by David M. Weinberg
Five minutes is all it took for the world to issue the strongest of condemnations following the murder on Wednesday of a 16-year old Palestinian boy from east Jerusalem. Five minutes. Then the fiercest of denunciations swiftly poured in.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rushed to "condemn in the strongest possible terms the despicable and senseless abduction and murder" of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir. "It is sickening to think of an innocent 17-year-old boy snatched off the streets and his life stolen from him and his family. There are no words to convey adequately our condolences to the Palestinian people."
"Despicable" and "sickening." "Snatched off the streets." "There are no words."
Similarly, Quartet envoy Tony Blair called the murder "horrendous" and "heinous," and said that "the perpetrators must be found swiftly and brought to justice." Blair is so "very worried" about "the unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank, including assaults on Palestinians, 'price-tag' attacks and settler violence that cannot be tolerated."
"Horrendous." "Heinous." "Very worried." "Cannot be tolerated."
For most of the world, Israel's guilty verdict had already come in. Guilty until proven innocent. Trigger-happy to convict Israel. All within five minutes.
Even if the Israel Police investigation were to determine that the Palestinian boy was killed by Arabs for reasons of "honor" or criminality, no-one would believe it at this point. The fix is in. Israel is engaging in revenge killing.
Needless to say, the murder is terrible, and is even graver if it was carried out by vigilante Israelis. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn't need any prodding to term it a "reprehensible crime" or to comprehend the severity of the situation, and to insist that the police make investigating the murder the highest priority.
But no such swift damnations were forthcoming for three long weeks during the abduction ordeal of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach, and certainly not with the hyperbolic and demanding language cited above. The kidnapping saga hardly made the front pages in the world's leading newspapers.
Even when their bodies of the three young Israeli boys were found, few of these "very worried" global actors got worked-up enough to use terms like appalling, despicable, heinous, and sickening.
Instead, they issued the de rigeur condemnations of the killings, alongside expressions sympathy for the families, and softball calls on "both sides" to find the perpetrators and exercise "restraint." Nor did the Western world's exalted and stately spokespeople forget to praise the Palestinian Authority's Mahmoud Abbas for distancing himself from the Hamas-inspired kidnapping. (Gee, thanks).
U.S. President Barack Obama couldn't find the internal moral conviction and outrage necessary to comment on and condemn the kidnapping, in his own voice, even once throughout our long 18-day nightmare. Even with President Shimon Peres standing beside him in Washington, Obama couldn't, wouldn't and didn't do it. Even when Peres asked him to do so. Not a peep from Obama.
He didn't have the time. Five minutes, perhaps?
Until the boys were discovered dead. Then Obama mustered the courage to extend deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families, to comment "as a father" on their "indescribable pain," to "condemn this senseless act of terror against innocent youth in the strongest possible terms" -- and, of course, "to urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation."
Johnny come lately, methinks. Obama's comments are simply too late, too aloof, too bland, too unaccusing, too evenhanded.
What is missing from the comments of Obama and his international colleagues is any true anger about the murders of the three Israeli boys, nor any reference to the political and moral implications of the terrorist act.
Nobody has the guts to remark upon the death-glorifying political culture of the Palestinians that repeatedly chooses violence over negotiations.
Nobody is prepared to recognize the distinction between singing Palestinian kid-killing terrorists, and Israeli soldiers conducting anti-terrorist operations in the West Bank who have to kill combatants and occasionally hit a bystander too.
Nobody has the guts to acknowledge that Palestinian society celebrates the kidnapping-murder of Israeli children, while the Israel Defense Forces does its utmost to avoid civilian casualties and Israeli society recoils with horror at the notion of revenge killings.
Why should Obama and company be willing to appreciate this? It's so much simpler (diplomatically) and easier (amorally) to demand "restraint from both sides."
The New York Times provided us this week with a classic example of such (im)moral obtuseness. It ran an ugly front-page article comparing Israeli kids victimized for being Israelis with Palestinian kids hurt while menacing soldiers. It profiled the noble Racheli Frenkel, mother of the murdered Naftali, alongside Aida Abdel Aziz Dudeen, mother of the teenage boy, Muhammad, who was killed while confronting soldiers in Hebron that were searching for Naftali.
The Times can deny all it wants that it intended moral equivalence, but any half-intelligent reader knows better. Of course the paper was plugging symmetry, and in doing so it presented readers with a distorted snapshot of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict!
Had the paper wanted to draw an accurate picture of the two societies, it could and should have profiled Rachel Frenkel alongside the mother of suspected kidnapper Amer Abu Aisheh, who told Israel's Channel 10 this week that "if (my son) truly did it, I'll be proud of him till my final day. I raised my children on the knees of the [Islamic] religion, and their goal is to bring the victory of Islam."
But that would suggest a moral distinction in Israel's favor, and doing so is not politically correct. Instead, the media seems almost hell-bent on presenting Israel as an unforgiving and violent society, not-all-that different from its Arab neighbors. It is thrilled to slavishly cover Abu Khdeir story. It gets the storyline back into the comfort zone; a zone where Jewish radicals (settlers) and the "occupation" are the root cause of conflict in the region.
I experienced this myself in recent days. On behalf of my hometown of Nof Ayalon (where the Frenkels and I live), I gave half a dozen interviews to foreign networks. But the network correspondents showed zero interest in the soft messages I offered of solidarity, faith, and perseverance. What they wanted to hear was calls for revenge. Over and over again I was prodded to demand fierce Israeli military action against the Palestinians. That would have fit the pat prism on the conflict these journalists purvey.
To us Israelis, the moral standards of our society are clear: We value life, not death, and seek conflict resolution, not annihilation of the enemy. Moreover, we acknowledge and seek to correct our imperfections. The contrasting viciousness of much of Palestinian society is also clear to us; laid bare once again these past few weeks.
And the world? Alas, the gap is growing between Israelis and the world. Behind the hypocrisy and double standards, we can feel the chill. It doesn't have five minutes time to truly empathize with Israel, and can't wait five minutes before pushing the "Condemn Israel" button.
David M. Weinberg
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