Sunday, September 28, 2008
About that Attack on Prof. Sternhell
About that Attack on Prof. Sternhell
By Steven Plaut
The smoke from the pipe bomb had not yet cleared from the courtyard in
front of the home of Prof. Zeev Sternhell in Jerusalem when the media
launched their most ferocious McCarthyist broadside against the Israeli
"Right" since the mid-1990s. The media leapt to the kneejerk
conclusion that the attack on Sternhell, lightly wounded by the bomb,
was politically motivated, this because Sternhell had a long track
record of expressing radical opinions. These included his denouncing
YESHA settlers and all non-leftists in Israel as "fascists," justifying
terror attacks on "settlers," and calling for Soviet-style central
planning of the Israeli economy and society.
The previous round of massive anti-dissident McCarthyism in Israel
followed the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The leftist media
invented the "theory" that Rabin had been killed as a direct result
of the anti-Oslo "Right" exercising its freedom of speech and voicing
its ideas. The McCarthyist Left in Israel insisted then that anyone
who had disagreed with Rabin's Oslo initiative was collectively
guilty of his murder. The Leftist theory of jurisprudence insisted
that every Israeli non-leftist was collectively guilty of murder
unless he or she could be proven innocent beyond a reasonable doubt.
The episode demonstrated how shallow is the understanding of and
commitment to democracy in large swaths of the Israeli political
And a few days ago came the pipe bomb attack on Sternhell. Once
again, every Israeli non-leftist is being pronounced by the media as
guilty of "terrorism" against Sternhell unless proven innocent beyond
a reasonable doubt, and never mind that there is no proof that the
bomb was placed by anyone from the Israeli "Right" or even by anyone
acting out of political motives. The media in Israel have no need of
evidence or proof of anything. Article after article denounced the
"Right" as being (collectively) behind the attack, and numerous
pieces, including notably those by A.B. Yehoshua and by police czar
Avi Dichter, insisted that nameless "settlers" were behind the attack
on Sternhell. Lunatic far leftist professors, ordinarily ignored by
most of the Israeli media outside of anti-Zionist Haaretz, the very
people who have never heard of an Arab atrocity against Jews they wish
to condemn, were carted out by the boxcar to issue proclamations about
how the attack on Sternhell was simply a side consequence of Israeli
brutality against poor Palestinians and how the attack proves that
anyone who disagrees with the Far Left is by definition a terrorist.
Now a reasonable person would not rule out automatically the
possibility that a lunatic from the fringe of the "Right" or even a
"settler" might eventually be found to be involved in the attack.
Incidentally, not a single news story or commentary in Haaretz or the
rest of the Israeli media referred to the perpetrator(s) of the attack
on Sternhell as "activists." But imagine, just suppose, that this
turns out not to be the case. Would it not be amusing if the police
were to uncover evidence that in fact Palestinian terrorists had
targeted Sternhell with a bomb, after his receipt of the "Israel Prize"
turned him ironically into a symbol of the Zionist entity and a trophy
target? Moreover, Sternhell had over the years accumulated his fair
share of others who hated him, including numerous French anti-Semites,
one of whom successfully sued Sternhell for libel in France. So a
prudent person would withhold pronouncements concerning who should be
presumed to have carried out the attack until some real evidence
actually is uncovered.
Meanwhile anyone who has ever dissented from the dogmas of the far Left
and anyone who even expressed criticism of the views of Sternhell,
including his statements calling for murder of "settlers," spent the
week fielding media injunctions that he step forward to denounce the
attack. As if anyone from the non-Left who fails to take the
initiative to issue such a declaration should be presumed to support
the attack! A prominent professor from the "Professors for a Strong
Israel" got such a summons from an Israeli television station and
refused to cooperate, viewing the summons as insulting.
Isracampus.org.il, the web watchdog that exposes and monitors academic
anti-Israel extremism in Israel, was similarly swamped with accusatory
injunctions to appear and demands to renounce the attack.
Let me repeat here what I proposed to the members and leaders of
"Professors for a Strong Israel" and hereby suggest to anyone else
from the non-Left contemplating what the proper response to all this
should be. My suggestion is to adapt the familiar aphorisms of
David Ben Gurion to the challenge. Ben Gurion regularly made
statements such as, "We will fight the White Paper as if there were
no Hitler and we will fight Hitler as if there were no White Paper."
Accordingly, my suggestion is that all sensible non-Leftists, when
asked about the attack on Sternhell, should reply as follows: We
believe that political street violence in Israel must be fought as if
there were no plague of leftist academic treason, and that the plague
of leftist academic treason must be fought as if there were no
political street violence in Israel.
Beyond that, several other rather tame observations might be
mentioned. These include:
- Sternhell's political outlook and opinions were repugnant before the
attack and did not become any less repugnant because of the attack.
- Radical Leftist sedition does not become legitimized because of the
attack on Sternhell, no matter who carried it out.
- Critics of the radical Left do not become delegitimized because of
the attack on Sternhell, no matter who carried it out.
- Critics of Prof. Sternhell's opinions have as much right to express
their criticisms as Sternhell himself has to express his.
As a side note, should it actually turn out that a lunatic from the
fringes of the Kahanist movement was involved, I strongly suggest that
the denial of freedom of speech to Kahanists should be considered to
be the primary cause of the attack. The Kahanists and ONLY the
Kahanists have been criminalized in Israel, banned, denied freedom of
speech, and declared racists and terrorists. Yet not a single
far-Leftist "Post Zionist" nor a single Arab fascist or Stalinist
group has been similarly criminalized and none were officially
declared "racists," even when calling for mass murder of Jews or
denying the Holocaust.
Forcing fanatics to compete in the marketplace of ideas exposes their
ideas to sunshine and fresh air and ultimately neutralizes them. But
the anti-democratic Left and the Israeli political establishment
decided arbitrarily to criminalize the Kahanists, banning them as
illegal, and people denied freedom of speech sometimes resort to
violence. Should it turn out that any were involved, and there is
not a shred of evidence that any were, the policy conclusion from
such a discovery should be that Kahanism needs to be decriminalized
and Kahanists permitted to exercise freedom of speech.