder children, words are no longer enough

Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to the firebombing of a Palestinian home that killed a toddler and severely burned his brother and parents was swift, sincere and strong.

He declared his government had “zero tolerance” for such attacks, widely believed to be the work of Jewish extremists. “We are determined to vigorously fight manifestations of hate, fanaticism and terrorism from whatever side.”

That’s a promising beginning, but will Netanyahu give the nation a sustained crackdown on those extremists who ripped at Israel’s social fabric or will he celebrate the arrest of the child killers and then hang out a “mission accomplished” banner and go back to business as usual?

And if past is prologue, business as usual includes wooing those haredi and nationalist extremists who have nurtured a climate of intolerance and hatred.

Is he ready to apply the law equally and treat Jewish terror groups like Hilltop Youth, a network of violent young settlers linked to illegal West Bank outposts, and price taggers, with the same firm hand his forces use against Arab terror? And even if he wants to, will his narrow right-wing coalition allow it?

Netanyahu’s use of the word “terrorism” may be a positive sign in light of his refusal to do so in 2011 when a spate of attacks by these extremist groups prompted his internal security and justice ministers as well as the Shin Bet, the IDF, police and the state prosecutor’s office to recommend labeling them as terror organizations.

In the face of intense national outrage across the political spectrum, Netanyahu’s security cabinet this week quickly approved the use of preventive detention — holding without charging — for Jewish terrorists, something hitherto reserved for Arabs. In fact, there are thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails being held without charges, but few if any Jewish Israelis.

Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, said Israel is at war and the enemy comes from within.

On the same day as the murder of the Palestinian toddler, an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed six participants in a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, killing a 16-year-old girl. He had just been released from prison for a similar attack 10 years ago. What will Netanyahu have to say to the ultra-Orthodox parties in his own government that, while not condoning violence, tolerate and even encourage rabbis who condemn homosexuality as an abomination and dangerous to the Jewish state?

A crackdown on Jewish terrorists, many of whom are believed to be radical settlers, could prove difficult given the political dependence of Netanyahu’s narrow right-wing government on the settler movement. During his re-election campaign earlier this year the prime minister vowed to expand settlement construction. He kept that promise last week when, after two illegal structures at the West Bank settlement of Beit El were demolished under court order, Netanyahu announced 300 new homes would replace them.

Shin Bet and the security services complain they have the ability to pursue the Jewish terror groups but lack the tools and the government support.

Knesset opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog has called on Netanyahu to “deal with Jewish terror in the same way as Islamic terror, firmly and without hesitation,” including the demolition of homes of accused terrorists, something currently reserved for Palestinians.

For his efforts, Herzog has been called “an enemy of the Jewish people” and “traitor” by Jewish extremists and warned, “We may yet witness the firebombing of his house in response.”

President Reuven Rivlin’s condemnations of Israel’s “lax” handling of Jewish terror provoked attacks on Facebook calling him “President of the Arabs” and saying “You do not represent me in any way.” Shin Bet had to increase his security protection.

This government has had no shortage of excuses for failing to deal effectively with the Jewish terrorists whether they are uprooting olive trees, destroying property, torching churches and mosques or burning babies alive.

Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said, “A nation whose children were burned in the Holocaust needs to do a lot of soul-searching if it bred people who burn other human beings.”

Several American Jewish organizations said the Netanyahu government must do more than condemn these attacks; it must intensify efforts to prosecute the perpetrators.

“Expressions of outrage” are “no longer enough,” said Anti-Defamation League’s new national director, Jonathan Greenblatt. The American Jewish Committee, the Orthodox Union, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the New Israel Fund, among others, echoed that view.

There’s no shortage of condemnations across Israel’s political spectrum; now it is time for the prime minister to lead, and that means full enforcement of the law and equal justice for all, not one standard for Jews and another for everyone else.

The danger posed by these extremists may be even greater than the one Netanyahu sees coming out of Iran because it threatens to rip the Jewish state apart from the inside.

Douglas Bloomfield is the president of Bloomfield Associates Inc., a Washington, D.C., lobbying and consulting firm. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.