After 2 Bombs Defused in New York, Debate Rages over Rhetoric’s Impact

Two bombs left outside the Manhattan buildings that house American for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund did not damage their targets.

But they raised the specter of Jews fighting other Jews and ignited a debate: Have opponents of the accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization gone too far in their rhetoric?

“This is, for the first time, crossing a red line,” Israeli Consul General Colette Avital said Monday.

But she criticized those who persist in verbally attacking the Israeli government as “traitors,” saying such remarks are “not within civility.”

Speaking the night before on CBS Television’s “60 Minutes,” Avital appeared to draw a closer connection between the bombs, the name-calling and the throwing of tomatoes and eggs at representatives of the Israeli government in America.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir fueled the fire last week with his comments about the bombs, which were discovered early on the morning of Jan. 5.

Shamir told Israel Radio that the damage done to Israel by Peace Now exceeded that which would have been caused by the bombs, had they gone off.

He later retracted his remark, calling the bombs an insane act by insane people who did not know what they were doing and explaining that his radio remarks had come out backward.

“What he meant to say is that he didn’t see much activity by Peace Now, since their views are now those of the government, so the bombs did more damage” than did the organization, explained Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Hoenlein had called Shamir after reports of the remarks, since the Conference of Presidents was prepared to condemn them.

“A statement like that is of great concern, anything that would appear to indicate in any way that this (the bombs) was not a serious attack, or not condemned by everybody,” said Hoenlein.

At Peace Now, the retraction was greeted with skepticism.

“It’s nice he was politically savvy enough to retract,” said Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the organization’s chair.

But, she said, “I still can’t get away from the fact that he said it in the first place.”

Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, was harsher in his criticism of Shamir.

Nothing as well the recent statement by the head of the opposition Likud party, Benjamin Netanyahu, that the Likud did not see itself bound by the accord reached with the PLO, Siegman said, “One would have to conclude that the current leadership of Likud is thinking of alternatives to democratic government for the State of Israel.”

Siegman dismissed the significance of the bombs themselves, saying he believed they were planted “by some marginal individuals.”

The bombs were found with rambling handwritten notes, attacking the Israeli government for being too liberal. They were signed Maccabee Squad and Shield of David – groups that recently claimed responsibility for killing two Palestinians in the West Bank, but were hitherto unknown.

Binyamin Zev Kahane, son of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane who was the central figure in violent Jewish extremism both in New York and Israel, denied responsibility for the two bombs, but he refused to condemn the act.

Groups that did condemn the attack fall all along the political spectrum. They include the Jewish Defense Organization, the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents, and the targeted organizations themselves.

The younger Kahane, who serves as international director of Kahane Chai, which succeeded his father’s Jewish Defense League, blamed “Yitzhak Rabin and his treasonous government for the bombing, which may be the first shot in a bloody civil war which Rabin is causing by his abandonment of the security of the Jews in Israel and his violations of the Torah.”

Both Siegman and Pogrebin say such rhetoric – and its apparent acceptance by mainstream organizations on the right – is the real problem.

“Supporters of the Likud and other rightist parties continue to up the ante on incendiary verbal attacks, using words like `traitor’ to delegitimate the Rabin government and its supporters,” said Pogrebin. “If we allow slander and defamation to pass for political discourse, if we refuse to condemn outrageous ad hominem attacks on our fellow Jews, groups like the Maccabee Squad and the Shield of David are encouraged to take the inevitable next step on the road to chaos and Jewish self-destruction,” she added.

But Herb Zweibon, director of Americans for a Safe Israel, which strongly opposes the accord with the Palestinians, disputed the connection between rhetoric and violence.

“It’s rather ridiculous,” said Zweibon, who also condemned the bombs as “stupid and counterproductive.”

“For years the right has been characterized as fascist and Nazis and all the rest, so this kind of rhetoric has been on both sides.”

AFSI has in the past singled out both Americans for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund for criticism. “These people take positions that are very dangerous to the Jewish state, and ultimately to the Jewish people, but that doesn’t make them targets of violence,” he said.

NEXT STORY