IT WAS A MOURNFUL MILESTONE. Last Thursday, for the first time in more than a decade, a private Israeli citizen committed an act of terrorism against Arab civilians. Eden Natan-Zada, a 19-year-old Israeli Defense Force (IDF) deserter and recent convert to the teachings of the late terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane, boarded the No. 165 bus bound for the Arab village of Shfaram. Wearing an Orthodox Jewish yarmulka, the uniform of the army he had abandoned, and carrying his military-issued rifle, he opened fire at close range, slaying the bus driver and three passengers, wounding 13 others. For his victims, he selected two Muslims and two Palestinian Christians, all Israeli citizens of Arab descent.  In a bout of vigilante justice, citizens of Shfaram then pelted the bus with stones and lynched the murderer.
All of Israel rushed to condemn this nearly unprecedented terrorism. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called it as “a despicable act by a bloodthirsty terrorist who sought to attack innocent Israeli citizens.” Other Israeli government officials joined in the chorus. The Jerusalem Post and many of its competitors classified the four murders as “Jewish terrorism,” a designation, CNN commented, that is “usually reserved for Palestinian suicide bombers.” Even a leader of the West Bank Jewish settlers currently resisting relocation, Bentsi Lieberman, stated categorically, “Murder is murder is murder, and there can be no other response but to denounce it completely and express revulsion.” His hometown of Rishon Lezion originally refused to bury his body within the city limits, before relenting Sunday. The IDF declined to accord Private Natan-Zada the honor of a military funeral.
The Israeli government also scurried to head off additional violence from those ultra-Orthodox Jews insisting any pullout from the West Bank and Gaza amounted to sacrilege. Israel had deployed 20,000 troops to stop a protest near the Gaza border in July, and just days before this deadly attack, the IDF trained soldiers to prepare for assaults on Arabs perpetrated by their fellow Jews. Last Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Sha’ul Mofaz responded to the Shfaram shootings by announcing Jewish “extremists” would be arrested and held without trial. The next day, Mofaz signed “administrative detention” orders for three young men who belonged to the same religious terrorist organization as Natan-Zada.
From Israel’s swift and comprehensive reaction, and the fact that Natan-Zada enjoys popularity among no significant sector of Israel, some have asked whether decrying these killings is not unnecessary. After all, some have e-mailed me, these sorts of attacks happen everyday in Israel with the “active encouragement” of the Palestinian Authority. Why should an anti-terrorist activist make a redundant denunciation of an isolated incident like this one, they ask, when it is “dwarfed” by daily acts of Palestinian terrorism?
It’s unquestionably true the international media’s lopsided coverage derives from the fact that this seems like such a “man-bites-dog” story. A Google search for “Islamic Terrorism” beings up 331,000 hits, recounting 30 years of murder in the name of religious fanaticism; however, a search for “Jewish Terrorism” nets a meager 9,600 sites, focusing mostly on the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel, with the links quickly devolving into crankdom. The Palestinian Authority’s Muslim children live a soul-crushing existence in which they grow up longing to become shahid by dying in terrorist “martyrdom.” The whole of PA society – its mosques, schools, and even pop music videos – bids them to forsake any dream of a happy existence on this mortal coil, steep themselves in hatred and victimization, and finally quench an all-consuming bloodlust. The result is that an entire generation has grown up believing its highest purpose in life is death. This hateful hopelessness manifest itself at the Arab victims’ funeral as “[d]ozens of women in the march chanted mournfully, ‘Some day we hope to die this way as martyrs, as martyrs,’ and flashed victory signs.” All of this, some say, means we should spare beleaguered Jews further embarrassment and save our indignation for those with a longer track record of attacking innocents.
They could not be more wrong.
The intentional targeting of non-combatant civilians for political purposes is the cruelest form of barbarism short of genocide. Civilized people of any background cannot but reproach such actions when they are carried out in the name of any nation, ideology, or religion.  Terrorism is terrorism, regardless of its perpetrator, innocent life just as precious regardless of its ethnic heritage or religious conviction. We are not “taking sides” by condemning this incident of Jewish terrorism; we would be taking sides by not condemning it.
I am elated that to most of Israel, Eden Natan-Zada stands reviled. But not to his mother. At his funeral she rhapsodized, “for me you are a hero,” saying the IDF could “go to Hell.” One can understand the grief any mother would feel peering over the coffin of her own son but Natan-Zada was no hero; he was, in fact, not much different than the Palestinian terrorists he grew up despising.
A Jewish Taliban
Two months before he killed four of his fellow countrymen in cold blood, Eden Natan-Zada had gone AWOL from the IDF, because he refused to participate in the West Bank/Gaza pullout – a policy favored by nearly two-thirds of the Israeli Knesset. His motivations, like those of the 9/11 hijackers, were religious. He had recently joined the organization known as Kach, or Kahane Chai, a Jewish splinter group of perhaps a few hundred Israelis (and many more American Jews) dedicated to the fanaticism of the late terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane originally named his organization Kach (“Thus”), but upon his assassination in 1990, his son Binyamin took over Kach and spun off Kahane Chai (“Kahane Lives!”) to continue his father’s ideology. (Binyamin and his wife met a similar violent end a decade later.)
The elder Kahane was most notorious in this country for founding the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a group an FBI report classified as a "right-wing terrorist group" that was widely suspected to have bombed the Los Angeles headquarters of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee 20 years ago, a bombing that killed ADC director Alex Odeh. According to the Anti-Defamation league of B'nai B'rith -- hardly an anti-Semitic organization -- the JDL has admitted, been convicted of, or been tied to attempted bombings of multiple foreign embassies, bombing an Iranian bank, attempting to hijack an Arab airplane, the severe beating and hospitalization of its enemies, and the firebombing of a vehicle belonging to the Christian missionaries “Jews for Jesus.” Former Kahane Chai leader Binyamin Zev Kahane justified the bombing of the Syrian Embassy to the UN, for which a Kahane Chai member initially claimed responsibility. Kahane Chai member Baruch Goldstein committed the last (and deadliest) act of Israeli terrorism, murdering 29 Muslims at prayer in a mosque in 1994.
Meir Kahane’s followers draw their malice from his “Judeo-fascist” interpretation of the Torah, which they seek to impose upon Israel and, eventually, all worldwide Jewry. He decreed first all Arabs must be driven out of “Eretz Israel” (Greater Israel), an enlarged Israel whose borders are allegedly specified by the Bible to include parts of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. This cleansing must take place, by force if necessary. That land would then be subject to the whole of the halakah, the entire set of ordinances contained in the Torah and Jewish tradition, similar in content and scope to Islamic Shari’a law. To usher in this society, all political and religious freedom must first be destroyed. He openly declared, “democracy and Zionism cannot go together.” Non-Arab goyim would be allowed to remain as sojourners in the land – as long as they outwardly observed the whole of the Mosaic Law – but they could never have a voice in its governance. However, as in all extremist terrorist organizations, the hottest war would rage between righteous Kach members and those of their co-religionists who refuse to go along with their totalitarian agenda; these would be the victims of “unfortunate” violence, whose survivors would be subjected to total censorship. Seeking clarification, one interviewer asked Kahane, “This state ruled by the Torah would not guarantee freedom of speech, then?” Rabbi Kahane gleefully expounded:
Of course not! In a religious state, there can be no such freedom. Obviously, I think that today it is not possible for us to have such a state without a civil war, and I’m not prepared to encourage such a conflict.
The interviewer then turns to Kach’s desired anti-Arab violence:
Q: Are you intending to drive the Arabs out by military means?
A: Yes, obviously….
Q: What you want is to force the government to do it.
A: Of course! Because there are no other practical means of doing it. You need government means for an action like this….
Q: In the meantime, you engage in actions…to scare the Arabs and to force them to leave.
A: Absolutely… They must understand that a bomb thrown at a Jewish bus is going to mean a bomb thrown at an Arab bus…Of course, no Arab is innocent.
Q: So you accept the fact that Arab civilians are being killed?
A: Of course. Sure.
Kahane then admitted ushering in this theocratic utopia would necessitate “perpetual war.” It is these teachings that incited Eden Natan-Zada to arms. One of the three Kach members arrested Sunday after attending Natan-Zada’s funeral told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, “If he decided to do what he did, it was after consideration and not because of a passing urge or depression, but for ideological reasons.”
These ideological reasons are no less compelling because they are rooted in an extremist reading of the Torah, rather than the Koran. However, both extremist philosophies can justify the vilest actions in the name of God. C.S. Lewis once observed:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons…The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.
In effect, these two opposing manias are mirror images one of another. However, the critics are correct in saying there are moral distinctions between the two. For one, Kahane believed his mission required only the persecution of his fellow Jews and the Arabs standing in his way, not the subjugation of the whole world like the Islamists. More important is the difference in scope. The recent call for American Jews to reciprocate in this instance ignores a central fact: Meir Kahane’s Judaism makes up an imperceptibly small subculture of Judaism, dwarfed even by the adherents of Chabad-Lubavitch. Few Jews would recognize Kahane’s faith as their own (and a higher-than-average percentage of Jews acknowledge no faith whatsoever). Conversely, radical Islam pervades every corner of the earth, nowhere more fruitfully than in the Palestinian Authority. A Friday sermon aired on PA television in 2003 declared:
Mohammed, Allah's Messenger, heralded to those killed for Allah that they are Allah's most preferred people. Blessings to our Shahids who sacrifice their souls easily for the sake of Allah. Blessings to our Shahids who were burned yesterday in their cars, at the same hour as the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque was burned 34 years ago.
This message is magnified by every sector of Palestine’s Islamic society. A Palestinian textbook suggests, “Perhaps Allah brought the Jews to our land, so their death would take place here.” The PA media are filled with incitements to suicide bombing, portraying the glory a shahid enjoys like an eternal amusement park. These sentiments can be found throughout the world’s Muslim media and are openly tolerated even by those who do not adhere to this version of Islam. It is they who must be outspoken about the nature of their religion, and they who can be most effective in condemning this all-pervasive absolution for murder. Ironically, the fact that most Jews have no sympathy for Kahane’s twisted faith makes them more likely to issue a blanket condemnation of civilian terrorism than the Muslim community (which, with a few notable exceptions, has demurred) but less likely to produce results.
I long for the day Israelis and Palestinians can live side-by-side in two separate states in peace, dignity, security, justice, and prosperity. To that end, every ideology that countenances the murder, dehumanization, dispossession, injury, or plunder of another people – whether religious or secular – must become anathema. That cannot happen until Islam greets all acts of political terrorism against innocent civilians as heresy. Their model could be the Israeli reaction to Eden Natan-Zada.
- Arabs make up 20 percent of the Israeli population. These are the ones who did not flee their homes prior to the 1948 war.
- Some of this author’s correspondents claim Natan-Zada had no intention of committing terrorism. They claim he was mentally ill, noting his parents had warned authorities he had undergone a deep personality change and worried about what his current mental state meant in terms of his potential for violence. However, this sounds like the reaction any normal, caring person would have to a loved one who had been seduced by a death cult. Many people have been so ensnared; they may have been tragically misled, but this does not mean they were mentally incompetent.
- Kahane claimed in his interview the ordinances demanding homosexuals, adulterers, and disobedient children be stoned to death could not be implemented in modern Israel, because it had no Sanhedrin. No word on when he intended to form that body’s successor.