There is a fine but very important distinction between the need for any country's boarder control to screen for terrorists and the practice of ethnic racism. The first is morally necessary; the latter is morally repugnant. Lack of screening is a moral failure. Screening on the sole basis of ethnicity is at least an equal failure. In the first case, governments fail to fulfill their primary duty: protect the lives of their citizens. In the latter, they dehumanize an entire swath of humanity, including inevitably, members of their own population.
Today, Israel's struggle in these matters is the world's struggle. European countries with open immigration policies are failing miserably to protect their citizens, culture and laws. But when a fellow Western nation, namely, the United States, tries to stop this same failure from growing to a similar level, there is no shortage of people who call the attempt racist. Perhaps, at least in some part, it is.
Even so, any government that refuses to protect its own citizens from murderous terror is, at best, foolish. On the other hand, succumbing to racism in the name of protection is nothing less than institutionalized hatred of an ethnic group.
Israel is better than most in maintaining a balance between protection and racism, especially in its official policies and laws. It is better than most, but far from perfect.
As a Jewish state that is also a democracy, Israel is all too familiar with the tension between safeguarding its citizens and the bigotry of ethnic racism. Inevitably, the latter raises its head whenever there is war with an Islamic group, like Hamas in Gaza in 2014. Or when there are terror attacks, like those that began in September of 2015.
What can the world learn from Israel's struggle to avoid racism while, simultaneously, protecting its citizens?
The string of murderous terror attacks that began in Jerusalem in 2015 came to be known as the Lone Wolf, or Knife Intifada. In time, cars and trucks were added to the terrorists' arsenal of deadly weapons. As the attacks continued in 2016, many in Israel began to place responsibility for the assaults on an enthnic group instead of an ideology that has infected people from every ethnic group.
"Arab Terror Runs Rampant in Jerusalem," one headline screamed. "Thwarted Arab Terror Attack in Jerusalem’s Abu Tor Neighborhood," shouted another. "Jewish Woman Escapes Arab Mob Attack," cried one more. Not only headlines, but often essays included the ethnic attribution. An "Arab terrorist tried to steal soldier's gun," one reporter wrote. "The Arabs hurled rocks at her car," stated another.
For its part, social media ran rampant with the theme. Israel advocacy groups on Facebook, including many Christian members, commonly reported atrocities committed "by Arabs." A Page with more than three million fans regularly did this. One of its posts included this tease for an article it wanted readers to open: "Arab terrorists had a sinister, evil plan." Another Israel advocacy group labeled a video, "The Israel Dogs That Make Arab Terrorists Pee in Their Pants." The group has more than 400 thousand fans.
An English speaking Israeli and radio personality experienced a terror attack firsthand. The video he posted from the scene began with the words, "Apparently, I was lucky. ...Arabs tried to pull an Israeli woman from her car and murder her." His report went viral.
When confronted, journalists and social media activists who wrote these posts were quick to argue that Arab was a factual description.
Throughout the world, just like Israel, the problem is that use of Arab as an adjective to describe evil conduct converts the ethnic name to a vulgar, racial slur. As such, its rhetorical use is identical to what the Allies did in the Second World War, demonizing ethnic identities. Japs, Krauts, they were called. What's more, when Arab is used to describe evil conduct, it is identical to history's worst outbreaks of antisemitism.
It is no different than the Nazi claim that they, and the world, had a Jewish problem.
Use of the word Arab to describe acts of terror is not only dehumanizing, it is simply is not true.
The vast majority of Arabs do not engage in these despicable crimes. In Israel, most of them work with us, learn with us, shop with us, play with us. In fact, the vast majority of Arabs in Israel make invaluable contributions to the common good. A few of them include journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh; Bethlehem pastor, Naim Khoury; teenage Muslim Zionist, Mohammad Zoabi. And not only in Israel. Everywhere the vast majority of Arabs are fundamentally peace-loving, non-violent and tolerant.
Do these people sometimes grind their teeth while tolerating us? Do they struggle with xenophobia? Of course they do. So do you.
What then of those who shed Jewish blood? What of their leaders who campaign for Israel's annihilation? Are they not Arabs?
In Israel, yes; most of them are. But in the broader context of the Middle East, identical brands of Islamist terror — that seek to destroy the West no less than Israel — are represented by almost every ethnic group. They are Persians, Turks, Syrians, Arabs. And in the even greater world at-large, they are also Russian, English, German, French: Asian, Latin, African. And Anglo-American too.
Another problem with the use of Arab to describe terror is that it is a misdiagnosis. The real villains of terror inject people with ideologies that infect every ethnic group.
The real villains of terror are mainly known by their disguises. They love the garbs of religion, culture, and politics. In these various robes, they sanctify hate, justify lies, glorify death, and promise fame.
Yes, some religions, some cultures and some political systems are more vulnerable than others to being co-opted by such villainy.
Some, if you will, are more susceptible to possession by this spirit.
Some are more susceptible, but all are vulnerable. Including yours. Including mine.
Sometimes the disguised villain of terror can be named. In Israel and throughout the Middle East, he is properly called Islamist. But he also can be called fundamentalist, liberal, globalist, secularist.
None of these names is perfect, however.
There are uninfected people behind each label.
Perhaps most accurately, the villain is evil. But, committed to disguise, as evil always is, he almost always uses the language of morality. Hence the biblical admonition: by their deeds you shall know them.
Today in Israel, the real villain's mask is slipping. What we are seeing underneath is an ancient and familiar foe. We have seen him before and we will see him again. His anti-Semitic insatiable blood lust is at least as old as Abraham.
Today in Europe and in the US, that same villain's failing disguise reveals that his attending agenda is to destroy human freedom and impose control, probably in the form of a global Islamist caliphate, co-opting secularism to achieve that agenda.
Apart from evil, there is no need for additional adjectives to describe most acts of terror. When underlying causes are considered, however, calling them Arab is a categorically false pejorative that dehumanizes an entire ethic group, inciting others to falsely judge, to mindlessly hate.
As such it is morally repulsive.