On September 11, 2001, after 3,000 people had been killed, Benjamin Netanyahu said the attacks would be “very good,” having the effect of strengthening the bond between America and Israel.
Seven years later the then-leader of Likud held to the same conclusion as U.S. forces struggled to contain the civil war in Iraq.
“We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,” the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv quoted Netanyahu as saying in April, 2008. He added, these events “swung American public opinion in our favor.”
While the Israeli prime minister has been forthright in talking about how he sees the killing of Americans as serving Israel’s interests, there are limits to his candor. No one would expect him to declare that the shooting of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two sons, Gabriel and Arieh, and seven-year-old Miriam Monsonego in Toulouse on Monday, was “very good.”
Even though I don’t believe Netanyahu is a ghoul who celebrates death, as a political opportunist he undoubtedly recognizes when tragedy serves his own political agenda.
The Guardian spoke to their reporter, Phoebe Greenwood, who has been at the funeral of Rabbi Sandler and the other victims in Jerusalem today.
One mourner told Phoebe that although the school [in Toulouse] was “a very safe place”, the murders would make many Jews worried about security in Europe consider moving to Israel. She said: “Many of the people who are thinking about moving to Israel now certainly will.”
Whether that’s true, there’s little doubt that Netanyahu and many of Israel’s other leaders would welcome a growing sense among the Jewish diaspora that Israel is the only safe place for Jews to live — even as these same leaders push for another war in the Middle East and thereby increase the chances that the Jewish “safe haven” will come under attack.
The alleged gunman in France, Mohammad Merah, a 24-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, is said to have wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children. He also claims to have ties to al Qaeda.
Documents seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad confirm that the al Qaeda leader strongly believed that the movement he had spawned should be focused on Palestine. As Paul Pillar writes:
The one issue that bin Laden evidently stressed to his associates should be emphasized publicly above all others was Palestine. He criticized affiliates and followers for justifying their actions as responses to local matters rather than being performed on behalf of the preeminent cause for all Muslims, which was Palestine. In making such admonitions, bin Laden was recognizing the enormous salience the Palestinian issue continues to have for for Muslims generally. It has all the ingredients for a cause well suited for exploitation by extremists. At its core is the injustice of indefinite occupation by a conquering power of land that is home to Muslims. On top of that is a added religious dimension to the conflict and the perception of the occupying power as a kind of Western, Judeo-Christian imposition on the Middle East.
That bin Laden was issuing such instruction is a further indication of the power of Palestine as an extremist cause célèbre. Bin Laden’s first wish probably would have been to overthrow the House of Saud in Arabia. His strategy of going after the far enemy in the form of the United States as a way of defeating the near enemies in Arab capitals was never more than a minority view in jihadist circles. In this respect he did not see eye-to-eye with his onetime mentor Abdullah Azzam, who believed the first priority of jihad ought to be the liberation of Muslim lands from non-Muslim occupiers. That is why Azzam was a leader in supporting the Afghan jihad against Soviet occupation, and why he—himself a Palestinian—believed liberation of Palestinian land from Israeli occupation needed to be given foremost priority. The Palestinian issue has the power it does not because individual terrorist leaders like bin Laden necessarily make it their first personal priority but instead because it has tremendous resonance among the Muslim populations to which they appeal. The reason that supporters and rank-and-file practitioners of anti-U.S. terrorism cite most frequently for their hatred of the United States is U.S. condoning of Israeli occupation of Palestinian-inhabited land and of other Israeli actions that involve the killing or subjugation of Muslims.
There are many good reasons not to let the Israeli-Palestinian issue fester. Its role as a readily exploitable extremist cause is one of them.
The problem is, as much as the conflict is an exploitable cause for extremists, extremist acts of violence are themselves events that can easily be exploited by those who want to claim that the life of every Jew is at risk and that an undercurrent of antisemitism still pervades the world.
In other words, for those Jews inside and outside Israel who react to terrorism targeting Jews by saying, “I told you so,” such attacks validate their view of the world. This violence is less a problem to be remedied, than a confirmation that part of what it means to be Jewish is to be hated and that the only way of surviving in such a world is through the segregation provided by a Jewish state.
From the mindset of eternal victim-hood, it makes no difference what you do, since it is your fate to always be judged because of who you are.