The ‘settler violence’ narrative and Knesset elections – opinion

When an Israeli commits a criminal act, he or she is arrested and prosecuted. The opposite is the case In the P.A., where those who kill Jews are hailed as heroes.

By Ruthie Blum, JNS

The current spike in Palestinian terrorism, marked by dozens of rock-throwing, firebombing, stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks each day, was upstaged last week by what the local press and certain politicians were highlighting as an intolerable “surge in settler violence.”

It’s hard to describe the fervor with which news outlets and the “anybody but Bibi” camp—the parties on the left side of the spectrum vying to prevent former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power after the Nov. 1 Knesset elections—jump on stories of “settlers” assaulting Israel Defense Forces troops and Palestinians.

Take Thursday’s clash in the town of Huwara, near Shechem (Nablus), for example.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid promptly labeled the thugs who threw stones at Palestinian vehicles and pepper-sprayed members of the IDF’s 202nd Paratrooper Battalion, wounding the commander and a soldier, “dangerous criminals who must be denounced and brought to justice without hesitation and with all severity.”

They “endanger the lives of our soldiers and harm the State of Israel,” he added.

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz took it a step further and attributed the incident to the behavior of his right-wing rivals in the Religious Zionist Party.

“Irresponsible politicians, especially [Knesset members] Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, are running a violent campaign and inciting violence and crimes, motivated by nationalism, against West Bank Palestinians and IDF forces,” he happily declared. “These people might be in positions of power if Netanyahu is able to form the next government, and that will be on him [i.e. his fault],” he warned.

The trouble with his statement—other than its reference to Religious Zionist parliamentarians as “these people”—is two-fold. In the first place, all Israelis, including the heads of settlement communities, condemned the attack.

Secondly, if Gantz had handled the defense portfolio differently—with more of an iron fist than a view that peace and quiet are best achieved through goodwill gestures and financial incentives to Palestinian laborers—Ben-Gvir might not be polling so well. But this is an inconvenient truth that he can and likely will bemoan as a sign that Israeli society in general is at fault for choosing extremism over liberal democracy.

The irony is stunning. In the conflict between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, the former is the one rejecting the values of liberal democracy and embracing extremism; for the latter, it’s the other way around.

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This isn’t to say that Israel doesn’t have its share of violent Jewish criminals.

But when an Israeli civilian or soldier, in Judea and Samaria or elsewhere in the country, commits an act of aggression against anyone, he or she is arrested and prosecuted. The opposite is the case in the P.A., where those who kill Israelis are hailed as heroes, and their families are showered with honors and hefty monthly stipends.

Another point that the pundits and politicians who pounce on every opportunity to underscore “settler violence” fail to acknowledge is the P.A.’s belief and teachings that the entire State of Israel is a settlement. Indeed, as far as the honchos in Ramallah and Gaza are concerned, Tel Aviv bar-hoppers and Haifa mall-goers are no different from Jews living in Efrat or Tekoa. And Lapid and Gantz are indistinguishable from Bibi and Ben-Gvir, other than in the extent to which they can be manipulated.

Speaking of the two banes of the left’s existence, in an interview last weekend, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said that “[Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir] are not only waiting for a mother and her four children to be murdered on the eve of the election to guarantee victory; they’re helping it along.”

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His slanderous words contained a tragic morsel of veracity. The duo in question don’t have to “wait for” or “help along” Palestinian slaughter.

For all the bloody attacks successfully carried out—such as the knifing of a young man in Jerusalem on Saturday afternoon—hundreds more are thwarted, thanks to the vigilance of Israeli security forces and by the grace of God.

The phenomenon has become so commonplace these days that it barely garners front-page headlines. “Settler violence,” on the other hand, is given star billing. This is because it’s rare, not rampant.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”