First of two parts
WHEN MUSLIM extremists murder innocents in cold blood, there is often a politically correct reluctance to call the killers terrorists, or to denounce them unequivocally. But there was no such reluctance last week when an Israeli Jew, Eden Natan Zada, opened fire inside the bus he was riding through the Arab town of Shfaram in northern Israel. Zada, 19, was active in the outlawed extremist Kach movement, and had deserted his army unit to protest Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. His rampage left four Arabs dead -- Michel Bahus, 56; Nader Hayak, 55; Hazar Turki, 23, and her sister Dina, 21 -- and another 12 wounded.
Zada was immediately labeled a terrorist and widely condemned. ''A reprehensible act by a bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist," one Middle Eastern leader called the massacre. Another said he was ''deeply shocked and distressed by the murder of innocent people." A senior cleric expressed his ''disgust and severe condemnation at the despicable act . . . a murder that is impossible to forgive."
Israel and its supporters complain with reason that Arab terrorism against Jews is too often shrugged off or excused by Arab and Muslim leaders, or that a murderous attack will be condemned in English for international consumption, while the government-run local media extols the killers in Arabic. But when the terrorists themselves are Jews -- admittedly a rare event -- do Israel's defenders live up to the standard they expect of others? How many of the statements quoted above, for example, would leading Israelis have been willing to make?
All of them.
It was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who described Zada as a ''bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist" and Shimon Peres, the vice prime minister, who referred to the attack as ''the murder of innocent people." The cleric who pronounced Zada's ''despicable act . . . impossible to forgive" was Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel.
Equally harsh was the judgment of the Yesha Council, the organization of Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. Though passionately opposed to the Gaza evacuation, it denounced Zada as ''a terrorist, a lunatic, and immoral." Especially noteworthy were the words of Rabbi Menachem Froman of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, who spoke at the funeral of two of the victims. ''We the Jewish people in the land of Israel share in the pain and suffering" of the mourners, he declared. ''All people who believe in God . . . express their outrage at such an act."
Indeed, so horrified were Israelis by Zada's bloody crime that, as the newspaper Ha'aretz reported on Sunday, ''No cemetery will accept Jewish terrorist's body." (Zada was lynched by Shfaram residents in the wake of his attack.) The defense minister banned an interment in any military cemetery, saying Zada was ''not worthy of being buried next to fallen soldiers." Neither his hometown of Rishon Letzion nor Tapuah, the settlement to which he had recently moved, wanted his grave to be within their borders.
The denunciations weren't limited to Israel. Among American Jews, too, the repudiation of the Israeli terrorist was swift and unsparing.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement almost as soon as the news broke: ''We unequivocally condemn today's attack. . . . Such acts must be denounced by all responsible leaders."
Speaking for more than 900 Reform Jewish congregations nationwide, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center in Washington deplored the massacre, calling it ''a betrayal of the dream of Israel as a pluralistic nation and an attack" on its fundamental values. In Boston, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism assailed the killings as ''a desecration of God's Name" and prayed that ''never again will a Jew so wantonly spill blood."
The reaction of the Orthodox leadership was equally fervent. Agudath Israel of America said it was ''tragic" that any Jew could adopt ''the methods and madness of the enemies of the Jews." The Orthodox Union declared: ''Acts of violence in the name of Zionism and/or Judaism must be eradicated from the midst of the Jewish people."
All of these statements -- this is only a partial list -- were made within a day or two of the atrocity in Shfaram. Without being prompted, without making excuses, Jewish communities instinctively reacted to Zada's monstrous deed with disgust and outrage, all the more angrily because the perpetrator was a fellow Jew. When that is the way every community responds to terrorism, terrorism will come to an end.
Next: A fatwa against terrorism
Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.