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How to Condemn Terrorism Done in Your Name
When a Jewish settler killed dozens of Palestinians in 1994, Israeli leaders spoke frankly about the evil and acted firmly against extremists.
ON FEBRUARY 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler in the West Bank, gunned down scores of Muslims as they prayed at the Cave of Patriarchs, a holy site in Hebron. Twenty-nine victims died. More than 100 were wounded.
Four days later, in a searing speech, the leader of a Middle Eastern country called Goldstein a “weed,” “a degenerate murderer,” and “a shame on Zionism.” He described with contempt how, “in the middle of the Ramadan fast, a villainous Jew opened fire and killed scores of Muslim worshipers.”
That leader was Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel.
Today, as some governments, politicians, and progressive activists deflect blame, fault Israel, or defend Hamas in the wake of its horrific October 7 attack, it’s worth revisiting the massacre in Hebron. When a Jew deliberately slaughtered Muslim civilians, Israel and Jews around the world condemned the crime and the poisonous Jewish extremism that inspired it. That’s how any country and any faith should respond to such evil.
IN THE DAYS AFTER the bloodbath in Hebron, there were Jews who, like today’s Hamas apologists, endorsed or excused the terrorist. Some called Goldstein a hero. Others said Arab violence against Jews had driven him to retaliate. A movement to glorify Goldstein arose after his death (he was fatally beaten during his assault), and it persists today. But the apologists were a small minority. In a poll, fewer than 4 percent of Israelis supported Goldstein. About 10 percent said his crime should be “understood against the background of Arab terror against Jews.” But 79 percent rejected such excuses and simply condemned the massacre.
Israel’s political and religious leaders responded with one voice. Rabin called Goldstein’s assault “bestial,” “despicable,” “loathsome,” and an “atrocity.” Israel’s president, Ezer Weizman, said there could be “no forgiveness and no pardon for such a terrible act.” The Knesset voted 93-1 for a resolution expressing Israel’s “disgust” at the “revolting murder.” Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then the chairman of Likud, called it “an abomination, a despicable act of murder.”
These weren’t just written statements. Rabin phoned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was in Tunisia, to convey his horror. Weizman went to Hebron to speak to Palestinian officials there. Israel’s chief rabbi visited Muslim leaders in Jerusalem to pay condolences and condemn the crime.
In the United States, Jewish senators introduced and secured unanimous passage of a resolution decrying Goldstein’s “murderous terrorism.” The American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (forerunner of today’s Union for Reform Judaism), the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and rabbis around the world spoke out in dismay.
It was hard to acknowledge the role that Judaism—a twisted, inhumane interpretation of Judaism—played in Goldstein’s monstrosity. But Jewish leaders did so. “I am more than ashamed that a Jew, an Israeli, carried out this kind of atrocity,” said Rabin. Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi added: “I am simply ashamed that a Jew carried out such a villainous and irresponsible act.” Forty-four Orthodox rabbis in Israel, including several from West Bank settlements, denounced “the brutal murder carried out by a Jew.” The director of international affairs at the American Jewish Committee called it “Jewish mass murder.”
Netanyahu, facing this unholy convergence of Judaism with terrorism, didn’t mince words. “The answer to the Arab terrorism that has plagued the territories and Israel itself is not Jewish terrorism,” he told CNN. “The solution to the problem of terrorism, either Jewish or Arab, is to fight terrorism.”
At the same time, Israeli and Jewish authorities excoriated Goldstein’s crime as a grave offense against “Jewish law,” “Jewish teaching,” “Jewish values,” and “Jewish ethics.” The 44 Israeli rabbis called it a “desecration of God’s name.”
According to these authorities, it was the Muslim victims, not the Jewish killer, who had faithfully followed God. Weizman noted with horror that the atrocity was committed “on Ramadan, in a mosque, on a Friday.” He said it was “despicable to shoot people in the back when they are bending down to pray to the God shared by the three monotheistic faiths.” Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Britain, declared: “Violence committed against those engaged in worshipping God is unspeakably evil.” The 44 Israeli rabbis said, “There is no understanding and no forgiveness for the murder of people while they are praying to the creator of the universe.”
Some Israelis dismissed Goldstein as a lone wolf. But Israel’s leaders, joined by Jewish organizations, spoke candidly about the broader sickness of Jewish extremism. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Itamar Rabinovich, explained that in the view of the Israeli government, “an individual act such as this does not take place in a vacuum, that there are Israeli elements in the territories who have contributed to the mental environment, to the atmosphere in which this could take place.” The American Zionist Movement called out “Jewish fanatics who have helped create the climate of fear and hatred that made such an outrageous attack possible.” The ADL condemned “racist anti-Arab sentiments” and “repugnant calls for violence” among “extremist Israelis and American Jews.” And the American Jewish Congress extended blame to the Israeli government. “To allow fevered right-wing Jewish radicals to settle in the midst of heavily populated Palestinian urban areas like the city of Hebron,” said the AJC, “is to invite this kind of tragedy.”
Rabin, in his speech to the Knesset, repudiated the subculture of zealots who had nurtured Goldstein. “To him and to those like him we say: You are not part of the congregation of Israel,” said Rabin. “Rational Judaism spits you out.”
And Israel acted. It outlawed two Jewish extremist groups, Kach and Kahane Chai, along with any other organization that advocated the “violent expulsion of Arabs.” It ordered the arrests of some extremist leaders and the disarming of others. It searched their homes and confiscated their weapons. It paid compensation to families of the victims, and it authorized Israeli soldiers to use force against settlers who committed violence outside the context of self-defense.
ISRAEL’S RESPONSE to the Hebron massacre didn’t end the cancer of Jewish extremism or anti-Muslim violence. It certainly didn’t curb the growth of West Bank settlements. And today, as Israel bombards Gaza in its war against Hamas, there’s plenty of debate about the justice and wisdom of causing so many civilian casualties, even against an enemy that routinely uses Palestinians as human shields.
But when it comes to the deliberate slaughter of innocents—not inadvertent deaths in a strike on a military target, but the intentional murder of ordinary people—Israel and Jews around the world have spoken clearly. Without equivocation, they condemned the terrorist in their midst. So should we all.