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Emil Grunzweig’s Assassination: When Terror Isn’t Terror

emil grunzweig

Emil Grunzweig (4th from left) at Peace Now demonstration where he was later assassinated

Can there be such a thing?  When an apparent act of terror, of murdering another human being, isn’t?  Yes, in the case of Emil Grunzweig.  He was a Hebrew University graduate student and one of the founders of the Peace Now movement.  I’m not talking about the Peace Now that exists today, the one that is a shell of its former self.  I’m talking about Peace Now when it represented all the hopes of the Israeli left (as represented by the energy and determination of those whose arms are linked in this picture).  When there was an Israeli left.  Grunzweig was at the heart of this critical project and height of his powers as a political person and activist when Yona Avrushmi threw a hand grenade that exploded, killing him.

The assassin went to jail, but was recently released expressing no remorse for his deed (“I killed the Israeli left”).  Indeed he said he’d do it again if circumstances were the same.

Avrushmi, contrary to what liberal Zionists will tell you, was not a lone killer.  Not an aberration from an otherwise sane, normal, decent society.  Avrushmi IS Israel.  No, not everyone in Israel would do what he did.  But almost no one objected to Avrushmi’s foul exudations in the national media when he was released.  There was hardly a ripple or murmur.  No one cared.  No one remembered.

niva grunzweig

Niva Grunzweig, commemorating her father’s life at yesterday’s memorial ceremony (Olivier Fitoussi)

But Niva Grunzweig remembers (Hebrew and in English).  She can’t help it.  She is Emil’s daughter.  At a Peace Now ceremony held before the prime minister’s office (attended by only 100 people) marking the 30th anniversary of his murder, she spoke eloquently of the impact of his murder on her, her family and her country.

She began her talk by remembering as a Hebrew University student when she was seeking a scholarship and saw a poster advertising one for children of terror victims.  She approached a staff member of the financial aid office who took her particulars and told her she didn’t see any problem with her being eligible.   But it turns out there was a problem.  She wasn’t a child of a terror victim after all.

What was she then?  What was the act of murder that took her father’s life if not terror?  To understand the answer to this question, you have to understand what Israel was and has become.  There once was an Israel that its citizens could believe in.  It had a vision that embraced all its citizens (at least its Jewish ones) and treated everyone more or less as part of a national family.  That vision died in 1983 with the death of Emil Grunzweig.

But it was not a single murderer or the Israeli far-right which took him.  It was the entire Israeli state.  That’s what Niva Grunzweig has come to tell us.  As the Rolling Stones sang in Satisfaction: “Who killed the Kennedys, after all, it was you and me.”  After Grunzweig’s death, the nation erased it and his memory.  The only thing it did do is find the killer, arrest him and put him in prison.  But it never attempted to come to terms with the meaning of this murder.  It didn’t arrest those others who demonized Peace Now and its leaders, those who aided Avrushmi in his act of terror.  It did nothing to root out the hate and terror that lay in the hearts of so many Israelis:

“As far as the State of Israel is concerned, the only one guilty of my father’s murder is Yona Avrushmi,” Grunzweig said. “But that’s only a half-truth that’s meant to cover up the truth. The truth is that the State of Israel is guilty of my father’s murder in various ways, and until it recognizes its responsibility for the murder and acts to repair it, justice has not been done.”

“…The state did nothing about those who supported this murderer. On the contrary, although those supporters were known to the public and the government, no steps were taken against them.”

She said no law had been passed against incitement to violence and no significant changes had been made to school curricula. The public discourse did not condemn those supporters, she said.

She continued (my translation, not in Haaretz English version):

The reason the State of Israel did not try to expose why this act of terror happened is that the act was done under its authority: the State encourages rightists to act against leftists.  How does it do this?  On the one hand it denounces acts of political violence…But in practice it encourages them to continue such behavior by casting a blind eye and exacting minimal punishment for them.

She links the act of political murder by Avrushmi to the current political environment in which not just a single right-wing individual, but an entire state apparatus is devoted to preventing dissent and terrorizing citizens who seek to express contrary views.  Those on the political left are viewed as enemies of the nation.  The State has gone from being a tool for greater good for the greatest number of (Jewish) citizens as it was meant to be before Grunzweig’s killing; to an end in itself.

Grunzweig continues (from Haaretz):

Grunzweig pointed a finger at the state, where she said violence is a dominant element…”I grieve the loss of my father but also the fact that as a citizen of the state I’m exposed to violence daily,” she said.

“My father’s murder is an example of this violence, which is etched forever on my body and in my memory. The State of Israel imposes terror on its citizens in various violent ways so that we citizens who are critical of the government will give up the struggle for a saner life – a life where a person can go out to demonstrate on the street without fear of being murdered.”

More of my translation not in the Haaretz version:

For years I’ve realized…[my father’s murder] wasn’t inevitable or necessary. Murder and killing can be prevented. And political murder can be prevented.  It’s the responsibility of the State to look out for the security of its citizens and protect them.  Neither Iron Dome nor a strong army will do this.  They are not enough to provide such security.  I have a right to feel that my existence as a human being is secure.  That even if I was not born to a family with means that I could still expect a decent education, a roof over my head, health services and the ability to turn my luck around.  I have a right to live with a father who attends demonstrations and returns home safely from them.  And it’s my right to have thoughts that are left-wing and critical and not to be afraid of expressing them.  This is what the State owes me as a citizen.

“My father was murdered when I was almost four years old at a Peace Now demonstration by a hand grenade thrown by Yonah Avrushmi.”  So began and ended every journal I ever attempted to write as a child.  I never could write anything beyond these introductory words.  To write more was too painful, too sad, too frightening.  To these earlier attempts at writing a journal I want to add a new passage today.  I want to create different continuation of this story.  One that has not just loss and fear, but also hope for change…

A State of Israel that accepts responsibility for violence, hatred and racism which exist on a daily basis, is a state in which there is hope for real change.  Recognition of the responsibility of the state is an act of apology. I want to imagine such a moment when Israel’s leader admits that the state engages in various types of violence against its citizens and apologizes to them.

“Then we can begin again and replace this deliberate violence with a desire to create a common good for all the citizens and noncitizens living in this country. I want to raise my children in such a country, because in such a country I’m not afraid that they’ll grow without a father or mother.”

To compare this Israeli assassination to a similar and seminal American tragedy, think of the assassination of Martin Luther King.  Imagine the nation as a whole had done no soul-searching after his murder.  Imagine it had abandoned the civil rights crusade that was King’s life after he died.  Imagine the Ku Klux Klan and similar hate groups not being discredited and hounded for their role in creating the climate of hate that allowed this heinous deed.  Imagine a nation afflicted with historical amnesia.  Where no Civil Rights or Voting Rights Act was passed.  Where no equal housing legislation had been passed.  What would have happened?  What would African-Americans have done?  What would white supremacists have done?  As it was there was terrible violence in this country in 1968.  But imagine if things had become far worse.  Perhaps even a race war.   Because if you can imagine that, you can imagine what happened in 1983 and its aftermath, and the apartheid state Israel has become today.

The failure to learn any lessons or draw any conclusions is, in part, what allowed the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.  The very same figures who goaded Avrushmi to act were the same who ranted from the balcony in Jerusalem’s Zion Square that Rabin was a Nazi murderer.  The same who flashed pictures of Rabin in an SS uniform.  The far-right was never made to pay a price for its role in these killings.

There are many reasons for this.  Perhaps chief among them is that the entire Israeli political system, all the parties with the possible exclusion of the Palestinian ones, was invested in the enterprise of Occupation.  They all supported the wars and settlements.  They all rejected compromise.  So even though the more liberal parties embraced elements of Peace Now’s original vision, they could never divorce themselves from the Greater Israel cause which is at the root of these acts of Jewish terror.  Remember, the very same Shimon Peres, the one who sent remarks of condolence to this commemoration of Grunzweig’s death, used his government position to encourage the very first West Bank settlement.  There was a chance at that moment to stop the settlement movement in its tracks.  There were Israeli leaders who favored this.  But Peres took a stand.  He embraced the nationalist cause.  He helped birth the movement.  He is responsible for what it became.  Even though it is difficult to admit this: Shimon Peres helped give birth to Baruch Marzel, Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben Gvir.  Even Yigal Amir.

To any reader who feels this post or the events it recounts leaves out the Palestinian experience, I grant that.  I intended here to deal with a very specific traumatic wound that Israel inflicted on itself and never healed.  That certainly doesn’t mean there are not others equally traumatic that should be addressed.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Kevin Herbert February 10, 2013, 11:44 PM

    Thanks for this very telling information Richard.

    It steels my support for not only the Palestinians, but for decent Jews globally.

    Ghandi said you could take up arms against an aggressor…another great Jew Dr Norman Finkelstein, told me that fact.

    Kevin Herbert
    Sydney – Australia

    • Richard Silverstein February 11, 2013, 3:01 AM

      I don’t advocate taking up arms against anyone. But aside from that thank you for your comment.

  • herenot February 11, 2013, 2:34 AM

    the usual hatefull hypocritical rants.

    “Avrushmi IS Israel”

    yeah much in the same way Bil Laden is ISLAM.

    right Richard?

    • Richard Silverstein February 11, 2013, 3:04 AM

      Niva Grunzweig said this. I was merely paraphrasing her. She believes there’s no difference between the murderer and his fellow citizens because the latter didn’t fully renounce him. A society which kills and doesn’t fully learn lessons from the murder is one that embraces the act. And Israel did this TWICE including regarding Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. They did not renounce the fundamental racism & homicidal rage that fueled these two murders.

      Have you for example renounced all Israeli rightist violence?

  • Eden February 14, 2013, 12:19 PM

    I am always amazed that a person who kills another in cold blood is ever released from jail. I personally favor the death penalty to avoid such “complication”. This being said, Israel has also released Palestinians who killed in cold blood Israeli civilians. i wonder if that ever disturbed anyone on the left.

  • Jon Simons February 16, 2013, 3:22 PM

    I think the analogy about the Civil Rights Movement is apposite (even if Emil wasn’t a figure as big as MLK). Israel has never addressed the racism that underlies so much of its political practice. I thought the key point of Niva Grunzweig’s speech was about the taking or responsibility for state violence. That’s what I wrote in my blog (unfortunately without having read your’s first): http://israelipeaceimages.com/2013/02/17/taking-responsibility-for-violence/

  • Richard Silverstein February 11, 2013, 1:14 PM

    I have far better things to do here than parse my words, place them next to hers & prove to someone like you that they match up. If you believe I did violence to her views then you write to her and send her the link & ask her if she wishes to take issue with anything I wrote. She won’t & you know she won’t. But please do. I’d like to see what her response would be to your nonsense.

  • herenot February 12, 2013, 1:11 AM

    “someone like you”

    what do you mean by this? “like” what? is that your tactic? deleting the comment and retorting with an ad-hominum attack? seriously?

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