UPDATE: The ZOA issued a statement Thursday condemning the murder.
American Jewish groups from across the ideological and religious spectrum have issued strongly worded condemnations of the murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdier, apparently a revenge killing committed by Jews.
One exception to this chorus of denunciation was the Zionist Organization of America, a hawkish Israel advocacy group, which issued no statement.
Reached by phone on Tuesday morning, the ZOA’s national president, Morton Klein, said that he had been on vacation and away from the news over the weekend, the window during which the Israeli police announced the arrest of six suspects in the murder.
However, he quickly added that the ZOA would not have commented in any case because it does not consider the motives for the killing, or the identity of the perpetrators, to be clearly established.
“As long as there is no clarity as to whether this was an ordinary criminal act as opposed to an act of vengeance, ZOA feels it is not appropriate to make a public comment,” Klein told JTA, adding that the ZOA does not comment on ordinary criminal acts.
Israeli officials have stated that they believe the killing was motivated by a desire to avenge the murders of three kidnapped Israeli teens. But Klein said that was an insufficient basis for a statement.
“Even arrests, you don’t know whether these arrests make it clear that this was a murder of revenge,” Klein said.
Klein said that if the suspects are indicted for carrying out revenge killings, then the ZOA would make a public comment.
“We at ZOA would be horrified by any Jew who kills an Arab to take revenge for the killing of these three beautiful Jewish boys, both morally and politically,” Klein said. “If we know, we will criticize.”
But, he added: “I thought you were innocent until proven guilty. People have been indicted many times throughout history inappropriately.”
On June 30, one week before the arrest of the Jewish Israeli suspects for Khdeir murder, the ZOA issued a statement titled “ZOA Mourns Deaths Of Three Israeli Youths Kidnapped & Murdered By Palestinian Terrorists.” In the statement, the ZOA stated that the Israeli teenagers had been “snuffed out by Palestinian Arab terrorist murderers” and that “The kidnappers have been identified by Israel as Marwan Kawasmeh and Amar Abu-Eisha, who belong to Hamas.” Kawasmeh and Abu-Eisha have not been indicted.
Asked about the discrepancy, Klein replied, “When you have three Jews hitchhiking and they’re killed in the car, all the authorities said that these were Arabs, and it was highly unlikely that this was Israeli Jews who kidnapped the Jews and shot them point blank. Something like that, to my knowledge, has never happened.”
Klein said, “The Palestinian Arabs have not earned our sympathy or respect,” adding, “It is a violent and hateful culture.”
He added, “I’m not gonna bend over backwards for Palestinian Arabs ever. If Israeli Jews are indicted of this heinous murder as a revenge killing, we will comment, but not before.”
ZOA is not the only right-wing Israel advocacy group that expressed doubts about the nature of Khdeir’s murder.
In a July 7 emailed statement titled “No Moral Symmetry in Arab and Jewish Murders!” Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel, wrote that her group initially questioned whether the killing was committed by Jews. But, she acknowledged, she was apparently incorrect.
Civilized people felt stabbed in the heart this weekend with the news that an Arab boy was abducted by six Israeli Jews and burned to death. How was one to absorb that information? We, at AFSI knew that such a deed could not be done by the observant “settlers” with whom we have bonded over the years, at whom the first finger-pointing was directed. That is why we considered the possibility that it was done by the Arabs themselves, to provide an excuse for the rampaging and rocketing (over 100 rockets into Sderot and the western Negev over the past few days) that have continued non-stop. We were apparently wrong in that regard. Further investigation will reveal more information about the murderers and their motivation.
There is no excuse and no justification for the horrific deed done by the brutal killers, but it is also important that no moral equivalency be brought here. The murderers of the three Israelis, Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frankel, and Eyal Yifrach, have still not been apprehended. Their names are known, but they are being protected by the Hamas/Fatah union. Quite the opposite has happened with the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. The Israeli police were able to identify the six in record time, arrest them, and interrogate them. Justice will follow quickly.