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Los Angeles Jewish Journal: "Why don't U.S. groups condemn Jewish terrorists in Israel?"

OpEd by Arthur Stern, APN SoCal Regional Chair and National Executive Committee Member
Arthur Stern

October 29, 2008

Imagine the scene: It involves a renowned Hebrew University professor, 72 years old, a Holocaust survivor, who earlier in 2008 was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in Political Science. Late one night in his quiet suburban neighborhood in Jerusalem, he opens the front door to lock the exterior gate. At that moment, a pipe bomb detonates. The bomb was planted for a clear purpose: to injure or kill. Fortunately, the professor survived the attack.

An investigation begins. Leaflets are found throughout this Jerusalem neighborhood, and they confirm that the attack was an assassination attempt. The leaflets are signed by a fundamentalist religious group that advocates replacing the State of Israel with a religious state.

They make an attractive offer: more than $250,000 bounty to anyone who kills a member of the well-established Israeli Zionist group to which the professor and tens of thousands of other Israelis belong. It becomes clear that the assassination attempt was the work of a new terrorist group that has both the will and ability to infiltrate into Israel's capital and use terror to achieve its goals.

Nobody who follows news from Israel would be surprised to learn that this is a true story. But many of us might be surprised -- and shocked -- to learn that those responsible for this terrorist act are not Palestinians nor Muslims. They are Israeli Jews.

Professor Ze'ev Sternhell (photo) was the targeted victim of the bombing, due to his beliefs and connection to the Israeli-Zionist organization, Peace Now, the largest grass-roots movement in Israeli history. The group responsible for the leaflet, and most likely the bombing, calls itself The Kingdom of Samaria.

The leaflet calls for the deaths of Israelis who belong to Peace Now and offers a quarter of a million dollars for the killing of each and every one. And threats against Peace Now are proliferating. Three weeks after the Sternhell bombing, police were investigating graffiti found in Tel Aviv threatening the life of Yariv Oppenheimer, Peace Now's director general.

There can be no equivocation about the need to condemn this attack against an Israeli civilian and the call to murder more Israelis. Unfortunately, strong condemnation was not the response of many organizations within the American Jewish community. More common was a profound silence of most organizations that have a deep connection to Israel and actively support it, often claiming to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community.

We heard widespread condemnation of extremist actions of Jewish settlers in the West bank and Israel proper from members of the Israeli government, from the Israeli press and from many Israeli Jewish organizations, but leading Pro-Israel American organizations are practicing a carefully sustained silence.

This silence is troubling. Also troubling is the fact that the few condemnations issued failed to identify Sternhell as a peace advocate or his would-be killers as Jewish terrorists. The failure to describe accurately the political nature of these acts of terrorism prevents American Jews from understanding the threat posed by right-wing Israeli terrorists to Israeli security, democracy and the fabric of society.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist when an environment of incitement within Israel was tolerated and even condoned by senior Israeli officials. Perhaps, they believed naively that the incitement would not lead to violence. That excuse is no longer available. Israel's senior political leadership -- Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu among others -- wasted no time in condemning not only the attack against Sternhell but also the environment that is giving rise to it.

Israeli settler vigilantism and violence is increasing. Their assaults on Palestinian civilians reached a point where Prime Minister Olmert recently called their actions "pogroms." Violent settlers have also targeted Israeli soldiers and police officers. In one such incident last month, the rioters broke the hand of an Israel Defense Forces deputy battalion commander.

And now, another line has been crossed: a violent attack against an Israeli civilian in Israel's capital. Yet there have been scant, if any, discussions in the meetings or on the Web sites of many organizations in the pro-Israel American Jewish community about the threat this poses to Israel. Compared with the Israeli press that exposed and condemned violent actions by extremist settlers, coverage in American Jewish newspapers has been anemic.

Pro-Israel American groups may disagree about the Israeli government's policies or about how best to support Israel's quest to achieve security and peace with its neighbors, however, these differences should not prevent us all from coming together when a threat arises to Israel's democracy and the larger Zionist vision that we share.

Arthur Stern was the founding chairman of the California-Israel Chamber of Commerce, past president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and is currently a national executive committee member and regional chair of Americans for Peace Now.