When Americans suffer, Israelis feel their pain

When news of the horrible massacre at the Pulse club in Orlando reached Israel, many here felt an initial reaction of deep sympathy for the American people and a sense of shared fate.

When news of the horrible massacre at the Pulse club in Orlando reached Israel, many here felt an initial reaction of deep sympathy for the American people and a sense of shared fate. It was an attack on the gay community, but also an attack on American values and freedoms. We know all too well the feeling of a people targeted so violently in an indiscriminate attack. A thousand Israelis lost their lives in the second "intifada" (2000-2004), in a ruthless suicide bombing campaign. 

There was an added element in this case: the fact that Americans were being killed was especially painful for Israelis who feel very close to the people of the United States. There is a vast consensus among Israelis that views America as more than a friend, more than an ally, even more than a partner. When America suffers, Israelis feel the pain in a very real manner.

And there was an additional, familiar angle to this event: the Islamist angle. While Israel has been combating radical Islam in its various shapes and forms for decades, Europe and America have been targeted in a serious manner only since 9/11. The phenomenon of radical Islam hitting "soft" targets of civilian populations is spreading and needs to be addressed globally. 

As democracies seek ways to protect themselves, their citizens and their values against the forces of radicalism which would do away with democratic systems, they must define the problem in clear terms and without political correctness tainting their vocabulary. Radical Islam is a phenomenon which cannot be halted without first being defined. 

Once the phenomenon is defined, democracies must come to the realization that they are engaged in a war over their values and way of life. The fight for self-preservation of democracy and civil rights must, unfortunately, carry a price which may include forfeiting some of the most cherished features of democracy itself. 

Democracies must take measures that may be anti-democratic in order to preserve democracy itself. For example, deeper monitoring of radical groups inside their own borders, including wiretapping and surveillance, something that most European governments are still reluctant to do. ISIS is training Europeans and Americans, indoctrinating them and radicalizing them and then sending them back home; there are radical elements ready to carry out more terror attacks on European and U.S. soil. They must be halted with less regard to their civil or constitutional rights, for the benefit of western societies' security. Having said that, care must be taken not to target wholesale communities, Islamic or other; the vast majority of their members are not violent and are not a threat to democracy. Terror attacks must not be used to encourage feelings of xenophobia and prejudice. 

Finally, democracies must come to terms with the fact that Islamic terrorism is politically motivated by those who are trying to harness the terrible power of religion in order to advance very earthly goals of attaining power and domination. They make use of pious Muslims willing to perform acts of violence if they are led to believe that their religion requires it. 

Combating such a phenomenon requires a two-pronged approach: it must be fought top-down and bottom-up. Radical leaders need to be eliminated, with force if necessary (as was Osama Bin Laden). Sponsors of radical Islam, including the Iranian regime (an enemy of ISIS) must be prevented from inculcating their masses with radical ideas and exporting their brand of radicalism across the Arab and Muslim world. But an effective fight against radical Islam must also be waged at grassroots level. 

Education is key, as well as a campaign that would make use of social media-the most popular source of information among young Muslims. A targeted campaign of positive information on social media must be put together internationally in order to counter-act the brainwashing and indoctrination taking place in Muslim societies. Young people must be shown the futility of the messages that they are being dictated, in order to make them doubt-and ultimately reject-radicalism as a way of life.

Radicalism can and needs to be combated. But it requires more than just showing sympathy towards its victims. It requires a proactive, international approach that defines radical Islam as a threat and then sets out a clear program for halting it at leadership level as well as at a grassroots level. 

Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel Office. 

This article is adapted from a June 13, 2016 piece that Ofer Bavly wrote for The Times of Israel.



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