April/May 1994, Page 15
To Tell the Truth
The Hebron Massacre: Another "Defining Moment" in the Middle East
By Leon T. Hadar
Following the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and the arrest of several Muslims who were charged with the crime, the American media were flooded with news stories, analyses and commentaries that warned of the coming "Islamic threat." "Investigative reporters" and "terrorism experts" alleged on television talk shows and op-ed pages that the accused perpetrators of the bombing were part of an "Islamic terrorism network" coordinated by Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, or other Middle Eastern bogeymen.
Prestigious foreign policy journals proposed that America should prepare for an ideological and military struggle with political Islam, and scholarly magazines debated whether Islam is inherently antithetical to democracy, liberalism and other Western values. Political scientist Samuel Huntington went even further by using the bombing in New York as a backdrop for developing his grand theory in the pages of Foreign Affairs that competition between Islam and the West will replace the Soviet-American rivalry of the Cold War as the centerpiece of international relations.
Contrast those reactions with the media's response to the massacre in Hebron. No analyst suggested that the event reflected the emergence of a global "Jewish threat. " No terrorism expert was invited to discuss on "Nightline" or the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" the rise of a "global Zionist terrorism" organization manipulated, say, by the Israeli Mossad. No scholar alleged that the massacre by a Jewish settler suggested that Western and Jewish values were somehow incompatible.
If one really had wanted to apply the journalistic methods that were used in the case of the World Trade Center bombing, it would not have been so difficult, after reviewing the biography of Rabbi Meir Kahane by Robert I. Friedman, to point to the strong ties between Baruch Goldstein and the other "fanatics" in the Jewish settlements and members of the Israeli political establishment, especially in the Likud party. One could even have reminded American readers that Kiryat Arba, where Goldstein resided, was actually the brainchild of a pre-1977 Labor government.
Any analysis of public statements and writings by some of the major political and spiritual leaders of the Jewish settlers, including the rabbis who head the movement, would reveal a fanatical hatred and racist attitudes toward non-Jews in general, and Arabs and Palestinians in particular.
Instead, most journalists and analysts adopted the official Israeli line and described the massacre as an "isolated" case of Jewish "extremism," an act of a "lone gunman," a "lunatic," a "madman" who does not represent Israeli society or, for that matter, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Journalists, like the Israeli government, stressed that killing of innocent civilians violates the moral tenets of Judaism.
Most journalists and analysts adopted the official Israeli line.
The U.S. media put things "in context," suggesting the massacre was part of a vicious circle of violence," and that the perpetrator was traumatized by the killings of Jewish settlers by Arabs. The implication was that the act, though unjustified, was at least "understandable" in the larger scheme of things. Some pundits, like A.M. Rosenthal in The New York Times, went beyond such gestures of empathy, arguing that condemnation by the Israeli government "does tell us a great deal about the gap between Arab and Israeli societies and the importance of not allowing shock or sorrow to overwhelm the awareness of the difference."
But the massacre in Hebron was no more an "isolated" event in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank than the lynching of Blacks was confined to a "lunatic fringe" in the American South of the pre-civil rights movement. In both cases, the violence against the "other" was a reflection of a political pathology of tribalism and hate. Although in Mississippi or Alabama of the early 1950s one could encounter a political figure or a citizen publicly condemning violent attacks against innocent Blacks, behind closed doors it would not be surprising to hear the same individual rationalizing such attacks.
In fact, the massacre in Hebron was rooted in an ugly and racist interpretation of Judaism that is accepted by the majority of the settlers as well as by many Israelis and American Jews. The Gush Emunim settlement movement that welcomed Goldstein and his mentor, the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, to Israel was part of the Likud-led coalition for many years. Those settlers have been since 1967 the ideological core of the "Greater Israel" political and ideological bloc. There is a direct line connecting radical and messianic Zionism, still espoused by a large segment of the Israeli public, and the killing in Hebron, in the same way that no one could separate white racism and acts of violence against Blacks, like lynching.
A Double Standard?
It is ironic, if not hypocritical, that many of the same leaders of the American Jewish community who have demanded in recent weeks that African-American leaders dissociate themselves from Black separatist Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan never demanded, during the long reign of Israel's Likud party, that other American Jewish or Israeli leaders reject the racist and anti-Arab ideology of the Likud andits satellites. Actually, these same Jewish leaders who now are so outraged by the ugly oratory of a Black preacher helped to mobilize billions of American dollars to fund a tribal and racist project that perpetuated the Israeli occupation and the settlement of thousands of Baruch Goldsteins in the West Bank. None of these U.S. Jewish leaders are demanding today that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin "dissociate" himself from the settlement movement.
Whether or not the U, S. media continue perpetrating the myth that the massacre was an "abomination," I believe that, in the long run, the event will turn out to be one of the defining moments of Middle East history, particularly for Israelis and Jews. When historians talk about a "defining moment, " they usually refer to a major event that helped transform the way people perceived reality and made decisions. For example, nothing remained the same after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the assassination of President John Kennedy, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and the dismantling of the BerlinWall. Through such events, a new world is born.
The Middle East has had its share of such "defining moments. " The 1967 war symbolized the Arab defeat by Israel. The 1973 war projected the vulnerability of Israel. The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the Sabra and Shatila massacre, transformed the image of the Jewish state in Western public opinion, just as the intifada legitimized the Palestinian struggle for independence. Last September, the Arafat-Rabin handshake signified the beginning of a Palestinian-Israeli rapprochement.
There always have been attempts to detach such developments from the Big Picture by describing them as non-representative events. For example, Israeli leaders argued that it wasn't their refusal to even discuss giving up the occupied territories, but an "intelligence failure" that led to the 1973 Egyptian attack in Sinai and Syrian attack in Golan.
Similarly, the Hebron massacre might be relegated by an Israeli investigative committee to a "security failure, " meaning that the presence of a larger number of Israeli soldiers at the Cave of the Patriarch mosque in Hebron could have prevented the massacre. The investigative verdict might result merely in a recommendation to tighten up security in Hebron, and get back to business as usual.
The Real Questions
Israeli author Amos Oz has raised, however, the real questions Israelis and Jews will have to face, and the real choices they have to make in the aftermath of the massacre. Noting how Israeli leaders have tried to play down the massacre, with chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau avoiding the use of the word "murder" to describe it, Oz asked in The New York Times of March 1: "Is the commandment 'Thou shalt not murder' relevant only when the victim was born of a Jewish mother or was converted to Judaism by an Orthodox rabbi?"
The larger question is whether the majority of Israeli and American Jews and their leaders will confront the racist and tribal definitions of Judaism advanced by Baruch Goldstein, Meir Kahane and their allies in the Likud. Unless such concepts are firmly rejected by Israelis and their American Jewish supporters, the "peace process" is doomed to failure.
Leon T. Hadar reports on international and Middle Eastern issues from Washington, DC.