May 14, 2014

The political cost of "price tag" attacks

Right-wing settlers and supporters have a very big stake in prosecuting and delegitimizing the so-called "price tag" attackers, who vandalize and destroy Palestinian property in indirect retaliation for Palestinian terrorism. The use of violence against non-Jews, including Israeli citizens, reinforces an image of racist settlers seeking to dominate and persecute Palestinians on both sides of the 1949 Green Line. 

Settler voices should be the loudest in calling for full investigations and harsh penalties: They have a moral obligation since it's being done in their name, and they have a political imperative because they stand to further erode the Jewish Israeli base of tolerance or support for their enterprise. Rather than calling for the arrest of Israeli writer Amos Oz, who labeled the perpetrators "neo-Nazis", they should be demanding extra resources so the police can bring the price-taggers to justice. Piling on against Oz amplifies his message, while also creating the impression of defending the attacks.  

Settlements are enough of an economic and security burden to the average Israeli, without the added stigma of abiding racism. If settler leaders truly seek to maximize the territory and infrastructure Israel holds into the future, they'll need to reassure average Israelis that this is about fulfilling the Biblical, Zionist dream. In the settler narrative, the Palestinians are anti-Semitic terrorists who attack Israelis. If settlers are seen as condoning similar tactics against Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, their whole premise will collapse, along with the pro-annexation meme that a bi-national state can somehow uphold Jewish and democratic values simultaneously. 

American Jewish groups have been speaking out strongly against "price tag" attacks, because they oppose criminal violence and because they would otherwise have no credibility in defending official Israeli actions when they need to. 

Even though it undercuts their argument that Palestinians cannot be trusted, settlers have an interest in showing that Jewish settlers and Palestinians can live harmoniously together without the need for a Palestinian state or evacuation of Jewish families. It's not an argument I accept, but it's the best case the settlers can make. 

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