Terra Incognita: National confusion (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By SETH J. FRANTZMAN 03/29/12)
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In releasing five teenagers to house arrest on March 25, a Haifa
district court judge noted that “the use of the word ‘Jew’ [in the
assault] was part of the mistaken identification and not connected to
nationalist motivations.” The five young men, and a sixth who has
been kept in prison for several more weeks, were part of a group who
brutally beat two off-duty IDF soldiers outside Haifa’s Rambam
Medical Center on February 26.
That evening Shnir Dahan and Roie Sharaff were going to the hospital
when they were attacked. The two men spent four days in doctors’ care
as a result of the attack, having suffered a fractured nose, mild
concussion, head, wrist and hand wounds and cuts and bruising.
As is typical in these types of inter-ethnic cases, generally where
the victim is Jewish, the judge was asked to rule on whether this was
a “nationally motivated attack.” The term “nationalist” is used to
define attacks motivated by political-terror motives, where the
attacker might be in cooperation with a terror network.
In releasing the young men to house arrest the judge followed
apparently normal guidelines for teenagers charged with assault. But
the public should worry that the judge caused damage to the justice
system in his comments about the racial aspect of the crime.
The victims reported that their attackers called
them “Jew,” “stinking Jew” and “Jewish Jew.” The judge determined
that this was part of a case of “mistaken identity.” It turns out the
six attackers, who are Arab, reported having rocks thrown at their
house earlier in the evening, and that they believed two Jewish men
had done it. So they were searching for “Jews” and in that sense the
judge claimed their use of the word “Jew” wasn’t part of a “national”
attack, but was merely used to identify the victims.
According to this logic, if a group of men thought an Ethiopian had
shouted abuse at them, they would not be considered a greater threat
to society for attacking some other Ethiopian while shouting “cushi”
(an anti-African racial epithet sometimes compared to the English
word “nigger” in its offensiveness), because “mistaken identity” is,
apparently, a mitigating circumstance.
The reason for the law’s, and by extension the media’s, confusion on
this issue is the question of whether the attack
was “nationalistically” motivated.
The word “nationalist” in this context is unique to the Israeli
public discourse. When a crime occurs in Israel that involves Jews
and Arabs, the police and the media examine the attacker’s political
Thus Baruch Goldstein’s murder of 29 Arabs in Hebron in the 1990s was
a “nationalist” crime. The same goes for Arab attacks on Jewish
soldiers, such as two recent attacks in Jerusalem. The idea of
a “nationalist” crime is that the attacker was motivated by hate and
political ideology. In some cases this triggers the involvement of
the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) or security services in the
case and the suspension of some rights for the accused.
But the problem with the “nationalist” motive is that it ignores
the “racist” motive. The West has become used to the concept of the
hate crime, but this concept does not exist in Israeli law. Yet there
are attacks in Israel that are described as “racist.”
The recent attack on Arab workers in the Malha mall by Beitar soccer
hooligans was described as a racist attack in the Hebrew media and in
this newspaper (“Beitar Jerusalem has a history of racist incidents”).
On Wednesday a march by the Interreligious Coordinating Council in
Israel took place in Jerusalem, where the well-meaning activists gave
the Arab victims flowers and candy. There is no march for the Jewish
victims in Haifa, despite the fact that their injuries were worse,
because the discourse decided that they were not victims of racism.
This is where the law, media and society become confused, to the
detriment of all the victims. When Jewish soccer fans beat Arab
workers while shouting “Death to Arabs,” “Arabs are sluts” and “I
hate Arabs” it was reported that this was a racist incident.
No “mistaken identity” here. No humming and hawing over
how “national” the motives of the hooligans were.
But had the situation been reversed, had Arab soccer fans attacked
and harassed Jewish workers, would the media be saying that it
doesn’t seem to have been a “national attack” – and thus it isn’t
serious? The problem is that the evidence for the “national” assault
must be more compelling than the “racist” attack. In order to prove
nationalism, courts and media want to see evidence of planning and
membership in a terrorist organization. This is because the public
has been led to believe that Arab violence must be motivated
by “political” issues, rather than simple ethnic hatred.
When “Benjamin”, a Jewish rent collector, was murdered in Morocco
this week the Jerusalem Post reported “the police are investigating
whether the murder...
was nationalistic or criminally motivated.” This was also the case
with George Sa’ado, a Jewish resident of Ramle who was shot by an
Arab teenager while walking his dog after he had been harassed and
accosted by the teenager’s friends.
Yisrael HaYom noted: “Ramle man murdered in possible nationalist
attack.” That description, inadvertently, takes the public’s
concentration off of the evil of the act and makes people wonder
about the “national” motives. This ignores a third possibility, that
the crime might be motivated by racial or religious hate.
Consider that the headline “Ramle man murdered” focuses our attention
on the murder, whereas “in possible nationalist attack” makes us
wonder about opaque motives. Then when we are told “it isn’t
national,” the original part of the sentence, the murder, seems less
relevant. The country must change its discussion about “national”
attacks because this diversion is harming the ability of the public
to understand the brutality of crimes that are being committed on an
almost weekly basis.
When beating a man while shouting “stinking Jew” is considered a
crime, the perpetrator of which can be released to house arrest, the
legal system must be examined and the media that is not raising an
objection must also be held to account. We must reject the notion
that a person can be beaten for their race, religion or ethnicity
simply on the excuse of “mistaken identity.” While western style hate
crimes legislation may not be the right path, those who beat others
based on identity deserve harsher prison terms, not relaxation in
house arrest. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 03/29/12)
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