Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed an international conference in France and, after expressing his sympathy for the people of France following the recent terrorist attack, said the following:
“Both our peoples have long and bitter experience confronting terrorism. This is not surprising, because Israel and France have in common precisely those qualities that the terrorists seek to destroy: freedom, equality, pluralism, tolerance – democracy. But the terrorists who struck down innocent people in Paris, well, they make the same mistake as their counterparts who strike down innocent people in Israel. They fail to realize that those same shared values are the source of our strength . . . We have to recognize that radical incitement and lies feed terrorism. Those who are committed to peace must fight incitement, must speak the truth.”
The recent weeks which saw unending terrorism in Israel and that terrible, massive series of terrorist attacks in France, have left me thinking a great deal of what we, Europe and Israel, have in common. There is no question that Israel is a member of the western world and, that the west is characterized by its commitment to freedom, human dignity and tolerance. And yet, what is so obvious to us in Israel is how differently our fight against terrorism is treated from France’s. When our soldiers, police or civilians strike at a terrorist as he is murdering or attempting to murder another human being, the Palestinians and those who support them, call us murderers of children. And no one in Europe or in the US protest that horrific slander. And yet, when the French and the Belgians go on a massive manhunt to capture the terrorists, shut down entire cities, engage in a shoot-out in a residential neighborhood, their actions are understood and considered reasonable.
We are accused of being a militaristic society and civilians neutralizing terrorists are accused of excessive or militant behavior. Yes, there are civilians who carry guns in Israel, subject to very strict gun regulation. But when a terrorist attacks someone in the streets, there is a good chance that someone on that street will be armed and will be able to protect the person under attack. Wouldn’t it have been helpful if there had been armed personnel in the theater in Paris who could have stopped the terrorists before they succeeded in murdering so many?
Shortly after the attack in France, a video clip of an interview with a small French child and his father went viral. In the clip, the child poignantly expresses his fears in light of the attack and his father assures him that all will be well because they were lighting candles and placing flowers on the site of the massacre. “The flowers will protect us?” asked the child. And his father reassured him that they would.
While my heart goes out to this young child and I wish I could erase the fear and trauma that is now part of his young experience, I was astonished by the response of this father and disturbed that this clip was shown repeatedly on western television screens around the world.
I believe that Islamic terrorism is targeting Europe and Israel for the same reason. And that this same terrorism targeted the Twin Towers in New York 14 years ago. I agree with Netanyahu that they seek to destroy a world based on our shared values. But I believe they identify the weakness of these values. They see us respecting human life and understand that we will weep when our children are harmed. They see Europe opening its doors to hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees and mock this generosity by flooding Europe with Muslim terrorists. They see our freedom of religion and take advantage of it to lure innocent youngsters to the ranks of ISIS and other extremist groups. They see our freedom of expression but then extort and murder free people who dare to criticize Islam, holding this freedom of expression hostage to their distorted vision.
But I would go further than Netanyahu. The world must develop the resolution to fight to secure those democratic values. I believe that values of human dignity should not prevent us from identifying evil among human beings and acting against it.
Democracy can indeed make us strong, but we must recognize the inherent vulnerability of democratic societies in their fight against evil. Terrorists do not abide by democratic laws and the ability to catch terrorists may depend upon us compromising our civil liberties. France is learning this the hard way, as they have opened discussions to revamp their constitution in order to enable them to fight terrorism locally. Wire-tapping, security checks at the entrance to public facilities, denying entry of potential terrorists to a country even without proof of criminal intent — all these are just examples of measures that are taken by democracies in order to defend themselves against attack.
I believe that Islamic terrorism is the single most dangerous enemy of the western world today. And I believe that unless the western world joins hands in a serious effort to address this challenge we will be witnessing terrorism like never before. We must go back to the drawing board. We must take a new look at democratic laws and balance them against real security needs. And we must do this together. Israel is not the reason this is happening. Israel can teach the world something about meeting these challenges. And together we can work to make this world a safer place. Flowers will not protect us. Identifying and fighting Islamic terrorism will. With G-d’s help.