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Israeli Academic Extremism

Hypocrisy of the Israeli Left

For more details and to see the full original article, go here

By P. David Hornik | 10/3/2008

Zeev Sternhell, the 73-year-old Israeli political-science professor lightly injured last week by a pipe bomb planted in his yard, told the Internal Affairs Committee of the Knesset on Thursday that “Crime is crime, and…we need to catch these criminals and try them. I know that it is somewhat more difficult to catch these people than it is to catch Arabs and underworld criminals. Even psychologically it is difficult to bring to trial that wonderful boy who just uprooted an olive grove or smashed a windshield.”

To recap, the attack on Sternhell was widely attributed -- including in the international media -- to the fact that he is a critic of Israel’s West Bank settlements. This left out the fact that Sternhell has actually called for Palestinian terror attacks on these communities, most famously in an article in the left-wing daily Haaretz on May 11, 2001, during the Palestinian terror war, where he wrote: “Many in Israel, perhaps even the majority of the voters, do not doubt the legitimacy of the armed resistance in the territories themselves. The Palestinians would be wise to concentrate their struggle against the settlements....”

Not surprisingly, then, Sternhell’s reference to “that wonderful boy who just uprooted an olive grove or smashed a windshield” is a further expression of his bigoted animosity toward “the settlers.” First of all, because it assumes that “settlers” were responsible for planting the pipe bomb when this is not known; even if right-wing Israeli extremists were the culprits, they could just as well have come from pre-1967 Israel.

And second, because it tars a whole sector -- “the settlers,” now almost 300,000 strong and comprising a wide religious-secular and political spectrum of Israeli Jewish society -- with the sort of vigilante actions actually engaged in only by a tiny percentage of this sector. For his part, Member of Knesset David Rotem of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party told the same Knesset committee that it was time to stop the “Sternhell festival…we should make every effort to catch whoever did this, [but] for days people have been blaming the settler population [while] no one knows who [was responsible].”

Meanwhile it was reported Wednesday that the Palestinian Authority intelligence service had “announced that [Fatah member Shadi] Shami had died following a deterioration in his medical condition” while “his family members claimed that he was tortured by intelligence officials and…essentially executed.”

Shami had been arrested by the PA in 2002 for shooting and injuring Nabil Amr, formerly a PA cabinet minister, now the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to Egypt and a close adviser to PA president Mahmoud Abbas. Shami had been held since 2002 in Jericho Prison, where he died on Monday.

If his family is right that his death resulted from torture by his captors, his case would hardly be an unusual one. Last July a Human Rights Watch report accused both the PA and the Hamas regime in Gaza of “a year of politically motivated arrests, torture and ill-treatment in detention…. West Bank security forces often tortured detainees during interrogation, apparently leading in at least one case to a detainee’s death. Torture methods included mock executions, kicks and punches, and beatings with sticks, plastic pipes, and rubber hoses….”

The report went on to “criticize governments that have pledged US $8 billion” to the PA and said “Stopping torture and other serious abuses should be an essential condition for the massive western support to West Bank security forces.”

Getting back to Sternhell, it is interesting that even in his nasty verbal swipe at “settlers” he only mentioned such vigilante actions as uprooting olive groves and smashing windshields. As the Israel Defense Forces’ West Bank commander Gadi Shamni notes, currently there is “a hard core of a few hundred activists among [the] 300,000” settlers who are engaging in such acts and sometimes worse -- but very far from lethal -- violence.

For Sternhell and those of his mindset on the Israeli Left, though, the main charge against the settlements was that they supposedly perpetuated Israeli rule over the Palestinians -- in their view the crux of all evil. And it was when the positions of such left-wing academics, writers, and cultural figures seeped into the mainstream, being adopted by politicians like Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, that Israel created the PA, dismantled most of the “occupation,” and replaced it with direct Palestinian rule.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Sternhell and his friends to do some soul-searching about the result -- a reign of horrific abuses inconceivably worse than the few instances of settler misconduct they keep harping on.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at


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