Friday, September 26, 2008

Condemnation for Jewish Terrorist Attack on Leftist Professor. Sign the Protest Petition.

Figures from across the spectrum of intellectual and political life in Israel responded with shock and disgust to a pipe-bomb attack that wounded a distinguished academic.  Professor Ze'ev Sternhell, known for his foundational studies of fascist and right-wing movements in European history, was also an active leftist public intellectual who often harshly criticized his own country.

Flyers left near the scene of the crime offered a reward of over a million shekels for the murder of "Peace Now" members, too, pointing to obvious conclusions as to the identity of the attackers.  A reactionary settlers' movement claimed, rather preposterously, that the flyers were a leftist provocation created by the Shin Bet security agency.  Several spokesmen for these extremist groups, such as Baruch Marzel and  Itamar Ben-Gvir of the National Jewish Front, denied responsibility for the attack but also pointedly declined to condemn it.   Let's face it, they are the political equivalent of cheap prostitutes: their clumsy attempt at coquettishness only calls attention to their revolting character.

Peace Now, for its part, laid part of the blame at the feet of the government, which, it said, had not cracked down on settler violence:  "Those who don't enforce the law on violent settlers... will find themselves with a Jewish terror organization in the heart of Israel."

All political elements but those on the lunatic fringe unequivocally condemned the assault.   A sampling of reaction:  

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke of a "shocking incident."  Foreign Minister, Kadima Chairwoman, and presumptive Prime Minister Tzipi Livni expressed her sympathy to the Sternhell family and said the attack was "intolerable, and cannot be glossed over." In a New Year's statement from the Foreign Ministry, she declared: "The state of Israel is a lawful state, and moreover, it is populated by a society with values. It is the responsibility of the government and the Israeli society to renounce such phenomena as soon as they rear their heads."

From New York, at the United Nations, President Shimon Peres called for universal condemnation of the act and said, "We must not allow such extreme and dangerous people to take the law into their own hands."

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter:
'This attack takes us, Israeli and Jewish society, back many years, to the days of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination,' Dichter said at a police ceremony held in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv.

'We should view the explosive planted last night as one that aimed to kill,' he said.  'The law enforcement establishment and police will not rest until those terrorists will be placed where they deserve to be – in prison.'  Referring to the perpetrators of the attack, he said 'those are despicable people who endorse the killing of those who do not share their views.'
Defense Minister Ehud Barak (whom Sternhell had harshly criticized earlier this year):
We are returning to the dark spectacle of pipe bombs that are aimed at people, in this case against a very gifted person who never shies away from expressing his opinion.

We won't let any elements, from any dark corner of Israeli society, to harass people who let their clear, lucid, unique voices like that of Ze'ev Sternhell be heard.
Haim Oron, Chair of the left-wing Meretz party, a possible coalition partner in the new government:
They better not talk to us about a few bad weeds. These phenomena spring up on the right-wing [of the political spectrum].

This thuggish and dangerous act is the result of the continuing see-no-evil approach toward the vicious violence against soldiers and police officers and anyone else who doesn't agree with the brutish section of the extreme right wing.
Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, although targeted for removal by left-wing parties in coalition negotiations with Kadima over a new government, shared their revulsion:
a politically motivated attack could undermine Israeli democracy and reopen wounds that have still not healed, and may never heal. This phenomenon must be uprooted.
Similarly, conservative Likud politician and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “this is a sickening attack by abominable people who are not part of the public debate in Israel,” adding, “They need to be distanced from society and placed behind lock and key.”

And from the conservative National Union-National Religious Party:
MK Effie Eitam (National Union – NRP) addressed the attack on Professor Ze'ev Sternhell, calling the act 'a disgraceful act in the eyes of the law, morality and Judaism.'

'Those behind this heinous act do not represent the values of Judaism and the love of Israel. My objections to Sternhell's outrageous opinions aside, I wholly object to any attempt to silence opinions through violent means,' said Eitam.
Sternhell, a Holocaust survivor from Poland who fought in three of Israel's wars from 1967 to 1982 and won the presitigious Israel Prize in political science this year, defiantly said that he would not be intimidated, but worried more for the fate of the country than himself: "If this act was not committed by a lone lunatic, but by elements representing a political persuasion, this is the beginning of the way to the crumbling of democracy."  

Several voices in the press and politics expressed similar concerns.  (The attack is certainly symptomatic of a dangerous mentality.  Debate turns on the question of whether it is part of a concerted new radicalization of tactics by extremist settlers determined to resist any government attempt to dislodge them.)

That the sentiments need to be expressed at all is deeply sad and disturbing.

That such attempts to silence dissent through intimidation or even liquidation of the dissenter are the exception in Israel but the rule in the territories and states at war with Israel should also give one pause for thought--in particular, those who share Sternhell's critique of Israel's policies but not his dedication to the original Zionist enterprise from which it derives, and that serves as his yardstick of moral measurement:
'The War of Independence fired my imagination,' he says. 'The decision to immigrate was a personal one, which stemmed from both a Zionist family history and my own desire to take part in building the state of the Jews.'
Israeli academics are planning a solidarity protest: "The incident was an attack not only against the man himself, but it also threatened the freedom of expression and thought in Israel," one of the organizers said.

Academics elsewhere can demonstrate their solidarity by signing the following petition, from Scholars for Peace in the Middle East:
We, the undersigned, professors with widely varying political orientations and from many disciplines, from around the world, strongly condemn the targeted bombing and injury of Ze'ev Sternhell, Professor of Political Science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ha'aretz columnist.

As Professor Sternhell's fellow academics, we also denounce the attack on him because it appears to have been intended as retribution for his expression of his political views. Thereby, it endangers us and the entire academic enterprise, which depends on freedom of expression.

As human beings, as well as academics, we condemn all acts of criminal violence and hope that the perpetrator(s) of this treacherous assault and attempted assassination are brought to swift and maximal justice.


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