Tuesday, June 18, 2024 -
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The case of Prof. Sternhell

Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell returned to his home in Jerusalem after a long period abroad, only to be greeted by a pipe bomb two weeks ago. He was wounded and no one has been caught. The professor blamed the attack on right-wing activists. Sternhell reports that he had been receiving threatening phone calls. Clearly, the threats were real.

Prime minister-designate Tzipi Livni said in response: “Something intolerable occurred that cannot be silenced. The State of Israel is a lawful state, and moreover it is populated by a society with values. It is the responsibility of the government and the Israeli society to renounce such phenomena as soon as they rear their heads.”

The victim, speaking from his hospital bed, said: “It was obvious that this was the work of the extreme right-wing. It could have been a lone lunatic, an organization, a cell of three or a whole settlement which have decided to ‘set the record straight’ with me.”

The prime minister-designate is right, of course. But she tells only part of the story, more than hinted at by Prof. Sternhell’s comments from the hospital. He wrote an article during the second intifada, when Palestinian terrorists were killing and maiming Israelis at pizza shops, cafes, busses and elsewhere. He wrote:

“Had the Palestinians the least bit of sense, they would have concentrated their struggle against the settlements and would not plant explosives on the western side of the Green Line.”

For advising Palestinian where to plant their explosives, which did, and were designed to, kill and main innocent people, Prof. Sternhell rightly earned the opprobrium of Israelis on many sides of the political spectrum. Hatred of Jews by Jews finds no purer or more ignominious representative than Prof. Sternhell.

When Jimmy Carter wrote substantially the same thing as Prof. Sternhell in his (Carter’s) recent screed, Peace Not Apartheid, Carter apologized. He slipped, he said. He did not mean to justify terrorism, he said. It was a sloppy formulation, he said. He did not take back anything else in his book, riddled with inaccuracies and animus. But he did take back that. Not so Prof. Sternhell. In this sense, he’s even more irrational on the subject of Israel than Jimmy Carter — and that’s saying a lot.

Violence against Prof. Sternhell is surely wrong. There is no moral equivalence between what the professor said, and what others did. But the professor’s own surprise that he was attacked strikes us as a bit strange. Here, he engages in the verbal treachery of aiding and abetting the enemy — he advocates the killing of Jews in settlements via terrorist means — and then he cries foul. Well, he’s right — those who attacked him were wrong; but so was he, in the most mean-spirited, indeed hateful way we can think of.

The solution is for Jews to stop blowing up Jews, whether with weapons or with words.

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