Laws Not Thugs

Jewish Light Editorial

If we are to heal this nation, last Wednesday’s killing must rid us, once and for all, of the complacent illusion that we enjoy a distinctive moral superiority over our neighbors.

— “A Sobering Moment for Complacent Israel,” David Horovitz, Times of Israel, July 7

We Jews are not a people who seek vengeance.

— “How Dare You!” Sherri Mandel, Times of Israel, July 7

How do we evaluate a nation’s sense of justice and righteousness? By its laws and its highest aspirations? Or by the vile deeds of its basest constituents?

Times of Israel Editor David Horovitz’s column on Monday makes the essential point that a society purporting to hold itself to high moral and ethical standards can’t at the same time devolve into brutal, anarchic revenge.

Yet that’s what appears to have happened last week in the burning and killing of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, allegedly by a gang of Jewish extremists. The common belief is that the purported murder was retaliation for the reprehensible kidnapping and killing of three innocent Israeli teens: Eyal Yifrach, 19; Gilad Shaar, 16; and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen. 

In her blog, Mandel directly addresses those culpable for the Khdeir killing. She stresses that the Jewish people have held, and must continue to hold, ourselves to a high moral standard in all things, including how we respond to the egregious events that led to the slayings of Yifrach, Shaar and Fraenkel. Compounding the tragic deaths was the savage beating of Khdeir’s cousin by Jerusalem police. 

Mandel and Horovitz get it right in large part by heaping disgust on the vigilantes and emphasizing the need for Israel to serve as a beacon for both legal and social justice.

The part that the authors leave a bit wanting, however, concerns the potential punishment and treatment of the perpetrators on both sides. For it is in these acts that a nation of laws can and should distinguish itself from a rogue collective.

The State of Israel has proved itself both capable and earnest in seeking out Khdeir’s murderers. Through Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and other officials, the government has officially expressed its utter disdain for the notion of mob justice against any target, whether Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Palestinian or otherwise.

Does Israel always get this right? Most certainly not. But the aspiration of fairness is at least apparent in the statutes and practices laid out for law enforcement officials to follow when dastardly deeds are done. The active and aggressive pursuit of Khdeir’s killers is evidence of this standard.

Not so much for Hamas and many Palestinian leaders, however. Their public rhetoric has been far less about bringing the killers of the Israeli teens to justice, and more about their deep-seated venom toward Israel. And on top of that, they have conflated the acts of perpetrators in the Khdeir murder with those of the state, creating the implication that Israeli law and due process condone such behavior.

The readiness of much of the Palestinian leadership to hurl political and hateful invective over a law enforcement issue is what defines their aspirations. A movement that eschews the existence of Israel has no moral upper hand in any event, but its shortcomings are especially pronounced when it can’t even get behind the necessary and rightful prosecution of justice.

Of course, simply being better than the other guy isn’t nearly enough for Israel, especially in relation to groups like Hamas that set such a very low bar for morality. Israeli citizens get no free pass in taking matters into their own hands; to do so just drags down the state and makes it look far more like the militant terrorists that Hamas itself retains and encourages.

Besides, the killers of Khdeir did their cause no favors, whatever that cause may be. Not only did they contribute to the plummeting standing of Israel in the court of world opinion — a trend that needed no additional help, thanks very much — but they prematurely erased the blessed memories of the slain Israeli teens from the front pages of international media. Try Google searches on the subject and you will find the Khdeir slaying front and center while Yifrach, Shaar and Fraenkel have been relegated to the inside pages.

The events of the last few weeks in Israel have been an abomination for those who value human life and the rule of law. Let’s hope that the perpetrators of the heinous murders of Yifrach, Shaar and Fraenkel, and of Abu Khdeir, along with the Jerusalem officers involved in the beating of Khdeir’s cousin, Tariq, will be brought to justice. Let’s also hope that those across the globe who value true justice understand that aspirations are ultimately what guide us and keep us from evil and anarchy.