by Mitchell Plitnick
On May 24, an unidentified shooter opened fire at the Jewish museum in Brussels, killing four people. Two of the victims were Israelis, and the other two remain unidentified, other than being described as a volunteer and an employee of the museum, respectively.
Nothing is really known yet about the identity or motive of the shooter. A video of the incident offers very little in terms of defining the ethnicity of the murderer. But never fear, because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman know very well who is responsible.
Almost immediately after the attack in Brussels was reported, Netanyahu stated that it was “… the result of constant incitement against Jews and their state. Slander and lies against the State of Israel continue to be heard on European soil even as the crimes against humanity and acts of murder being perpetrated in our region are systematically ignored.”
Lieberman, who has his eye on the prime minister’s office, followed up by saying that “…activity termed ‘pro-Palestinian,’ activity that once again, just like in those dark days, calls for the boycott of ‘Jewish goods,’ and aggressively targets the only democracy in the Middle East, is nothing but anti-Semitic.”
Lieberman, as is his wont, stated bluntly what Netanyahu merely implied: the shootings were caused by support for Palestinians, and, indeed, opposition to the settlements. If you engage in such activity, you are killing Jews.
That may seem like an extreme reading, but examine Lieberman’s words in particular. He does not merely critique boycotts, but everything labeled “pro-Palestinian activity.” In targeting “the boycott of ‘Jewish goods’” Lieberman, himself a settler, intentionally fails to differentiate between calls for boycotts of all things Israeli and the increasing European practice of clearly identifying products from the settlements. This would have the effect of excluding settlement products from European programs to minimize export barriers for Israeli products, as well as letting consumers decide if they wish to purchase such products.
Being realistic, it is certainly possible that support for the Palestinian cause was at the root of this attack. But that is only one of many possibilities, and thus far, there is no particular indication that this possibility is stronger than any other. Belgium Interior Minister Joelle Milquet has not yet officially termed this an anti-Semitic attack, but he did say “there are strong grounds for presuming so.”
Of course that is true. An attack at a Muslim institution, a feminist office building, a multicultural center, or a LGBT center would and should all carry the same presumption. But the shameless, cynical and, quite frankly insulting use that Israel’s current leadership puts anti-Semitism to defies logic, or even the most basic justification.
Indeed, on one level, the Bibi-Yvet (the Israeli nicknames for Netanyahu and Lieberman) response to the Brussels murders contains a hint of desperation. The mammoth, pioneering study on global anti-Semitism, carried out by the Anti-Defamation League, and seized upon by Netanyahu (as was surely the report’s intent), was met with a great deal of skepticism, rather than the supportive outrage Netanyahu and the report’s authors had hoped. Here was an opportunity to capitalize on a real hate crime.
At this writing, though, three days have passed and there has been no public sign that the investigation has gotten very far. The murders were clearly well-prepared for and the murderer, whatever his motive, knew what he was doing. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that we will never know what prompted him to act, or who he truly is. Already, more and more fanciful theories are being bandied about in the media. But, surely more distressing to all concerned, the coverage is already starting to fade.
If this attack was indeed related to Israel’s occupation, it’s only more important to reject the notion that pro-Palestinian “incitement” is the root cause. No matter the motive, this crime was the worst kind of murderous act, targeting innocent civilians in a most cowardly fashion. No Palestinian I know would think this any less heinous than anyone else. And I know plenty of the so-called “inciters,” Palestinian and otherwise.
The very term “incitement,” which has been sheepishly adopted by the United States and sometimes also European governments, is being rendered meaningless by Israeli propaganda efforts. Every Nakba memorial, every Palestinian act affirming their own connection to the land or recalling the injustice visited upon them by Zionism is called incitement. There are certainly examples of bigoted, false and threatening statements in Palestinian media. But the same kind of statements are also issued by the Israeli government and certain Israeli media, as Yizhar Be’er, head of the Israeli media watchdog Keshev points out. But “incitement” has now become just another buzzword, meant to frighten people, to enhance Israeli propaganda efforts painting Israel as the eternal victim, and to cow critics into silence.
Maybe the attack in Brussels had something to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Maybe it was connected to the burgeoning populist right in so much of Europe. To me, the latter explanation seems more likely as tensions between the Jewish Belgian and Muslim immigrant Belgian communities are very low, while there is a growing and well-organized fascist/racist white supremacist fringe in Belgium that is very focused on anti-Semitism. But we simply don’t know yet. What we do know is that the attempt by Netanyahu and Lieberman to turn this tragedy into anti-Palestinian propaganda is morally repugnant. It’s up to sensible people to make it politically unviable as well.
Photo: A still from security camera footage of the man who shot four people on Saturday at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.