Column: Jerusalem Bombings: ‘Collective Punishment’ Against Jews

Aryeh Schupak’s family could not live as Jews until they moved from the former Soviet Union to Edmonton in Canada, where they immersed themselves in Jewish religious practice, The Canadian Jewish News recounts. The family would sustain and nurture it after they moved to Israel – when Aryeh was three or four years old.

The morning before Thanksgiving, the Schupaks could not escape the enmity toward Jews when Aryeh was murdered in the first of two bus stop bombings in Jerusalem. He was a Yeshiva student, 15 or 16 years old. Naomi Pilichowski, 18, is one of two Americans among at least 18 who were injured. Her father, Rabbi Uri Pilichowski (who grew up in Fair Lawn, N.J.), told a New York Post reporter that Naomi was slightly injured.

This tragedy is among a series of Israel-related incidents in recent weeks that raise essential questions.

The terrorists must have blamed Aryeh for Israel’s occupation of the nation’s territories and “its criminal practices” linked to Muslim holy sites. Such a rationalization…er, justification…issued by two Palestinian terror groups must convince us of what Israel has done to deserve this level of terrorism – the scale of terrorism that the nation has not suffered since the first few years of the century.

These explanations should not fool anyone. Let’s not waste time debating the so-called occupation and Israel’s “practices” – whether criminal or legitimate – at Muslim holy sites. Their sole reason for blowing up the two bus stops was to kill Jews like Aryeh until they are wiped out or subjugated under Arab rule.

There are apparently many Palestinians who are fine with Israel and others who are mainly upset with what they perceive as Israel’s abuses, but there is also a great many Palestinians who seek to control all of Israel. How dare Jews or anyone else think they could live freely on Arab land? Arab land, they say, runs from “the river (Jordan) to the sea (Mediterranean).”

Aryeh’s death was their idea of “collective punishment,” a phrase the Arabs employ to describe Israeli actions such as weapons checkpoints and enforcement of order at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. As a teen-ager, what influence could Aryeh possibly have on Israeli policies?

A terrorist group’s spokesperson declared that the twin bombings sent a message to far-right members of the Knesset, and on the day after Thanksgiving Benjamin Netanyahu sent the terrorists a message: As incoming prime minister, he appointed Itamar Ben-Gvir minister of national security. According to terms reported in Israeli media, the deal would expand the ministry of internal security, the old name of the cabinet position in charge of the police, into the national security ministry and would also provide Ben-Gvir with authority over border police in the territories, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports.

Ben-Gvir, who leads the Otzma Yehudit party (Hebrew for Jewish Power), will be authorized to implement his ideas to loosen rules so that officers can open fire on stone-throwing Palestinians and Jews can pray on the Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa mosque is located. He has urged annexing large parts of the West Bank and for deporting Arabs who are not loyal to Israel, according to JTA.

Moderate and liberal Jews in particular are uncomfortable if not adamantly opposed to Ben-Gvir’s participation in Netanyahu’s right-wing alliance. Netanyahu could only obtain his preferred majority by partnering with the parties of Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the Religious Zionist party and has disparaged non-Orthodox Jews.

I have mixed feelings about Ben-Gvir’s proposals. Some of his proposals seem sensible on their face, but they can be provocative and abused by police officers.

Netanyahu’s appointment of Ben-Gvir so soon after the bombings could have been coincidental, but it does make one wonder if that was his immediate response to the incident..

“Collective punishment” was applied 5,700 miles away where an Arab man attacked three men, two of whom because he thought they might be Israelis, as he told a federal judge last week, The New York Times reports. Saadah Masoud of Staten Island attacked a Jewish man from behind last April in Midtown Manhattan when he punched the man in the head and face and dragged him across a sidewalk, an indictment alleges. The victim, Matt Greenman, told a Times reporter, “He kicked me in the face a whole bunch.”

Masoud said in court that, with Greenman wearing an Israeli flag while walking alongside a pro-Palestinian demonstration, “I perceived him to be an Israeli.” He said he punched a second man wearing a necklace with a Star of David in 2021 because he believed he was an Israeli. The third man wore a skullcap and other traditional clothing associated with the Jewish religion.

He pleaded guilty on Tuesday, Nov. 22, to a federal hate crimes conspiracy charge and is scheduled for sentencing on March 3, according to the Times. He could face up to five years in prison.

What drove Masoud to violence? Ronald L. Kuby, an attorney for Masoud, explained in a phone interview, “(His client’s) extended family over generations suffered horribly at the hands of the Israeli government, and much of that has been passed down to him,” the Times reports. He added, “That explains – but doesn’t justify – conduct.”

Because they might be Israelis, or Jews at least, Greenman and the others were held culpable for what Israel supposedly did to his family.

Kuby’s explanation does not explain it. What did Israel do to his family? Were they randomly picked out or were they engaged in terrorism? As Masoud did not even know for certain if his victims were Israelis, why couldn’t he talk to them and learn about their backgrounds and attitudes before reaching any conclusions?

The article also describes thug-like behavior. Masoud could not challenge Greenman up front. He waited until fellow demonstrators circled around him before assaulting him when Greenman’s back was turned to him. Prosecutor Lindsey Keenan told the bench that Masoud also might have “contacted and threatened a person who he believes to be a government witness.” Keenan said the government was investigating and suggested that her office might seek revocation of his bail. Judge Denise L. Cote warned Masoud to avoid direct or indirect contact with anyone he perceives might be a government witness.

Just like he perceives anyone to be an Israeli?

Thanksgiving week opened with an Israeli judge’s ruling that a former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, defamed another former (and returning) prime minister, Netanyahu, by dubbing him, his wife and son as “mentally ill.” A third former prime minister’s reputation was drawn into the dispute as Olmert demonstrated in court that Netanyahu’s son, Yair, described Ehud Barak and other former public figures as being mentally ill.

While Olmert was ordered to pay $18,000 in damages, his attorney, Amir Tytunovich, called it a loss for Bibi, (Netanyahu’s nickname), saying, “The Netanyahu family, who turned to the court in the hope of receiving a ‘certificate of sanity,’ came out without one.”

The Times described legal proceedings as “lurid and at times circuslike” and “farcical.”

Olmert produced witnesses to testify about accusations of eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive conduct, narcissism and paranoia, but Judge Amit Yariv determined that Olmert did not produce any professional medical diagnosis.

Both ex-prime ministers came to the case with considerable court experience, though not the kind to brag about. Olmert served 16 months in prison after being convicted in 2014 for taking a bribe when he was mayor of Jerusalem, prior to being elected to the Knesset, and Netanyahu currently faces a trial for corruption.

The judge wrote in his ruling, “The proceedings, and the testimonies that were aired in its course, did not hold any honor to either side, nor to the institution of the prime ministry.”

Israeli policies and actions may be largely debatable, yet the conduct of some Israeli leaders makes it difficult for anyone to take the government seriously. Combined, Netanyahu and Olmert have served as prime minister for 18 of the last 26 years. If Yair Netanyahu is truthful, which is remotely possible, Barak’s tenure would make that 20 years of mentally ill and/or corrupt prime ministers governing Israel.

One cannot blame foreign countries for lacking confidence in Israel with the kinds of leaders it has had, at least with Olmert and Netanyahu. They cannot trust their motives or wisdom in their decision-making. How can Israeli leaders be believed in explaining Israel’s role in the wake of a controversial incident? How can they be trusted to move Israel in a responsible direction?

Two caveats: We can say the same about Britain, America and other western governments, and Palestinian leaders are far worse.

And if you hunger for democracy, move to Israel. With the Knesset’s failure to form stable national governments, Israeli voters have gone to the polls five times in the last three years. After each of these elections, my first question is: How soon will they set the next election?

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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