Minister fires back at US over ‘price tag’ allegations

In response to State Department report, Gilad Erdan says ‘graffiti is not murder’

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel’s minister of communications and home front defense castigated the US State Department on Thursday over a report alleging that Israel has not been adequately prosecuting perpetrators.

“This is a gross, incorrect generalization,” Gilad Erdan said in an interview with Channel 10. “We are not talking about acts of murder; this is graffiti. There is a difference between murder and destruction of property. I do not accept that destruction of property, even that of a mosque, is like murder. These actions could lead to murder, but they have not yet.”

The US report coincided with the desecration of a mosque in northern Israel, apparently by Jewish extremists.

Erdan did, however, acknowledge that price tag attacks pose a dangerous threat and insisted that the Israeli government is taking them seriously.

“We are taking these appalling acts very seriously,” he said. “We are very troubled. These are immoral, criminal acts that damage the State of Israel.”

Israel officially classifies racist “price tag” attacks as terrorist acts. “Price tag” is a term used to describe acts of vandalism and violence associated with the settler movement in retaliation for Palestinian attacks and to protest what they perceive as the Israeli government’s pro-Palestinian policies. Mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases have been targeted in such assaults.

In its report, released Wednesday, the US State Department maintained that Israel has not effectively countered and prosecuted radicals implicated in “price tag” attacks against Palestinians in 2013.

“Attacks by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinian residents, property, and places of worship in the West Bank continued and were largely unprosecuted according to UN and NGO sources,” the report read.

Citing the UN Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs, the paper said 2013 saw 399 “price tag” attacks on Palestinians and Palestinian property.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni seen in the assembly session in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament,  March 11, 2014. (phot credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in the Knesset, March 11, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Unlike Erdan, the more dovish Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) welcomed the report as a confirmation of what the Israeli government and society “already knew.”

“The State Department report confirms what we already knew: These crimes, or ‘price tag,’ as they are euphemistically known, cause enormous damage to Israel,” she said in a statement posted to her Facebook page.

“‘Price tag’ attacks are against Israel and Zionism. As a society, we must marginalize them, and as a country, we must deal with them seriously and severely and bring them to justice.”

In addition to the criticism over Israel’s failure to prosecute the perpetrators, however, the report also praised praised Israeli efforts to stymie the vandalism, including the formation of a special police unit and a Defense Ministry designation of the incidents as “illegal associations,” which allows investigators greater freedom to gather information about the suspects and seize property.

The US has effectively designated attacks of this nature as terrorism with its inclusion in the annual report since 2010, and Israel began classifying the incidents as such in July 2013.

The State Department report also pointed to the drastic decrease in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and praised the Palestinian Authority for taking steps to fight incitement to violence against Israel in the West Bank.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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