As Allison Deger noted yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements on the day of the funeral for the three killed Israeli teens included vengeful language. That rhetoric is generating controversy in light of considerable Israeli violence directed at Palestinians. Even the Jewish Forward, a liberal Zionist newspaper in the U.S., has expressed sharp objections to Netanyahu’s comments as incitement.
Today Netanyahu seemed to walk the revenge theme back in a July 4 celebration at the US embassy in which he urged Israelis to be “cool-headed.” I’ve got an excerpt below, but the damage has been done. So first, here’s some of Netanyahu’s record.
From the speech, above, at the funeral on Tuesday:
The light you [the boy’s families] radiate shines even brighter in contrast to the horrific darkness of those who seek our destruction — despicable kidnappers of children, heinous murderers whose brothers rejoice at the spilling of innocent blood.
A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies. They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.
This is the secret of our strength; it is the foundation of our unity. Throughout the history of our people, we have proven time and again that even when faced with the greatest of tragedies and the deepest agony and despair, the force of life that pulses in us overpowers the murderous aspirations of our enemies.
the Prime Minister spoke again about the three before a security cabinet meeting, saying, “May God avenge their blood.”
“Whoever was involved in the kidnapping and the murder will bear the consequences,” Netanyahu said Tuesday evening. “We will neither rest nor slacken until we reach the last of them. And It does not matter where they will try to hide.”
Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created. Neither has vengeance for the blood of 3 pure youths who were on their…
way home to their parents who will not see them anymore. Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay. May the memories of the 3 boys be blessed. — PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) June 30, 2014
Those tweets were preceded by these two:
They [the boys] were abducted & murdered in cold blood by human animals. On behalf of the entire Jewish People, I would like to tell the dear families-
the mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and brothers and sisters – we are deeply saddened, the entire nation weeps with you. — PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) June 30, 2014
The Forward has published a story, “Did Bibi’s ‘Vengeance’ Tweets Provoke Violence?” Gal Beckerman reminded readers that the PM was once blamed for inciting Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, in 1995:
There are ways of channeling the pain and anger of a country without calling for vengeance, which in its classically biblical form is indeed an eye for an eye, a life for a life. Why not talk instead of justice, of tracking down the perpetrators and holding them to account for their crimes? Wouldn’t it have seemed more temperate, more responsible, to call for justice instead of vengeance?
Hody Nemes in the Forward also found the Israeli language offensive. “Why Israeli Thirst for Revenge Is Profoundly Un-Jewish.”
In the ancient Near East, this sort of literal punishment was expected: the Code of Hammurabi says that if your ox gores someone’s child, your child should be killed as punishment. Under middle Assyrian law, if a man’s wife was raped, he could rape the rapist’s wife. If you hurt my family, I get to hurt yours.
But the Torah rejects this barbaric notion. In Deuteronomy 24:16, we read, “Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for their parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime.” And while it’s true that the Torah commands us to “take an eye for an eye,” the rabbinic tradition we follow reinterprets this as a demand for monetary compensation. Literal bodily punishment is forbidden.
The Forward’s Nathan Jeffay pointed out that Netanyahu’s June 30 tweet about the Jewish people alienates Israeli Palestinians:
Nissim Ibarith, a Palestinian Israeli from the mostly Arab town of Umm al-Fahm… felt “angry” [at the killings], he told the Forward.
…“There is a war, there are problems. But a child? What did he do and what can he do?”…
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to exclude Arab citizens like Ibarith from sharing in the national sense of grief over the murder of their fellow citizens. He instead seemed to speak as the leader of world Jewry.
Now here is Netanyahu walking back the revenge theme in a July 4 celebration at the US embassy:
We will pursue all those who had a part in the murders of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali and we will catch them…. we will bring those responsible for this crime to justice.
I appeal to all the citizens of Israel and ask you: Please exercise restraint in your actions and words. Our hearts ache, our blood boils, but we must remember that we are, first and foremost, human beings and we are citizens of a law-abiding country. We are making decisions in a responsible, cool-headed and considered manner.