The Moral Inequivalency of Vandalism

The latest incident of anti-Arab vandalism in Israel — which carries the label Price Tag — has once again captured the attention of politicians and the media.

Two cars were torched and “Price Tag” graffiti was found spray-painted on a wall in a predominantly Arab neighborhood in east Yerushalayim last Friday. Suspicion has naturally fallen on vigilantes taking revenge on Arab property in response to Arab attacks on Jewish persons and property in Yehudah and Shomron. Police are investigating.

We certainly join in condemning such vigilante acts of violence, whether against persons or property. While everything possible should be done to protect the Jews living in Yehudah and Shomron, there is no excuse for anybody taking the law into their own hands. Rather, we should support, and where necessary urge and prod, those responsible for enforcing the law to do so vigorously.

But Israeli officialdom went much further in their reaction.

On Sunday night, the security cabinet authorized Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon to declare Price-Tag activists — whoever they are — “an illegal association.” Stiffer sentencing and lengthier prison terms are being considered.

In addition, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was reportedly working on new legislation aimed at eradicating the scourge. Livni, along with Public Security Minister Yitzchak Aharonovitch, have been advocating that the Price-Tag attacks be classified as acts of terror, and so we can expect something along that line in the near future.

The official eagerness for harsher penalties for this type of vigilantism, repugnant as it is, is a dubious development. Before the state begins treating petty vandals as terrorists, it might be proper to ask why the police have been unsuccessful in apprehending them. Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said that while there is no legal barrier to classifying them as terrorists, what is called for in this situation is better police work, not special legislation.

But whatever the right way forward for combating Price Tag, one must first stand back and appreciate the response of Israeli leaders. Who can fail to be impressed by such sensitivity for the victim? Such zeal for justice?

And who can fail to be aware of a certain double standard? There is vandalism, and there is vandalism. Not all hate crimes are equal, it seems.

For on the very same day as the Price Tag incident occurred, a group of Israeli hikers in the Shomron were set upon by a mob of rock-throwing Arabs. It took the intervention of an IDF unit firing warning shots and tear gas to disperse the attackers.

Hamodia’s readers were informed of it, but we saw nothing about it in the mainstream media.

Swastikas were spray-painted on the wall of a beis knesses in Bat Yam last Shabbos — the fifth such incident in that city in the past few months — but no mention of it could be found in the media. Nor did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convene a special meeting of the security cabinet to discuss how to put a stop to this intolerable anti-Jewish vandalism.

There are walls, and then there are walls. The wall of a beis knesses for some reason does not arouse the same indignation and outrage as the defacement of an ordinary wall in an Arab neighborhood.

Pictures of the graffitized Arab wall and the burned cars were immediately flashed around the globe by major news organizations. No such pictures were made available of the swastikas in Bat Yam.

We don’t mean, however, to blame this on a sinister media bias. It is not necessarily part of the campaign to delegitimize Israel, and particularly those who commit the daily crime (in some eyes) of living in the ancient Jewish homeland of Yehudah and Shomron. Though, to be sure, there are those who rejoice at the news of alleged hate crimes committed by right-wing hooligans.

Reporters, photographers, editors and publishers are human beings who react to events much like the rest of us. Like the rest of us, the more common an occurrence the more mundane it seems, and the less newsworthy.

Arab violence — whether among themselves or directed at Israelis — is an everyday thing. Virtually every day there are rocks thrown at Jews by Arabs — not only in the remote hiking trails of the Shomron, either. In the central Israeli city of Beit Shemesh on Friday, a Jewish home was pelted with stones. In recent months there have been numerous attacks on Jews in the Kosel area.

Last Wednesday a Palestinian was indicted for the stabbing murder of Evyatar Borovsky, Hy”d, at the Tapuah Junction in late April, not far from where the stone-throwing took place last Friday.

But what can we expect?

What can we expect of government officials and news reporters who are indifferent to the spiritual vandalism against Jewish tradition at the Kosel? If they are not aroused to defend the sanctity of the Kosel, how can we expect them to defend the sanctity of a beis knesses in Bat Yam?

But that graffiti on an ordinary stone wall in an Arab neighborhood should outrage Jewish leaders, but not defilements of the walls of our holy places — that’s outrageous.