Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak calls for crackdown on 'Jewish terror'

Mr. Barak addressed an uptick in Jewish vigilantism. Today, Jewish extremists attacked a Jerusalem mosque, albeit one no longer used for prayers.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
A laborer cleans graffiti off a vandalized mosque in Jerusalem on Wednesday. The unused mosque was set ablaze and graffiti sprayed on its walls on Wednesday in a manner similar to recent attacks associated to hardline Jewish settlers.

Right-wing Jewish extremists vandalized and attempted to burn down an unused Jerusalem mosque today, the latest of a string of attacks by Jewish groups that have spurred public debate over whether such violence should be considered "terrorism."

Agence France-Presse reports that the vandals spray-painted graffiti insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohammed on the mosque, which has not been used for religious functions since 1948, and is currently used as a municipal storage facility. The graffiti also included the words "price tag," – referring to a policy The Christian Science Monitor has described as "using violence against Palestinians and Israeli security forces in retaliation for outpost evacuations and militant attacks on settlers."

The graffiti also included "Mitzpeh Yitzhar" and "Ramat Gilad," the names of two illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank that are set to be destroyed by the end of the month. 

The mosque arson is just the latest in a string of attacks by Jewish right-wing extremists. On Monday night and early Tuesday morning, a group of what IDF Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi called "Jewish rioters" attacked an Israeli military base in the West Bank, reports The Jerusalem Post. The attackers burned tires, vandalized military vehicles, and threw rocks at IDF personnel, apparently spurred by rumors that the military would soon be evacuating and leveling the Ramat Gilad settlement. 

“I personally saw the people, the rioters, that threw stones and cursed our soldiers and commanders. I have not seen such hatred of Jews toward soldiers during my 30 years of service,” Mizrahi said.

Rioters also attacked Palestinian civilians in the same area in the West Bank, injuring one woman.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is investigating emergency measures to crack down on the extremists, reports Haaretz, one of which is to declare them a terrorist organization, which would expedite legal action against them. Defense Minister Ehud Barak recommended investigating such an approach, saying that, "From the way they conduct themselves, there's no question that this is terror behavior," though he notes that it is still unclear whether the extremists fall under the legal definition of terrorists.

Kadima leader Tzipi Livni raised similar concerns about violence by Jewish extremists, whom she called “a growing group of extremist Israelis that is trying to turn Israel into a lawless, nationalistic violent environment with twisted Judaism," reports Arutz Sheva, an Israeli news outlet affiliated with religious Zionism.  "The government must arrest the vandals and punish them, and stop the silent consent, the extremist laws, and the rabbinical rhetoric,” she said.

The Jerusalem Post reports that former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer of the Labor party called for the IDF to respond to attacks with deadly force, regardless of whether the attackers are Jews or Arabs. "Whoever comes to kill you – kill him first. This is terror," he said. "I was witness to such terror in 1995, which ended in a prime minister being killed," he added, referring to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist.

In a commentary for Haaretz, Aeyal Gross, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, expands on the apparent double standard used by the IDF and the Israeli government in response to Jewish extremist and Palestinian protests.

"It is easy to imagine what would have happened had Palestinians invaded an Israeli military base and vandalized vehicles, burned tires, thrown rocks at the brigade commander and injured his deputy. It would have ended in death, injury, or arrest for many of them. But the perpetrators of this week's incident were Jews, not Palestinians," he writes in Haaretz, a liberal Israeli newspaper.

The proximity of the two incidents invites comparison, but the disparity in the response has long been evident. Demonstrating Palestinians are met with force - sometimes deadly - and arrests. Jews in the territories, even when they riot and use violence against Palestinians or the army, are usually accorded what amounts to immunity by both the military and the judicial establishments.

The disparity of response is the symptom of the broader problem, that of the fact of two populations living in the same territory, where each one is under a different legal system and is treated differently by the military. Israel is selective in its imposition of its law on the settlements and the settlers, creating a regime that discriminates on the basis of national identity. ...

Under the current circumstances, when one population and its army are allowed to rule over and use violence against another population, it should not come as a surprise that sometimes violence is also directed at the IDF.

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