The Buzz

From Boston to Jerusalem

Sigal Samuel of The Daily Beast’s Open Zion blog asks, “Should Americans Identify With Israel After Boston?” She notes that both Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and one of his close aides, Ron Dermer, have expressed optimism about the impact of the Boston bombings on U.S.-Israeli relations. Both suggested that Americans would feel a sense of shared struggle with Israelis on terror. Samuel notes that this “turns on a hidden assumption: . . . that we’ll all agree to more or less equate the sort of terrorism inflicted on Boston with the sort of terrorism inflicted on Israel.” However, she charges, the two are actually quite different:

Palestinian terrorism—as condemnable as it certainly is—exists within the context of Israeli occupation; living under Israeli control, lacking many basic rights, the Palestinians are clearly in need of a political solution. The same cannot be said of the Tsarnaevs, who lived in America and enjoyed the same rights enjoyed by every immigrant to the U.S. Exactly what political solution does an immigrant already granted full U.S. citizenship require? The answer’s not at all clear.

Samuel is right that it’s not clear what, precisely, the Tsarnaevs were aiming for. But we can make some educated guesses. NBC News reports that under interrogation, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told investigators that he and his brother learned how to make the bombs from Inspire, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s periodic digest of jihadi thought, terror methods and bad poetry. He also told them that he and his brother “were motivated by religious fervor.” Accounts of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s transformation suggest he was sympathetic to the hardline Salafi-Wahhabi currents that have grown like a malignancy in the Muslim world in recent decades. Among other telltales, he had favorited a YouTube video of a Salafi cleric, he had a disdain for celebrating holidays (even Islamic ones) and he publicly accused an imam of unbelief.

And Salafi-jihadi thought absolutely aims for a political solution. That solution—the dominion of its peculiar strand of Islamic thought over all Muslim society, and the removal of all other influences from the Muslim world—just happens to be far less comfortable than political solutions to the Palestine problem.

Yet at bottom many Palestinian terror groups have equally untenable goals. Rejectionist Palestinian groups do not aim for a two-state solution, and have acted repeatedly to undermine it. Even Hamas, which has negotiated (indirectly) with Israel and entered an apparent truce after the last war, has only flirted with the idea.

And that’s what Israel and the United States have in common: they have enemies with which there can be no honorable peace. There always will be Palestinian rejectionists, because even under the most favorable two-state resolution, Palestine will still be a terrible place to live. And there always will be extremists willing to engage in violence as long as America is a major influence in the Middle East (likely for at least the next few decades) and as long as the Islamic world’s intense internal struggle over modernity persists (likely for at least the next few centuries).

Moreover, many of these incorrigible enemies have had deeper connections. Palestinian terror was once funded by America’s geopolitical rival, the Soviet Union; nowadays some of it is funded by America’s (lesser) geopolitical rival, Iran. Hezbollah killed lots of Israelis and lots of Americans in Lebanon’s civil war. Many of the jihadists that attack the United States would include U.S. relations with Israel among their motivations. The connections are rarely strong enough that Jerusalem and Washington face an identical foe—Hezbollah, nowadays, is more concerned with Israel, while Al Qaeda and its hangers-on are more concerned with America. The PLO evacuated Beirut with American guarantees—and an Israeli sniper’s crosshairs on Yasser Arafat’s head. But the connections have long been deep enough to merit substantive coordination.

This all doesn’t mean that the United States should automatically back Israel—which, Samuel notes, seems to be the goal of those who draw parallels between attacks on Boston and attacks on Israel. But the experience of terror is a common thread that should not be dismissed.