Carlo Strenger I accuse (anno 2008)
On the night between September 24 and 25, it happened again. Prof. Zeev Sternhell, an internationally acclaimed political scientist and historian, recipient of this year's Israel Prize for political science, was wounded by explosives put at his doorstep. As yet, we do not know who the perpetrators were, but whoever they will turn out to be, there are those who should wonder what is their part of the responsibility for this despicable act.
I accuse those Jews, inside Israel and outside, who run websites that track "dangerous left-wing intellectuals" in Israel. They call people like Zeev Sternhell "anti-Semitic," "self-hating Jews" and "enemies of Israel."
I accuse those in the Israeli right who turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to those among them who say that the law does not apply to them; to the settlers who break Israeli and international law and moral values on a daily basis, who harass Palestinians, beat them and sometimes murder them. The right-wing establishment is forgiving toward them. "Aren't they idealists? Don't they do what they do because of lofty ideals, because of the holiness of the Land of Israel?"
I accuse not only those who performed religious rituals condemning Yitzhak Rabin to death; not only those who carried posters of Rabin clad in SS uniform at demonstrations. I also accuse those who created the atmosphere that allowed for it, continued to speak at the demonstrations, and after Rabin was killed said they hadn't seen the posters.
I accuse those who claim that they - and they alone - represent Israel, its true interests and the Jewish-Israeli soul; who claim that anybody who has a different view of what is good for Israel are enemies who endanger Israel. To them applies the verse from Deuteronomy 33:9: "Who said of his father, and of his mother: 'I have not seen him;' neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew he his own children; for they have observed Thy word, and keep Thy covenant."
This verse attacks the fanaticism of the tribe of Levi, that like its mythical forefather, thought it could kill in the name of ideals that it had given absolute validity.
I accuse those who implicitly condone the acts of extremists by not saying that they are out of the question. They create the atmosphere that leads people like Yona Avrushmi and Yigal Amir to their murderous acts, and the perpetrators of last week's terror act to attack Zeev Sternhell.
Israel is a young democracy torn apart by conflicting values, by conflicting views about religion, a country that has yet to find its identity. Trenchant disputes, searching discussion and hard criticism of those on the opposing side are part and parcel of a liberal democracy.
Hate-speech that legitimizes blood-feud and rituals that condemn to death those who think differently are neither part of legitimate democratic discourse, nor part of a civilization that we want to belong to (never mind whether the prime minister or an academic who voices his views).
Let us not forget that Israel, rightly, demands of the Palestinians to stop its schools from inculcating hatred for Israel. The West, rightly, demands that Islamic authorities condemn the hate speeches of Imams who call for the extinction of Israel and conquest of the infidel world. We demand this, because we know that words create reality; injunctions to violence in the end find their ways into the hearts of fanatics who will put these words into practice.
So why should we apply a different standard to Jews who do the same thing? Why should we accept that Jews who call for violence, Jews who in the name of their ideals allow for the blood of their ideological opponents to be shed?
For too long the Israeli Right has taken a forgiving attitude toward its 'wild weeds.' For too long it has used extremists to present its own views as acceptable mainstream.
Who is Zeev Sternhell? He is a holocaust survivor who called himself a 'super-Zionist' in a recent interview; an IDF officer who fought in three of Israel's wars. Yes, he thinks that the occupation is a cancer that eats the soul of Israel; yes, he said that Palestinians should only attack Israelis who live in the West Bank and not inside the Green Line. He has said, time and again, that he is afraid Israel will not survive because of the occupation, and that he is worried for his children and grandchildren, because he wants them to be able to live in Israel. And he expressed empathy for the Palestinian struggle. That's why he was attacked.
It has happened again; I wish Professor Sternhell quick recovery and a happy New Year. But I may not be able to express such wishes to the next victim.
Prof. Carlo Strenger, a philosopher and psychoanalyst, teaches at the psychology department of Tel Aviv University and is a member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists.